What Is the Difference Between a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Psy.D.?

Image of a psychologist for our FAQ on What Is the Difference Between a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Psy.D.
phd in psychology vs psyd

Many career opportunities exist in the mental health field. You must earn a doctoral degree in the field of psychology, as well as meet other credentials, before you are qualified to hold the title “psychologist.” However, you have options regarding which educational path you choose to take  to earn that doctoral degree.

Traditionally, psychologists have earned Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., degrees upon graduating from a doctoral program in psychology. Since the 1960s, though, some programs have awarded Doctor of Psychology, or Psy.D., degrees in lieu of a Ph.D. These degree programs cover many of the same material and prepare students for a career in psychology. However, they typically place greater emphasis on different course materials or professional perspectives.

The Traditional Ph.D. in Psychology

Ph.D. programs prepare students for academic research and exploration. Graduates of Ph.D. programs in psychology will be especially well-prepared for conducting psychological research studies and drawing conclusions. For aspiring academics, whose regular job duties will include research in experimental psychology, the Ph.D. is still the preferred choice, according to Psych Central.  Ph.D. programs may still prepare students for practicing psychology in a clinical or counseling context. However, the focus is on preparing students for research opportunities.

The Doctor of Psychology

The Psy.D. degree is not considered a research degree in the same way that a Ph.D. is. While students will  cover material relating to research practices during their academic careers, Psy.D. programs attach greater significance to preparing students for professional practice. Psy.D. degrees were originally intended to prepare clinical psychologists, who wanted to treat psychological and mental health disorders .They don’t necessarily have a strong interest in the research aspect of the field.

Now, however, Psy.D. programs train psychologists in disciplines and specialties other than clinical psychology. Despite the relative novelty of the Psy.D. degree, these programs have become more popular over the past few decades. Doctoral students in school for clinical psychology are now split nearly down the middle between Ph.D. programs and Psy.D. programs. This is according to the American Psychological Association.


Neither degree nor career path is better than the other. Ph.D. programs train psychological researchers who make great innovations in understanding human behavior and even discovering treatment methods to help mental health patients.

Psy.D. programs prepare skilled clinical and counseling psychologists who help patients cope with personal problems or mental illnesses.

For some students, the choice between a Ph.D. and a Psy.D. degree program is simple. Aspiring clinical psychologists who have little interest in academic research can fulfill their goals by earning a Psy.D.

Aspiring researchers should stick to the traditional Ph.D. route.  Still aren’t sure which career path to take? You should look into various programs of both kinds. Decide which specific degree program, rather than degree type, best fits your goals and interests.

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