If you are seeking a career in clinical, counseling or school psychology, you would want to explore the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD) degree programs offered at a number of universities in the country. The American Psychological Association (APA) has accredited 87 programs offering the PsyD in one or more of these three practicing disciplines in psychology.
In exploring PsyD programs, you will find great variety in the subareas a program may choose to focus on, depending on the expertise and interests of its faculty members. It will be to your advantage to be clear on whether your primary interest is in clinical practice or research or both, and what type of clientele you are most drawn to working with.
Here are five factors to consider when exploring and selecting programs.
1. Program Emphasis on Clinical Practice or Research
PsyD programs attempt to provide students with grounding in theory and scientific research and in training to integrate this knowledge into clinical practice. They vary in the extent of emphasis placed on the conduct of research. The faculty in many of the programs have intense interests in research in particular areas and these programs offer students the opportunity to collaborate in research projects. Some programs require the completion of a research project where the student can explore in depth a particular area in clinical psychology. These experiences are advantageous to students interested in an academic career, or who intend to combine research with practice.
The training in clinical practice differ markedly from program to program. Again, according to the interests and backgrounds of the faculty, emphasis may be placed in particular therapeutic approaches, on areas of dysfunction or on special populations. Programs develop reputations for their area of expertise. You would want to align your interests with the strengths of the programs you select.
2. Specializations or Focus Areas
Many programs will focus on the study and treatment of specific population groups such as the elderly, families, women, children, adolescents, veterans, gender and sexual minorities, and underserved populations.
Other programs specialize in assessing, diagnosing and treating specific disorders, some of which are anxiety and related disorders, child and adolescent disorders, developmental disabilities, eating disorders, depression, substance abuse, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post traumatic stress disorder, bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Most PsyD programs will offer training in several different therapy approaches. You would want to familiarize yourself on how these approaches differ and how they are compatible with your own view of human nature and personal philosophy. Some of these approaches are: cognitive-behavior therapy, contemporary psychoanalytic practice, gestalt, mindfulness, marital and family therapy, group psychotherapy, dialectical behavior therapy, self-management/self-control therapy, present-centered therapy, stress reduction and relaxation training.
The APA provides a resource for learning about effective treatments for psychological disorders that lists and provides information about kinds of disorders and types of treatment.
The qualifications and strengths of faculty members are key to your successful experience in the program. It would be wise to study the descriptions, backgrounds and publications of each faculty member to get a sense of compatibility with your interests and career goals. For example, do those who teach therapy approaches have years of experience and success in therapy practice?
It would be even better if you could visit and meet with the faculty members of the programs you are considering.
Another related factor is the student/faculty ratio.
4. Practicum and Field Experience
The number and variety of choices you will be given for field experience is an important factor in considering PsyD programs. This is important both if you know what kind of practice you will be heading for, or if you’re not sure and want to sample different settings. Research the practicum or internship sites to become familiar with the clientele they serve and the services they provide. Check on the kind and frequency of supervision you will be receiving.
Some programs will provide opportunities to contact and network with graduates who are now working. Even if you were not to meet and interact with them, to learn of their achievements and how they regard their training gives you a sense of what to expect if you enroll in that program. The diverse achievements of graduates of a program provide a seal of approval, which is an important piece of information.
The four or five years you spend in a PsyD program is a time of learning and personal growth. What you learn about human behavior and the ways we can trip in life is bound to affect you personally and give you opportunities to reflect and change. A few programs accentuate this growth by offering personal therapy to students. Regardless, the PsyD program is the best place to receive the necessary foundation for your success as a practicing psychologist in the future.