Psychologists can earn one of three doctoral degrees: the PhD, PsyD, and EdD.a  This section explains the differences between these degrees.

PhD - Doctorate of Philosophy

Although the word “doctor” is usually associated with a doctor of medicine or MD, the PhD or doctorate of philosophy has existed for almost as long. The Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is the most recognized of the doctoral degrees in psychology. The “P” in PhD is for “philosophy” because the degree originates in ancient Greece where every academic subject was philosophy-based.

PhD programs accredited by the American Psychological Association typically follow a “scientist-practitioner model.” This model places roughly equal importance on (a) clinical research and the application of scientific principles and (b) the integration of psychological science and practice. Clinical training typically integrates newer evidence-based therapeutic techniques with a foundation of established scientifically-supported treatments and assessment.

PhD programs are designed to create psychologists who can not only understand and apply research, but conduct it. A dissertation involving research is required for the degree. Most PhD programs require a dissertation to be comprised of “original research” by the candidate – i.e. the candidate will design the study, collect his or her own data, analyze the data using statistics, and report on the results. Many schools require an oral and/or written exam before the student can begin the dissertation process. The oral exam usually consists of a presentation defending one’s dissertation proposal.

Although many psychology jobs are available, a PhD provides advanced career opportunities and salary progressions that other degrees do not qualify for. The PhD allows psychologists to mix professional practice with teaching and research. The degree usually takes from six to eight years to complete, including supervised contact with patients in the form of two or more part-time fieldwork or practica placements and a one-year full-time internship.

PsyD - Doctorate of Psychology

Many people are not familiar with the Doctorate of Psychology Degree (PsyD) since it is a newer designation than the more familiar PhD. The “Psy” indicates psychology, and the “D” denotes a doctor. The PsyD movement began in the 1960s because too few psychologists with PhDs were entering private practice, preferring instead to pursue careers in research or academia. The first PsyD program began in 1968 at the University of Illinois. The PsyD focuses on theories and practical applications for clinical work as opposed to quantitative research. The PsyD has therefore become an option for students who want a career in therapeutic practice.

The American Psychological Association accredits both PhD and PsyD programs. The PsyD curriculum specifically trains students to become therapists, as opposed to the research focus of a traditional PhD program. Most programs require a dissertation or dissertation-like project, but students cover a wider range of topics than those allowed in PhD programs. PsyD dissertations can include original research, but also are permitted to include literature reviews and case studies. The PsyD degree also differs from a PhD in the amount time it takes to complete the program. A PhD degree typically takes about six to eight years of full-time study to complete; whereas the PsyD usually takes between four to six years.

PsyD programs are not without their critics. Many PsyD programs are housed at free-standing schools — that is, unaffiliated with an established university, and as a result, tend to accept more applicants than extremely selective PhD programs. On average, PsyD programs accept 41% of applicants, compared with 11% for PhD programs.b PsyD graduates also on average score lower on professional psychologist licensing exams.b,c

EdD - Doctorate of Education

Harvard University was the first school to award the EdD degree in 1920 and soon afterwards, other major universities began to follow suit. The EdD arose from the need for a doctoral practitioner in education, as opposed to a research-orientated doctoral degree in psychology.

As with any other advanced degree, the EdD requires an oral exam and a doctoral exam before completing the program. This program takes about 96 credit hours, about six years’ full-time study, to complete. Formal internships and practicum are required. Most of the courses in an EdD program are focused on the application of psychology, with some credits based on statistical methods and quantitative research analysis. Most schools do not require a previous Master’s or Bachelor’s degree in Psychology for admission to the program.

Most jobs offered to EdD degree holders are offered through the Department of Education. The EdD is traditionally regarded in academia and still does not carry as much weight outside of the profession. In terms of acceptance, some insurance companies will not pay for mental health services rendered by a practitioner with an EdD, although that is changing.


a Material for this section provided by the article “Differences between PhD, PsyD, and EdD” on the website

b From the January 11, 2010 Los Angeles Times article by Eric Jaffe “The PsyD degree versus the PhD

c Statistics provided by the document Psychology Licensing Exam Scores by Doctoral Program, 21st edition published by the Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards (ASPPB).