PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology: What’s the Difference?

While a Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) and Doctor of Philosophy in psychology (PhD) may sound like two slightly different ways to say the same thing, the two degree programs are in fact distinct. They are both doctoral degrees in psychology with similar requirements in terms of coursework, internships and residencies, but they differ in focus and professional specialization. Below, we compare and contrast their admissions criteria, program lengths, curriculum, career opportunities and salaries.

What is a PsyD?

According to the American Psychological Association, the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) was developed in the 1970s as an alternative to the Doctor of Philosophy in psychology for those more interested in providing psychological services than conducting scientific research. PsyD students receive training in applying the science of psychology to assist individuals, groups and organizations, and are often required to write a thesis or dissertation demonstrating how psychological research can be applied to human behavior. As the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) notes, holders of doctoral degrees, such as the PsyD, may pursue careers in health services, schools or consulting, treating patients and serving clients. 

For more information, see our guide on how to become a psychologist.

Do You Need a Master’s to Earn a PsyD?

According to the APA career guide, you typically do not need a master’s to earn a PsyD. While the APA Commission on Accreditation does not stipulate specific admissions requirements for PsyD degree programs, the association does note that doctoral programs most commonly require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree with coursework covering statistics, research methods and lab work, rather than a master’s degree.

How Long Does It Take to Earn a PsyD?

According to the APA Commission on Accreditation, it takes five to seven years to earn a PsyD: at least three years of academic study; one to two years of a doctoral internship; and one to two years of postdoctoral residency.

What is a PhD in Psychology?

According to the American Psychological Association, the Doctor of Philosophy in psychology is the most common degree conferred in the field. The APA distinguishes a PhD from the PsyD by explaining that the former emphasizes scientific research, while the latter emphasizes professional practice. PhD students receive training in research methods and statistics and are often required to produce a dissertation demonstrating their research abilities. Beyond research and academia, PhD graduates may pursue careers in health services, schools or consulting.

Do You Need a Master’s to Earn a PhD?

According to the APA career guide, you typically do not need a master’s to earn a PhD in psychology. While the APA Commission on Accreditation does not stipulate specific admissions requirements for PhD in psychology degree programs, the association does note that doctoral programs most commonly require applicants to hold a bachelor’s degree with coursework covering statistics, research methods and lab work, rather than a master’s.

How Long Does it Take to Earn a PhD?

According to the APA Commission on Accreditation, it takes five to seven years to earn a PhD in psychology: at least three years of academic study; one to two years of a doctoral internship; and one to two years of postdoctoral residency.

Difference Between PsyD and PhD

According to the APA Commission on Accreditation, the difference between PsyD and PhD in psychology degree programs is a question of substance, rather than form. Both degree programs require at least: three full-time academic years or the equivalent of graduate study; a doctoral internship lasting one year full time or two years part time; and a postdoctoral residency lasting one year full time or two years part time. Where the PsyD and PhD differ is emphasis. A PsyD curriculum should emphasize professional practice, while a PhD curriculum should emphasize scientific research.

PsyD Degree Requirements

According to the APA Commission on Accreditation, earning a PsyD degree requires at least:

  1. Three full-time academic years, or the equivalent, of graduate study in:
    1. Research
    2. Ethical and legal standards
    3. Individual and cultural diversity
    4. Professional values, attitudes, and behaviors
    5. Communication and interpersonal skills
    6. Assessment
    7. Intervention
    8. Supervision
    9. Consultation and interprofessional/interdisciplinary skills
  2. Doctoral internship lasting one year full time, or two years part time, with at least four hours of supervision from a doctoral-level psychologist each week, of which at least two hours are individual supervision.
  3. Postdoctoral residency lasting one year full time or two years part time with at least two hours of individual supervision from a doctoral-level psychologist each week.

The APA requires PsyD degree programs to place relatively greater emphasis on training students for professional practice, rather than scientific research.

While the APA does not stipulate specific admissions requirements for PsyD degree programs, the APA career guide notes that doctoral programs may require applicants to hold a master’s degree in psychology or at least a bachelor’s degree with coursework covering statistics, research methods and lab work, and complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

PhD Degree Requirements

According to the APA Commission on Accreditation, earning a PhD in psychology requires at least:

  • Three full-time academic years, or the equivalent, of graduate study in:
    • Research
    • Ethical and legal standards
    • Individual and cultural diversity
    • Professional values, attitudes and behaviors
    • Communication and interpersonal skills
    • Assessment
    • Intervention
    • Supervision
    • Consultation and interprofessional/interdisciplinary skills
  • Doctoral internship lasting one year full time, or two years part time, with at least four hours of supervision from a doctoral-level psychologist each week, of which at least two hours are individual supervision.
  • Postdoctoral residency lasting one year full time or two years part time with at least two hours of individual supervision from a doctoral-level psychologist each week.

The APA requires PhD degree programs to place relatively greater emphasis on training students for scientific research, rather than professional practice.

While the APA does not stipulate specific admissions requirements for PhD degree programs, the APA career guide notes that doctoral programs may require applicants to hold a master’s degree in psychology or at least a bachelor’s degree with coursework covering statistics, research methods, and lab work, and complete the Graduate Record Examination (GRE).

What Jobs Can You Get With a PsyD in Clinical Psychology?

According to the BLS, the job you can get with a PsyD in clinical psychology is primarily a clinical psychologist. The BLS notes a clinical psychologist assesses, diagnoses and treats mental, emotional and behavioral disorders. They do so by interviewing patients, conducting diagnostic tests, and providing them, their families, or other groups with psychotherapy. Clinical psychologists may work with the general population or particular groups, such as children, or certain specialties, such as neuropsychology.

What Can You Do With a PhD in Psychology?

According to the BLS “How to Become a Psychologist” page, a PhD in psychology enables you to pursue a career as a clinical, counseling, research, school or industrial-organizational psychologist. The BLS describes each position:

  • Clinical psychologist: Assesses, diagnoses and treats mental, emotional and behavioral disorders.
  • Counseling psychologist: Helps patients cope with issues in their homes, workplaces or communities.
  • Research psychologist: Conducts scientific studies on behavior and brain function
  • School psychologist: Assists students and their families with educational and developmental disorders.
  • Industrial-organizational psychologist: Improves the quality of worklife using psychological principles and research methods.

PsyD vs Master’s in Psychology

As noted by the APA career guide, a PsyD is a doctoral degree, while a master’s in psychology is a graduate degree. Admission to a master’s program requires an undergraduate degree with coursework covering psychology, statistics, and lab work, as well as completing the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). Master’s programs can specialize in clinical, counseling or industrial-organizational psychology. Coursework includes research, statistics, ethics, assessment, evaluation and personality.

According to the BLS “How to Become a Psychologist” page, a master’s in psychology may qualify graduates to become school or industrial-organizational psychologists, but a doctoral degree is typically needed. The BLS notes a similar level of education is required for occupations closely related to psychologists, including marriage and family therapists, school and career counselors, sociologists and survey researchers.

How Much Do Psychologists Make?

According to the 2018 BLS data, the median salary for psychologists is $80,370 as of May 2019. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists make the least, $78,200. Industrial and organizational psychologists earned $92,880. Psychologists outside of those fields tend to make more, at $101,790. Among those psychologists, earnings were highest in these states, according to the BLS’ Occupational Employment Statistics

  1. California: $117,610
  2. Maryland: $112,260
  3. Alaska: $112,260
  4. Kansas: $104,980
  5. Washington: $103,440

Summing It Up

While a PsyD and PhD may sound like identical degree programs, they do have their differences, in terms of focus, degree requirements and career opportunities. Similarly, the master’s in psychology offers students a third option, with its own professional opportunities. Students should consider all three degree programs when deciding how to pursue their careers in psychology.

Interested in a career in psychology? Learn more about psychology career paths.

Last updated: May 2020