Psychiatrists are licensed clinical doctors who treat patients for illnesses of the mind. Because the job requires psychiatrists to prescribe medications and determine medical treatments, a Ph.D. in the field and a completed residency are required to obtain a license to practice. Many colleges offer doctorate programs in clinical psychology, rather than calling them psychiatry degrees, that prepare students for jobs in psychiatry. Counseling psychologists are not the same as psychiatrists, so their educational requirements differ. The time it takes to obtain a doctorate degree often depends on a student's academic course load and full- or part-time enrollment.

Undergraduate Program

Students must complete an undergraduate program and receive a bachelor's degree to apply to most psychiatry or psychology doctorate programs. Even though a specific major or degree isn't usually required, a bachelor of science degree in biology or anatomy or a degree in psychology or sociology is often beneficial. Completion of undergraduate psychology-related coursework can prepare students to jump right into the necessary doctorate coursework without having to complete prerequisites. Most full-time students can complete bachelor's degree requirements in four years.

Doctorate Degree

Completing a doctorate degree program in clinical psychology usually takes five or six years, including an internship, according to Northwestern University's Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences. Columbia University's Clinical Psychology Department offers a 95-credit-hour Ph.D. program. Students who take a heavy full-time academic load might be able to complete the coursework in four years, not including residency requirements. In most cases, combined undergraduate coursework and doctorate requirements take between eight and 10 years to complete.

Research and Clinical Training

To obtain a Ph.D. in clinical psychology or psychiatry, students must participate in research labs and clinical training. Labs cover academic content that requires research in topics such as behavioral medicine, neuroscience, psychopathology and medical treatments, according to Northwestern University. Clinical training at Northwestern focuses on adult psychology, child and adolescent psychology, behavioral medicine and clinical neuropsychology. Students often choose a specific discipline but must do research and participate in clinical training that covers a broad range of mental disorders. Some mental disorders are a result of injury or birth deficiencies and others are a result of behavioral circumstances.


Getting accepted to a clinical psychology doctorate program can be challenging. According to the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology, many Ph.D. programs receive more than 200 student applications and only accept between 2 and 10 percent of those candidates. Competition for acceptance to doctorate programs makes it especially important for students to take psychology-related undergraduate classes and get good grades. References from professors and personal recommendations can also help a student get a foot in the door to a highly-competitive degree program.

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