A doctorate degree gives psychology students a strong background in research and psychological theories. It prepares students to become psychology experts, whether they choose careers as researchers, therapists, expert witnesses or psychology writers. Although students don't have to pursue a master's degree to enroll in a doctoral program, many doctoral students get master's degrees first.
There are several sub-disciplines within the field of psychology and the degree a psychologist pursues will depend on her research interests and career goals. A Doctor of Psychology program, or Psy.D., focuses primarily on therapy, but psychologists can pursue a wide range of psychology doctorates to become therapists. Students may seek a traditional Ph.D. in psychology, pursuing specialties such as child psychology, counseling, psychological research, marriage and family therapy, clinical psychology or community psychology. Students can choose a course load tailored to their specialty. A clinical psychologist might gain more knowledge in the research and treatment of mental disorders, while a community psychologist will focus more on providing services to psychology patients in a public health setting.
Although people with psychology master's degrees can perform therapy and research, the American Psychological Association requires a doctorate before a person can call herself a psychologist. Psychologists also must meet state licensing requirements, which can include continuing education classes, knowledge tests or completing a certain number of supervised clinical hours. In Georgia, for example, psychologists must pass an exam testing their knowledge of psychology and laws covering psychologists. They must also complete 500 hours of direct contact with patients, under the supervision of a licensed psychologist. To maintain their licenses, they must complete 40 hours of continuing education classes every two years.
A doctorate program provides students with in-depth knowledge of psychological principles. The specific classes a student takes will depend on her specialty. Community psychologists, for example, might focus on sociological issues, while clinical psychologists may take many classes in diagnostic and research methods. To receive a doctorate, a student also has to complete a dissertation. This exhaustive research paper presents novel research in the field and doctoral students must defend their dissertation before a committee. The dissertation serves as evidence that a future psychologist has the requisite skills to practice in the field.
People with doctorates in psychology may pursue a broad variety of careers. They may practice as therapists working with individuals, couples, families or groups. They may also become researchers who identify new psychological disorders and develop treatment protocols. Some people with psychology doctorates enter other fields, for example, as marketing consultants who help companies use psychological principles to develop effective marketing strategies.