Distance Learning Doctorate Degree Program in Clinical Psychology

Essential Information

An online Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology program usually takes 4-6 years to complete and equips students with the knowledge to identify and treat mental disorders. In addition to distance learning coursework, students are expected to complete a dissertation, as well as an internship or residency program to gain experience in the field. So the program uses a blended format since the coursework is completed online but the experience is gained in the field.

Most Ph.D. programs require applicants to have earned a master's degree; however, some universities will accept candidates who have earned a bachelor's degree in psychology or a related field like social work or counseling.

Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology

Clinical psychology is the largest specialization of psychology, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Those interested in treating a range of mental disorders need a doctorate in the field to do so. Doctorate programs can be competed in 4-6 years, and some programs allow students to complete some of their coursework online, though their dissertation often needs to be presented on campus.

Course Topics

Although research and clinical practice are major components of a doctoral program in clinical psychology, distance learners must also take a number of classes to complete their training. Examples of online courses include the following:

  • Developmental psychology
  • Intelligence testing
  • Psychobiology
  • Assessment methods
  • Statistics
  • Personality theories
  • Psychopharmacology


A doctoral degree program for clinical psychology culminates in the presentation of a fully researched dissertation that contributes to the field. Faculty must approve of dissertation topics and schedule a time for the dissertation to be presented and defended a committee of academic peers. They may also help students with research methods and check up on their progress.

A dissertation topic must make a somewhat unique contribution to the current field of clinical psychology, be it a more effective way to perform diagnoses, new treatment methods, an advanced method of research or another creative take on the profession. Finished dissertations must be in a publishable format, and many are included in psychology journals.

Practical Experience

Clinical psychology students must complement online coursework and dissertation research along with a residency program in the psychological ward of a clinic or hospital. Students work alongside doctors and psychologists as they treat real patients.

The on-site clinical portion of the distance-learning degree program isn't much different than that required in an on-campus program, except that clinics are selected by students and located close to their place of residence. Clinical participation hours may also be much more flexible to accommodate the unusual schedules of distance-learning students.

Learning Environment

A Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology that is primarily hosted online usually operates as a hybrid program, blending distance-learning coursework with on-site requirements. For online courses, professors use course management systems to post relevant readings from textbooks, scholarly journals or self-written lectures. Class websites may also contain pre-recorded audio or video lectures, forums to simulate class discussion or links to virtually enter live, on-campus classes.

Students who would like to earn a doctorate degree in clinical psychology online should be prepared to complete an in-person internship, residency and dissertation. Some courses that students focus on include psychobiology, statistics, personality theories, and developmental psychology.

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