The Doctor of Psychology is a professional doctoral degree intended to prepare graduates for practice in psychotherapy. 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 universities and professional schools have begun to award professional doctorates in Business Psychology, Organizational Development, Forensic Psychology, Counseling Psychology, and School Psychology.
The degree is usually abbreviated as Psy.D. in the United States and Canada and also D.Psy. or D.Ps. in Canada. In Denmark, the corresponding degree is called "Specialist" ("Specialist Psychologist", with the domain added) or "Specialpsykolog" (Special Psychologist).
The initial guidelines for the education and training of clinical psychologists were established in 1949 at an American Psychological Association (APA)-sponsored Conference on Training in Clinical Psychology in Boulder, Colorado. Students would be prepared both to conduct experimental research and apply knowledge 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.
The difficulty integrating the education and training for both research and practice within the same degree has been long recognized. While the scientist-practitioner model ostensibly included clinical training, many argued that preparation for practice was often neglected. Some also argued that in trying to train students in both research and practice, not enough emphasis was placed on either. 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.
While the scientist-practitioner model “stood intransigent and impervious through the 1950s and 60s”, the APA attempted to respond to pressure for more and better clinical training by forming the Committee on the Scientific and Professional Aims of Psychology in 1963. The Committee concluded that the scientist-practitioner model failed to do either of the jobs for which it was designed and recommended several important changes, including: establishing separate practice-oriented programs, potentially in locations other than university psychology departments; developing a practice-oriented training model; and using the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree to designate preparation for clinical practice. The Committee's conclusions and recommendations met with controversy. In particular, opponents said a different degree would impact the field's prestige and ignore science. Proponents, however, argued it would be informed by science and that other practice-oriented healthcare disciplines, such as medicine, had well-respected professional degrees.
In 1973, the APA sponsored the Conference on Levels and Patterns of Training in Vail, Colorado. Conference members concluded that psychological knowledge had matured sufficiently to warrant creating distinct practice-oriented programs. Members also concluded that if the education and training for practice differs from research, then different degrees should reflect that: when emphasis is on preparing students for providing clinical services, the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree should be awarded; when the focus is on preparing students for conducting experimental research, the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) degree should be awarded. This approach became known as the practitioner-scholar model, also known as the Vail model. Graduates of both training models would be eligible for licensure in all jurisdictions in the United States, and the licensing exams and renewal requirements would be the same for both degrees.
With the creation of the Doctor of Psychology degree, the APA confirmed that the Psy.D. is a 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. is 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, and 2) clinical skill through successful completion of a pre-doctoral internship, and 3) scholarship through a doctoral research project.
Regional accreditation is available to doctoral programs in clinical psychology.
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, a doctoral degree from a program acceptable to the licensing board is required, including the Ph.D., Psy.D., and Ed.D. are among the doctorate degrees that make individuals eligible to sit for the Examination for Professional Practice of Psychology (EPPP; CA Board of Psychology). The EPPP is the national licensing examination and its completion is required in order for one to obtain a license to practice psychology.