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

While many career opportunities exist in the field of mental health, 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 in order 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. While these degree programs cover many of the same material and prepare students for a career in psychology, 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. While Ph.D. programs may still prepare students for practicing psychology in a clinical or counseling context, 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 undoubtedly cover material relating to research practices during their academic careers – often as early as during their undergraduate educations – 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 but may not have a strong interest in the research aspect of the field, for practice. 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, with doctoral students in school for clinical psychology now split nearly down the middle between Ph.D. programs and Psy.D. programs, 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 begin the rewarding work of helping 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 that 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. Student who still aren’t sure which career path most appeals to them may be better served by investigating various programs of both kinds to decide which specific degree program, rather than degree type, best fits their goals and interests.

Brenda Rufener

Julie McCaulley

Carrie Sealey-Morris