PsyD vs PhD: Program Comparison

Male professional at desk with degrees on wall

If you’re interested in working at the highest level in the field of psychology, there are two degree options that you should consider. These are the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) in Psychology degree and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree. Before deciding on which doctorate-level degree to pursue, it’s important to examine all the aspects of both degrees, taking into consideration the similarities and differences between a PsyD vs PhD degree. 

Here, we’ll address those similarities and differences, along with answering some common questions that future doctoral candidates often have.

In This Article: 

What Is a PhD? 

A doctorate is the highest level of an academic degree that can be achieved. There are different types, including the PhD.

Earning a PhD can be a challenging process, but you may also find it to be rewarding. This degree is focused on research and statistics. It is a competitive program that requires a lot of commitment from students, but there are several benefits to a PhD in psychology.

A PhD program can help prepare students to pursue employment in a variety of settings, such as research-related and academic fields. Some graduates may pursue teaching positions, while others may lend their expertise to corporate development projects.1

The PhD in psychology is distinguishable from the master’s in psychology with the addition of the dissertation. While master’s students may write a thesis, they do not need to conduct original research. In contrast, students pursuing a PhD are required to conduct original research that culminates in a dissertation.

It’s possible to specialize in different areas with a PhD. Many colleges offer specialized PhD programs that are tailored to specific interests and skill sets — for example, a PhD in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Integrating Technology, Learning and Psychology or a PhD in General Psychology with an Emphasis in Performance Psychology. You can also often choose whether you’d rather focus more on qualitative or quantitative research in your program.

All About the PsyD 

A Doctor of Psychology degree program is an alternative option to a PhD for students who would like to pursue a career practicing clinical psychology and working directly with clients. A PsyD program teaches graduates the skills they need to work in a variety of settings, such as research and education, yet it also qualifies graduates to work toward becoming licensed clinical psychologists — provided they meet other state licensure requirements.2

If you are earning a PsyD degree, you will need to complete an internship accredited by the APA that lasts at least one year.2 This can give you the opportunity to explore what client-focused work you want to pursue after you complete the PsyD program.

Graduates with a PsyD often pursue careers as clinical psychologists or counselors, as these positions enable professionals to work directly with patients.2 In PsyD courses, you’ll be taught how to apply evidence-based research directly to psychology practice in individual and group settings, preparing you specifically for these fields.

Similarities Between a PhD and a PsyD 

Both of these are strong degree options for students looking to further their education in psychology or professionals looking to position themselves for potential advancement in their field. While there are distinct differences, there are also similarities.

A PhD degree and a PsyD degree are both doctorate-level degrees that require you to have an undergraduate degree and perhaps also a master’s degree — ideally in psychology — when you apply.2 You will also need a certain GPA, submit strong letters of recommendation and perform well on any entrance interviews. Because both degrees are terminal degrees, you must make yourself a competitive candidate, no matter which of the two degrees you choose.3

During both degree programs, you will also be required to complete a dissertation or a dissertation-like project. This requires you to conduct your own original research and analyze your findings.

What Is the Difference Between a PhD and a PsyD? 

Anyone trying to decide between a PsyD vs PhD should understand several differences between the two types of doctoral degrees. The courses in each degree program vary, with both focusing on psychology. However, each degree is tailored to help prepare you for distinct career paths and specialized areas within the field of psychology.

Another difference between a PhD in general psychology and PsyD programs lies in graduates’ intended career outcomes. If you want to pursue a career that involves research or teaching, you will likely want to pursue a PhD in general psychology.3 On the other hand, if you want to apply your psychology training in a more client-focused way, the PsyD may allow you to pursue a career in clinical or counseling psychology.2

Considerations for Choosing a PsyD vs. PhD 

Selecting the appropriate doctoral program can pose challenges. As you reflect on your choices, consider where your academic interests and career goals lie. The following table may help guide your decision-making process.

PhD in General Psychology

  • Emphasizes research
  • May support a career in academia or research
  • Courses focus on research and statistics
  • Requires the completion of a dissertation 

PsyD in Psychology

  • Emphasizes practice
  • Can lead to clinical licensure if other licensure requirements are fulfilled
  • Courses focus on application of knowledge
  • Requires the completion of a dissertation 

Earn your Doctorate in Psychology Degree from GCU 

Regardless of which option you choose, earning your doctoral degree can help enhance your academic qualifications and may empower you to pursue the next stage in your career — either advancement in your current position or a new type of role entirely. In large part, the decision comes down to your career goals: Do you want to predominantly work in research or academia, or would you prefer to work directly with clients in need of counseling?

Are you ready to take the next step in your academic career? If so, the College of Doctoral Studies at Grand Canyon University offers a variety of online PhD in general psychology and counseling programs designed to help you reach your career goals. Complete the form on this page to learn more about your PhD degree options at GCU. 

McDonald, S. (2024, Jan. 21). What can you do with a PhD in psychology?(11 jobs to view). Indeed. Retrieved on March 14, 2024.

American Psychological Association. (2014). A career in clinical or counseling psychology. Retrieved on March 14, 2024. 

All Psychology Schools. (n.d.). PhD vs. PsyD.: What’s the difference? Retrieved on March 14, 2024. 

Approved by the dean of the College of Doctoral Studies on April 24, 2024.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author’s and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of Grand Canyon University. Any sources cited were accurate as of the publish date.