Doctor of Human Services: Degree Overview

Oct 12, 2019

Essential Information

A Doctor of Human Services often refers to an honorary degree awarded to an individual for distinguished contributions in the human services field, rather than a degree program from which a student can graduate. However, there are doctoral programs in counseling, social work and gerontology that offer students opportunities for advanced study in the human services field.

Doctor of Philosophy in Counseling

Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) programs in this field offer curricula focused on counseling theories and psychotherapy techniques. Depending on the program, students may also gain skills in counselor education. Students study counseling pedagogy, legal and ethical issues, leadership and advocacy. Students may also take courses that address topics such as:

  • Multicultural counseling
  • Counseling supervision
  • Educational services
  • Mental health counseling
  • Addictions counseling
  • Family therapy

Between finishing coursework, a dissertation and an internship or residency, Ph.D. programs in counseling can take students approximately three years to complete. Applicants to these Ph.D. programs will need a bachelor's or master's degree in counseling. Applicants without a degree in this field may need to take prerequisite courses in areas such as counseling theory and human development. Some programs may also ask students to have at least two years of postgraduate work experience.

The BLS states that counselors and marriage and family therapists will need to meet state licensing requirements. Often, this entails earning a master's degree in marriage and family therapy or counseling and completing two years of work experience. Applicants will also need to pass a state-approved written exam.

Doctor of Philosophy in Social Work

Most Ph.D. programs in social work help students analyze social policies and intervention strategies. Students may also study social work education or conduct research in clinical settings. Students may study topics such as:

  • Human behavior
  • Data analysis
  • Multivariate statistics
  • Social policy
  • Social work education
  • Clinical theories

Ph.D. programs in social work may take up to five years to complete. Individuals interested in applying to a Doctor of Philosophy program will need a master's degree in social work. Applicants with a degree in a related field and up to three years of work experience may also qualify. In addition to completing coursework in the philosophy of science and research methods, students are often expected to develop a dissertation. A research internship may also be required.

Doctor of Philosophy in Gerontology

Ph.D. programs in gerontology are often interdisciplinary and teach students about environmental, cultural, historical and biological factors associated with aging.

Students may engage in core coursework focused on research methods and statistics. They may also study topics from fields such as law, medicine, education and engineering. Core course offerings can include the following:

  • Biology of aging
  • Epidemiology
  • Social policy
  • Psychology and aging
  • Health promotion
  • Aging and diversity

Some Ph.D. programs in gerontology offer students the option of pursuing tracks in epidemiology or behavioral sciences. Most expect students to complete a dissertation and pass comprehensive examinations before graduating. Ph.D. degree program applicants will be required to submit transcripts from their bachelor's degree program. Some programs may also ask applicants for a list of previously completed courses in fields such as biology, sociology or psychology.

Popular Career Options

Graduates of gerontology Ph.D. programs may work for universities or government agencies, like the National Institutes of Health. They may also work for private health service providers. Some sample job titles are listed below:

  • Research analyst
  • Professor
  • Health services administrator

Employment Outlook and Salary Information

Graduates from Ph.D. programs in social work are prepared for careers in the education, research and social services fields. Individuals may pursue positions as:

  • Social service program planners
  • Social work educators
  • Policy analysts
  • Social service program administrators

A counseling Ph.D. can prepare individuals for careers as counselor educators, counselors or marriage and family therapists. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), job opportunities for marriage and family therapists were expected to increase 22% between 2018 and 2028 ( The same job growth of 22% was also projected for substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors.

As of May 2018, marriage and family therapists earned a mean annual salary of $54,150. Substance abuse, behavioral disorder, and mental health counselors earned an average of $47,920.

Students interested in human services can enroll in doctoral programs in counseling, social work or gerontology to learn how best to serve the people in their area of study. Graduates can go on to work as educators, researchers, or administrators.

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