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Clinical Psychology: PsyD Degree and Career Guide

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About the Master’s in Clinical Psychology

Degree Type:

Doctor of Psychology (PsyD)


Online, classroom, and hybrid


A minimum of 3 years, plus an internship

Total Credits:

Typically between 70 and 80, but varies widely

Aid Eligible:

Yes, for accredited programs

To work in the field of clinical psychology or practice independently and gain a legal license as a psychologist, almost every state requires that you hold a doctoral-level degree. There are several options for your doctorate in psychology and, of these, one of the most popular is the PsyD degree. How do you pursue this degree and what can you do once you graduate? Find answers to these questions and more in the guide below.

What Is a PsyD in Clinical Psychology?

A PsyD in clinical psychology allows you to work in some of the highest levels of the field. The degree first came into existence in the 1970s as an alternative for doctorate students who were more interested in providing empirically based service directly to clients than conducting psychological research.

As previously mentioned, a PsyD or other doctoral degree is almost always necessary if you wish to get your psychology license. Once you’ve received your degree, you’ll then be required to complete a set number of supervised clinical hours. The final step to earning your license is to take and pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP). Many licensing boards also require their own state-specific exam.

PsyD vs. PhD degrees

Of the other doctoral degrees in psychology, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) is undoubtedly the most common. Per the American Psychological Association (APA), PhD degrees are intended for students interested in generating new knowledge through scientific research and/or gaining teaching experience.”

Students in these programs are trained in the practical application of psychology principles with patients, but also receive in-depth education on research methods and statistics in order to produce new knowledge. PhD students almost need to produce and defend a dissertation to demonstrate their research ability, which isn’t always the case in PsyD programs.

No matter which degree you choose, you’ll be prepared to get your license and work in many of the same roles within clinical psychology. That said, if you know for certain that you want to conduct research or teach psychology at the graduate level, a PhD can better prepare you for these roles.

Another difference between a PsyD and PhD are the acceptance rates of the programs. PhD programs tend to be very selective, with many only accepting 10 students or fewer a year. Across the country, these programs have an average acceptance rate of just 13%.

PsyD programs often accommodate a higher number of students, sometimes as many as 100, though this varies widely by school. With more spots available per program, this makes for an average acceptance rate of about 40%. It’s important to note, however, that this doesn’t mean a PsyD degree is easier to get. Far fewer schools offer PsyDs than PhDs, so while an individual program might have a better acceptance rate, there are simply less spots available overall.

Who should consider earning a PsyD?

PsyDs in clinical psych are typically designed for students who’ve already earned their master’s in the same or a related field. These degrees are made to train students in a wide variety of theories, tools, and intervention techniques that are used to treat mental illness, behavioral issues, and emotional distress.

What Academic Requirements Need to Be Met Before Starting a PsyD Program?

Most PsyD students enter their program with a master’s degree in the same or a closely related field. You’ll likely need a GPA of least a 3.0, though many programs require as high as a 3.5. You’ll also need to provide personal essays and letters of recommendation and likely attend an in-person interview.

Can you get in without a master’s degree?

While there are PsyD programs that allow you to enter with only a bachelor’s, your education will include working on your master’s on your way to earning your doctoral degree. Commonly known as joint- or dual-degree programs, these can let students cut down on the overall length of time they spend earning the 2 degrees, as credits from the master’s can often be applied to the PsyD.

Can you apply credits from a master’s degree?

If you’ve earned your master’s in clinical psychology or a closely related field, you may have taken courses that cover some of the credits of your PsyD program. This depends widely on what your chosen program requires and what they’re willing to accept. Applying previous credits is another way to shorten the length of time it takes you to earn your degree.

Can you get in if your master’s isn’t in psychology?

Entering a clinical psych PsyD program will always require certain prerequisites, though these vary depending on your school. While it’s completely possible to enter with a degree in another field, you might first need to take continuing education courses or pass an exam to prove you have the necessary knowledge.

Do you need to take the GRE or other standardized tests?

In most cases, you’ll need to get good scores on the GRE to be accepted into a doctorate program. There’s no standard for what’s considered good. That said, top psychology grad schools report averages of around 160 out of 170 on both the Verbal and Quantitative sections, and around a 5 out of 6 on Analytical Writing.

Your school may require additional tests of their own or another exam that replaces the GRE, so check in with the department’s admissions office

How Long Does It Take to Get a PsyD?

To get your license, many states require that the program you attend is accredited by the American Psychological Association. To gain accreditation, a program must be made up of at least 3 full-time academic years and a 1-year internship, making the road to your PsyD degree no shorter than 4 years.

Because the PsyD puts less of an emphasis on intensive research, the amount of time you spend in your program will likely be less than if you pursued a PhD.

The PsyD in Clinical Psychology Curriculum

Your PsyD will prepare you to employ a variety of theories and techniques to help your clients hands-on in clinical settings.

What courses are involved?

The courses you take depends on your specific program, however expect to take some variation of the following:

  • Psychological assessment
  • Psychodynamic psychotherapy
  • Theories of the mind
  • Behavioral-cognitive therapies
  • Lifespan development
  • Ethics in psychology
  • Statistics and research

Number of course credits

In general, you can expect a PsyD program to be at least 70 credits, though this varies widely between schools. Students who won’t be pursuing their degree on a full-time schedule might choose to evaluate potential programs on a cost-per-credit basis.

Popular concentrations

While clinical psychology is its own concentration, it’s very common for PsyD students to tailor their education even further. This may include focusing on topics that include things such as:

  • Addiction psychology: Applying principles of psychology to the treatment of drug, alcohol, emotional, or behavioral addictions
  • Child psychology: Evaluating the psychological needs of children and how the family and other social contexts affect their development
  • Counseling psychology: Analyzing how people of all ages function at different stages of their lives and developing methods of coping and resolution
  • Forensic psychology: Bringing together knowledge of psychology and the law to report on findings and make recommendations that impact the outcome of legal cases
  • Geropsychology: Addressing the mental, medical, and functional changes that occur in later life to help the elderly achieve and maintain maximum well-being
  • Group psychology: Working with groups to analyze dynamics to identify treatment plans that affect the betterment of each individual and the group as a whole
  • Psychoanalysis: Bringing about the awareness of unconscious or recurring patterns and promoting optimal healing and functioning through various intensive approaches
  • Rehabilitation psychology: Addressing physical disabilities in those who have been ill or injured and any mental or emotional issues that may arise because of them
  • Sleep psychology: Analyzing normal and disordered sleep to develop treatment plans and resolve the factors that lead to sleep disorders

Is Fieldwork or a Practicum Required?

You’ll take part in various practicums where you’ll get the chance to observe professionals in the field and also apply what you’ve learned in a limited but hands-on way in supervised settings. To complete your degree, you’ll also need to complete at least a 1-year, full-time internship that’s accredited by the APA. Some programs may also require an externship, a 1-year but part-time supervised assignment.

Are Online Programs Available?

While it’s possible to earn your PsyD online, keep in mind that an APA-approved program will still involve in-person practicums and an internship. You can find programs that allow you to take your classroom courses online or combine a mix of in-person and online classwork. These hybrid and online programs can be a great option for those who might have commitments that would make it difficult to attend campus each day.

How to Pick a Degree Program

Choosing to earn your doctoral degree in psychology is no trivial decision, and an even more important choice is the exact program you attend. While researching schools, ask questions such as:

  • Is a PsyD or PhD the right degree for me?
  • Is the program accredited by the APA?
  • What’s the average class size?
  • What’s the graduation rate?
  • How long, on average, does it take complete the program?
  • What type of internship or other fieldwork is required?
  • How many students match with their preferred internship?
  • Is a dissertation or similar project required?
  • How well do students do, on average, on the licensing test?
  • What kind of financial aid is available?

Careers with a PsyD in Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is a wide field under which many different careers can fall. Common positions find these psychologists working in hospitals, mental health facilities, and private practices, while others work in less traditional settings such as schools, court systems, and business organizations. Where you work and what exactly you do often comes down to how you choose to tailor your degree. You might opt to concentrate on particular issues like addiction and trauma, or work with specific patient populations such as children or families.

Marriage and family therapist (MFT)

Working directly with families and couplesMFTs help both individuals and groups address topics that might be negatively impacting the home. These might include emotional issues in a relationship, behavioral problems with kids, the death of a family member, addiction and disease, and much more.

Salary and job outlook

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), marriage and family therapists earn a median annual salary of $56,570. Through 2032, job opportunities are expected to increase by 14.9%, a rate that’s over twice that of the national average for all occupations.

Requirements and certifications

To work as an MFT, you must be licensed by the Association of Marital & Family Therapy Regulatory Boards. Requirements vary by state, but you’ll be expected to complete a set number of supervised clinical hours, usually somewhere in the thousands. Once you have your degree and have completed this experience, you must pass the Examination in Marital and Family Therapy in order to get your license. Most states require that you undergo continuing education in other to renew your license every few years.

Though it’s not necessary, board certification can be helpful if you’re seeking high-level careers in psychology. The American Board of Professional Psychology (ABPP) offers Clinical certification, as well as one specifically for Couples and Family.

School psychologist

Within an educational setting, most commonly elementary and secondary schools, these psychologists work with students, teachers, and parents to resolve issues that affect the quality of education that a student receives. They might address problems like classroom behavior, bullying, learning disabilities, problems with authority, or issues that are happening with a child at home.

Salary and job outlook

School psychologists earn a median annual wage of $81,500, according to the BLS. Along with general clinical and counseling psychologists, jobs for these positions are projected to increase by 1.3% through 2032.

Requirements and certifications

The ABPP offers both School and Clinical Child certifications, though these aren’t a requirement for employment.

Organizational psychologist

In a workplace setting, organizational psychologists aim to implement policies and procedures that help employees effectively work toward company goals while maintaining wellness and morale. They conduct screenings, training sessions, and performance reviews, and might also study consumer behavior in an effort to improve marketing and sales.

Salary and job outlook

According to the BLS, the median salary for an organizational psychologist is $139,280 per year. Through 2032, jobs are expected to increase by roughly 5.9%.

Requirements and certifications

Again, additional credentials aren’t a requirement, but an optional Organizational and Business Consulting certification can be obtained through the ABPP specialty board.

Forensic psychologist

Forensic psychologists make a positive impact on the justice system as they work directly with law enforcement, judges, lawyers, and others across the legal field. They might conduct screenings of criminals or victims, develop psychological profiles, collaborate with probation boards, help with jury selection, and serve as an expert witness in court.

Salary and job outlook

The BLS doesn’t list salary data for forensic psychologists specifically, however psychologists across all fields earn a median annual wage of $106,420. Forensic psychologists may earn more as they often work within local and state government.

Requirements and certifications

While not necessary, the ABPP does offer a Forensic certification. Other credentials that could be beneficial to your career include certifications for Counseling, Behavior and Cognitive, Psychoanalysis, and Police and Public Safety.

Sports psychologist

Often collaborating with athletes, coaches, and trainers, sports psychologists work to keep individuals and teams as a whole on the path to their best physical condition, performance, and mental health. They might focus specifically on issues like the feelings of anxiety or stress that come along with the game, or they may work with coaches and trainers on ways to better team dynamics and morale. You might also find them working with the military or in rehabilitation centers.

Salary and job outlook

No salary data is available from the BLS. However, according to Scott Goldman, the director of sports psychology for the University of Arizona, securing a role within the athletic department of a college can often earn you somewhere between $60,000 and $80,000 a year. Though these positions are incredibly hard to come by, a psychologist working with a national sports team could make a great deal more.

Requirements and certification

Through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology, you can choose to become a Certified Mental Performance Consultant.

Financial Aid for Psychology PsyD Students

Another way in which PsyD and PhD programs may differ is when it comes to tuition. While the majority of psychology PhD students receive at least partial tuition remission for assisting with teaching or research—with many getting full waivers—this isn’t as common for PsyD degrees. You’re almost guaranteed to graduate with debt, unless you can find other ways to cover the cost of tuition.

For doctoral students, fellowships and scholarships are a great way to fund your education. These financial awards may be short- or long-term and, for fellowships, often come with additional stipends and benefits. Your program may also offer a stipend for participating in some sort of assistantship.

If you need to apply for loans to cover your education, the first step is to fill out the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA). The Federal Work-Study program also provides part-time jobs while you’re enrolled in school that can help you earn money to pay some of your expenses.

Does Clinical Psychology Qualify for Student Loan Forgiveness?

Through the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program, you can relieve a portion of your debt, but you must meet certain criteria. These include having direct loans, making at least 120 qualifying payments, and securing full-time employment in a government agency or nonprofit organization that’s tax-exempt. Many states also have their own loan forgiveness programs with differing requirements.

Professional Organizations for Clinical Psychology

If you wish to network with other psychologists, keep up with the latest advancements in the field, and find opportunities for continuing education. Becoming a member of a professional organization can help you do all these things. Of the many that exist, the American Psychological Association is the largest in the country. You can join the APA itself as well as any of the 54 divisions dedicated to the subfields of psychologyThese divisions include but aren’t limited to:

  • Society for General Psychology
  • Society for Clinical Psychology
  • Society of Counseling Psychology
  • Society of Addiction Psychology
  • Society for Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
  • Society for Couple and Family Psychology
  • Society for Personality and Social Psychology
  • Society for the Psychology of Women
  • Society for the Psychological Study of Men and Masculinities
  • Society for the Psychology of Sexual Orientation and Gender Diversity
  • Society for the Psychology Study of Social Issues
  • Society for Sport, Exercise, and Performance Psychology