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Online psychology doctorate for clinical and academic careers

By Clare Kaufman

The doctorate of psychology represents the pinnacle of achievement in the study of the mind. Psychologists and researchers looking to advance their careers can pursue online programs for the practice-focused Doctor of Psychology, or Psy.D., and the more academic Doctor of Philosophy, or Ph.D., degree. Online doctorate programs in psychology offer a convenient way for aspiring professionals to achieve their clinical or academic credentials while balancing work or family commitments.

The online doctorate in psychology

Both the Psy.D. and the Ph.D. degree programs require a bachelor's degree, with undergraduate coursework in psychology.

The Doctor of Psychology is an applied doctorate designed for aspiring clinical psychologists. Programs generally take four years to complete. In a typical Psy.D. program, the first three years involve full-time coursework, and the final year is a clinical internship. Many Psy.D. programs require a capstone project applying scholarship to a real-world problem in clinical practice.

The Doctor of Philosophy in psychology is an academic doctorate modeled on the traditional social science research Ph.D. Programs are typically five or six years long, and involve several years of coursework, qualifying exams and an independent, original research project culminating in a dissertation. The Ph.D. may lead to either a clinical psychologist or an academic research career.

Online psychology doctorates offer more flexibility in the pace of the program, allowing working professionals to complete the degree requirements as they can, alongside other commitments. Some online doctoral degree students continue working while pursuing a practitioner doctorate such as the Psy.D., and they may be able to apply their learning on the job, satisfying clinical practice requirements.

Online psychology doctorate program: specializations and courses

The doctoral degree in psychology is designed to help practicing psychologists deepen their expertise in a specific field of study. Various specializations are possible, including:

  1. Child psychology
  2. Marriage and family therapy
  3. School psychology
  4. Social psychology
  5. Psychopathology
  6. Clinical neuropsychology

Psychology graduate courses may include the following:

  1. Cognitive assessment
  2. Behavioral assessment and intervention
  3. Clinical psychopathology
  4. Developmental psychology
  5. Sociocultural issues
  6. Psychotherapy techniques
  7. Ethical and professional issues for clinical practitioners

In addition, online Ph.D. programs in psychology cover research methodology and techniques, with courses in statistics, data analysis, quantitative and qualitative research, and interviewing.

Careers for online psychology doctorate graduates

An online doctorate in psychology could lead to a variety of careers. For example, clinical practice focuses on the assessment, diagnosis, treatment and prevention of mental disorders. Clinical practitioners make up the largest group of psychologists, and about a third of these are self-employed in private practice, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics.

Following are some possible career paths and the corresponding 2010 salary information as reported by the BLS:

  • Clinical practice, as a psychologist or counselor. The BLS expects steady growth for this field, with the best opportunities for doctoral graduates in high-demand areas such as school psychology and clinical specialties. Clinical and school psychologists earned a mean salary of $72,540, according to the BLS.
  • Business, as an organizational psychologist. Organizational psychologists apply psychological principles to human resources, sales and marketing problems. Industrial-organizational psychology is the fastest-growing psychology specialty, with 26 percent job growth predicted for the 2008-2018 period and a mean annual salary of $114,040.
  • Academic teaching, as a college professor. Psychology professors earned $74,320 in 2010, according to BLS data.
  • Research, for a variety of organizations, with varying salaries. Psychologists may pursue research in an academic setting, as independent scholars, or as employees of a nonprofit foundation, government agency or private corporation. Non-academic research areas include market research, social psychology, public health and public policy analysis.
  • Social work. Social workers offer counseling in areas such as mental health, substance abuse and family relationships, working with children or adults. The mean annual salary for social workers at the master's level was $41,880, but those with doctorates may command higher earnings.

Notable alumni of psychology doctoral programs

The PhD. and Psy.D. degrees have served as the springboard to achievements within the psychology discipline and beyond. Eminent psychologists include the philosopher John Dewey, who wrote a Ph.D. dissertation on the psychology of Kant at Johns Hopkins University. Abraham Maslow, pioneer in human motivation research who conceived of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs, earned his Ph.D. in psychology from University of Wisconsin. Dr. Phil, the bestselling author and television personality who became a household name on "The Oprah Winfrey Show," got his professional start with a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from North Texas State University.

In the discipline of psychology, some careers may require a doctoral degree. The BLS expects the best job prospects for psychologists with advanced education, particularly doctorates with a specialty such as health or school psychology. An online Ph.D. or Psy.D. in psychology offers a versatile credential that could qualify graduates for clinical practice, research or teaching.


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