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What is a PsyD?

PsyD is one of the two main degree paths for a career in psychology. This article covers all the basic information about a PsyD.

May 31, 2024
  • Education
What is a PsyD?

If you're thinking about pursuing a career in psychology, you may find yourself stuck between two main degree paths — PsyD and PhD. While both degrees will give you many career opportunities and extensive knowledge in the field, one could be a better fit for your long-term goals. In this article, we'll explain everything you need to know about a PsyD.

What is a PsyD?

A Doctor of Psychology (or PsyD) is a professional doctoral degree intended to train psychologists for clinical practice. It was developed in the late 1960s as an alternative to PhD psychology programs.

How long does it take to get a PsyD?

PsyD programs take about 4-7 years to complete. In most cases, they have a 5-year plan:

  • 1st year is dedicated to foundational coursework,
  • 2nd - 4th years are a combination of coursework, clinical practicum, and dissertation research,
  • 5th year is for a full-time supervised internship.

Foundational coursework typically covers human development and behavior, psychological theories, research methods, and statistics. Other courses may depend on your chosen specialization if those are offered.

PsyD specializations

While most PsyD programs are broad and cover the general training of clinical psychologists, some universities have options for you to focus on one specific area of interest. Here are a few popular specializations:

Child, Adolescent, and Family Psychology

CAFP is dedicated to assessing and treating youth and their families, particularly on empirically supported treatment methods. The main focus is on preventing and treating children and adolescents experiencing mental health problems and promoting healthy family development. These programs usually include child-focused practicum and research experiences.

Clinical Forensic Psychology

The CFP specializations is committed to providing clinical psychologists with skills applicable to the criminal justice system and legal matters. The main function of forensic psychologists is to do psychological assessments of people involved in the legal system to assist in solving legal, contractual, and administrative problems.


Clinical geropsychology is a specialty area that focuses on the mental health, illness, assessment, and treatment of older adults. It covers cognitive decline, dementia, depression, caregiving, and aging. This is a relatively new but growing psychology niche, especially since the US Census Bureau projects people above 65 to make up 20% of the US population by 2030.

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PsyD vs PhD

The main difference between PsyD and PhD in Psychology is that one is a professional degree with the goal of preparing students for providing clinical services — also known as a practitioner-scholar model, while the other is a research degree that trains future researchers and professors, as well as licensed psychologists — a scientist-practitioner model.


PsyD programs usually include more coursework with a focus on skills needed for clinical practice. For example, Psychological Assessment course trains students to administer, score, and interpret test results, as well as prepare clinical reports. Additionally, some courses educate students on professional and ethical standards for clinical psychologists.

PhD programs are typically longer than PsyD and take up to 8 years. During this time, a significant portion is dedicated to research and theory. These programs offer courses such as Quantitative and Qualitative Research Methods and Multicultural Psychology, which results in approximately half of the graduates choosing to pursue a career in academia.


More often than not students who earn a PsyD become clinical psychologists. For instance, they can have a private practice or work as a forensic psychologist. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, clinical and counseling psychologists can expect an 11% change in the next decade, while the growth of employment for school psychologists is projected to be only 1%.

The data on Payscale shows that if you have a PsyD, you can expect your annual salary to be approximately $92,000. School psychologists' earnings are on the lower end — about $66,000 per year on average. On the other hand, the average pay for forensic psychologists is $108,000 per year.

PhD in Psychology programs also allow students to work in clinical psychology, but they provide skills for careers as marriage, family, and addiction counselors, and industrial-organizational psychologists. Additionally, PhD graduates can choose to stay in academia and work as researchers and teachers. The average salary for someone with a Doctorate in Psychology on Payscale is $100,000 per year.

What is a PsyD: Pros of a PsyD degree

Pros of a PsyD degree

First of all, a PsyD takes less time to complete — about 5 years on average, whereas a PhD can take as long as 8 years. That could also potentially result in the program being cheaper.

Second, most PsyD programs require clinical work and internships and don't need a dissertation. So if you'd rather work with patients and put your skills to use, a PsyD might be a program for you.

Last but not least, this degree allows you to fully dive into practical psychology and help people in the most direct way possible. It equips students with practical skills and specifically prepares them for careers in clinical psychology.

Cons of a PsyD degree

Even though a PsyD can be cheaper, far less financial help is available, often leading to PsyD graduates having more student debt. According to the American Psychological Association, the median debt for PsyDs tends to be more than double that of psychology PhD students.

In addition to that, some professionals and academics may hold the perception that a PsyD degree is less prestigious than a PhD. One of the reasons for that might be the fact that the PsyD program typically focuses more on practical training and clinical experience, while the PhD program places a stronger emphasis on research and academic writing.


PsyD stands for Doctor of Psychology. This is a professional degree based on a practitioner-scholar model, which is dedicated to practical training for clinical psychologists and takes from 4 to 7 years to complete.

Students who earn a PsyD usually choose to work as clinical psychologists, have private practices, or become forensic or school psychologists. On average, you can expect your annual pay to be $92,000 as a PsyD graduate.

If you can't wait to join clinical practice and aren't very fond of academic work, this degree might be perfect for you. However, it's important to consider the potential financial difficulties and what a PsyD can offer you long-term. Assess the pros and cons of all your alternatives and choose one that fits your career goals best.

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