Psychologists play an important role in promoting mental health and treating psychological disorders like depression and anxiety. They specialize in many types of practice during their doctoral programs, such as clinical, forensic or social psychology. In most states, you must have a doctorate in psychology and hold a valid license to practice in order to be called a psychologist. Obtaining a doctorate in psychology involves a rigorous and lengthy course of study and training.

Types of Psychology Doctorates

A Ph.D, or Doctor of Philosophy in Psychology degree, requires extensive participation in research and writing a dissertation. Students who want to pursue careers in academia or research generally choose Ph.D programs. A Psy.D, or Doctor of Psychology degree, focuses more on clinical work and leads to careers in clinical practice. The less common psychology doctoral program is the Ed.D or Doctor of Education in Psychology. In many cases, students who choose programs leading to the Ed.D obtain their doctorates in school psychology.

Program Duration

Generally, the exact time it takes to earn a doctorate in psychology depends on several factors, such as type of program and a student's life circumstances. For example, students who must work or attend to family or other concerns may opt for part-time study. However, many doctoral programs do not allow students to pursue part-time study. Students who study full-time may complete their programs in four to eight years, says psychologist and researcher Laura E. Buffardi, in an article published in "Psychology Today."

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Ph.D versus Psy.D

Students who opt for Ph.D programs usually take one to one-and-a-half years longer to earn their degrees than students who select the Psy.D. The reason for this difference isn't entirely clear. According to clinical psychologist John C. Norcross and author Patricia H. Castle, in an article for "Eye on Psi Chi," a publication for the international honor society in psychology, Psy.D programs may be more focused and efficient while Ph.D programs may be more rigorous and comprehensive.

Other Considerations

The time it takes to complete a doctorate in psychology may also be affected by other factors, such as specific types of coursework, internships, research opportunities and your area of specialization. Some doctoral programs, especially those in clinical psychology, require students to complete a pre-doctoral internship, which is completed at the end of your degree program. The pre-doctoral internship usually lasts one year, according to the American Psychological Association. It can take longer for some students to finish their degree if the program requires a dissertation or research.

About the Author

Ashley Miller is a licensed social worker, psychotherapist, certified Reiki practitioner, yoga enthusiast and aromatherapist. She has also worked as an employee assistance program counselor and a substance-abuse professional. Miller holds a Master of Social Work and has extensive training in mental health diagnosis, as well as child and adolescent psychotherapy. She also has a bachelor's degree in music.