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Doctor of Psychology

Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is a professional doctorate degree intended to prepare graduates for practice in psychology. Earning the degree was originally completed through one of two established training models for clinical psychology.[1] However, Psy.D. programs are no longer limited to Clinical Psychology as several universities and professional schools have begun to award professional doctorates in Business Psychology, Organizational Development, Counseling Psychology and School Psychology.[2][3]

The degree is usually abbreviated as Psy.D. in the United States and Canada[4] and also D.Psy. or D.Ps. in Canada. In the United Kingdom and Ireland it is often abbreviated as DClinPsych,[5] ClinPsyD.[6] or PsychD.[7] In Australia it is often abbreviated as D.Psych.[8]


Guidelines for the education and training of clinical psychologists were established in 1949 at an APA Conference on Graduate Education in Clinical Psychology. Students would be prepared to conduct scholarly research and for clinical practice. This approach became known as the scientist-practitioner model, although it is often referred to as the Boulder model since the conference was held in Boulder, Colorado.

Perceived challenges to the Boulder model became apparent within a decade. Some professionals argued that in trying to train students in both research and practice, not enough emphasis was placed on either. In regard to research, the modal number of publications by graduates of Ph.D. programs was zero. In regard to practice, students were not being trained effectively for the needs of people seeking services.[9]

In the 1960s, an APA committee on the scientific and professional aims of psychology, chaired by Kenneth E. Clark, PhD, argued that the hybrid scientist-practitioner programs weren't accommodating many students who wanted strong professional programs. They appealed for a more practice-oriented degree.

The proposal met with controversy in 1965 at the Chicago Conference on the Professional Education of Clinical Psychologists. Objectors said the new degree would mar the field's prestige, and ignore science. Supporters argued it would be based on, and informed by, science. They noted that medicine and law had well-respected professional degrees.

By a slender vote margin, the conference granted the University of Illinois permission to pilot a model program in its psychology department. The program started in 1968, but only lasted 12 years, ending in 1980. According to Peterson, who founded the program, training practitioners turned out to be a poor fit with the values of a research-oriented psychology department. The Illinois program was all that was needed, however, to inspire several other programs to try their luck, too.

In 1964, the APA formed a committee to study the scientific and professional aims of psychology. The committee, referred to as the “Clark Committee” (because it was chaired by Kenneth Clark), concluded that the science and practice of psychology, though related, were not the same. The education and training required for research were different than those for practice. The committee’s main recommendation was that a graduate program be developed to prepare people for the professional practice of clinical psychology.[9]

In 1970, the second PsyD program started at Hahnemann University's medical school. It moved to Widener University in 1989 and became the Institute for Graduate Clinical Psychology. Jules Abrams, PhD, then chair of the psychology division in the medical school's department of psychiatry, founded it to equip graduates with intensive clinical experience.

"At the time, people coming out of PhD programs had very little clinical experience, including myself," says Abrams.

Baylor University started its PsyD program for similar reasons in 1971. Another motivator was the fact that the PhD can take up to eight years to complete, says Michael Frisch, PhD, a faculty member there. Baylor limited its PsyD program to four years and replaced the dissertation with a doctoral project, so that practitioners-in-training could get out in the field faster and more efficiently.

Despite those programs, it wasn't until 1973 that the Vail Conference on Professional Training in Psychology officially sanctioned the PsyD. Soon afterwards, responding to a pressing need for mental health services in New Jersey, the Rutgers program opened its doors.

Its first class of 40 students was somewhat unusual. To gain acceptance into either the school or clinical program, students needed a master's degree in a related field, two years of work experience in areas related to mental health and New Jersey residency. Most students were in their late 30s and helped shape the program curricula. Many have published industriously or risen to leadership positions in the field. For example, Dorothy Cantor, PsyD, served as APA president in 1996, and Rosalind Dorlen, PsyD, is currently president of the New Jersey Psychological Association.

The Rutgers program has grown considerably since its early years. It now enrolls 185 students across its clinical, school and organizational programs, and it has opened a grant-supported Center for Applied Psychology, through which students serve schools, foster children and other community populations in need.

The Widener program has also grown, from six enrollees to 150. It too has expanded its programs beyond practice and psychotherapy to keep pace with the marketplace. One new addition is its joint PsyD/JD program. Another is its PsyD/MBA.

In contrast, the Baylor program has stayed much the same as when it began. It still focuses on clinical practice and limits its enrollment to 40 students.

But the three programs share similarities on other fronts: All are affiliated with universities and all enroll fewer students relative to the freestanding, PsyD-granting professional schools, whose numbers have grown most in recent years.

While none of the programs take in more than 30 students a year, many freestanding schools--driven by tuition, as opposed to the support of a state or university--take in more than 60 a year.

Some educators voice concerns about those high enrollments, viewing them as a threat to the acceptance the PsyD has achieved relative to the PhD. Producing large numbers of graduates stiffens competition for jobs, "and makes the more traditional programs dismissive of PsyDs," says Sandra Harris, PhD, dean of the Rutgers program.

Such concerns are somewhat exaggerated, says Joseph Bascuas, PhD, president of the National Council of Schools and Programs of Professional Psychology. Many PsyD programs, he points out, have adeptly geared curricula to the changing marketplace--adding courses in managed care, brief therapy and outcomes assessment, for example, and programs in forensics, prison rehabilitation and organizational psychology. He adds that if students face poor job prospects, they won't enroll in PsyD programs.

As for criticism that the PsyD is unscientific, Peterson, the grand dean of the PsyD, is quick to counter that the degree is based in science. PsyD students, he says, are trained as "local scientists" who apply the scientific method to problems in the field. Most programs require a dissertation or dissertation-like project, but students cover a wider range of topics than those allowed in PhD programs. Many students publish papers on their local research.

"They're educated to meet the needs of their communities in a scientific fashion," says Peterson. "In their own way, they're contributing to the knowledge base that is the foundation of our profession."

In 1973, the practitioner-scholar model and the associated Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree were recognized by the American Psychological Association at the Conference on Levels and Patterns of Professional Training in Psychology (The Vail Conference).[10] The practitioner-scholar model, or Vail model, emphasizes clinical practice in education and training. The Boulder model would continue to emphasize research. Graduates of both training models would be eligible for licensure in all jurisdictions in the United States, and the licensing exams and renewal requirements are the same for both degrees.

With the creation of the Doctor of Psychology degree, the APA confirmed that the Psy.D. is a credential that certifies attainment of the knowledge and skill required to establish clinical psychology as a profession. Furthermore, it follows the policies of both the Association of American Universities, and the Council of Graduate Schools: a professional doctorate (e.g., M.D.; D.D.S.; D.V.M.) is awarded in recognition of preparation for professional practice whereas the Ph.D. be awarded in recognition of preparation for research in addition to clinical practice.[9]

Education and Clinical Training

The practice of clinical psychology is based on an understanding of the scientific method and behavioral science. The focus of the Doctor of Psychology training model is on the application of this knowledge for direct clinical intervention. This includes the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, as well as cognitive and emotional impairments in which psychological approaches may be of use.

Doctor of Psychology programs take four to seven years to complete. Students in these programs receive a broad and general education in scientific psychology and evidence-based treatment.[11] Course work includes: Biological bases of behavior; cognitive-affective bases of behavior; social-cultural bases of behavior; lifespan development; assessment and diagnosis; treatment and intervention; research methods and statistics; and ethical and professional standards. Specialized training (e.g., neuropsychology, forensic psychology, psychodynamic psychology) is also available in some programs.

Students in Doctor of Psychology programs receive extensive clinical training through placements in various settings (e.g., community mental health centers, hospitals, college counseling centers). These placements provide direct patient contact that is supervised by a licensed psychologist. Clinical training culminates in a 1,750-2,000 hour (1-year full-time or 2-year half-time) supervised internship.

In order to complete the Psy.D. degree, students typically must demonstrate several competencies: 1) knowledge mastery through passing comprehensive exams, and 2) clinical skill through successful completion of a pre-doctoral internship, and 3) scholarship through a doctoral research project.

Regional accreditation is available to doctoral programs in clinical psychology.


A license to practice as a clinical psychologist is required in the United States. While specific requirements vary by jurisdiction, every state mandates: 1. Successful completion of either a 1-year full-time or 2-year half-time supervised clinical internship totaling 1,750-2,000 hours; and 2. Passing the national and state licensing exams. Most states require an additional postdoctoral year of supervised training after earning the doctorate, in order to become eligible to take the national and state licensing exams.[12]

Maryland and Washington have removed the one year postdoctoral experience in place of requiring two years of supervised experience, both of which can be completed prior to graduation.[13] In February 2006, the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives adopted a statement recommending that this change also be made to the licensing requirements of other states since the nature of training has changed dramatically in the last 50 years.[14] Previously, doctoral-level students accrued most of their clinical hours during internship and postdoctoral fellowships. Now, students accrue most of their clinical hours in the course of their training and internship. Thus, they are ready to begin practice upon graduation. Next, there are considerably fewer positions available for recent graduates and providing the training before graduation facilitates early career psychologists.[15]

Licensing Exam [EPPP]

In the United States, both the Psy.D. and Ph.D. are the only two doctorate degrees that are eligible to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). This is the national licensing exam and successful completion is required in order to obtain a license to practice psychology.

Schaffer and colleagues(2012)[16] found that students trained in Ph.D. programs passed the EPPP at higher rates (82%) than students trained in Psy.D. programs (69%). The authors noted that a disproportionate percentage of those candidates who fail the EPPP come from a limited number of predominantly Psy.D. programs: the bottom 37 programs accounted for 46.9% of all EPPP failures and the bottom 15 programs (13 Psy.D., 2 Ph.D.) accounted for 38.8% of all failures. Of these 15 programs, four were from one institution and three from another institution. These seven programs from two institutions accounted for 17.1% of the total failures. In addition, there are some traditional Ph.D. programs that have relatively low pass rates (18 Ph.D. programs with a pass rate less than 60%). Schaffer et al. concluded that there are variables other than the type of degree that are important in determining pass rates on the EPPP, including studying more than 200 hours and completing an APA accredited internship.

While there is an increasing number of university-based PsyD programs,[17][18][19][20][21][22][23] many Psy.D. programs are at newer professional schools of psychology.[24][25][26][27][28]

See also


  1. ^ "Frequently Asked Questions About Graduate School". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  2. ^ "Graduate Training Program". Retrieved 13 July 2012. 
  3. ^ "Accredited Programs in School Psychology". American Psychological Association. November 19, 2013. Retrieved 13 January 2014. 
  4. ^ "Antioch University Seattle |Graduate Schools in Psychology – Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  5. ^ "IoP: Research at the IoP: What is a DClinPsy (Doctorate in Clinical Psychology)". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  6. ^ "Clinical Psychology ClinPsyD – The University of Manchester – United Kingdom". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  7. ^ "PsychD in Psychotherapeutic and Counselling Psychology – The University of Surrey – United Kingdom". Retrieved 26 June 2014. 
  8. ^ Australian Psychological Society Newsletter. "Threats to the future of profession coursework Doctorates in psychology". InPsych APS Newsletter for June 2011. APS. Retrieved 8 December 2012. 
  9. ^ a b c Peterson, D.R. (1997). Educating professional psychologists: History and guiding conceptions. Washington, D.C.: American Psychological Association.
  10. ^ "Appreciating the Psy.D.: The Facts". Psi Chi. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  11. ^ Zlotlow, S.F.; Nelson, P.D.; Peterson, R.L. (2011). "The History of Broad and General Education in Scientific Psychology: The Foundation for Professional Psychology Education and Training". Training and Education in Professional Psychology 5 (1): 1–8. doi:10.1037/a0022529. 
  12. ^ "Handbook Review". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  13. ^ "Psychologist Licensing – Washington State Dept of Health". 22 September 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  14. ^
  15. ^ "The postdoc trap". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  16. ^ Schaffer, Jack B.; Rodolfa, Emil; Owen, Jesse; Lipkins, Robert; Webb, Carol; Horn, Jacqueline (February 2012). "The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology: New data–practical implications". Training and Education in Professional Psychology 6 (1): 1–7. doi:10.1037/a0026823. 
  17. ^
  18. ^ "Professional Psychology Program – The George Washington University | Professional Psychology Program". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  19. ^ "GSPP | University of Denver". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  20. ^ "Graduate School of Applied and Professional Psychology". 3 October 2011. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  21. ^ "Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology | APA Accredited Doctor of Psychology Post Masters Program | California-West Los Angeles | Graduate School of Education and Psychology | Pepperdine University". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  22. ^ "Antioch University Seattle |Graduate Schools in Psychology – Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  23. ^ "PsyD Clinical Psychology – Loma Linda University PsyD Clinical Psychology". 1 June 2009. Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
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  25. ^ "The School of Professional Psychology | Forest Institute". Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  26. ^ "Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology". Retrieved 6 November 2014. 
  27. ^ "PGSP-Stanford Psy.D Consortium | Palo Alto University". Retrieved 17 October 2011. 
  28. ^ "The Wright Institute | Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology Program". Retrieved 6 November 2014.