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Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) is a professional doctorate degree intended to prepare graduates for practice in psychology. Earning the degree was originally completed through one of two established training models for clinical psychology. However, Psy.D. programs are no longer limited to Clinical Psychology as several professional schools have begun to award professional doctorates in Business Psychology or Organizational Development.
An individual who earns a doctorate in clinical psychology, educational psychology or counseling psychology from an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited program may become licensed to diagnose and treat mental disorders, conduct psychological testing and complete psychological evaluations, and provide psychotherapy and psychopharmacology.
For non-clinical doctorates in psychology, programs are not accredited by the APA and there is no license to practice; however, the Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology, a division of the APA, maintains a database of Industrial and Organizational Psychology programs that meet its criteria. An individual who earns a doctorate in an industrial-organizational field may enter high-level careers in human resources, consulting or applied research.
The degree is usually abbreviated as Psy.D. in the United States and Canada and also D.Psy. or D.Ps. in Canada. In the United Kingdom and Ireland it is often abbreviated as DClinPsych or ClinPsyD. In Australia it is often abbreviated as D.Psych.
Guidelines for the education and training of clinical psychologists were established in 1949 at an APA Conference on Graduate Education in Clinical Psychology. Students would be prepared to conduct scholarly research and for clinical practice. This approach became known as the scientist-practitioner model, although it is often referred to as the Boulder model since the conference was held in Boulder, Colorado.
Flaws in the Boulder model became apparent within a decade. In trying to train students in both research and practice, most programs accomplished neither. In regard to research, the modal number of publications by graduates of Ph.D. programs was zero. In regard to practice, students were not being trained effectively for the needs of people seeking services.
In 1964, the APA formed a committee to study the scientific and professional aims of psychology. The committee, referred to as the “Clark Committee” (because it was chaired by Kenneth Clark), concluded that the science and practice of psychology, though related, were not the same. The education and training required for research were different than those for practice. The committee’s main recommendation was that a graduate program be developed to prepare people for the professional practice of clinical psychology.
In 1973 the practitioner-scholar model and the associated Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) degree were recognized by the American Psychological Association at the Conference on Levels and Patterns of Professional Training in Psychology (The Vail Conference). The practitioner-scholar model, or Vail model, emphasizes clinical practice in education and training. The Boulder model would continue to emphasize research. Graduates of both training models would be eligible for licensure in all jurisdictions in the United States, and the licensing exams and renewal requirements are the same for both degrees.
With the creation of the Doctor of Psychology degree, the APA confirmed that the Psy.D. is the principle credential that certifies attainment of the knowledge and skill required to establish clinical psychology as a profession. Furthermore, it follows the policies of both the Association of American Universities, and the Council of Graduate Schools: a professional doctorate (e.g., M.D.; D.D.S.; D.V.M.) is awarded in recognition of preparation for professional practice whereas the Ph.D. be awarded in recognition of preparation for research.
The practice of clinical psychology is based on an understanding of the scientific method and behavioral science. The focus of the Doctor of Psychology training model is on the application of this knowledge for direct clinical intervention. This includes the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness, as well as cognitive and emotional impairments in which psychological approaches may be of use.
Doctor of Psychology programs take four to seven years to complete. Students in these programs receive a broad and general education in scientific psychology and evidence-based treatment. Course work includes: Biological bases of behavior; cognitive-affective bases of behavior; social-cultural bases of behavior; lifespan development; assessment and diagnosis; treatment and intervention; research methods and statistics; and ethical and professional standards. Specialized training (e.g., neuropsychology, forensic psychology, psychodynamic psychology) is also available in some programs.
Students in Doctor of Psychology programs receive extensive clinical training through placements in various settings (e.g., community mental health centers, hospitals, college counseling centers). These placements provide direct patient contact that is supervised by a licensed psychologist. Clinical training culminates in a 1,750-2,000 hour (1-year full-time or 2-year half-time) supervised internship.
In order to complete the Psy.D. degree, students typically must demonstrate several competencies: 1. Knowledge mastery through passing comprehensive exams; 2. Clinical skill through successful completion of the internship; and 3. Scholarship through a doctoral research project.
A license to practice as a clinical psychologist is required in the United States. While specific requirements vary by jurisdiction, every state mandates: 1. Successful completion of either a 1-year full-time or 2-year half-time supervised clinical internship totaling 1,750-2,000 hours; and 2. Passing the national and state licensing exams. Most states require an additional postdoctoral year of supervised training after earning the doctorate, in order to become eligible to take the national and state licensing exams.
Maryland and Washington have removed the one year postdoctoral experience in place of requiring two years of supervised experience, both of which can be completed prior to graduation. In February 2006 the American Psychological Association Council of Representatives adopted a statement recommending that this change also be made to the licensing requirements of other states since the nature of training has changed dramatically in the last 50 years. Previously, doctoral-level students accrued most of their clinical hours during internship and postdoctoral fellowships. Now, students accrue most of their clinical hours in the course of their training and internship. Thus, they are ready to begin practice upon graduation. Next, there are considerably fewer positions available for recent graduates and providing the training before graduation facilitates early career psychologists.
In the United States, both the Psy.D. and Ph.D. are the only two doctorate degrees that are eligible to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP). This is the national licensing exam and successful completion is required in order to obtain a license to practice psychology.
While Ph.D. students do perform better on the EPPP than PsyD students, Schaffer et al. conducted an analysis of EPPP pass rates from 2006-2011 and found that a high percentage of candidates from many Psy.D. programs pass the exam the first time they take it in comparison to Ph.D. candidates. This is likely due to the intensive focus on clinical practice during training at Psy.D. programs. Their analysis found that a disproportionate percentage of those candidates who fail the EPPP come from a limited number of programs: The bottom 37 programs accounted for 46.9% of all EPPP failures; the bottom 15 programs (13 Psy.D., 2 Ph.D.) accounted for 38.8% of all failures. Of these 15 programs, four were from one institution and three from another institution. These seven programs from two institutions accounted for 17.1% of the total failures. Thus, a small number of programs, in particular a subset of Psy.D. programs, unfairly clouds the reputation of all Psy.D. programs. In addition, there are many traditional Ph.D. programs that have relatively low pass rates, and 18 Ph.D. programs with a pass rate less than 60%. Schaffer et al. concluded that there are variables other than the type of degree that are more important in determining pass rates on the EPPP.