Is Getting a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Right for Your Career?

By Channing S

doctorate psychology psyd vs phd

Applying to graduate school can be a daunting task, but it is often a necessary step for individuals who want to independently provide direct patient care or conduct their own research. An advanced degree in psychology allows students to gain the necessary clinical and research experience. Through these experiences, students advance their ethical decision-making abilities, improve their knowledge of diagnoses and research methods, and practice skills necessary to provide therapeutic services. 

Employment options in clinical or counseling psychology may be limited without advanced study, and those with bachelor’s degrees in psychology could find themselves working in psychology-adjacent jobs or even in unrelated career fields. Without an advanced degree in clinical psychology, students lack the education, training, and regulated supervised experiences that are necessary to apply to state licensing boards that regulate independent practice.

Differences in Doctoral Programs

First, doctoral degrees in clinical psychology are different from advanced degrees in other fields. In clinical psychology programs, students gain knowledge in the classroom, but they concurrently obtain clinical and research experience as part of the graduate school curriculum. In fact, students are often expected to conduct research and provide therapy to patients under the supervision of licensed psychologists in various settings beginning in their first few years of graduate school. 

During their last year in their doctoral program, students must also successfully complete a one-year full-time clinical internship before the conferral of their doctoral degree. After the doctoral degree is obtained, many students choose – or, in many cases, they are required – to complete post-doctoral fellowships to further specialize their knowledge and to meet the requirements of the licensing board of the state in which they seek licensure. Namely, many states require supervised post-doctoral clinical hours before individuals are eligible to apply for a license.

Psyd vs PhD

There are two types of doctorate degrees you can get: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). Generally speaking, PhD programs are more selective as there are fewer spots. PsyD programs tend to accept a larger number of students each year but there are fewer programs so don’t assume that PsyD programs are necessarily easier to get into. PhD programs tend to emphasize research more while PsyD programs emphasize clinical experience more in their curriculum (although expect to do some research). Regardless of whether you hold a PhD or PsyD, you need to be licensed in the state where you work. Check each state because requirements vary slightly, but at the least, you’ll need to complete an exam. 
In terms of career opportunities, if you’re wanting to work in academia or research, the PhD is necessary to attain most positions in academia. If you don’t enjoy research or you know now that you only want to work in client-facing roles or clinical settings, a PsyD is the better option out of the two. There are more considerations when choosing between a PhD and PsyD so do your research before deciding.

Clinical Experience in Doctorate Programs

During graduate school, internship, and post-doctoral fellowship, students are working under the license of another provider, and they are receiving a mandated number of hours of supervised provision of services each week. The accrediting bodies of graduate programs, internships, and post-doctoral sites have specific supervision and training requirements that students must meet to be able to enter the profession independently, and students receive regular evaluations of their knowledge, skills, and abilities throughout all levels of training.

Should I get a PsyD or PhD in Psychology?

Bottom line: the widest array of well-compensated post-graduate career options often comes with earning a doctoral degree. In the absence of a doctoral degree, students can pursue psychologist-adjacent career options, and in some cases, students can earn specialized master’s degrees, though these also have many state-specific limitations and supervision requirements before independent clinical practice. 

As for students who need to terminate their education at the bachelor’s level, the scope of career options within psychology may be limited, but they could potentially locate employment as a mental health technician in a hospital, or they may work as a research assistant. These tend to be lower-paying jobs when compared to what can be earned with an advanced degree. Those who choose to use their psychology background in adjacent fields might pursue marketing or business fields where knowledge of human behavior can be beneficial.