There are many different types of psychologists, but most of them need a doctoral degree to practice. The amount of time it takes to complete a doctoral degree depends on many factors, such as the particular degree program and the individual pace of student research. However, most students complete their doctoral degree in six to eight years.

What a Psychologist Does

Psychologists perform both research and patient care, and they evaluate, treat and study mental disorders and behavior. They may offer counseling to patients in private practice, or they may meet with patients in community health care centers, hospitals, schools, businesses and government agencies. Psychologists do not prescribe medication, but they can recommend it. They use strategies such as talk therapy and cognitive behavioral therapy to help patients achieve mental health and wellness.


The first two years of a psychology doctoral program are typically spent completing coursework. Depending on the program, the curriculum may include courses on cognitive psychology, statistical analysis, psychopathology, behavior therapy and clinical psychology. Courses cover different theories of psychological treatment, as well as different approaches to psychological research. Some courses may be required, while some credits are usually left open for elective courses so that students can customize their program to some extent.

Doctoral Research

The bulk of the time spent completing a doctoral degree involves writing the dissertation, which is typically a book-length piece of original research. Some dissertations may also be a collection of original articles. The goal for every dissertation is that it be published upon completion. Students must select an advisory committee to oversee their research project, and they must defend their dissertation upon completion and before graduation.

Clinical Training

Most doctoral programs require a clinical training component so that students can work firsthand with patients. For example, at St. John's University, students begin their clinical practicum training in their first year of study, and they begin taking clinical externships in their third year. The fifth year of study is usually devoted to a full-time clinical internship. Requirements vary by program, but students can expect to complete some kind of clinical component as part of their doctoral program.

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