What Is a PsyD? Your Degree Guide

Written by Coursera • Updated on

A Doctor of Psychology is a doctoral degree psychologists can earn to prepare for a career in a clinical setting. Learn how long it takes to earn a PsyD, and popular concentrations as you consider whether this degree can help you reach your goals.

[Featured image] A PsyD student in a yellow shirt sits outside on the steps in front of a building reading class notes.

A PsyD is a doctoral degree held by many psychologists who work in private practice, academia, and public organizations. The degree is a terminal degree, similar to the PhD and EdD. In many states, the PsyD leads to licensure as long as you also meet the other requirements established by the state's licensing board. If you're considering a career in psychology and have not decided which degree is right for you, learning more about the PsyD may help you choose.

What does PsyD stand for?

PsyD is an abbreviation for the term Doctor of Psychology. The origins of the degree date back to the 1960s, when a group of psychologists identified a need for training programs to prepare for clinical practice instead of laboratory work and research. This doctoral degree is one of the options available to you when you want to work with patients in the field of psychology.

What is covered in a PsyD?

Coursework in a PsyD program covers various topics, including human development, biological and cognitive foundations of behavior, statistics, and research design. During your first year in the program, you will likely take foundation courses in human development and behavior, psychological theories, and research methods. 

The courses you take during the rest of the program typically depend on the concentration you choose. For example, a forensic psychology concentration may include criminal and family law courses. If you choose a concentration in organizational psychology, you may take courses in applied psychology theory, including social, cognitive, and media psychology. Some programs also require clinical work or an internship. 

What is the difference between a PsyD and a PhD?

The biggest difference between a PsyD and a PhD in psychology program is the focus of the coursework. A PsyD program emphasizes how psychology applies to patient care, allowing students to apply clinical psychology research and principles to work with people. A PhD program emphasizes research and theory, allowing students to complete a dissertation.

Another important difference between these degrees is the length of time it takes to finish them. You can typically complete a PsyD in five years or less, but you may need as many as eight years to earn a PhD in psychology. Factors like the type of master's degree you hold, full-time or part-time status, and degree pathways offered by the school can affect how long it will take you to earn the doctorate. 


Admission requirements for a Doctor of Psychology

Each school establishes its entry requirements for PsyD programs, and many of them require at least a bachelor's degree, an application, and a resume or letters of recommendation. Some schools require a minimum score on the Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or the GRE Psychology Subject Test. Students from outside the United States may need to take an English proficiency test. 

If your bachelor's degree is in an area other than psychology, you may need to take prerequisite courses in psychology or a related field before taking the doctoral courses. 

How long does a PsyD take to complete?

People usually complete a PsyD in three to five years, and some need up to seven years to complete. The amount of time it takes you to complete the degree depends on several factors, including the number of credit hours you take each year and the program you choose. 

If you need to take prerequisite courses or choose a program that combines a master's degree with the PsyD, you may be in school for five years or longer. Those who finish the degree in three or four years typically already have a master's degree in psychology or credits they can apply toward the degree.

Psychology concentrations

Individuals who earn a PsyD typically plan to work as counselors and consultants. Depending on the program, you may be able to select a concentration or specialization based on your career goals.  Some possible concentrations include:

  • Addiction psychology: Focus on applying psychological principles to help treat addictions

  • Child psychology: Focus on the behavior, development, and social interactions of children

  • Counseling: Focus on assessing and treating individuals, couples, families, or groups

  • Forensic psychology: Focus on how principles of psychology relate to the law and legal cases 

  • Geropsychology: Focus on helping older people and their families cope with the aging process

  • Organizational psychology: Focus on the way humans behave at work and in organized groups

  • Psychoanalysis: Focus on working with patients one on one to explore unconscious and recurring thought and behavior patterns

  • Rehabilitation psychology: Focus on assisting patients with emotional and mental issues related to injury and disability

  • School psychology: Focus on assessing and developing interventions to help children learn

  • Sleep psychology: Focus on assessing psychological factors of sleep disorders and developing treatments for patients 

Am I a licensed psychologist with a PsyD?

Earning a PsyD degree does not automatically make you a licensed psychologist; you have to apply for licensure in the state where you want to practice. Licensing requirements vary from state to state, but they typically include the following: 

  • Background check: You will likely need to submit your fingerprints and go through a background check. 

  • Coursework: The state may ask you to complete classes covering child and spousal abuse, aging, or substance abuse. 

  • Examinations: Most states expect you to earn a passing score on exams like the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) and an ethics exam.

  • Professional experience: The state may ask you to complete a minimum number of hours working in a clinical setting under the supervision of a licensed practitioner or as part of an internship.

You must have a doctoral degree from a program accredited by the American Psychological Association in many states. Check with the licensing board in the state where you want to practice for the most accurate and up-to-date information.

Read more: What Is Accreditation? Guide to Accreditation and Alternatives

What can I do with a PsyD?

Earning a PsyD is often a step toward a clinical psychologist or psychotherapist career. Some PsyD holders go into private practice as child psychologists or marriage and family therapists. Others may work for organizations as an organizational psychologist, neuropsychologist, or forensic psychologist. You may also choose to go into teaching or research.

Next steps 

Explore whether a career in clinical psychology could be a good fit by taking a course like Introduction to Psychology from Yale or Positive Psychiatry and Mental Health from the University of Sydney. Before starting a PsyD, you'll need at least a bachelor's degree. With a bachelor's degree, such as a Bachelor of Applied Arts and Sciences, you may be able to enroll in a program that combines a master's degree with a PsyD. 

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