Open Search
Open Navigation

What's the Difference between a PhD and PsyD in Clinical Psychology

two therapist chatting
Reviewed By
Published on: 03/20/2018
Last Updated: 06/17/2024
6 minute read

Congratulations! You've made the tough yet worthwhile decision to pursue a doctorate in clinical psychology. A doctorate in clinical psychology provides many potential career opportunities. You can receive training as a clinical psychologist, work in social work, sports psychology, educational psychology, mental health psychology and more. Now, what is the next step?

Before you dive into a doctoral program and clinical training, you'll need to clarify what type of doctoral degree in psychological clinical science you'd like to earn. In the field of Clinical Psychology, there are two distinctive doctoral-level degrees you can work towards: a PhD and a PsyD. What do these degrees mean and how do you choose which degree in psychology program is right for you? Find out more below...

Advance Your Career

PhD in Clinical Psychology

The PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, degree, is traditionally a more common degree path in psychology. This type of doctorate in clinical psychology is founded in research, so the focus of your studies may be on developing research ideas and analyzing data. This training culminates in the completion of a doctoral dissertation project. Typical PhD program training takes between 5 and 7 years to complete. Depending on the school, these programs may be highly selective and only enroll a small number of students each year.

PsyD in Clinical Psychology

The PsyD, or Doctor of Psychology, degree, is an alternative doctoral degree that focuses on the clinical and applied aspects of psychology. Unlike a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) in psychology, which often emphasizes research, the PsyD meaning focuses more on applied training and practical experience in the behavioral sciences. PsyD study revolves around preparing students for professional practice and clinical placement. The coursework and practicum is directed at applying established standards of practice and evidence-based services that will be applied in future clinical work. PsyD students may also complete a doctoral project or dissertation that focuses on an applied clinical problem. Typical PsyD program training takes between 4 and 5 years to complete. These PsyD degree programs generally accept a higher number of students than PhD programs.

Request Information

How to Choose Between PhD and PsyD

Understanding the difference between a PsyD vs PhD can be confusing. Which clinical psychology program you choose depends on the direction you’d like to steer your studies and, ultimately, your career. Think about what sort of work you’d like to do beyond graduation: research-focused or clinically-focused. Take a look at what graduates of both, the PhD program and the PsyD program, are doing to see if their careers align with your own interests.

All things considered, PhD graduates may use their research-based degrees to conduct experimental studies, work in academic settings, and consult with schools or hospitals. PsyD graduates may use their clinical-based degrees to work directly with patients who need behavioral health analysis, clinical psychology, and mental health services. They provide therapy and may pursue a career in private practice. All students enrolled in Clinical Psychology programs at the California School of Professional Psychology (CSPP) at Alliant International University receive advanced training in psychology in a clinical setting to allow them to confidently function as clinicians and researchers. This is an important step to becoming a licensed psychologist. Most importantly, both the PhD and PsyD programs are accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA.)

Are you a doctoral candidate and conflicted about which Clinical Psychology degree is the best fit for you? Contact an Alliant admissions counselor by calling 1 (866) 825-5426 to learn more about our PsyD or PhD degree programs and the admission requirements.

Additionally, CSPP offers many master’s degree programs at our college campuses and online. Check out some testimonials from our graduate students of the programs and their experience below:

“I am so grateful to have been a part of the Fresno Clinical Psychology PhD Program at CSPP. The diverse faculty that I studied with throughout my tenure in graduate school made quite a lasting impression on me in terms of fostering my professional development and have helped shape me into the clinician and researcher that I am today.” Jennifer Lewey, Clinical Psychology, PhD

“The PsyD program at Alliant prepared me in two different ways. First, it socialized me into the profession of psychology. Second, it, and the Center for Integrative Psychology more specifically, taught me how to think in more powerful, inclusive, and effective ways.” Michael Lembaris, Clinical Psychology, PsyD

Call Today

What to Expect in a Doctorate in Clinical Psychology Program

Program Structure

This doctoral program aims to expand clinical students' understanding in delivering psychological services. The internship involves hands-on practice for aspiring professionals. This type of program provides a valuable clinical experience to better equip graduates for their careers in psychological science, which sets them apart from clinical psychology PhD program students who do not have a similar opportunity. The clinical program integrates scientific evidence with practice in responding to human problems of developmental deprivation, dysfunction, psychological disorders, and trauma. Students can follow their own clinical interests and further their individual career goals by selecting an emphasis area and taking a specialized series of courses, and by pursuing research and field placements that are consistent with their interests and long-term career goals.

Proficiency in Clinical Practice and Educational Settings

Even though the PsyD program emphasizes practical training, it still trains students who aspire to pursue an academic career. Graduates from the Psychology Department can choose to become faculty members while maintaining a clinical practice. In other words, earning a PsyD in Clinical Psychology should not hinder you from entering the academic field. You have the flexibility to pursue careers in clinical practice, teaching, or even a combination of both


Is it possible to pursue a career in academia or education?

Yes, of course, but while it's possible to become a professor in a college or university with a PsyD, those with a PhD degree typically have a better leverage in getting into these academic positions. 

Is it harder for PsyD students to secure internship positions compared to PhD students?

Absolutely not. A lot of internship sites need students or candidates who can handle various clinical duties, and because you have acquired extensive expertise and clinical skill in psychological assessment and therapy in your program, you'll get an internship position easily. 

What is APA accreditation?

The American Psychological Association accredits doctoral programs in practice-oriented areas such as clinical, counseling psychology, and school psychology, as long as they meet the APA's standards and maintain them. Many employers and internship sites prefer or require psychologists who graduated from APA-approved programs. Therefore, when deciding which programs to apply to, it's crucial to check the APA accreditation status. Alliant offers psychology programs that are APA-accredited.

You might also like

Back to Blog
Learn More
young woman talking to therapist

7 Psychology Specializations: Which is Right For You?

By examining the link between brain function and human behavior, psychology can positively influence collective outcomes and...

Learn More
woman talking to another woman taking notes on clipboard

Social Worker vs. Psychologist: 6 Key Differences

If you’re contemplating a career in psychology or human services, you might be both thrilled and overwhelmed by the number of...

Learn More
man listening to speaker in group

How Long Does it Take to Get a Psychology PhD?

Obtaining a PhD in psychology comes with a number of benefits, from the freedom to start your private practice to the chance to...