How Long Does It Take to Get a PhD in Psychology?

Typical Timelines for Doctorate-Degree Options

Ph.D. in psychology
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Are you thinking of earning a PhD or other doctoral degree in psychology? Before you begin your academic journey, it is a good idea to take a look at just how long it will take you to complete your degree. The amount of time it will take can depend upon a variety of factors including the your chosen specialty area, the program you select, and the course load you are able to take each semester.

A doctorate-level degree in psychology is required to work in many job areas, including as a licensed clinical psychologist or counseling psychologist.

According to the American Psychological Association, a doctorate degree is also often required in fields such as school psychology or health psychology.

So how long does it take to get a PhD in Psychology? First, it is important to realize that the degree requirements can vary depending upon the field that you decide to pursue. A PhD, or Doctor of Philosophy, degree is not necessarily your only option. In some cases, you might want to also consider the PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) or the EdD (Doctor of Education) degree options.

Which Degree Should You Get?

How do these degree options differ? A PhD in Psychology tends to focus on a research-based model of education. People with a PhD in Psychology are qualified for a wide range of teaching, research and clinical positions in colleges, universities, hospitals, government offices and private mental health practices.

The PsyD degree option generally focuses on a practitioner-based model of education.

Individuals with a PsyD degree can also teach or conduct psychology research, but they frequently work in applied settings to provide direct mental health services.

Finally, there is also a third doctorate option that you might also want to consider depending on your career goals. If you are interested in working as a school psychologist or in a related educational field, the EdD, or Doctor of Education, is a possible option.

How Long Will It Take to Get a Doctorate Degree?

The length of time required to earn your degree depends on upon a variety of factors, including the type of degree you have selected, your educational background and the individual doctorate program in which you have enrolled. Generally, if you have a strong background in psychology and have completed all of the necessary prerequisites, you will be able to finish your doctorate sooner than students who have not taken the prerequisite courses.

Be sure you have a clear idea what you want to do with your psychology degree once you've completed it. Do you want to teach, or is research more appealing to you? Are you interested in seeing clients, or are you planning to combine your training in psychology with another field, such as law or medicine? An accredited university should be able to provide guidance whatever your career goals in psychology are.

For a Ph.D. in Psychology

Most PhD programs require at least 5 to 7 years to complete. In addition to regular coursework, you may also be expected to complete an internship or supervised residency. The program usually culminates in completing an original research project or dissertation.

For a Psy.D. Degree

Most PsyD programs require between 4 to 6 years to complete. According the APA, programs conferring the PsyD degree focus on the application of psychological science, usually in the form of a service. 

For an EdD: Degree

Most EdD programs require between 3 to 5 years to complete. It is important to note that many applicants to EdD programs already hold a master's degree in a related field, while applicants to Ph.D. and PsyD programs often begin their program of study with a bachelor's degree.

A Word From Verywell

No matter which type of degree you decide to pursue, earning a doctorate degree in psychology requires a significant investment of time, money, and effort.

Because of this, it is important to carefully consider your goals before deciding on a graduate program. You should also consider whether you need a doctorate or if a master's might be more appropriate.

Despite the years of work involved, earning your PhD, PsyD, or EdD can be well worth the effort. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics suggests that workers  with a doctoral or education specialist degree in clinical, counseling, and school psychology will find the strongest job opportunities.

Sources:

American Psychological Association: Questions About Graduate Programs

Bureau of Labor Statistics, U.S. Department of Labor, Occupational Outlook Handbook, 2016-17 Edition, Psychologists; 2015. 

Carr, A. Clinical Psychology: An Introduction. London: Routledge; 2012.

Kuther, TL. The Psychology Major's Handbook. Boston, MA: Cengage Learning; 2016.

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