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

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A PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) degree and a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in psychology both offer advanced education and training to develop expertise in psychology. While both degrees prepare you for careers in the field of psychology, deciding which degree is right for you can depend on your career interests. So, PsyD vs. PhD in Psychology: What’s the Difference?

One important factor to consider is whether the doctoral program you are interested in is clinical or non-clinical. A PsyD program focuses on clinical training, while a PhD in psychology is more oriented towards scientific research. It is essential to evaluate your goals for obtaining a graduate degree and choose the program that best aligns with those goals.

Although many PsyD-holders work in research or teaching roles, and many non-clinical PhD-holders work in helping professions, if your objective is to obtain licensure for clinical practice, pursuing a PsyD may be the appropriate choice. Conversely, if you have no interest in clinical practice and prefer a career in other areas, a non-clinical PhD might be a better fit.

What Is a PhD in Psychology?

A non-clinical PhD program in psychology generally focuses on the knowledge of psychology without the focus of specifically working with clients. Usually, PhD programs focus on information rather than practice – how the mind works, how humans develop throughout their lives, or even how changing conditions (in the environment, in a community, or in a family) can impact different populations.

Non-clinical programs also focus on research skills – how to conduct research that contributes to the body of knowledge about psychology. Ultimately, pursuing a PhD in Psychology prepares students for a wide range of career opportunities in the field of psychology, whether in research, consulting, or teaching.

What Is a PsyD?

A PsyD is a doctoral degree in psychology that prepares students for careers as clinical psychologists. It is an applied clinical doctorate degree that is one of the highest-level degrees available in the field of psychology. The degree is a terminal degree, similar to the PhD and EdD, and in many states, the PsyD leads to licensure as long as you also meet the other requirements established by the state’s licensing board.

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What’s the Difference Between PsyD and PhD in Psychology?

The key difference between a PsyD and a PhD in psychology lies in the primary focus and training emphasis of each degree. PsyD programs concentrate on clinical work and practical application, preparing students for licensure eligibility and careers as practicing psychologists. In contrast, PhD programs in psychology, particularly those following the scientist-practitioner model, place a greater emphasis on research training and may lead to careers in academia, research, or non-clinical settings.

Feel free to reach out to professors, professionals in the field you are interested in, as well as organizations of interest to determine if your career goals will require licensure. You will need to do some soul-searching and some research, but these efforts will help you choose the best path toward realizing your goals. Contact state and national psychological organizations to request information about licensing requirements. You can also call your state licensing board and speak with an advisor about what jobs and positions require licensure. You can even browse through local job listings to see what the employer’s requirements are.


PsyD programs typically provide a comprehensive curriculum encompassing clinical theory and application, core psychological principles, research methodologies, and psychological evaluation and assessment. The training component is structured to facilitate practical exposure throughout the program duration, comprising ethnographic learning in the initial stage, followed by multiple practicum placements, an Externship in the penultimate year, and a predoctoral Internship in the final year.

PhD programs typically emphasize scholarly writing and foundational psychological knowledge, coupled with basic to advanced research methods and study planning, as well as psychological tests and measurements. Students have the flexibility to pursue a general PhD program or opt for a specialization in fields such as Gerontology, Health Psychology, Industrial/Organizational Psychology, Gender and Sexuality Psychology, Social Policy and Behavioral Health Administration, Substance-Related and Addictive Disorders, or Trauma and Disaster Relief. For those pursuing a specialization, the curriculum includes additional courses pertinent to the selected field.


The PhD in psychology program does not lead to certification or licensure. Graduates of the PsyD program who have completed a year-long postdoctoral residency can take the licensing exam in professional psychology, known as the EPPP. Passing this exam enables the individual to apply for licensure in any state, although some additional state requirements may vary. More information about the EPPP may be found on the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (SPPB) website.

How to Choose Between PhD and PsyD

If your goal is to work in a job or career where state licensure to practice psychology is required, a PsyD or clinical PhD program is your best option. However, there are many positions where you might work directly with people or within the mental health field that do not require state licensure. As part of choosing the correct program, consider your goals and the career path you want to pursue.

If you want a job that requires licensure, choose a PsyD. If you are interested in jobs that don’t involve working as a clinician, consider if a PhD might be the right path. It’s also important to consider issues such as class size, graduation rates, doctoral projects, and financial assistance/scholarships available.

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Career Options for PhD and PsyD

Here, we delve into the wide range of professional opportunities for those with advanced psychology degrees. Discover the multitude of rewarding careers across academia, research, clinical practice, and more.

Clinical Career Options

Most PsyD graduates work in a variety of clinical roles: psychotherapy (individual, family, and group); assessor, administering and interpreting psychological test data; Neuropsychology; consultation; and forensic work. Increasingly, clinical psychologists collaborate in teams with other healthcare providers, such as social workers, physicians, nurses, and counselors.

According to APA’s Center for Workforce Analysis, 74% of clinical psychologists report that they work collaboratively with other healthcare providers. As a result, the PsyD is a versatile degree, enabling one to potentially work in business, education, healthcare, and research, in addition to the traditional practice settings of psychotherapy and assessment.

In a recent survey, there were approximately 106,000 licensed psychologists in the US, 87% of whom were employed 5 years post-graduation (APA, 2019), earning a median annual salary of $90,000. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, demand for licensed psychologists is set to grow by over 12% in the next 10 years. They predict further that clinical career opportunities in Neuropsychology, Geropsychology, and Forensic psychology are expected to show even stronger growth.

Non-clinical Career Options

If you need to complete a clinical program such as a PsyD to become a clinician, what can you do as a non-clinical PhD in psychology? Individuals with a PhD in Psychology work in a wide variety of career fields. Recent research suggests 50% of those with a psychology PhD reported working as counselors, top-level managers and administrators, training and labor relations specialists, and managers in the medical and health services fields (Pappas & Samm, 2021). The National Science Foundation (2021) reported that over the past ten years, those with a doctorate in psychology entering business or industry has increased by 10%.

Psychology Professor (non-clinical)

A psychology professor is an expert in their field of psychological study (non-clinical) who instructs students at a bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level and conducts psychological research. They often work at a college or university where they specialize in a particular area of psychology, including organizational/industrial, developmental, forensic, health, or neuropsychology. As of May 2022, the BLS reported the median average salary for a psychology professor is $78,810.


Research psychologists investigate different topics, carry out experiments, and contribute to the advancement of our scientific understanding. They are predominantly employed in psychology departments, medical schools, and business schools within higher education institutions. However, researchers also hold positions in government, non-profit organizations, and the private sector. As of May 2021, the BLS reported the median average salary for a research psychologist is $81,040.

Organizational Psychologist

Industrial-organizational psychologists concentrate on studying the actions of workers within their work environment. By utilizing research methods and psychological principles, they aim to enhance various aspects of the work environment, such as performance, communication, job satisfaction, and safety. I/O psychologists are employed in diverse work settings, such as organizational development, talent management, or people analytics. As of May 2022, the BLS reports the median average salary for an Industrial-organizational psychologist is $139,280.

Forensic Psychologist

Forensic psychologists specialize in the application of scientific psychological principles to legal matters at all levels of the justice system. Non-clinical forensic psychologists don’t provide evaluation or treatment services but instead engage in research, consultation, and non-clinical service delivery pertaining to psychology and the law. Consultation involves providing expert psychological knowledge within the legal and judicial systems, while research may focus on areas such as memory, perception, child development, and decision-making as they relate to eyewitnesses, juvenile offenders, or police training and procedures.

They may also be employed by mental health, substance abuse, and intellectual or developmental disability facilities or in policing. The overall objective of forensic psychology is to support law enforcement officers, attorneys, and judges in implementing evidence-based policies that promote fairness and accuracy in the justice system. As of July 2022, data from Indeed reported the median average salary for a forensic psychologist is $94,045.

Sports Psychologist

Sports psychologists specialize in both the psychological and physical aspects that impact an individual’s motivation and performance in competitive sports and athletic activities. Although they are not clinical psychologists and do not conduct psychological counseling or assessments, they can become a Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMP) and offer support to clients in developing and utilizing cognitive, life, or self-regulation skills to improve their performance, personal growth, and enjoyment in sports or other areas such as the military or performing arts.

These professionals may work in various settings, including private practice, health clinics, academic institutions, government agencies, or with professional or collegiate sports teams. As of July 2022, data from Indeed reported the median average salary for a sports psychologist is $54,000.

Developmental Psychologist

Developmental psychologists explore the process of growth and adaptation across different life stages. They engage in research that is intended to assist of people of all ages to achieve their full potential and support their growth, and collaborate with people of all ages to comprehend and promote their development. Developmental psychologists operate in a range of contexts, including academic institutions, government agencies, healthcare facilities, and schools.

Those employed in colleges and universities usually concentrate on research or teaching, while those employed in applied settings, such as healthcare facilities or clinics, help evaluate, assess, and treat individuals who have developmental disabilities. Developmental psychologists might also work in nursing homes, hospitals, mental health clinics, or centers for the homeless. As of May 2023, the BLS reported the average salary for a developmental psychologist is $74,509

Health Psychologist

Health psychologists investigate how patients manage illness, reasons people may fail to follow medical advice, and effective approaches to alleviate pain or modify unhealthy behaviors. They also create healthcare programs aimed at enhancing emotional and physical wellness.

A health psychologist who does not work in a clinical setting typically collaborates with clinical psychologists or physicians in areas such as weight management, pain management, aiding individuals in coping with genetic diseases, preventing patient re-hospitalization, and designing walkable communities that encourage physical activity. As of May 2023, according to data provided by ZipRecruiter, the average salary for a health psychologist is $91,884.


Non-clinical neuropsychologists research cognitive impairment and its effects on behavior, emotions, and cognitive abilities. They may also investigate various therapeutic and alternative methods for diagnosing and treating neurological disorders. While non-clinical neuropsychologists do not provide medical treatment, they do work with other healthcare professionals to help them understand the causes of neurological disorders, the impact these disorders can have on daily life, and to provide training to professionals such as clinical psychologists and psychotherapists on how to manage cognitive disorders and diseases. As of July 2022, data from Indeed reported the median average salary for neuropsychologists is $162,400.

Brittnei P., Class of 2020; Antwan S., Class of 2020 Military Veteran

Earn Your PsyD or PhD from National University

The PsyD program at NU offers small classes and individual attention, owing to our 10:1 student: faculty ratio. A small number of scholarships are available through the Dean’s office at the JFK School of Psychology and Social Sciences. 94% of our students graduate from the program. The PsyD program is currently in its last phase of securing accreditation from APA (a reapplication for the program was necessitated by the closure of JFKU in 2020). For further information about the program’s accreditation status, please contact Dr. Doug Haldeman, Program Director ([email protected]).

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology

The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology program at National University offers students the opportunity to complete their studies on their own time, with a new start date every Monday. The program is 100% online and can be completed in 46 months, with 20 courses, and is taught in the 1;1 teaching model.

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