There are many career pathways to working with patients in a therapy setting: clinical psychologist, psychiatrist, social worker, nurse practitioner – to name a few.

For those who are interested in registering under the protected term of ‘psychologist’, there are two primary degrees that one can pursue for this career path. These are the PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) and the PsyD (Doctor of Psychology).

People often hear these terms when searching up careers in clinical psychology and may be curious to understand the difference between these two degrees. Below, I provide information on 5 key differences between the PhD and the PsyD to help determine which one you should pursue.

Research Intensive Component

Perhaps the biggest difference between the PhD and the PsyD is the extent of research involvement.

 The PhD is a research-intensive program, in which research is a significant part of course work and degree milestone. The student is expected to develop an original research project for their master’s thesis and doctoral dissertation. These components include writing a research proposal in consultation with committee members, submitting research ethics applications, collecting and analyzing data, writing up a comprehensive manuscript, and defending your dissertation.

On the other hand, the PsyD may include courses in research methods but do not require a substantive amount time spent on original research projects.

Consequently, the PhD may provide a more holistic training emphasizing both research and clinical work (scientist-practitioner model); however, PsyD may be more desirable if you do not enjoy research and wish to primarily work with patients in the future.

Clinical Emphasis

Although a PhD has a heavy research component, this does not mean that the program does not rigorously train students in psychological assessment and treatment as well. Many PhD students have intensive course work to develop as a clinician and complete practica at different sites (e.g., hospitals, private practice) to develop into a clinician. Because of the rigour of both research and clinical work, statistics for successful matching to internship applications (which is required to be licensed as a psychologist) is typically higher in PhD compared to PsyD programs.

Funding throughout the program

The PhD program is fully funded because it is a research-intensive program. You get paid to do research and conduct activities at the university, such as teaching assistantships.

Most students can get by through living a modest means depending on the funding structure – though there are ways to increase your income. Although the funding isn’t particularly impressive, it is possible to get through your PhD without incurring significant debt.

On the other hand, you kind of have to pay your way through the PsyD. And the PsyD is expensive – many programs run somewhere between $100,000 to $200,000. In this case, accruing a significant debt is norm rather than the exception.

Because of the costly aspect of the PsyD, this can be quite profitable for certain programs to operate as a windmill for degrees and are interested in your money rather than investing in your education. Because of this, it’s important to do your due diligence and make sure that the program you are entering is legitimate and successful in getting you matched to a strong internship program.

Competitiveness of PhD vs the PsyD programs

Unsurprisingly, a fully funded PhD program is more competitive compared to a PsyD which you must pay through yourself. Admission rates for PhD programs tend to be quite low – somewhere around 5 to 10% whereas PsyD programs can be much higher depending on the specific program. More intensive and rigorous PsyD programs can still be quite competitive. Here’s a guide on determining whether you are a competitive applicant for PhD programs if interested!

Duration of the program

The PsyD program typically takes between 4 to 5 years, whereas the PhD program can take significantly longer (6-7 years). The biggest reason is likely the research component, which requires more time to complete.

Therefore, if time is an important consideration, then a PsyD may be more appropriate. That being said, there are programs, such as social work, that allows you to engage in therapy with patients with significantly less time and cost compared to the PsyD.


Overall, there are pros and cons of the PhD and PsyD. It is important to take these factors into consideration if you are interested in the career path of a clinical psychologist.

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Best wishes,