Psychology Home at The University of West Georgia

Working Toward a Doctorate


Working toward a PhD is a large commitment of time and effort, so you should consider it very carefully. Many careers within the psychology field do not require doctorates while others make it a necessity. While taking classes within the department it is recommended that you seek out mentors or faculty advisors who will be able to provide advice while you consider your future career path.

Writing and defending a thesis will be the best recommendation for preparation toward doctoral studies and it is recommended that you speak with faculty members in similar areas of psychology that you are curious about, such as social, developmental, clinical, etc. They can provide you with advice as to what classes you may wish to take.

What courses should I take if I plan on pursuing a doctorate?

This will depend upon your area of interest within psychology, as they can be considerably different from one another. It is strongly recommended that you seek out a faculty member whose background is in the same area you are interested in so that they may advise you as to which courses would be most helpful for you.

Many Ph.D. programs are looking for classes that prove you have a general understanding of not only psychology, but of what to expect as a doctoral candidate in clinical psychology. These classes often include:

Personality and Motivation
Research Methods
Neuropsychology or Neuroscience
Cognitive Psychology
Social Psychology
Lifespan Human Development

As a master’s student of the UWG Psychology Department, you undoubtedly know that you’re expected to explore and to take whatever classes you find interesting. Do it! You may wonder what nonclinical classes can do for you, and the simple answer is a lot. Taking art classes might help you discover a passion for art therapy. Maybe Buddhist psychology will get you to consider incorporating meditation in your future research. It’s even possible you will discover that your passion is in something other than clinical psychology, and that’s absolutely alright.

If you’re confused about whether or not clinical psychology is for you, a good class to take is Professional Orientation, which is all about what counselors/therapists should know about their own profession. This class is also recommended for those who are certain about becoming therapists.

Completing a Thesis

Doctoral students revolve much of their time around research and completing a dissertation, which is necessary to graduate with their PhD. Completing a thesis as a master’s student shows prospective doctoral programs that you have the stamina to dedicate a huge amount of time and effort into research, write a cohesive and compelling research document, and of course, research effectively. Completing a thesis will also prove that you know what areas you would like to research as a doctoral student. You will also have an advantage of being a published researcher if you get your thesis published in a scholarly journal. Completing a thesis will also give insight into whether or not you will enjoy being in a clinical psychology doctoral program; if you hate doing a thesis, you are undoubtedly bound to hate doing a dissertation which is often more extensive than a thesis.

For general guidelines about completing a thesis and dissertation, please visit:

Research vs. Practice

To decide between becoming a licensed professional counselor (LPC) vs. a clinical psychologist, you should consider what your career goals are. LPCs and clinical psychologists often have the same job description when it comes to therapy, but beyond that, clinical psychologists are typically balancing therapy careers with research careers.

PhD or PsyD?

For clinical psychology, there are two types of doctoral degrees available: the Doctor of Philosophy (PhD) and the Doctor of Psychology (PsyD). The distinction between the two is one of research as the focus vs. practicing as the focus. PhD programs are very research focused, and the scale of the scientist-practitioner model may have more weight on the scientist side

The PsyD is relatively new (b. 1970s) and is intended to prepare graduates for careers as practicing psychologists that are not exactly wanting to conduct research, but can still understand and apply the research that is out there to their practice. Typically, PhD programs are also more able to fund their graduate students, whereas many PsyD programs are not.

One is no better than the other, generally speaking, but one could be better for you depending on your career goals.