While researching different fields of psychology you may be wondering which type of program is right for you. Clinical and Counseling Psychologists are in general psychologists that work with clients on psychological issues and/or conduct research. The two professions are very similar, so similar in fact that many believe that the two fields should be merged (Brems & Johnson, 1997). Because the two types of programs are considered so similar, the differences may not jump out at you at first. When you add in the PsyD it can be increasingly confusing as to which degree would suit you best. In this article, the many similarities and few, but salient, differences between PhD and PsyD programs in Clinical and Counseling will be discussed as well as how you can figure out which best suits your interests.
Clinical and counseling PhD programs are both very competitive programs to get into. Clinical programs have an acceptance rate around 6% on average while the average acceptance rate for counseling programs ranges from 6 to 8% (Norcross, Sayette, Mayne, Karg, & Turkson, 1998; Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994). Both types of programs typically accept students with very high GRE scores, averaging more than 1200 combined on the old GRE scale, though clinical programs tend to want a bit higher of a score (Norcross, et al., 1998). The GPA of an accepted student is typically high too, averaging a cumulative GPA of 3.6 and a psychology GPA of 3.7 (Norcross, et al., 1998).
While the admissions requirements for both degree programs may be very similar, there are typically some differences in the programs. One of the biggest differences is in the theoretical orientations of the staff at the programs. Clinical programs tend to favor behavioral and psychoanalytic viewpoints while counseling programs prefer the humanistic orientation (Norcross, et al., 1998; Brems & Johnson, 1997). The locations of the programs are often very different too. Clinical PhD programs are often housed in psychology departments while counseling programs can be in psychology departments, education departments, or are cross-departmental (Norcross, 2000). Another difference is the sheer amount of each type of program. Clinical programs far outnumber counseling programs with 194 APA-accredited clinical programs in 1999 versus only 64 APA-accredited counseling programs (Norcross, 2000).
Now that you know the differences and similarities between the schooling aspects, you may be wondering what the differences are between the two careers. Some salient differences between the two are employment settings, patients seen, and research areas. Counseling psychologists are employed more in university counseling centers and other human service settings while clinical psychologists tend to be employed more in private practices, medical schools, and hospitals (Norcross, 2000; Brems & Johnson, 1997). There are important differences between clients seen by each type of psychologist at these settings, too. Counseling psychologists are more likely to see mildly clinical or subclinical populations than a clinical psychologist (Tipton, 1983). Clinical psychologists are more likely to treat the severely disturbed, but they do often see clients with much lower levels of disturbedness, much like a counseling psychologist (Tipton, 1983). For those who are more interested in academia, the line of research they study will be very important and so it is imperative to point out the major differences between the two field’s main research interests. Counseling psychologists are much more likely to research professional issues and ethics, human diversity, and vocational processes (Norcross, et al., 1998). Clinical psychologists are much more likely to research psychological disorders (Norcross, et al., 1998).
Now that you have an understanding of the differences between clinical and counseling PhD programs, it is important that you understand the difference between a PhD (Doctor of Philosophy) and PsyD (Doctor of Psychology). Although counseling PsyD programs exist, this article will focus on the differences between a clinical PhD and PsyD. In 1949 in Boulder, Colorado the Boulder model was formed (Norcross & Castle, 2002). PhD programs subscribe to the Boulder model or, as it is otherwise known, the scientist-practitioner model. The programs are designed to train students to be ready for both the academic and clinical world with substantial training in research and clinical skills (Norcross & Castle, 2002). It is important to note that if you do not enjoy research then you may want to seriously reconsider applying to PhD programs as they are, on average, very research intensive (Norcross & Castle, 2002; Norcross, et al., 1998). Some programs are more balanced in their approach, spending nearly equal amounts of time in clinical training as research training, but others are very research heavy and are more interested in producing academicians than clinicians (Norcross, et al., 1998). It is important to realize that all PhD programs require extensive research and at least a master’s thesis and a dissertation, but that does not mean that there is no research component to PsyD programs.
For those of you who are not partial to preforming research but still want to be intelligent consumers of the literature and clinicians, the PsyD may be the way to go. In 1973 in Vail, Colorado the Vail model, or scholar-practitioner model, was created (Norcross & Castle, 2002). The people who created this model believed that psychology had advanced to such a stage that not everyone needed to participate in research and that professional schools, much like medical schools, were needed for clinical psychology (Norcross & Castle, 2002). With this trade off of research come some very costly concessions. While 65-81% of students entering a PhD program receive a tuition waiver and a stipend, only 13- 22% of students receive the same financial assistance in PsyD programs and these students are typically in programs housed in departments of psychology (Norcross, et al., 1998; Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994). PhD programs are three times more likely to fund you than PsyD programs which tend to embrace a “pay as you go” stance, much like medical schools do (Norcross, et al., 1998; Norcross & Castle, 2002). PsyD programs that are freestanding and not affiliated with a university are more likely to embrace this policy while university based PsyD programs are more likely to give at least partial funding (Norcross & Castle, 2002). As such, the debt difference between the two types of programs is large, with PhD program students reporting that they are a median of $22,000 in debt upon graduation while PsyD students report that they are a median of $53,000- $60,000 in debt upon graduation (Norcross & Castle, 2002).
Besides differing on stances towards research and financial aid, the two types of programs also differ on admissions standards. PsyD programs traditionally accept many more students than PhD programs (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994). The average acceptance rate of PsyD programs is 22-46% while the average acceptance rate of PhD programs is 6% (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994; Norcross & Castle, 2002). Freestanding programs typically accept a larger amount of students and have larger class sizes than university affiliated professional schools and psychology department programs (Norcross & Castle, 2002). PsyD programs also, on average, indicate a lower preference in GRE scores and GPA (3.1) than PhD programs (3.5; Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994). Programs also differ in that PsyD program faculty are much more likely to embrace the psychodynamic theoretical orientation than PhD faculty who often embraced the cognitive-behavioral orientation (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994). One advantage of PsyD programs is that they, on average, take one to one and a half years less than a PhD program, but this may come at a concession also (Norcross & Castle, 2002). PsyD graduates also tend to score lower than PhD graduates on the national licensure exam, signaling they may know less than a PhD graduate (Norcross & Castle, 2002).
Now that you know the main differences between clinical and counseling psychology and PhD and PsyD programs, you may be wondering just how you are going decide with so many options at the doctoral level! To help with this, some key questions for you to ask yourself will be laid out. If you have any questions that are not addressed in this article, feel free to comment and ask them or message the author. Also, if you want even more information than is provided in this article or want information on specific programs, then you should consider reading Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical and Counseling Psychology by Michael A. Sayette, Tracy J. Mayne, and John C. Norcross.
How does your GPA and GRE scores stack up against each type of program’s admissions standards? Is your GPA and your GRE score high? If so then you have your pick of the lot. Those with who don’t meet the mean with their less than stellar GPA and GRE score should not give up, however. It should be noted that each programs’ admission standards are reported as an average and because of this you should realize that this means that some people may have scored extremely high and others may have scored on the lower side in order to get the average to the number it is currently at. Also, PhD programs greatly value research experience, so if you have a considerable amount it will work greatly in your favor. You may also consider completing a master’s degree in something such as experimental psychology in order to beef up your curriculum vitae or going to a PsyD program as their standards are a bit more lax. However, it should be noted that 90% of programs use GRE scores to screen applicants so you should not be frivolous about your scores (Mayne, Norcross, & Sayette, 1994).
How much and what type of research do you want to be involved in? If your answer is none, then the choice should be easy- a PsyD program, for reasons stated above. If research is your thing, then it is important to review the subtle differences in research areas between clinical and counseling psychology like what was detailed earlier. It may also be helpful to see the types of programs that researchers in your research interest area work at. If the majority of researchers do their research at a counseling program, then counseling may be the way to go and vice versa for a clinical program.
What type of populations do you want to work with? If you are interested in working with those with severe illnesses such as schizophrenia, personality disorders, or autism, then clinical programs would be the way to go. If you are interested in working with those who have milder diagnoses or are relatively normal, then counseling may be what you are looking for.
What type of employment setting are you interested in working in and what are your career goals? If you are interested in working in medical schools or hospitals as a clinician then a clinical degree might be for you. If you are interested in working in human services places such as the university clinic as a counseling psychologist, then a counseling degree may be the thing to go for. If you are more interested in academia and research, then a PhD in either clinical or counseling would be a smart choice.
Brems, C. & Johnson, M. E. (1997). Comparison of recent graduates of clinical versus counseling psychology programs. The Journal of Psychology, 131(1), 91-99.
Mayne, T. J., Norcross, J. C., & Sayette, M. A. (1994). Admission requirements, acceptance rates, and financial assistance in clinical psychology programs. American Psychologist, 49(9), 806-811.
Norcross, J. C. (2000). Clinical versus counseling psychology: What’s the diff? Eye on Psi Chi, 5(1), 20-22.
Norcross, J. C. & Castle, P. H. (2002). Appreciating the PsyD: The facts. Eye on Psi Chi, 7(1), 22-26.
Norcross, J. C., Sayette, M. A., Mayne, T. J., Karg, R. S., & Turkson, M. A. (1998). Selecting a doctoral program in professional psychology: Some comparisons among PhD counseling, PhD clinical, and PsyD clinical psychology programs. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 29(6), 609-614.
Tipton, R. M. (1983). Clinical and counseling psychology: A study of roles and functions. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 14(6), 837-846.