The PsyD degree versus the PhD

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The current rumbling over psychotherapy methods centers on a type of therapist degree called the PsyD, which emerged in the 1970s and has since exploded in popularity. Critics claim these schools don’t properly train their students in science-based approaches to therapy.

The PsyD movement began because too few psychologists with PhDs were entering private practice but were instead becoming academic researchers. PsyD programs, in contrast, often require students to accumulate more hours practicing therapy, and their graduates tend to become professional therapists. From 1988 to 2001, the awarding of PsyDs soared 170%, compared with relatively no increase in PhDs.

Many PsyD programs are housed at free-standing schools -- that is, unaffiliated with an established university. Their high acceptance rates have led some to consider them diploma mills. On average, PsyD programs accept 41% of applicants, compared with 11% for PhD programs. PsyD graduates also on average score lower on professional psychologist licensing exams.


In 2003, the late Donald Peterson, father of the PsyD movement, reconsidered what he had created: In an article in the American Psychologist, he termed the programs’ high acceptance rates and low licensing scores “a dangerous situation.”

But the leap from high acceptance rates to unscientific training is itself a “most unscientific error,” says Morgan Sammons, dean of the professional psychology school at Alliant International University, a free-standing program based in California.

“Acceptance rates have nothing to do with the scientific basis of a program,” Sammons wrote in an e-mail.