Online Doctoral Degrees in (Clinical) Psychology – PhD Programs
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Pursuing psychology as an academic discipline creates fertile soil for the seeds of a career to grow in almost any industry. Because psychology is the directed study of the inner workings of the human mind, human behavior, and human motivation, its applications can propel someone into business leadership, human resources management, corrections, gerontology, rehabilitation, vocational and school counseling, educational design, and much more.
As a subfield, clinical psychology is the study and practice of providing comprehensive mental and behavioral healthcare to individuals, families, and groups from all backgrounds. Although those pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology may choose to specialize in a certain disorder (e.g., addiction) or population (e.g., veterans), clinical psychology PhDs are often generalist degrees that provide a breadth of knowledge and a wide range of treatment options for a diverse client base.
According to the Bureau for Labor Statistics (BLS), the job outlook for practicing psychologists between 2018 and 2028 is quite good. The BLS predicts that openings in the occupation will grow 14 percent in that decade, adding 26,100 new jobs, for a total of 181,700 positions nationwide. This growth rate is nearly three times higher than the national growth rate for all occupations during that time period, which is an estimated 5 percent. Increasing needs for aging populations, trauma survivors, war veterans, and those with developmental disorders are all cited as reasons for the positive job growth.
Those interested in joining the corps of mental health professionals who heal and foster human thriving through practice or research will find they have plenty of choices when looking for hybrid online/on-campus doctorate programs in clinical psychology that award PhDs, and some options for 100 percent online programs.
Hybrid PhD in clinical psychology programs offer a balanced learning methodology that combines online didactic coursework with on-campus immersions, residences, internships, or orientations. While some of what a doctoral student in clinical psychology learns requires face-to-face instruction or experience, the online component provides increased flexibility over a classical full-time on-campus program. Those living far from a university campus, with demanding schedules, or those who can’t relocate for the duration of the program may be particularly suited to hybrid clinical psychology PhD programs.
This comprehensive guide to online doctorates in clinical psychology that confer a PhD discusses the difference between a PsyD and PhD, and common admissions requirements and courses in clinical psychology PhD programs. This guide also introduces prospective students to accreditation standards, featured hybrid and online PhD in clinical psychology programs, distinguished online professors, and possible career pathways for those graduating with a PhD in clinical psychology.
PsyD vs PhD in Clinical Psychology: What’s the Difference?
The main difference between a doctorate of psychology (Psyd) program and a doctorate of philosophy (PhD) program is the training emphasis.
PsyD programs are focused on training graduates to become clinicians and focus heavily on clinical work. A PhD program in clinical psychology, by contrast, prepares graduates to become scientist-practitioners and places more emphasis on research.
While PsyD programs were developed in response to the concern that PhD in psychology graduates weren’t prepared for clinical practice, technically, both PhD programs and PsyD programs can prepare someone for work as a practicing psychologist. A student with an earned PhD in clinical psychology who wishes to earn licensure as a psychologist may have to complete licensure requirements independently of the program. The research emphasis in a PhD program opens students to career opportunities outside of clinical practice, if desired.
Typical Admissions Requirements for Online PhD Programs in (Clinical) Psychology
Students interested in entering into a doctoral program in psychology that points them toward a clinical career can find a wide array of admissions requirements, depending on the program. It is imperative that degree seekers take the time to understand if they fulfill all admissions requirements by carefully reading through admissions pages and/or by speaking with admissions officers. Applicants may need to provide any or all the following to be considered for admission into an online PhD program in clinical psychology:
- Bachelor’s or master’s degree from an accredited institution
- Official transcripts demonstrating a minimum GPA at all previously attended post-secondary institutions
- Curriculum vitae (CV) or resume
- Statement of purpose
- Writing samples
- Three recommendation letters
- Application fee
- Work experience
- Mental health license or proof of pre-license
- GRE or MAT scores
Courses in Online PhD Programs in (Clinical) Psychology
Coursework in clinical psychology PhD programs offered online vary widely from program to program, and may also vary based on a student’s chosen specialization, concentration, or focus. The following list is a sample of coursework that a student could expect when choosing to pursue an online PhD in psychology:
- Biological bases of behavior
- Clinical interviewing
- Cognitive and affective bases of behavior
- Developmental bases of behavior
- Ethics and laws in psychotherapy and behavioral science research
- Fundamentals of psychophysiology supplement
- History and systems of psychology
- Introduction to psychotherapy: technique
- Introduction to psychotherapy: theory
- Legal, ethical and professional practice
- Multicultural psychology
- Optimal functioning: psychophysiological applications in the community, school, sports, and workplace
- Personality theory and research
- Principles and theories of stress management
- Psychophysiological recording, assessment, and interventions
- Psychotherapy proseminar: humanistic psychology
- Research in psychotherapy
- Social bases of behavior
- Stimulation technologies
Supervised Clinical Hour Requirements & Internships – Online Doctorate in (Clinical) Psychology
Gaining licensure to practice independently as a mental health clinician or psychologist requires professionals to complete a certain threshold of supervised work hours under a licensed clinician.
For example, in the state of California, applicants for licensure as a psychologist must have completed at least 3,000 supervised professional experience hours, 1,500 of which must be completed post-doctorally. Whether or not an online PhD in clinical psychology program requires supervised hours and internships depends on whether the program is a licensure preparation program or not.
Some clinically-focused PhD programs are designed for already-licensed or pre-licensed mental health professionals looking for expanded leadership opportunities, deeper disciplinary skills and knowledge, entry into professorship, or the desire to add to the lexicon of research in the clinical psychology arena. These types of programs will often clearly state that the program is not designed to help with licensure. If an internship is offered, it will often be optional. Any desired supervised clinical hours must be pursued individually and outside of the course sequence.
Online PhD programs in psychology that do prepare students as much as possible for licensure will weave supervised clinical hours and internship experiences into the course sequence. Some online PhDs in psychology offer students the ability to find supervisors for internships and practicum experiences nearby, while others require online students to choose from a curated list, or relocate for the duration of the internship.
Program Accreditation for Online PhD Programs in (Clinical) Psychology
At its most basic level, accreditation is a sign that universities are providing educational interventions that adhere to a certain set of standards for quality and practical relevance. To earn accreditation, universities submit to being evaluated by a third-party accrediting organization whose central purpose is to determine whether or not the university is adhering to these standards.
Prospective students interested in applying to PhD programs in psychology should ensure that the institutions they’re applying to are accredited at either the regional or national level by accrediting organizations recognized by the Department of Education (DOE) or Council for Higher Education Accreditation (CHEA).
At a programmatic level, the American Psychology Association (APA) has long been considered the gold standard for programmatic accreditation for doctoral-level programs in psychology. In addition to being a benchmark for quality instruction, some states require that psychology professionals graduate from an APA-accredited program in order to pursue licensure to practice.
At the time of this writing, however, the APA does not accredit online-only PhD doctoral programs, stating, “Some accredited programs may offer online courses or other content via distance education in an adjunctive role. These courses cannot represent a substantial nature of program content and certain classes (e.g., practicum) are not considered appropriate for this instructional method. Any online courses in accredited programs should be noted as such in public materials.”
As a result, APA accreditation generally only occurs for hybrid or blended programs that include a minimum threshold of on-campus or in-person requirements.
It is imperative that a prospective clinical psychology PhD applicant understand how the APA figures into their state’s licensure requirements and whether or not the universities without APA recognition help students to gain the skills necessary for licensure.
Featured Online & Hybrid (Clinical) Psychology PhD Programs
Fielding Graduate University (Hybrid)
Fielding Graduate University offers a hybrid online and in-person clinical psychology PhD program that aims to create a more humane, just, and sustainable world by creating programming accessible to students from underrepresented populations and by graduating students who bring values of social and ecological justice to their work.
Fielding offers the only distributed learning program accredited by the APA. Students enrolled in the 179-credit program earn a pathway master’s after the first two years of study, and have the opportunity to choose a concentration in forensic psychology, health psychology, neuropsychology, or social justice and diversity.
On-campus requirements in this program include a weeklong orientation and two weeklong residencies in the first two years of the program. Some concentrations and seminars require additional on-campus presence as well. Students are also required to complete 600 residency hours, 1,500 practicum hours, and a 1,520-hour, one-year internship in the terminal year of the program that may require relocation to complete.
Coursework in the program includes cognitive assessment, history and systems of psychology, biological bases of behavior, and multicultural psychology. No GRE scores are required to apply, and students without a master’s degree can also apply to Fielding.
- Location: Santa Barbara, California
- Accreditation: American Psychological Association (APA)
- Duration: Five to six years
- Tuition: $9,700 per term
Saybrook University (Hybrid)
Saybrook University offers a hybrid online/in-person PhD in clinical psychology program that provides the coursework requirements to become a licensed clinical psychologist in 13 states.
Students enrolled in the 108-credit program have the choice to enroll in one of four 15-credit specializations in consciousness, spirituality, and integrative health; creativity studies; existential and humanistic psychology, or psychophysiology.
On-campus requirements for the program include a two-day residential orientation, two five-day residential conferences per year, and one optional three-day intensive mid term residential conference. Students enrolled in the program are expected to complete a 600-hour minimum practicum over two semesters, and complete a 12- to 24-month internship with a minimum of 1,500 clinical training hours.
Coursework in the program includes ethics and laws in psychotherapy and behavioral science research, the psychology of multiculturalism in North America, social psychology, and integrative health psychology: the application of psychological concepts and tools to health.
Students who enroll in the Saybrook program with an earned bachelor’s degree have the opportunity to earn a master’s degree on the way to the PhD. Although Saybrook is not an APA-accredited program, the program can be adjusted to meet APA equivalency in the student’s intended state of practice. GRE/MAT scores are not required to apply, but can be submitted to strengthen an application.
- Location: Pasadena, California
- Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Duration: Five years
- Tuition: $1,170 per credit hour
Walden University (Hybrid)
Walden University offers a hybrid online/in-person PhD in clinical psychology that prepares students to become practitioners, faculty members, consultants, administrators, or researchers. Walden’s blended learning approach prepares students to qualify to sit for psychology licensing exams by meeting the academic requirements stipulated by some state psychology boards.
Students enrolled in this program will be expected to complete at least two of the four required four-day residencies in a face-to-face format, and will also need to complete one academic year in residence in the sixth through ninth quarters of the program. The year in residence program combines online coursework with face-to-face experiences in Minneapolis.
Students enrolled in the 143-credit program can choose to pursue a general program, or can choose to specialize in forensic psychology, health, industrial and organizational psychology, or teaching. Coursework in the program includes psychopathology from a clinical perspective, interpersonal psychotherapy, psychology and social change, and cognitive and affective bases of behavior. After completing a two-course practicum, students are also expected to complete four internship courses that help them to gain 2,000 supervised clinical clock hours, 900 of which must be direct client contact hours. GRE/MAT scores are not required to apply to Walden.
- Location: Minneapolis, Minnesota
- Accreditation: The Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
- Duration: Five to eight years
- Tuition: $495 per quarter hour
Lesley University (Hybrid)
Lesley University offers a low-residency PhD in expressive therapies designed for experienced art therapy professionals looking to advance within the realm of higher education or transition to leadership in the arts therapy discipline.
Coursework in the 45-credit program includes a series of residency experiences and doctoral seminars that cover topics such as philosophical foundations of expressive art therapies, leadership in the discipline of art therapy, ethics, teaching and research in higher education, and the explorations of contextual framework for research questions. Students are required to attend one three-week summer intensive residency in Cambridge each year for the first three years of the program.
A program for working art therapists, Lesley’s program requires applicants to have a master’s degree from a regionally accredited institution, certification or registration in at least one expressive therapy modality, GRE or MAT scores, and a minimum three years of professional experience working as an expressive therapist.
- Location: Cambridge, Massachusetts
- Accreditation: New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
- Duration: Four years
- Tuition: $59,725 for the program
Northcentral University (Online)
Northcentral University offers a 100 percent online 60-credit PhD in psychology that is designed for licensed and pre-licensed mental health professionals who have an earned clinical master’s degree that included a practicum or internship. Students enrolled in the program can choose between ten available specializations, including addictions, the psychology of gender and sexual fluidity, general psychology, gerontology, health psychology, industrial organizational psychology, mental health policy and practice, trauma and disaster relief, counseling psychology, and counseling psychology (California licensure track).
With the exception of the counseling psychology (California licensure track), none of Northcentral’s programs are specifically designed to prepare students for licensure and do not provide any internship, practicum, or residency opportunities. The CA licensure track prepares PhD graduates only for the academic requirements needed for licensure in the state and students will need to organize clinical requirements for licensure independently.
Coursework across the programs includes research design planning, tests and measurements, scholarly writing and professional communication in psychology, and advanced qualitative and quantitative analysis and design. No GRE scores are required to apply. Those with master’s degrees outside of psychology, mental health counseling, marriage and family therapy, or social work may have to complete additional coursework before starting their PhD coursework.
- Location: San Diego, California
- Accreditation: Western Association of Schools and Colleges Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
- Duration: Four to seven years
- Tuition: $70,610 for the program
Professors to Know in Online PhD Programs in (Clinical) Psychology
Dr. Michelle Ackerman is an associate professor of psychology at the doctoral level in the Department of Psychology at Northcentral University. Dr. Ackerman’s areas of expertise include cognitive aging, cognitive and physical training in impaired and unimpaired older adults, and mobility and driving in older adults. She has taught doctoral-level courses in scholarly writing and professional communication, research methods, history and systems in psychology, and more
Dr. Ackerman is a published scholar, with works appearing in refereed journals such as the Journal of Applied Gerontology, the Journal of Neuroscience Nursing, Accident Analysis and Prevention, and The Gerontologist.
Dr. Ackerman is a seasoned professional in academia, with over 10 years of experience as a professor and one year serving as a postdoctoral fellow at the Center for Research on Applied Gerontology at the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB). She earned all her graduate degrees and certificates from UAB: a graduate certificate in gerontology, a master of art in developmental psychology, and a PhD in developmental psychology.
Fielding Graduate University
Dr. April Fallon is a member of the doctoral faculty for clinical psychology at Fielding Graduate University. Her research interests include the assessment of clinical significant impulsivity, ethical hot spots of combined therapy, and informed consent in group psychotherapy.
Dr. Fallon’s academic works appear in a number of peer-reviewed journals, including the Journal of Social Distress and the Homeless, the International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, Psychiatry Research, and Psychological Review. She is affiliated with a number of professional organizations such as the American Psychological Association, the American Group Therapy Association, and the Philadelphia Society for Psychoanalytic Psychology. She also is on the board of directors for the Psychiatry Resident Teaching Award at the Drexel College of Medicine.
Professionally, Dr. Fallon has 39 years of experience as an educator, training psychiatric residents therapy methodologies at the Drexel University College of Medicine, with 23 of those years also spent teaching at fielding. She also has 37 years of experience as a private practice psychologist working with children, teens, and adults. She earned her PhD in psychology from the University of Pennsylvania and participated in a postdoctoral fellowship in psychology at Eastern Pennsylvania Psychiatric Institute.
Dr. Kelvin Ramirez is an assistant professor of expressive therapies and global interdisciplinary studies at Lesley University. His research interests include the development of international art therapy initiatives, contemporary social justice issues, the presence or absence of addressing systemic oppression within art therapy, implications on demographic representation or absence on art therapy theory and practice, and the intersection of horticultural therapy, art therapy, and community transformation.
Dr. Ramirez served as the executive producer for two films about love and art therapy, wrote a book chapter explicating art therapy’s impact on an El Salvadorean family, and is a prolific speaker, giving presentations at the New York Botanical Gardens, the Resilience Center in Mumbai, and at the Expressive Therapies Conference in Arlington, Virginia.
As a professional, Dr. Ramirez has nine years of experience working as a high school vice-principal who incorporated art therapy into academic and therapeutic approaches to increase retention and enhance social-emotional development in the student population. She earned his master of science in art therapy and counseling from the College of New Rochelle and his PhD in expressive therapies from Lesley University.
Jobs in (Clinical) Psychology: What Can I Do with a PhD in Psychology?
Graduates of doctoral programs in clinical psychology can eventually become practicing licensed psychologists. Psychologists who engage in practice use their formalized professional training and thousands of hours of clinical experience to help patients overcome hardships or live more harmoniously with mental health disorders, cope with chronic conditions, navigate life changes or transitions, treat addictions, and more.
To this end, psychologists use evidence-based treatments, a mixture of therapy methodologies, and team-based care coordinated with other health practitioners to serve their clients. Practicing psychologists may work in private practice, schools, hospitals, governmental organizations, or ambulatory healthcare services.
Professor of Clinical Psychology
Those with a PhD of clinical psychology can choose to take their formalized education to train the next generation of psychologists. Clinical psychology professors commit to engaging in research within the discipline, and teaching their subject matter expertise to students at the bachelor’s, master’s, or doctoral level.
As a part of a university’s faculty, clinical psychology professors may develop or improve syllabi, adjudicate assignments, lead a team of graduate assistants, work collaboratively within or across departments to improve course offerings, serve on college and university committees, and discern how to make course content effective and engaging for students.