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When it comes to careers, clinical psychologists often enjoy a number of benefits—from making a meaningful difference in the lives of others to having the opportunity to choose a specialization that speaks to their passions.

If you’d like to run your own counseling center or otherwise work independently, however, most states in the country require psychologists to hold a doctoral degree—either a PhD or a PsyD.1 A PsyD can be especially useful if your ultimate goal is to work directly with clients in a clinical setting.

To that end, keep reading to learn how to get a PsyD degree and why they’re so invaluable.

PsyD Program Overview

 

What is a PsyD Degree?

A PsyD refers to a doctor of psychology, a terminal degree and one of the two highest degrees in the field of psychology.2

Developed in the 1970s, PsyD programs prepare candidates for the rigors of working one-on-one with individuals in a variety of specialties and settings. More specifically, they provide the education and training needed to evaluate, diagnose, and treat mental health conditions, such as:3

  • Anxiety
  • Depression 
  • Eating disorders
  • Alcohol use disorder (AUD)
  • Substance abuse disorder
  • Grief
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
  • Schizophrenia

You might be asking, how does a PsyD differ from a PhD? As we mentioned above, the former is focused more on building a foundation for working in a clinical environment through a curriculum that emphasizes patient care and treatment.4 Meanwhile, PhD programs concentrate primarily on research and theory and enable graduates to work in higher education and research, as well as clinical settings.

Benefits of Earning a PsyD Degree

Obtaining a PsyD degree may take anywhere from four to seven years, but the skills, techniques, and knowledge they provide are indispensable to:

  • Screening individuals for mental health conditions, behavioral complications, and emotional distress
  • Making diagnoses and developing personalized treatment plans
  • Providing clinical interventions with mental health treatments ranging from cognitive behavioral (CBT) to somatics

However, as mentioned, one of the biggest perks of earning a PsyD degree is that it may give you the power to work with clients without supervision from a doctor in psychology (or a fellow PsyD or PhD).

How to Get a PsyD Degree: Prerequisites

Every PsyD degree program has its own prerequisites. That said, there are a handful of commonalities across programs. Navigating the requirements and ensuring you meet them is the first step in getting into a PsyD program.

Educational Prerequisites

At minimum, PsyD degree programs require a bachelor’s degree. An undergraduate degree, specifically in psychology, may be attractive to some admissions boards, but other related degrees, such as sociology, may be accepted and even welcomed. Some PsyD programs may also require a master’s; others will want to ensure you’ve successfully completed coursework in:5

  • General Psychology
  • Abnormal psychology
  • Social psychology 
  • Statistics
  • Psychopathology
  • Personality psychology
  • Learning/developmental psychology
  • Physiological psychology

Depending on the program, you may need to achieve a minimum score on the GRE (or General Record Examination) or the GRE Psychology Subject Test.

A prospective PsyD student might ask if they can be a clinical psychologist with a master's, but most clinical roles require a doctoral degree, like a PsyD, for independent practice. If you’re unsure whether you have the prerequisites or exams needed for acceptance, your best bet is to research the programs you’re interested in and consult with an admissions counselor.

Gaining Relevant Experience

Proving that you’ve also worked in clinical settings or similar environments may suggest to admissions boards that you’re not only familiar with psychology but also devoted to your future profession.

Admissions aside, it’s vital for you to gain relevant experience to help ensure you’re making the right educational and professional decision—and, perhaps, have enough interest in the field for both “stickability” and longevity.

Experience may be obtained in a variety of ways, such as:6

  • Volunteering at a mental health charity
  • Working as a research assistant in higher education
  • Interning with (and shadowing) a clinical psychologist or other mental health professional
  • Working as a crisis line call handler

It’s important to keep in mind that some PsyD degree programs might require a certain number of hours of relevant experience. This means that you may want to conduct research well in advance of when you hope to start the PsyD student application process.

Choosing the Right PsyD Degree Program

PsyD programs aren’t just an investment of your time, energy, and resources. They also set the whole tone of your launch into the profession of psychology, at least at the doctoral level. This alone underscores the importance of finding a program that:7

  • Offers instruction by PsyDs and PhDs at the top of their professions
  • Provides balance and flexibility through in-person and online courses and training should you plan to work and/or raise a family (among other obligations) throughout your doctoral program
  • Features a class size that aligns with your personality and learning style
  • Offers cross-disciplinary research
  • Is situated in an area that’s either convenient to where you presently live, where you could see yourself moving to, or is otherwise accessible (many PsyD degree programs require in-person clinical training)
  • Has a realistic acceptance rate
  • Works within your budget or supplies financial assistance through grants and scholarships
  • Has an outstanding reputation and is well-connected to internships, research, and postgraduate opportunities
  • Supplies doctoral candidates with a mentor and/or advisor

Above all, bear in mind that you should seek out a PsyD program that’s accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), such as the PsyD in Clinical Psychology program offered by Alliant International University. Consider it the golden seal of approval—and a postgraduate prerequisite for working in most clinical settings.

Application Process for PsyD Programs

The application process for a PsyD degree varies from program to program. And yet, you can prepare yourself well for the overall process by:

  • Requesting your undergraduate and/or graduate school transcripts
  • Gathering your standardized test scores (if applicable)
  • Writing a personal narrative that details why you’ve chosen the clinical psychology program and what you hope to gain from a PsyD program, as well as the real-life experience, academic achievements, and research history you’ll bring to the program
  • Arranging for two to three letters of recommendation from former or current employers and/or instructors
  • Crafting, and polishing, your curricula vitae (CV)

Many PsyD programs also require an interview. Preparing for yours will, again, depend on the specific programs you’ve applied to. Some interviews may focus on the research you hope to conduct. Others may concentrate on the specialization you’ve selected. Whatever the case may be, keep in mind that you’re interviewing the program too, and should ask how they differentiate from other PsyD degree programs.

Talk to Our Advisors

 

The PsyD Curriculum and Clinical Training 

Applying to a PsyD degree program is only the first step toward becoming a clinical psychologist. Of course, there’s also the program itself to complete—its coursework and clinical training.

Your exact curriculum will depend on your program and, if applicable, your chosen specialty. Still, in looking ahead, you can get excited about taking classes in:

  • Counseling and therapy theories
  • Clinical assessments
  • Evidence-based psychology
  • Cross-cultural psychology
  • Psychobiology
  • Child development
  • Research design and methods

In addition, your program may require you to get hands-on clinical instruction through a supervised internship with a licensed psychologist. Think of it as an advantage for your education and future career: you’ll gain an up-close and realistic perspective on a day in the life of a clinical psychologist.

Career Paths with a PsyD Degree

One of the most appealing parts of obtaining a PsyD is exploring the various specialties and subspecialties that exist in the broader realm of psychology. These include:

  • Industrial-organizational psychology
  • Military psychology
  • Neuropsychology
  • School psychology
  • Sports psychology
  • Social psychology
  • Addiction psychology
  • Rehabilitation psychology
  • Psychoanalysis

Whatever specialty you choose, it’s essential to know that the final step to obtaining your license is successfully passing the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). This is a test administered by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB) that includes 225 multiple-choice questions. You might also be required to take—and pass—a state-specific exam.

Transform Your Passion into a Profession at Alliant International University

Clinical psychologists are one of the most valuable resources in the field of healthcare. They’re individuals who ultimately help improve the lives of others and their loved ones and families. While understanding the entirety of how to get a PsyD may seem a bit daunting, think of what you can gain in the process: the confidence, compassion, skills, and training required to potentially make a significant and lasting difference.

Alliant offers doctoral programs for psychology to help equip our doctoral candidates with these very characteristics. Whether you ultimately choose a PsyD in Clinical Psychology or a PhD in Clinical Psychology, our talented staff will guide you through the beauties and complexities of human behavior.

Elevate your educational experience with Alliant by requesting more information.


Sources:

  1. “Pursuing a Career in Clinical or Counseling Psychology.” American Psychological Association. Accessed April 17, 2024. https://www.apa.org/education-career/guide/subfields/clinical/education-training. 
  2. Cherry, Kendra. “PsyD vs. Phd in Psychology: Which Is Right for You?” Verywell Mind, October 27, 2023. https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-a-psyd-2795135. 
  3. Cleveland Clinic. “Psychologist: WHAT THEY DO, Specialties & Training.” Cleveland Clinic. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://my.clevelandclinic.org/health/articles/22679-psychologist.
  4.  “What Is a Psyd? Your Degree Guide.” Coursera, November 29, 2023. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://www.coursera.org/articles/psyd. 
  5. “Psyd vs Phd Psychology Requirements & Prerequisites: Psydprograms 2020.” Psy.D. Programs.org, September 16, 2021. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://psydprograms.org/psyd-vs-phd-psychology-requirements/. 
  6. 14 ways to get clinical psychology work experience | indeed.com UK. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://uk.indeed.com/career-advice/finding-a-job/clinical-psychology-w….
  7.  Team, BetterHelp Editorial. “How to Choose the Best Psy.D. Program.” BetterHelp, April 12, 2024. Accessed April 18, 2024. https://www.betterhelp.com/advice/psychologists/how-to-choose-the-best-psy-d-program/. 
     

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