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PsyD vs. PhD: What’s the Difference?

Applying to a graduate program means encountering a sea of new acronyms– GRE, MSW, MA, PhD, PsyD. It can be tricky to know what’s right for you!

When working towards a terminal psychology degree program, you have a choice between a PhD and a PsyD.

While the two options can seem pretty similar, the difference between the degrees can have a major impact. Your choice will determine both the areas that you study during your time in graduate school as well as the career path you’re qualified to pursue after graduation. In this guide, we’ll take a look at the differences between a PsyD vs PhD.

What is a PsyD program Like?

Your PsyD degree, or Doctor of Psychology, focuses on applying the theories and best practices of psychology to real-world patient situations. A PsyD program typically takes between four to seven years to complete and has a strong focus on hands-on, experiential learning through clinics, internships, and practicums. It helps prepare students for working with patients in a treatment setting. 

You can expect to complete anywhere from 1,500 to 4,000 hours of supervised work to complete your degree (depending on which state you plan on practicing in) as well as a final thesis or dissertation.

Some areas of study you might cover as a PsyD student include:

  • Patient interviewing and assessment
  • Statistics
  • Professional Ethics
  • Family psychology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Community Clinical Issues
  • Psychodiagnostic Assessment 

What is a PhD Program Like?

A PhD program, or Doctor of Philosophy, typically takes a little longer than a PsyD program—on average, about five to seven years. PhD candidates can expect to focus less on preparing to work directly with patients and more on research, experiments, and pushing the understanding of the field of psychology forward. It can serve as a career stepping stone for students interested in academia or in research work.

During your time as a working towards your PhD student, you can expect to dive deep into the theories and history of psychology, as well as learning analytics and research methods that can aid you in your future career. Some topics your courses might cover include:

  • Forensic psychology
  • Health psychology
  • Neurophysiology and electrophysiology
  • Trauma psychology
  • Psychopharmacology
  • Psychotherapy research
  • Research methods and psychometrics
  • Statistics and analytics

Just as with a PsyD, you expect to do plenty of hands-on learning (though your work might take you to a lab or academic setting rather than into a clinic or hospital). Likewise, you’ll complete a dissertation to cap off your degree. Your dissertation can take anywhere from 12 to 18 months to complete and can be focused on an area or topic that you choose in collaboration with your advisors.

PsyD Careers

After finishing your PsyD degree, you’ll be well-prepared to use your knowledge of psychological research and theories to serve patients in a clinical or therapeutic setting. PsyD programs are aimed at those who are interested in working directly with patients. 

Some of the most common careers for PsyD grads include:1

  • Industrial or organizational psychology – Using psychology in a corporate setting, whether that’s evaluating and boosting employee performance and morale or examining marketing trends and consumer behavior
  • School psychology – Serving in an elementary or secondary school setting and working directly with children or teenagers with issues pertaining to their education and school environments
  • Marriage and family therapy – Working with couples or families to help resolve strife, teach conflict resolution skills, and work through issues within their relationships
  • Forensic psychology – Serving as part of the legal system by working alongside lawyers, law enforcement officers, judges, and social workers to select juries, create profiles of the accused or victims, assist with probation hearings, or serve as an expert witness

Earning your PsyD degree may make you a much more attractive candidate for jobs than someone with a less advanced degree. It may also improve your earning potential. In addition, you’ll have the satisfaction of knowing you’re helping to make a difference in the lives of those who you treat.

PhD Careers

Like PsyDs, PhDs can choose to work with patients (after they’ve met state licensure requirements). However, if you pursue and complete a PhD, you may also be able to chart a career path within the world of research or academia. PhD programs typically lean much more strongly on research, theory, and analytics, and less on clinical and therapeutic work.

With your PhD, you will be in a position to apply for work in research labs, hospital settings, higher educational settings, government agencies, and private research organizations.2 In these contexts, your work can have a measurable impact as you help to solve the mysteries of the human mind and cognition.

Pursue your PhD or PsyD at Alliant International University

If the idea of working directly with patients in a therapeutic setting appeals to you, a PsyD program could be a great fit. If diving deep into theory and research is more your speed, consider looking into a PhD program.

Regardless of what degree program you’re interested in, Alliant International University has a program for you. Our PsyD and PhD programs offer the chance to work with world-class faculty and experience hands-on internships and learning opportunities, all while providing a blend of online and in-person courses. Don’t let your journey toward becoming a psychologist wait another day– request more information on Alliant’s courses!


  1.  “What Psychologists Do.” Occupational Outlook Handbook. U.S. Bureau of Labor Relations. 10/20/21.…. Accessed: December 30, 2021.
  2. “Careers in Psychology.” American Psychology Association. 12/30/21. Accessed: December 30, 2021.

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