Going way back in ancient civilizations, psychology has been integral in understanding human behavior and mental processes. In modern times, psychology is utilized to address issues faced by people who struggle with emotional and mental health perils.
As a career path, the field of psychology has multiple trajectories, with options ranging from research-based professions or people-oriented positions like that of family counselors. It is also possible for psychology graduates to join the academe as professors.
For those who want to enhance their credentials and expand their career opportunities, pursuing a Doctor of Psychology degree in an accredited graduate school will give them the foundation they need to stand out from their chosen field. This terminal degree program does not often require a dissertation. Instead, students are usually asked to take electives and undergo clinical training experiences.
Many online doctorate programs allow specialization courses, with choices ranging from primary child care and child and adolescent psychology to industrial and organizational psychology and clinical psychology.
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Most students who seek to earn a PsyD degree tend to pursue careers in clinical psychology and psychotherapy. It is often done to boost their professional skills and increase their chances of promotions and specializations. There are many doctoral degrees in psychology that are friendly to working professionals.
These doctoral programs are often available online or in a hybrid format, making it easier for working adults to juggle their personal and professional life.
The Difference Between a PsyD and a Ph.D. in Psychology
Doctorate degree programs are an important milestone of academic achievement. As terminal degrees, they are the highest academic degree that can be awarded to individuals in most disciplines.
Earning a doctorate opens doors for a professional’s career. It serves as a badge or an additional quality seal that ups the marketability of a professional. Not only that, they get to learn advanced skillsets and new methodologies and techniques for their respective fields while earning their degree, as well as other skills that they can apply to other disciplines should they choose to enter into them.
In the field of psychology, the choice of terminal degrees for professionals falls between a Doctor of Psychology (or a PsyD) and a Ph.D. in Psychology. As with other disciplines and professions that have a choice of two terminal degrees, the two degree programs have certain key differences that determine the career path that most fits whoever earns that degree.
These differences also determine the type of coursework and curriculum design of the program and the type of final requirement. Let’s take a brief and overall look at the two.
The Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Psychology
Regardless of profession or discipline, Ph.D. degrees share a general similarity in having a scholarly emphasis. This means Ph.D. degrees tend to have a heavy emphasis on research.
This research can be focused on the various principles and theoretical bases that form the foundation of a discipline; in the case of psychology, theories of human behavior and mental development, for example. Given the emphasis of this degree program, most of its graduates, if not in clinical practice settings, tend to work in academia.
The Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)
The Doctor of Psychology or PsyD is the relatively younger of the two terminal degrees, having only been developed in the mid-20th century as an alternative to the Ph.D. in Psychology. In its current form, this degree program tends to have a heavier emphasis on clinical practice, that is, honing the skillsets of professionals that they end up using on a day-to-day basis in various settings as practitioners.
Crucial research skill sets are still taught since clinical practice involves a degree of research; however, there is far less of an emphasis on scholarly research and more on how research-related skill sets can be applied to their professional practice.
Another way of looking at the difference between the two degree programs is this: given the emphasis on scholarly research, the Ph.D. program contributes toward the continuous process of refining and updating the theoretical foundations in Psychology, while the PsyD program is geared toward honing and preparing professionals in putting these theoretical bases into practice.
This is broadly the same across various professions that have PhDs and unique doctoral degree programs, whether they be in Education, Nursing, Business, or others.
Common Courses in Online Doctoral Degree Programs in Psychology
The curriculum design of various PsyD doctoral degree programs can vary between universities that offer them. This difference may arise from the set of learning objectives that they set out for their degree programs or from the specialization areas that they design into their curricula.
Nevertheless, there are a number of common courses between these programs that, while they may differ slightly in name, will be broadly similar in terms of theme and content. Let’s look at some of these courses.
Theoretical, Historical, and Philosophical Foundations
This course commonly forms part of the set of foundation courses in most PsyD degree programs. Psychology as a discipline has its own rich history of being developed out of much older disciplines, and the various schools of thought in psychology each have their own guiding principles.
Bases of Human Behavior
As part of the set of foundation courses, PsyD degree programs often include courses on the various bases of human behavior. These may also be split up into courses that focus on particular sub-categories, such as biological and neuropsychological bases, among others.
Many clinical practice settings in psychology involve one degree or another of behavioral analysis and/or diagnosis, and PsyD curricula will have a course/courses dedicated to the topic and includes discussion on methods and their appropriate use/application.
This is a crucial skill set in various settings, whether they be in schools, family-related settings, or specific organizations or institutions. This course introduces students to the necessary techniques and procedures for administering counseling services.
Some degree programs may also offer specialized counseling courses for specific clinical settings and specialization areas offered, such as in counseling in schools for example.
The decision to undergo or proceed with certain intervention measures for various psychological issues, such as behavioral issues and addiction/abuse issues, is far from simple. This course deals with the various nuances, parameters, and techniques around this process.
This is a course often included in degree programs that have a Specialization area on School Psychology. This deals with the skillsets required to assess the cognitive abilities of individuals in relation to the educational system, which includes the functioning of their cognitive processes, any special capacities, and achievements. This course includes using and administering various assessment tools and methods.
Qualitative and/or Quantitative Research
Despite being a practice-focused degree as opposed to being research-focused, PsyD degrees still involve training on crucial research skills and, therefore, will invariably still have courses that are dedicated to such.
PsyD degree programs may also have courses that are split between conducting qualitative and quantitative research since these two methods have their own appropriate uses and are applied differently, using different data-gathering tools.
Given its emphasis on practice, PsyD programs often conclude with a Doctoral Capstone Project. This, in turn, involves students completing a required number of hours in a chosen clinical site on top of completing a research-driven written output.
Common Specializations in Online Doctorate Degree Programs in Psychology
Many doctoral programs in psychology offer specializations. These learning tracks are customized to help one reach their career goals, whether they aim to be clinical counselors or consultants. Some may have higher earning potential than others.
Knowing these specializations will help students figure out which path to take and ensure they are earning a PsyD degree that leads to lucrative and worthwhile fields.
This specialization teaches doctoral students the power of behavioral psychology in shaping society and lending a hand to people who suffer from mental illness. In this concentration, they will be able to identify behavioral patterns and modify those that are found to be problematic.
Focusing on the identification, prevention, and treatment of mental health disorders, clinical psychology is a specialization that is most suitable for those who want to get a license to practice. The courses in this learning track tackle how to effectively provide an outlet for clients to communicate and work through their issues.
This specialization often utilizes a broad range of informed practices that help people prevent and alleviate distress and maladjustment, resolve crises, and improve their overall well-being by offering mental health services. It is important that students choosing this track are able to gain a solid understanding of the evidence-based practice and culturally informed strategies to help them do their job. This includes assessment, intervention, training, and research.
Students who are passionate about solving real-life crimes will consider forensic psychology as a specialization. This track allows one to explore human behavior and the law.
They will be able to apply clinical specialties to legal situations through assessment of the people involved. This would mean being able to assist with investigations, conduct psychological research, and create intervention programs.
Industrial and Organizational Psychology
At the heart of industrial and organizational psychology are the principles and applied psychology research methods essential in improving productivity, health, and the quality of work life. This concentration will lead to positions such as human resources specialists, primarily aiding organizations in terms of hiring staff, training, and employee development.
Others may opt to become management consultants with a focus on quality management, organizational change, and strategic planning. Some can even branch out to healthcare management. Also, some universities might offer human and organizational psychology instead.
Sport and performance psychology deals with the identification and application of psychological principles that help one reach peak sports performance. It encourages and improves people’s participation in physical activities. It is also important in helping athletes reach their optimal human performance.
Primary Care Psychology
In this specialization, students are taught how to apply psychological knowledge and principles involving physical and mental health problems that patients and families are going through. They will be equipped with effective skills in primary care, such as recognizing and managing anxiety disorders, chronic diseases, and health promotion and disease prevention.
Child and Adolescent Psychology
This specialization aims to develop one’s scientific knowledge when it comes to delivering psychological services to infants, toddlers, children, and adolescents, all within the social context. At the core of this learning track, one will learn the importance of understanding the basic psychological needs of children and adolescents and how they are influenced by family and social contexts.
Most Competitive Career Paths for Online Doctorate in Psychology Graduates
Having covered the available specializations that one can choose in a PsyD degree program, it is time for prospective students to explore their career options. There is a wealth of job opportunities in the psychology field; however, having a specialized track can boost their potential earnings and help them grow in their profession. Here are some in-demand career paths for graduates of psychology doctoral programs.
In general, psychologists can earn a median pay of $81,040 annually. However, clinical psychologists can have better compensation, with an annual median pay of $99,640. As a clinical psychologist, one needs to assess, diagnose, and provide therapy to individuals, families, or groups.
They need to be knowledgeable regarding crisis intervention techniques and prepare and maintain patient records. One must have a license to practice clinical psychology.
Utilizing psychological evaluations and various forms of therapy, child psychologists are primarily responsible for helping children and adolescents learn how to cope better with life and relationship issues along with mental health conditions. They often assess the issues faced by children and develop prevention programs.
Marriage and Family Therapist
The aim of marriage and family therapists is to help maintain the well-being of couples and familial systems. They are skilled at aiding couples who seek help in overcoming discord, incorporating therapy into their everyday life to resolve their pressing concerns and restore balance. This often involves navigating fractured bonds and propagating healing.
As a forensic psychologist, one needs to aid in the assessment and treatment of criminal behavior. They often work with prisoners, offenders, and other professionals within the judicial and penal systems. They may also have to work with victims of crime.
Often, forensic psychologists deal with criminal profiling. They are also expected to provide research-based evidence that will be submitted to the court and provide advice to parole boards and mental health tribunals.
Mental Health Counselor
The role of the mental health counselor is to promote optimum mental health by helping individuals deal with various mental health issues such as suicidal thoughts, substance abuse, family and marital problems, and stress management, among others. The counseling can be done individually or in group sessions.
Often working with clients going through difficult times, such as dealing with depression, stress, phobias, and emotional distress, psychotherapists perform therapy sessions in a controlled environment. Psychotherapists verbally interact with clients to explore their behavior, attitudes, and emotions to help them address their inner conflicts.
Top 5 Best Online Doctoral Programs in Psychology with No Dissertations
The University of Arizona Global Campus
Ideally designed for working professionals, the Doctor of Psychology degree program offered by the University of Arizona is fully available online.
This doctoral degree online program aims to equip students with adequate knowledge of the history and systems of psychology. To help students focus on their career goals, they are given the opportunity to choose a specialization that aligns with their specific interests.
The degree is accelerated with 6 to 9-week courses. Students who want to be practitioners in particular disciplines, including criminal justice, mediation, and conflict resolution, among others, will find this online doctorate program an ideal choice. Instead of a dissertation, they are required to complete an applied doctoral project.
Students who successfully earned this online doctor of psychology program are expected to apply the best practices in the field and exhibit culturally diverse standards in their professional lives. They must be able to utilize a comprehensive psychology knowledge base supported by evidence-based methods and research as well as theoretical models.
Some of the online courses in the program include Psychology of Leadership, Biological Bases of Behavior, Contemporary Criminological Theory, and Adult Psychopathology and Treatment, among many others.
Walden University offers a Doctor of Psychology in Behavioral Health degree. This online program ensures students will be able to gain behavioral health leadership skills that will help them manage and improve the delivery of integrated mental and behavioral healthcare.
In lieu of a traditional dissertation process, students will be required to complete a Doctoral Writing Assessment and Doctoral Capstone. They will also be required to render residencies, one for Consulting Skills Intensive, which is face-to-face, and the virtual doctoral project residency.
Students are allowed up to 8 years to complete their online doctoral program. Exceeding this, they will need to file a petition for an extension. To get admitted into the program, applicants must have at least one year of post-master’s degree-related work experience.
Students aiming to be behavioral health professionals may choose among various specializations to help them reach their career goals. This includes Public Health, Teaching, Health Psychology, Healthcare Management, International Practice, and Industrial/Organizational Psychology.
Offering innovative coursework in psychology, Meridian University’s Doctor of Psychology in Clinical Psychology helps students prepare for professional practice with core, clinical, and research courses. They will gain a solid foundation for clinical and research courses, in particular. The program is designed to meet the educational requirements for a psychologist license in the state of California.
This PsyD degree is available in a hybrid format, which means working professionals will be able to complete their coursework online while pursuing their careers. Students are expected to develop leadership capabilities that will help them with their profession in the field of psychology.
Those with a master’s degree will be required to complete 117 credits, 25 of which will be devoted to fieldwork. They will have the option to choose between a dissertation and a clinical case study for the program culmination and successfully earn the online doctoral degree.
This online doctorate program offers concentrations, including Developmental Coaching, Transformative Learning, Clinical Psychology, Integral Psychology, Somatic Psychology, Organizational Development, Transpersonal Psychology, and Collective Trauma and Social Healing, among others.
University of Colorado Denver
The University of Colorado at Denver offers a Doctor of Psychology with a School Psychology track, an accredited program by the American Psychological Association (APA). It is offered in a hybrid format, with a mix of online and on-campus classes.
The 100-credit hour program follows a practitioner-scholar training model, which sees students with rigorous study combined with intensive supervised clinical practice (minimum of 600 in-field hours). The comprehensive coursework covers the various aspects of human behavior (biological, cognitive, socio-cultural, and developmental), as well as crucial skills in psychological assessment, crisis intervention, counseling, and consultation.
In addition to the practicum and clinical externship components of the program, students complete the program with a Doctoral Capstone Project, which illustrates their understanding of relevant topics and their roles and scope of practice.
Alliant International University
Alliant International University’s Doctor of Psychology in Educational Psychology is offered entirely online, designed for students who have at least a Master’s Degree and a license, credentials, or certification to practice school psychology in their respective states.
The online degree program covers a wide range of relevant coursework, taking students through topics that include leadership, global education, consultation skills, research design, and program development, with discussions on law and ethics in the field.
Graduates are prepared to take on leadership roles, and have the necessary skill sets to be effective practitioners of applied educational psychology and applied research whose work abides by principles of ethics and professional integrity.
The degree program has a total of 50 credit hours and concludes in a Doctoral Project, whose preparation is subdivided into several stages spread over several later terms in the program.
Frequently Asked Questions
How long does it take to earn a Doctoral degree program in Psychology?
Most doctor of psychology programs can take 5 to 7 years to complete. Most of them involve dissertations; however, many offer alternatives like a research project. The program duration largely depends on the status of the students. Those who are enrolled full-time will get to finish and earn the degree quicker. Still, there are online programs that are in accelerated formats, allowing doctoral students to finish them ahead of time.
What career paths are there for graduates of PsyD Doctoral degree programs?
While passing the required state licensure examinations is not guaranteed, the course content of many PsyD degree programs is often designed to satisfy the requirements needed to sit for licensure examinations in the respective states that particular universities offering these programs are based.
Holders of Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degrees are able to work in a variety of settings that require clinical practice-related skill sets that they have earned through their time in the program. This can also depend on the particular tracks/emphasis areas offered by particular PsyD degree programs, which are geared toward particular industries.
Aside from private practice, PsyD holders can hold roles in counseling centers and mental health agencies, as well as inpatient hospital settings. PsyD holders also occupy roles in schools, both as school psychologists and teaching roles, especially for higher education.
Also, some PsyD graduates get to have roles related to relevant public policy or work for government agencies. Lastly, PsyD graduates can also comfortably have consultancy roles.
What are the advantages of online PsyD programs?
As a whole, the current way that online classes are conducted is still quite far from replicating the much-loved and highly valued online learning environment that comes with traditional face-to-face classes. This doesn’t mean, though, that online degrees and online classes do not have their good points.
Higher education, especially terminal/doctoral degrees, often costs a lot, and traveling to campus for classes can incur costs on top of tuition. Costs can be higher for uncommon degrees offered by few universities or enrolling in prestigious universities, which can mean moving to another state.
Online classes largely eliminate this cost and add flexibility since students can more freely balance coursework with their current careers. A lot of online doctoral programs have coursework that is offered asynchronously and are self-paced, or others may follow the cohort model, which means students get to progress together with their peers, whom they can collaborate with both in and out of the class environment.
Some degree programs have face-to-face components, but these tend to be far reduced in number. For those that include clinical practicums, universities often set these up to be done in appropriate facilities that are near the student.
Lastly, there is still the long-standing perception of online degrees being of lesser quality, but this is largely dispelled by the growing number of reputable universities offering online versions of their traditional on-campus degree programs. These two are held to the same academic standards and are taught by the same faculty, and diplomas also do not indicate whether or not a degree was earned online.
What are the admission requirements to get into an online Doctoral program in Psychology?
Usually, a master’s degree from an accredited regional university is among the requirements for admission into the Doctor of Psychology programs. Some doctoral programs require students to meet the minimum grade point average in their post-baccalaureate degree and may even compel them to demonstrate a post-master’s degree-related work experience. For online doctoral programs in psychology, access to a computer and the internet will also be a must.
Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree programs are designed with an emphasis on clinical practice and are aimed at honing the skillsets of students to be able to become effective professional practitioners in various settings.
While they may not be as common as online Ph.D. programs in Psychology, PsyD degrees are also offered online, which is an attractive option for working professionals who need to balance the necessary coursework with their prior commitments to both career and personal life.
Online PsyD programs are often offered/designed with one or more tracks/emphasis areas that are geared toward specific sub-fields or industries, and this determines their course content and some specialized skillsets that are taught.
Given their heavily practice-oriented emphasis, PsyD doctoral degree programs often conclude in doctoral capstone projects instead of traditional dissertations, as these are good opportunities for students to apply their learnings and get valuable experience time before they graduate.