Doctoral degree in psychology: counseling and other advanced careers

By Woodrow Aames

Candidates with the aim of rising to the top of the psychology profession must devote themselves to extensive theoretical, research and clinical practice studies. Online doctorate of psychology degree programs can guide individuals in their career development; for example, Doctor of Psychology or Psy.D. programs delve into psychology, counseling and behavioral studies aimed at clinical practice.

The Bureau of Labor Statistics expects jobs for psychologists to grow about as fast as in other occupations, with 12 percent growth from 2008 to 2018, and a 26 percent increase in specialized areas such as industrial-organizational psychology. Given the competition for jobs, those who hold a doctoral degree should move to the front of the hiring line.

Doctorate of psychology degree programs

The American Psychological Association, or APA, views the doctorate as the entry-level psychology degree for candidates who wish to work either in an independent practice or as teaching or research faculty at colleges and universities. Program entry requirements are competitive and varied, but typically include practical experience, public service, previous advanced degree work and professional references. Test scores may also be required, such as the Graduate Record Examination, the GRE, or Miller Analogies Test, the MAT. Doctoral programs vary in focus:

  • The Doctor of Philosophy or Ph.D. in Psychology is designed for students who wish to combine research and scholarship with an applied practice specialty.
  • The Doctor of Psychology or Psy.D. program is best suited for candidates who aspire to a clinical specialty and licensed practice, for example, working with clients.

Professionals who want to go into public school psychology may also opt for an online Ed.S. or Doctor of Education, completing at least two years classwork and a one-year internship.

Coursework for doctorate of psychology

About 75 percent of doctoral programs, according to the APA, offer the Ph.D. degree. Ph.D. programs take from five to seven years to complete, while Psy.D. coursework may be completed in four to six years. Depending upon the school and academic requirements, candidates must pass a doctoral examination, write and defend a dissertation and, in some cases, complete hours as part of a clinical internship.

Online psychology doctorate programs are not isolated, solitary experiences as one might expect. While online coursework is tailored to offer flexible schedules and an intensive career focus, candidates are still required to conduct research, build clinical experience and work in collaborative seminars with their fellows. Graduates can develop lifelong relationships with mentors, industry contacts, academic peers and research partners.

Careers for psychology doctoral degree holders

The BLS identifies certain career specializations in psychology, shown with median annual earnings in 2010:

  1. Clinical, counseling and school psychologists, $66,810
  2. Psychology teachers at the postsecondary level, $67,330
  3. Industrial-organizational psychologists, $87,330

About one-third of professional psychologists are self-employed in private practice or as consultants, according to the BLS. Clinical psychologists may specialize in a specific population such as children, seniors or groups with developmental problems. Other specialties include governmental or social organizations and the criminal justice system. In contrast, research and education psychologists may work as university or clinical researchers, in commercial laboratories, or as lecturers and professors at colleges and universities.

All states require psychologists to pass a licensing exam and maintain their credentials through ongoing education and/or certifications. The American Board of Professional Psychology or ABPP offers professional certification in 13 specialties, including cognitive and behavioral, rehabilitation, couple and family, forensic, psychoanalysis, and clinical health psychology.

Three notable recipients of doctorates in psychology

Professionals holding psychology doctorates have achieved breakthroughs in theory and clinical practice, including these leaders in the field:

  1. Dr. Phil McGraw. Television celebrity Dr. Phil holds a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from North Texas State University where he combined a clinical focus with studies in behavioral medicine. In addition to his daily broadcasts, Dr. McGraw is author of six #1 bestsellers on The New York Times list.
  2. B.F. Skinner, born in 1904, is renowned for his trailblazing work in behavioral psychology. He earned a Ph.D.in psychology at Harvard University where he served on the faculty until his death in 1990.
  3. Margaret Floy Washburn. Dr. Washburn became the first woman to earn a Ph.D. in psychology in 1894 from Cornell University. She was born in Harlem, New York. At a time when women were ignored or barred from clinical research in the field, she was ranked among the top 50 psychologists in the U.S.

The field of psychology remains competitive, and doctoral degrees can be a key to advancement for candidates seeking careers in counseling or clinical practice. For students with home or work obligations, flexible online degree programs offer a pathway to a doctorate in psychology.

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