What is the Difference Between a Doctor of Psychology and a Doctor of Philosophy?

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When deciding to pursue a degree beyond a master’s in psychology, students may wonder if a Doctor of Psychology or a Doctor of Philosophy would be better. A doctorate can be either an academic or professional degrees that symbolizes the highest level or academic achievement. A doctorate should not be confused with other degrees such as the M.D. or J.D., which are first professional degrees that use “doctor” in their titles, but differ in that they do not contain an element of research, i.e., a dissertation (thesis).

Doctoral degrees can be earned in any number of disciplines, but this article will focus on two that are often confused, the Doctor of Psychology and the Doctor of Philosophy.

Doctor of Psychology

The degree of Doctor of Psychology, Psy.D., signifies that those who holds this distinction are prepared to practice psychology. This degree was originally designed as one of the two models used in the training for clinical psychology. Today, however, the degree of Psy.D. is used to describe the broad study of clinical psychology, while other degrees are used to designate specialties in business psychology, organizational development, counseling psychology, and school psychology.

The degree of Doctor of Psychology requires from five to seven years of study. In this time students learn the broad study of scientific psychology against a backdrop of the scientific method. After their periods of classroom and academic training, students must then complete a time of clinical training in various settings. These can include mental health centers, hospitals, counseling centers and many others, where students work with patients to complete a supervised one- to two-year internship.

After the completion of their academic and clinical training, students are required to pass both national and state licensing examinations prior to being granted a license to practice as a clinical psychologist.

Doctor of Philosophy

The degree of Doctor of Philosophy, identified in different countries and institutions as one of several designations as Ph.D., PhD., D.Phil. or DPhil., is widely considered to be the highest level of academic achievement awarded as either entry-level research degrees or higher level doctoral degrees.

In this context, the use of the term “philosophy” does not pertain to the field of study. Instead, in this context, philosophy refers to the original Greek meaning of the word, which is “love of wisdom.” It is also worthy to note that in earlier days of Europe, with the exception of Germany, the survey courses of any liberal arts was known as philosophy. Even today, in many countries, a Doctor of Philosophy degree is only awarded to those who have studied philosophy, as in the liberal arts.

It is also interesting to note that with the growth in the number of Ph.D. programs being offered by colleges and universities around the world, there have been many calls for a heightening the levels of training for those who wish to supervise students who want to pursue Ph.D. studies. Some institutions have granted this while others have embraced little more than reading lists for those interested in these programs.

Almost as important as the high level of work that must be completed to earn these degrees, the attainment of these honors symbolizes the commitment to excellence in their studies and to the fields themselves. The Doctor of Psychology and the Doctor of Philosophy also work to certify those that these professionals work with that they can be counted on to stand for the higher level of competence than those with lesser degrees.

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