An interest in helping people can lead many students to seek a career in psychology. But, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), some psychological careers require the investment in graduate degrees, such as a doctoral degree (Ph.D.). Undergraduates majoring in psychology need to consider how they wish to pursue their career in psychology. Going into graduate school is highly competitive; the National Center for Education Statistics (NCES) states that psychology was the sixth most popular doctoral degree program in the country as of the 2009-2010 academic year. Knowing how long, and if one needs a doctorate for a particular niche in psychology is important to know while in undergraduate.

Different Graduate Degrees

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), the highest graduate-level degrees in psychology are a Ph.D. in Psychology and a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D). A Ph.D. in Psychology is a research-intensive graduate program.

Most Ph.D. programs last about four to six years. The first few semesters in a Ph.D. program are filled with seminar and research classes. Those classes help a graduate student learn the general field of psychology in small classrooms where communication with fellow students and a professor is crucial. The research classes help train the student on how they must conduct proper research in the field of psychology. The rest of a psychology Ph.D. program is based around research for a dissertation. A dissertation is an original study that a student conducts, writes, and presents and defends in front of faculty. Successfully completing a dissertation earns the student a Ph.D.

A Psy.D., according to the BLS, is similar to a Ph.D., only instead of a dissertation, the student must display their clinical work and examinations as proof of their expertise.

Who Needs Doctoral Degrees?

The BLS states that for psychology careers rooted in research or in the fields of counseling or clinical psychology, a doctorate or Psy.D. degree is needed. Entire psychological graduate programs are often centered on clinical or counseling psychology. In other departments, clinical or counseling psychology may be a concentration, alongside other concentrations like adolescent or developmental psychology. Research work is often found in academia where a graduate student can become a professor who teaches classes to undergraduates and graduates, as well as researches psychological trends.

Clinical psychologists diagnose and treat psychological issues in patients and they may have in-depth knowledge on how the brain, nervous system, and the entire body is affected by psychological issues, like depression.

Counseling psychology is a field where the psychologist communicates with a patient about the patient’s emotional, mental, or behavioral problems and advises them on the best methods to help manage their psychological issues.

Benefits of the Ph.D.

Although it may take 4-6 years to complete, a Ph.D. in Psychology or a Psy.D. can help a student become a top researcher in academic psychology or with private firms that hire researchers. In addition, if the student wants to help patients medically or therapeutically with their mental issues, a Ph.D. or Psy.D. is the necessary degree required. It many consume time, but a doctorate degree is worth it if one wants to help people or learn new ways to help people.

Additional Resource: Graduate School Planning and Information