Online Clinical Psychology PhD Degree Programs

Explore online PhD programs in clinical psychology, including coursework, in-person requirements, and concertation areas. Then, learn how to apply to these programs and what careers you can pursue after earning your clinical psychology PhD. Schools offering Clinical Psychology degrees can also be found in these popular choices.

Overview of Online PhD Programs in Clinical Psychology

Online PhD programs in clinical psychology are hybrid programs that include a mix of online coursework, seminars and in-person requirements, such as internships, practicums, and on-campus sessions. Although some online programs of this type will prepare you for licensure as a psychologist or counselor (usually, only in certain states), other programs do not help you meet licensure requirements. It's important that if you want to become a licensed psychologist that you choose an online PhD in Clinical Psychology program that is designed to meet the licensure requirements of the state you will practice in.

PhD Requirements

Typically, online PhD programs in clinical psychology require anywhere from 70 to 90 credits beyond the master's degree to 108 credits beyond the bachelor's degree. These programs entail coursework, written and oral comprehensive examinations, and possibly a master's thesis or professional project.

After students complete the above requirements, they then begin the dissertation process. Students must conduct research, write a dissertation proposal, and defend a final dissertation, which is a significant work of research into a psychology topic.

Real-World Practical Requirements

Throughout their PhD program, students complete real-world practicums, which are supervised field placements that take place in a healthcare or psychology clinic or hospital. Online PhD programs in clinical psychology generally work with students to find an approved practicum setting in their local community.

Some programs require that students complete on-campus residencies as well. The number of residencies varies by the program, with most requiring about 5 residencies in total and some requiring 2 week-long residencies each academic year. These residencies usually consist of research and skills seminars, dissertation sessions where students work with their advisors, and opportunities to meet peers and professors in-person.


Most online PhD programs in clinical psychology require that students complete a 1-year pre-doctoral internship at the end. This internship provides students the opportunity for direct interaction with clients and helps them meet licensure requirements.

Length of Online Clinical Psychology PhD Programs

Generally, online PhD programs in clinical psychology take 5 to 6 years to complete. Students usually complete their coursework, master's thesis, exams, and practicums during their first 3 to 4 years. During that time, they are also working to develop their dissertation proposal. Years 5 to 6 are spent completing and defending their dissertation and completing their 1-year internship.

Concentrations for Online Clinical Psychology PhD Programs

A number of online PhD programs in clinical psychology offer concentration areas that allow students to specialize in one area of psychology. However, not every PhD program offers concentrations, so if you're interested in studying a specific area, you want to make sure you pick an online program that offers your area of interest.

Below are examples of concentration areas found in online clinical psychology PhD programs.

Forensic Psychology

This area connects the fields of psychology and criminal justice. Students learn how to apply psychological theories and skills to trial consulting, criminal profiling, and jury selection. They also study abnormal behavior and violence.

Industrial and Organizational Psychology

This concentration applies psychology theory and practice to the workplace. Students study such concepts as group dynamics, conflict management, organizational development, and group decision-making.


This concentration is for students who want to become psychology teachers or professors. There is an emphasis on instructional methods and theories of learning.

Health Psychology

Health psychology is an area that focuses on health systems and how the mind affects the body. Students study a range of health-related topics, such as disease prevention, stress management, and behavioral changes that affect wellness.

Counseling Psychology

This is an area that helps students develop their counseling and assessment skills. Specific topics within this subject area include psychopharmacology, lifespan dynamics, and addiction assessment and treatment.


This is a concentration that centers on treating older adults. Students are prepared to work in healthcare facilities and community agencies to help aging populations in a counseling/psychological context.

Common Courses in Online Clinical Psychology PhD Programs

In a clinical psychology PhD program, students study core psychology topics that give them a thorough understanding of important psychology theories. Students also take courses focused on developing clinical skills like assessment, interviewing and conducting research. As noted above, extensive in-person clinical experiences are required, which means students are asked to take practicum courses before they begin their internship.

Core Psychology Courses

Explore some of the core psychological theory courses in clinical psychology PhD programs below.

Developmental Psychology

This course covers theories about the way that humans develop and change over their lifetimes. Students study topics such as cognitive development, socialization, and affect development.

Social Psychology

This is a class that focuses on the different social factors that affect the way humans behave and think. Through a social psychology perspective, students examine such subjects as group behavior, aggression, interpersonal relationships, and prejudices.

Multicultural Psychology

Multicultural psychology centers on the study of how society and culture impact groups and individuals. The goal of this course is to prepare students to work with diverse populations and understand how concepts such as multiculturalism affect psychological practice.

Biological Bases of Behavior

This is a course that includes the study of how the human nervous system and brain affect the ways that humans behave, think, and feel. Specific biological processes that students learn about include the motor response, the sensory process, and human instinct. Students also typically study how genetics and the biology of memory affect human behavior and psychiatric disorders.


Psychopathology is a course that examines major psychological disorders; their history, their diagnosis, and their treatments. Students also study primary classification systems for psychological disorders, including the nosological system (DSM-5).

Research Courses

Below are examples of research-focused courses in clinical psychology PhD programs.

Research Methods

This course teaches students how to conduct psychology-focused experimental and non-experimental research. Specific concepts that are covered include developing research questions, data collection methods, data analysis strategies, and ethical research standards.


A course on statistics helps students develop the skills they need to conduct research and interpret their results. Students study a range of different statistical methods, such as one and two sample t-tests, bivariate regression analysis, and power and effect analysis. At the end of this course, students should be able to decide on the best statistical method for their research needs.

Assessment and Intervention Courses

In clinical psychology PhD programs, students learn important clinical skills through the classes described below.

Psychological Assessment

This class teaches students clinical assessment skills, such as how to administer, score, and interpret different kinds of psychological tests. Sometimes students take multiple types of assessment courses, such as cognitive assessment, which centers on assessing intelligence, or personality assessment, which focuses on personality and social-emotional function.

Clinical Interviewing

This is a course that teaches students the basic clinical skills they need to interact and create a positive therapist-client relationship. Students are taught active listening skills, clinical interviewing techniques, and how to take a patient's medical, family, and social history to properly diagnose their patient.

Practicum Courses

Below are the examples of the different kinds of practicum courses and experiences students complete in their program. Some practicums have both a real-world field placement and a classroom structure. The exact focus of practicum courses varies by program with some only offering a general clinical practicum and others offering practicums in certain areas.

Clinical Psychology Practicum

This is an in-person supervised practicum that allows students to gain real-world experience in assessing and treating patients.

Cognitive-Behavior Therapy Practicum

This practicum has a focus on behavior therapy, including Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and disorder interventions for PTSD and anxiety.

Humanistic/Experiential Psychotherapy Practicum

This practicum allows students to practice within the humanistic and phenomenological-existential traditions of psychology.

Admission Requirements for Online Clinical Psychology PhD Programs

Admissions requirements for online clinical psychology PhD programs vary by university but generally, you must submit the following application materials:

  • Application and fee
  • Transcripts
  • Three letters of recommendation
  • CV or resume
  • Statement of purpose
  • Writing sample

While some PhD programs only require that you have earned a bachelor's degree, other programs require a master's degree in psychology or a related field or require you have a non-psychology master's degree and enter the program on an evaluation track.

When it comes to Graduate Record Examination (GRE) scores for the general exam, some programs require scores and others don't, so it's best to check with your prospective programs about this requirement. Additionally, the GRE Advanced Psychology test is often recommended but not always required.

Last, a limited number of programs may require you to complete an interview, if you make it past the initial application process.

Accreditation for Online Clinical Psychology PhD Programs

Accreditation for online PhD programs in clinical psychology is done at two levels: university and program. When choosing a PhD program, you want to make sure that it is housed within a university that has achieved regional accreditation. This is important as only students who attend an accredited school can access federal financial aid. Several agencies offer regional accreditation, including the following:

  • Middle States Commission on Higher Education (MSCHE)
  • Higher Learning Commission (HLC)
  • WASC Senior College and University Commission (WSCUC)
  • New England Commission of Higher Education (NECHE)
  • Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC)
  • Northwest Commission on Colleges and Universities (NWCCU)

Accredited schools have proved that they have met high standards in terms of education, faculty, learning outcomes, and student resources.

Program accreditation is completed through the American Psychological Association (APA). To earn accreditation, a psychology program must meet standards that include:

  • Curriculum, competencies, and practical internships and training
  • Faculty qualifications
  • Program management, resources, and evaluations
  • Student outcomes and success

APA accredits internship programs as well.

One of the most important reasons you should choose an APA-accredited program is that many states require that future psychologists earn a degree from an APA-accredited to become licensed.

PhD in Clinical Psychology vs PsyD Clinical Psychology

It can be rather difficult to understand the difference between PhD and PsyD programs in clinical psychology as they both focus on the same area of study and have similar degree requirements. However, there are important differences between these two degrees that could help you decide which one is the right path for your academic and career goals.

First, PhD programs are the more traditional and common type of psychology doctorate, which means there are more of them but they are also very competitive. Second, PhD programs have a larger emphasis on research. PsyD programs, on the other hand, have a bigger clinical focus. As such, PhD programs prepare you for multiple psychology-centered jobs, such as a teacher or a scientific researcher, while PsyD programs mainly prepare students to become psychologists.

Job Options with a Clinical Psychology PhD

With a PhD in Clinical Psychology, you will be able to become a licensed psychologist, but you could also choose a career in academia as a psychology professor if you're more interested in teaching and research.

Clinical Psychologist

Clinical psychologists treat patients who suffer from mental, behavioral, or emotional issues or disorders. They must interview patients, record their medical history, and administer diagnostic tests. After diagnosing a patient, they then create a treatment program or a behavior modification plan.

Counseling Psychologist

Counseling psychologists provide counseling services to those who are struggling with certain issues in their home or work life, offering resources and means for patients to improve their lives and well-being.

School Psychologist

School psychologists focus on developmental and education-related disorders to improve learning outcomes. They are responsible for counseling students and parents, creating learning improvement programs, and offering guidance to other educational professionals.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), in 2018, clinical, counseling, and school psychologists earned a median salary of $76,990, and the number of jobs is expected to rise by 15% from 2018-2028.

Psychology Professor

Psychology professors work at universities or community colleges where they are responsible for teaching psychology courses, developing lesson plans, grading assignments, and mentoring students. Professors must also conduct their own research and publish articles and books related to their area of psychological interest.

As per the BLS, psychology postsecondary teachers earned a median salary of $76,710 in 2018, and the number of jobs is expected to rise 12% from 2018-2028.

Licensure & Certification for Psychology and Counseling Careers

Licensing laws for psychologists vary by state, so it's always best to check with your state's licensing board to understand the exact requirements you must meet. However, to practice as a clinical psychologist or counselor, you must earn a doctorate-level psychology degree, complete 1 to 2 years of supervised psychology experience, and do an internship. You also need to pass the Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology exam, and in some states, you will need to complete continuing education.

To continue researching, browse degree options below for course curriculum, prerequisites and financial aid information. Or, learn more about the subject by reading the related articles below:

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