If you are interested in treating patients on your own or having an independent practice, you will need to first obtain a doctorate in psychology. This is the highest level of education available in the psychology field, and you’ll be required to complete this program in order to take the required exams and become a licensed psychologist.

Obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology will allow a person to work in many areas of psychology, including teaching or counseling. This program expands on the bachelor’s and master’s programs and provides more opportunity for in-depth research. Students also learn about qualitative reasoning and analysis to an extensive degree.

Why a Ph.D. in Psychology?

A doctorate in psychology degree gives students the opportunity to work independently with patients in a variety of settings and allows them to expand their options, which may include opening their own practice. With a master’s degree, a graduate can expect to treat patients under a licensed psychologist’s supervision. However, with a Ph.D. they can practice on their own and design patient treatment plans. They are also legally allowed to write prescriptions for patients. In addition, they will not be limited to entry-level positions in other areas of psychology like health care, social work, or human resources.

Getting into a Psychology Ph.D. Program

The applicant will have to meet several requirements for entrance into a doctorate psychology program that vary by academic institution. In addition to an application, most candidates must submit the following:

  • Current copy of their resume or CV
  • One letter indicating why they want to enter the program
  • Transcript of all prior degrees

If the student has a master’s in a psychology-related program, they may gain automatic admission into a doctorate program. If the master’s degree was in a different field (business, for instance), then the applicant may need to complete some additional courses before beginning the doctorate program. However, the combined education could prove valuable for one’s future career choice.

Inside a Psychology Doctorate Program

A doctorate in psychology degree will generally take between two and four years to obtain. The exact amount of time will depend on the ability of the student and the specialization along with the specific requirements of the college they select. The average doctoral program requires 60 credits for completion. Students take courses such as research methods, theories of personality, statistics, as well as many other courses designed for the general specialization.

In addition to course work, the student will likely have to write at least one dissertation and provide an oral defense. Many will also be required to complete an internship and/or a residency program prior to graduation.

What’s Next for Psychology Ph.D. Holders?

Students who earn a Ph.D. in psychology typically enjoy a diverse range of career opportunities after they graduate, especially those with a general specialization. They can find work as a counselor in a hospital or school; an industrial psychologist in a business setting; a clinical psychologist that treats patients who have been diagnosed with special conditions; or a university-level psychology teacher or researcher.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, jobs in the field of psychology are expected to grow 22% in the next few years — a slightly above-average rate compared to growth for all jobs. The median salary for psychologists varies by specialization; industrial-organizational psychologists earned more than $87,000 on an annual basis, while clinical psychologists and counselors made a median yearly wage of roughly $66,800.