Experts weigh in on taking the PsyD career path


If you are interested in the study of the human mind, then you’ve probably considered becoming a psychologist at one point or another. Providing therapy for the people around you is a rewarding and meaningful way of putting this study to good use, but becoming a psychologist isn’t the only way of integrating psychology into your career.

When people think of becoming a psychologist, they mistakenly assume that they need to have a Ph.D. in psychology to do so. But this actually isn’t the case. There is a professional degree entirely separate from obtaining a Ph.D. that allows one to become a licensed therapist. This degree is called a Psy.D.

What is a Psy.D.?

A Psy.D. is a professional degree. Much like lawyers obtain licenses to practice law, therapists obtain a Psy.D. to provide therapy for their patients.

A Ph.D. in psychology is a doctorate degree that is research oriented. Ph.D.s will focus on the study of the human mind. A Psy.D. applies that research in the field, helping patients. Therefore, Psy.D.s essentially take the research done by Ph.D.s and put it into practice.

So is a Psy.D. the right degree for you?

Alan Behrman, Ph.D.

“It is possible to provide amazing value to patients with a Ph.D.,” says Alan Behrman, Ph.D., of Alan Behrman & Associates, P.C. In Behrman’s practice, having a Ph.D. allows Behrman and his associates to provide tremendous value to clients. “While active listening is an important skill for a therapist, listening can only go so far. We believe what sets us apart from many other therapists is the fact we actually help you help yourself make the necessary changes in your life by giving you techniques, tools, skills, and guidance to achieve your goals.”

In pursuing a Ph.D., you are essentially help developing those tools for use in therapy. A Psy.D. focuses more strictly on the application of such tools. Find more information at

Tara Kuther, Ph.D.

In pursuing either a Ph.D. or Psy.D., you should keep in mind your longterm goals. “Ultimately, if you think you might want to engage in research or teach at a college at some point in your career, you should consider a Ph.D. over a Psy.D. because the research training provides more flexibility in career options,” says Tara Kuther, Ph.D.

Further, Kuther says that your education budget should factor into the decision making process. Ph.D.s will usually have funding provided for them through their advising professor. Psy.D.s don’t have such a luxury. If you pursue a Psy.D., prepare to take out loans.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D.

John M. Grohol, Psy.D., advises prospective students to keep in mind their ideal working conditions. Are you set on starting a private practice? The independence can be freeing, but be wary. Grohol says the negative aspects of private practice include feelings of isolation and emotionally draining subject matter with little catharsis. Plus, private practitioners must keep in mind that they are solely responsible for marketing their businesses.

There are a wide variety of options outside of private practice, however. “Some psychologists are also known as industrial psychologists and work in companies or for corporations, helping the company better manage its key asset, their employees,” says Grohol.

Daniel S. Michalski, PhD, and Garth Fowler, PhD

“There is no ‘best’ doctoral degree in psychology: There are, however, ‘best-fits’ for your academic and professional goals,” write Daniel S. Michalski, PhD, and Garth Fowler, PhD. Again, this boils down to your long-term goals.

They say that many graduate programs for both Psy.D.s and Ph.D.s prepare students to practice as licensed psychologists, but that licensing requirements vary on a state-by-state basis. So students should take into consideration the requirements mandated in the state that they want to practice in before choosing a graduate program, so they can actually practice after graduating with the right accreditation.

Ann Steele, Ph.D.

Ann Steele, Ph.D., suggests that aspiring therapists and counselors ought to enter the field as a beginner and see a wide swath of patients within their interest. “After some time and seeing many clients, they may find that there is a field of specialization that they really want to be able to provide for the benefit of their patients,” says Steele.

She advises that entering graduate school with a firm idea of what specialization you’re interested in will help you choose a field. Then, you can narrow down programs and eventually land on a good fit in either a Psy.D. program or Ph.D. program.

Jonathan Golding, Ph.D. and Anne Lippert, Ph.D.

There are some hidden fiscal burdens awaiting Psy.D. students. As Jonathan Golding, Ph.D., and Anne Lippert, Ph.D. point out, “[A] PhD student will typically not have any tuition debt hanging over their head. Thus the $40,000 extra in salary for the PsyD student in the year they are working compared to the stipend of a PhD student is offset by the tuition debt the PsyD student must repay.”

They also remind prospective students that the Department of Veteran Affairs is the largest employer of psychologists within the U.S., and that Department requires accreditation. So students should definitely seek out APA accredited schools if they see government work in their future