The Doctoral Psychology Program at Northcentral University is a non-clinical program. So what does that actually mean?

The Doctoral Psychology Program at Northcentral University is a non-clinical program. So what does that actually mean?

Many people, including students of psychology, frequently get confused about the different “types” of psychology and psychologists that exist. Not all jobs in psychology require a clinical license, which is one of the main differences between clinical and non-clinical Psychology PhD programs. I got my PhD from a non-clinical PhD program, and it has confused friends, family, and strangers about what it is that I actually do. I often tell people that I’m a “lab coat and clipboard” psychologist to try and explain my focus on research and teaching. That is of course an oversimplification. Many clinical PhD holders work in research or teaching, and many non-clinical PhD-holders work in helping professions, but it has been an easy way for me to explain to people that having a PhD in psychology is not the same thing as having a clinical practice and seeing clients.

So what is a clinical PhD program in Psychology?

Clinical PhD programs usually focus on licensure eligibility. Students in clinical psychology programs participate in face-to-face residencies and may need to complete supervised field training to qualify for state licensure after graduation. So if your goal is to work in a job or career where state licensure to practice psychology is required, then a clinical program in psychology would be the right place for you. However, there are many positions where you might work directly with people or within the mental health field that do not require state certification. To figure out the right path for you, you will have to do some legwork. Contact state and national psychology organizations to request information about licensing requirements. You can call your state licensing board and speak with an advisor about what jobs and positions require licensure. You can even browse through local job listings to see what their requirements are.

So what is a non-clinical PhD program?

A non-clinical PhD program usually focuses on the knowledge of psychology without the focus of specifically working with clients. Usually the non-clinical PhD program focuses on information rather than practice – how the mind works, how humans develop throughout their lives, or even how changing conditions (in the environment, in a community, or in a family) can impact different populations. Non-clinical programs also focus on research skills – how to conduct research that contributes to the body of knowledge about Psychology.

So if you need a clinical PhD in Psychology to be a clinician, what can you do as a non-clinical PhD in Psychology? There are a surprising number of skills that you will develop as you gain your PhD in psychology, including communication, problem-solving, critical thinking, management, leadership, and teamwork. A recent article in Monitor on Psychology (Pappas & Stamm, 2021) reported that many job postings during the pandemic (March-July, 2020) specifically listed these skills – 84% of the job posting listed at least one of those skills, and 30% listed 2 or more.

Individuals with a PhD in Psychology work in a wide variety of career fields (Pappas & Samm, 2021). While 50% of those with a Psychology PhD reported working as either a clinical Psychologist or Psychology professor, the other 50% included counselors, top-level managers and administrators, training and labor relations specialists, and managers in the medical and health services fields. This information just demonstrates that the skills you learn in a PhD Psychology program – clinical or non-clinical – are valuable in many different industries.

Consider what your goals are in obtaining your PhD, then decide which program best aligns with those goals. Feel free to reach out to professors, professionals in the field you are interested in, as well as organizations of interest. You will need to do some soul-searching and some research, but these efforts will help you choose the best path toward realizing your goals


Pappas, S. & Stamm, K. (2021). Psychologists’ skills are in great demand. Monitor on Psychology, Jan/Feb, p. 56-57