The Differences Between a PhD in Psychology and PsyD

Mental health professionals looking to further their education in the field have two major degrees to choose from: A PhD in Psychology, which is a Doctor of Philosophy degree, and a PsyD, which is Doctor of Psychology degree. They sound nearly the same, so what is the difference between a PhD and PsyD?

Mature counselor with female patientWhile both are advanced degrees in the field of psychology, a PhD allows for a scientific-practitioner approach that focuses on research, while a PsyD is designed more for clinical practice. While a PhD is a research doctorate, which is geared toward the discovery of new information and theories, a PsyD is a professional doctorate that is focused on applied skills that prepare students for careers as mental health clinicians.

Do psychologists have a PhD or PsyD? Well, either, but an increasing number of psychologists in clinical practice or who see patients in a traditional therapy setting are earning a PsyD. In order to be a psychologist, you need a doctoral-level degree in the field, which both of these are, but a PsyD is more oriented toward becoming a practicing clinician. However, most PhDs also go on to work with clients in a clinical setting and apply their specialized research and knowledge to providing therapy for the specific issues they study.

In the end, both satisfy the requirements for full authority licensure and neither limits you from clinical practice or research work, but the training in a PhD is a bit more traditionally oriented to academia while the PsyD focuses more narrowly on clinical practice.

What Is a PhD in Psychology?

A PhD in Psychology is a doctorate degree designed to lead to the development of new information in the field, though it can just as well be used to go into clinical practice. Someone who holds a PhD, though, will be well prepared to teach psychology or work with other researchers on experimental trials and studies. The goal of having a PhD in Psychology is to advance the knowledge of mental health issues as well as the methods used to treat them.

While it used to be the only doctoral level degree in the field, now that a PsyD is available, a PhD is beginning to be viewed a bit more as being better suited for people who want to go into psychology education, clinical trials, or research.

But ultimately, pursuing a PhD in Psychology prepares students for a wide range of career opportunities in the field of psychology, whether in research, consulting, teaching, or clinical practice.

What Is a PsyD?

Professionals with a PsyD usually use their degrees to work with people who seek therapy, or for more serious clinical interventions for the severely mentally ill in psychiatric hospitals. Knowledge from the studies done in the degree program is applied to providing therapy, rather than continuing research. As opposed to a PhD, a PsyD is a more straightforward, hands-on degree for the practice of psychology.

Is someone with a PsyD a doctor? Short answer: Yes, but not a medical doctor. Anyone with a doctoral-level degree holds the title of doctor, but unless they have a medical degree, they can’t prescribe medication or conduct medical treatments. The same goes for those with a PhD in Psychology.

Earning a PsyD degree puts you on a direct path to practicing psychology in a clinical setting.

Similarities and Differences

The main difference between a PhD in Psychology and PsyD is that a PhD emphasizes research while a PsyD prepares student for practicing psychology.

PsyD programs focus on applying scientific knowledge directly to the practice of psychology, while PhD programs study the theories behind psychology. While PsyD students will have classes in human behavior, therapy, and mental health conditions, PhD candidates will have coursework like research methodology and statistical models. Although, PsyD students will still have some exposure to research and analyzing data, and PhD students will also have plenty of coursework that deals with clinical practice.

Both degrees develop research skills and build knowledge and skill sets that can be applied to either clinical practice or education. While there is overlap, there are also clear differences, like acceptance rates, cost, coursework, and common career outcomes

Things to Consider When Choosing a PhD and PsyD

Before pursing either of these degrees, some important factors need to be considered, like your interests and expectations. They’re not identical degrees, and one might be better suited to a student than the other on an individual basis.

Generally, PhD programs may be more difficult to get into and the program usually lasts between 5 and 8 years. PsyD programs, while still competitive, have a relatively higher acceptance rate and take 1-2 years fewer to complete. While tuition for both programs can be high, PhD students are often offered tuition assistance in exchange for teaching and research assistance.

Is a PsyD better than a PhD? Nobody could really make a case that a PsyD is categorically better than a PhD, but it might be a little more geared to exactly what you want to do with your career. If you really want to focus in on the application of your psychology skills working directly with clients or in a clinical setting with people suffering with more serious mental health problems, a PsyD will give you the focus you’re looking for. If you want a more traditional doctorate experience that also includes a research focus and dissertation, a PhD is the more fitting choice.

Let’s talk money. Realistically, earning potential does factor into which degree program to choose and which path to go down. It’s fair to assume that most people reading this are wondering, do PsyD or PhD make more money? The answer is that there is absolutely nothing to suggest that one or the other will result in making more money. Both PsyD and PhD graduates have the same kind of career prospects, and the same salary potential based on which career path they might take.

But there’s more to this question than just whether one or the other will result in making more money. A PsyD will typically take less time, allowing the holder to start making a salary sooner, but a PhD may have less tuition to pay back if they receive any waivers or stipends for teaching and research during the program. The amount of money either makes will depend on what type of job they choose. If a PhD becomes a tenured professor, clinician, or lead researcher at a university, in private practice, or at a medical facility. If comparing apples to apples, practicing psychologists with a PhD earn slightly more than those with a PsyD, but the difference is small.

The difference between PsyD and PhD is enough to make someone stop and think about which would be best for them, while both are valuable degrees that share similarities and can lead to rewarding careers.