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Tough Question: PhD or PsyD

red door amidst many gray doors

PhD vs. PsyD in Clinical Psychology

So you are thinking about getting a doctorate in Clinical Pschology. A big question you will have to answer is whether to get a PhD or a PsyD. To start, what do these letters even mean? A PhD is a Doctor of Philosophy whereas a PsyD is a Doctor of Psychology. In addition, PhD students are generally trained following the scientist-practitioner model that puts greater emphasis on research than PsyD students, while PsyD students are generally trained with greater emphasis on clinical work than PhD students. Finally a PhD degree is earned in 5-7 years, while a PsyD degree is earned in 4-6 years, keeping in mind that this includes 1 internship year.
 
In making your decision between a PhD and a PsyD, there are several factors to consider:
1) Funding during graduate school
In general, graduate students in a PhD program receive some type of funding/financial assistance. This assistance includes free tuition, and a stipend (a fixed sum of money) for being a Teaching or Research Assistant. This type of assistance adds up to tens of thousands of dollars each year. It's not like you will be rich, but getting this assistance will likely reduce the probability that you will incur any debt in graduate school. The importance of not having debt when you leave graduate school is tied to the fact that the amount of money you will earn as a PhD clinical psychologist, although not bad, is likely not as much as you might have thought. As for PsyD programs, we are sad to say that, in general, they do not provide the same type of financial assistance as PhD programs. Part of this is the fact that PsyD students are typically not in a Department of Psychology and thus do not serve as Teaching Assistants or Research Assistants. Also, PhD programs have far fewer graduate students than PsyD programs and thus are able to offer financial assistance to this lower number of students.
 
2) Length of time in graduate school
We stated earlier that the time in graduate school is typically shorter for a PsyD student than a PhD student.What this means is that a PsyD student is able to get out and earn a real salary at least a year earlier than a PhD student. Take this example. Let's say you get out of school and earn about $60,000 with your PsyD. This amount is a lot more than the stipend at any PhD program; the stipend might be close to $20,000. The $60,000 you earn in your year out of graduate school, however, will be needed to start paying back what could be at least $100,000 in loans to cover tuition costs. Therefore, the $40,000 extra in salary for the PsyD student compared to the stipend of a PhD student is offset by the tuition debt for the PsyD student.
 
3) American Psychological Association (APA) accreditation--graduate school and internship
The issue of accreditation is very important. APA states that, although graduating from an accredited program does not guarantee jobs or licensure for individuals, it may facilitate such achievement. In thisway, an APA accredited program reflects the quality by which an educational institution or a program conducts its business. That is, accreditation speaks to a sense of public trust, as well as to professional quality. Because of these points, it makes sense to search out APA-accredited programs. Moreover, with regard to internships (that every PhD and PsyD student must complete), APA also notes that students who take unaccredited internships are ineligible for positions with the Department of Veterans Affairs, the single largest employer of psychologists. In addition, if you do not do an APA accredited internship a n individual cannot take a civilian position with the military. There are also a handful of states require aspiring psychologists to have had an APA-accredited internship to be licensed, and many others require them to show that they completed the equivalent of an APA-accredited internship.  
word decision spelled out
4) Career path
If you want to conduct research both in graduate school and beyond, go for a PhD. If your career goals lean toward more practical work and not conducting research in graduate school or afterwards, go fort a PsyD. An important caveat to the preceding is that you might want to conduct research in a particular area (e.g. ADHD) because you feel the research experience will help you understand a particular mental health issue, but do not want to continue conducting research after graduation--a PhD is probably for you.
 
Please note that the comments of Dr. Golding, Dr. Lippert and the others who post on this blog express their own opinion and not that of the University of Kentucky.