Online Doctoral Degree in Psychology

There are two types of psychology doctoral programs that students choose to pursue: a Ph.D. in psychology or a Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.). Ph.D. programs typically follow the science-practitioner training model, emphasizing the integration of scientific and professional knowledge in the practice of psychology. They can also follow a clinical-science training model that focuses on empirically supported approaches to clinical intervention, assessment, and prevention. As a research degree, an online Ph.D. in psychology involves the completion of a dissertation based on original research and the passing of a comprehensive exam. Students may also be required to complete a one-year internship, especially if they intend to work in an environment related to counseling, clinical, school, or health services.

An alternative to the Ph.D. among doctor of psychology degree programs, the Psy.D. typically follows a practitioner-scholar training model that focuses on the interdependence between science and practice, where the practitioner directly applies scientific knowledge to solve clinical problems. As clinical degree programs, Psy.D. programs give students plenty of opportunities to obtain hands-on experience through practical work and test their knowledge through multiple examinations. Students are often required to complete a supervised practicum in which they are trained in a variety of clinical settings before participating in a supervised clinical internship. In general, online doctoral programs in psychology should be chosen based on occupational goals and desired areas of concentration; many doctoral programs emphasize different areas of psychology focusing on counseling, clinical practice, or scientific research.

Common Courses in Doctoral Programs

  • Psychological Assessment
    Courses in psychological or personality assessment are designed to teach students how and why to use intelligence and personality assessments. The course will focus on how various tests are constructed, administered, and scored; how to combine tests with other client information such as personal observations and psychological history, and how to relay assessments to clients. Students will also focus on ethics and relevant technology in testing and assessment.
  • Data Analysis in Psychological Research
    Courses in statistical or data analysis will focus on the determination, use, and interpretation of statistics, and their applications in graduate-level research. Students will be able to determine the appropriateness of various research methods, and learn to recognize deceptive use of data in research, and when certain research methods and statistics are inappropriate.
  • Advanced Developmental Psychology
    Developmental psychology courses will address human development over the entire span of one’s life. Students will study perceptual and cognitive development, socialization, the development of language and communication, and other factors that affect thought, emotion, and behavior through infancy, childhood, adolescence, and adulthood.

Career Options for Doctoral Degree Holders

Those who hold a doctoral degree in psychology have career opportunities those with lower-level degrees don’t have, such as becoming a licensed psychologist. Only professionals with a doctoral degree can practice independently as a research, clinical, or counseling psychologist. Licensed psychologists can diagnose and treat mental disorders, provide psychotherapy, and conduct psychological testing and evaluations. In order to become licensed, degreed psychologists must pass state requirements, such as getting certain scores on exams.

Among licensed psychologists, there are several types, usually based on which specialization a professional studied within his or her doctoral degree program. According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), clinical psychologists assess, diagnose, and treat mental, emotional, and behavioral disorders that are based on both short-term and long-term conditions. Within the field of clinical psychology, health psychologists examine how psychological factors impact health and wellness, and neuropsychologists examine the relationship between the brain and behavior, usually working with patients who have experienced a brain injury. Some psychologists work directly with patients, while others do not. Counseling psychologists work with patients to help them solve their problems; industrial-organizational psychologists work with a company’s employees to improve workplace morale and productivity; and school psychologists work with students, families, and school employees to provide counsel, and can suggest improvements in teaching, learning, and administrative strategies. Forensic psychologists work within the criminal justice system and frequently testify in court to help the parties understand psychological elements of a case; developmental psychologists study behavior and thought over a lifespan; and social psychologists study how social interactions affect people’s perceptions and behavior.

According to the BLS, overall employment for psychologists is expected to increase 22% from 2010 to 2020, varying by specialty. While industrial-organizational psychologists will see a 35% increase in expected employment opportunities, all other psychologists should expect between an 18% and 22% increase in employment opportunities. Salaries for those who hold a doctorate in psychology vary by field and experience. Clinical psychologists average anywhere from $41,000 to more than $100,000; research scientists range from $45,000 to more than $100,000; school psychologists range from $43,000 to $86,000; and forensic psychologists earn from $55,000 to $84,000. Those in private practice or who teach psychology at the college level can range from $43,000 to $132,000.