Clinical Ph.D. versus Psy.D. Degree?

Is a Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology different from other Ph.D. programs?

Yes, Clinical Ph.D. study is different from research Ph.D. study. Clinical Ph.D. programs have the first 2 years devoted to required coursework and Master’s level research or examination. In addition, students begin the training process of seeing clients in therapy settings. Students are expected to work in clinical practica and internships both before the Master’s and before the Doctorate level. Students must collect 1,500 hours of post-M.A. internship hours before they receive the doctorate. This means that clinical Ph.D. students need to be very organized and have some measure of emotional stability to handle the stress and the requirements of such a program. Clinical programs are the most competitive in the field of psychology, and this is part of the reason why.

Along with seeing clients, students must still take classes, write their papers for examination, develop and conduct their dissertation research, and be involved in research projects with faculty. Many of them also teach at the same time. Then, after the Ph.D. is awarded, students must complete an additional 1,500 hours of internship. Finally, after collecting their internship hours, practitioners sit for a licensing exam administered by the state in which they will practice. The licensing exam has written and oral components. Passing the exam confers licensure to practice as an independent, unsupervised psychologist, usually in the state in which the exam was taken. It’s a long row to hoe from start to finish.

What is the difference between a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and a Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology?

Clinical psychologists assess and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders. These range from short-term crises, such as difficulties resulting from adolescent rebellion, to more severe, chronic conditions, such as schizophrenia. Some clinical psychologists treat specific problems exclusively, such as phobias or clinical depression. Others focus on specific populations: youngsters, ethnic minority groups, gays and lesbians, or the elderly.

Counseling psychologists help people to accommodate to change or to make changes in their lifestyle. They might provide vocational and career assessment and guidance or help someone come to terms with the death of a loved one. They help students adjust to college, and people to stop smoking or overeating. They also consult with physicians on physical problems that have underlying psychological causes.

What's the difference between getting a clinical doctorate at an APA-accredited versus an APA-non-accredited school?

The national psychological organization, the American Psychological Association (APA), offers accreditation to graduate schools and universities that offer clinical training programs. If a clinical training program is accredited by APA it means the program has met the standards for providing a quality program. Accreditation looks at things like student-faculty ratio, faculty credentials, internship placements, supervision of students, graduation rates, financial stability, capacity to offer services, etc. See APA website or APA-accreditation website for a wealth of information on clinical doctoral programs.

Accreditation also influences the types of internships and jobs that a graduate of the program may acquire. Some schools and clinical sites only offer openings to students or graduates of APA-accredited programs.

Which clinical doctoral programs are APA-accredited?

For a complete listing of APA-accredited clinical graduate training programs across the country, see this APA website. Internship sites are also APA-accredited; for a listing of these in California, see this APA website. For APA-accredited doctoral counseling programs, see this APA website.

Which local clinical doctoral programs are APA-accredited?

What is regional accreditation?

Some schools choose not to become APA-accredited, and instead pursue regional accreditation through organizations like the Western Association of Schools and Colleges (WASC). WASC offers accreditation to schools that offer the capacity to maintain educational and financial stability and to offer educational services effectively and of a sufficient standard.

Can a school not be accredited and offer a clinical doctoral program?

The California business and professional code requires licensed psychologists to have educational degrees from accredited institutions. However, a small number of institutions in California were approved by the now-defunct California Bureau of Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education prior to 1999, and these schools are exceptions to the accreditation rule. A very few schools, such as Meridian University (formerly the Institute of Imaginal Studies) are in this category. See this Board of Psychology site for more information on non-accredited schools.

Non-accredited schools must provide to potential students the following information: the number of students taking the California licensing exam for psychologists in the last 4 years; the number of students passing it; and the number of graduates who are licensed psychologists in California.

Additionally, they must provide the following information (this info is from the California Board of Psychology): "Prospective students should be aware that as a graduate of an unaccredited school of psychology you may face restrictions that could include difficulty in obtaining a teaching job or appointment at an accredited college or university. It may also be difficult to work as a psychologist for some federal government or other public agencies, or to be appointed to the medical staff of a hospital. Some major managed care organizations, insurance companies, or preferred provider organizations may not reimburse individuals whose degrees are from unaccredited schools. Graduates of unaccredited schools may also face limitations in their abilities to be listed in the National Register of Health Service Providers or to hold memberships in other major organizations of psychologists."

What are the requirements for being licensed as a psychologist in California?

California requires that individuals receive a Ph.D. in psychology from an accredited school, have taken appropriate coursework in clinical or educational psychology as part of the doctorate, completed 1,500 hours of pre-Doctoral internship hours, and 1,500 hours of post-Doctoral internship hours. After these requirements are completed, an individual may sit for a written competency examination in the field of psychology.  This written exam is administered by every state in the country.  After passing the written exam, individuals take an oral examination related to clinical skills and professional ethics.  After passing this exam, an individual is licensed as a clinical psychologist and can practice unsupervised in the area of her competence. For more information on licensing as a psychologist in California, see the California Board of Psychology website.

What about licensing in other states?

All states and the District of Columbia have laws that require psychologists, therapists, and counselors to be licensed or certified by a state board in order to engage in the independent and unsupervised practice of psychology.

Before enrolling in a graduate program, any student planning to seek licensure after graduate school should contact the State Examining Board for Psychology in the state where he/she intends to practice. Prior to taking the licensing exam in psychology, the licensing board reviews students' educational backgrounds carefully. Having a Doctoral degree does not make a person automatically eligible to take the exam. More information regarding licensure and a list of state licensing boards can be obtained by contacting the APA.

What's the difference between a therapist who is an M.F.T. and one who is a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.?

There are wide variations in coursework and in training. M.F.T. therapists receive 2 years of required coursework, while Ph.D. therapists receive from 2 to 6 years of coursework. By California law, only licensed clinical or counseling doctoral level practitioners can call themselves psychologists or clinical psychologists. Doctoral-level psychologists are trained in psychological testing and assessment, and often receive their clinical training in psychiatric facilities, where they are exposed to a broader range of treatment experiences than are M.F.T. therapists. Ph.D. psychologists often accumulate more post-M.A. internship hours than M.F.T. therapists. They often have about 3,000 internship hours before they receive their doctorate, and then must collect 1,500 additional hours post-doctorally. M.F.T. therapists often have more training in running therapy groups and support groups.

Many M.F.T. therapists go on post-license to receive training and supervision in numerous areas of counseling and psychotherapy. M.F.T. therapists work in clinic settings, run therapy groups, do forensic work, and work in many types of mental health settings. Many M.F.T. therapists hold different positions to round out their private practice. For example, they may have a private psychotherapy practice, do some consulting around a specialty topic area, supervise the training of intern therapists, conduct groups, conduct training workshops in specialty topic areas, or work in community mental health settings.

Currently the M.F.T. license is found in 48 of the 50 states, sometimes under the umbrella of the Licensed Professional Counselor (L.P.C.). Each state has their own licensing requirements, which you should be familiar with if you will not be practicing in California. The licensing requirements for clinical psychologists also vary by state, so you should check state licensing requirements if you will not be practicing in California.

In today’s market of managed health care, Ph.D. level psychologists are more recognized by health insurers and HMOs, have more privileges in the area of testing and assessment, and receive higher per-session fees. They are also more competitive in receiving teaching posts at colleges and universities. See the 2003 APA survey data on positions and salaries of doctoral level psychologists sorted by geographical area; and Master's level psychology practitioners.