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What Is the Difference Between a Doctor of Human Services and a PhD in Human Services?

Both online degree programs empower practitioners to promote positive social change.

Human services professionals who want to expand their subject matter expertise and prepare for new career opportunities often consider earning a Doctor of Human Services or PhD in Human Services degree. If you’re among that group of dedicated professionals and have decided to start your journey to one of these top degrees, you may be wondering which one is right for you: a professional doctorate or PhD?

Walden University offers both, so you can select the online human services degree program that best fits your interests and professional objectives. Dr. Kristin Faix Wilkinson, program director for Walden’s human services master’s, PhD, and Doctor of Human Services (DHS) degree programs, sums up the essential difference this way: “In the DHS program, we’re preparing our students to be practitioner-scholars, where the PhD in Human Services program’s focus is on preparing them to be scholar-practitioners.”

Dr. Wilkinson says the doctoral program is a good fit for students who are “practitioners at heart and engaged in the field.”

“They’re helping individuals, families, and communities to address problems and living, but also helping organizations and societies to drive social change,” she says. “And so, we wanted to offer this practical, practice-based degree that met the needs of those who really have the career focus on human services practice versus theoretical academic research. The DHS degree was really conceived in this manner.”

Walden’s DHS online professional doctorate in human services degree program focuses on applied research and the application of evidence-based practices in the field, Dr. Wilkinson says. “The research focus and the research studies are really focused on the gap in practice, as opposed to the PhD, which is [focused on] a gap in literature.”

Other Doctor of Human Services differentiators include:

  • Capstone Support: As a student in the doctoral degree program, you’ll be immediately enrolled in Walden’s Communities of Practice and Research, a five-part cohort that begins in Term One and spans the length of the program. “This experience offers a collaborative learning environment to support the doctoral journey and develop doctoral competencies necessary to complete the capstone study,” Dr. Wilkinson says.
  • Portfolio-Building: As a doctoral candidate, you’ll learn networking best practices and create a professional portfolio with the Human Services Hub of Walden’s Career Center.
  • Specializations: This doctorate in human services online degree program offers two specializations: Leadership and Program Evaluation in Human Services Organizations and Prevention, Intervention, and Advocacy.

Highlights of the PhD in Human Services degree program include:

  • A Bonus Degree: You may be eligible to earn a Master of Philosophy (MPhil) degree as you earn your human services PhD. Upon successful completion of the PhD degree program’s requirements, you may be awarded the MPhil degree prior to completing your dissertation.
  • PhD Specializations: Walden’s online PhD degree program offers a General Program and 10 specializations to help you focus your studies on your career interests.
  • Residencies: There are four academic residencies in the online PhD degree program.

In both the PhD and DHS doctoral programs, human services professionals conduct original research. And through contemporary curriculum and all the other program features, both degrees help prepare you for leadership roles in the human services field.

“Human services is ever-changing and evolving,” Dr. Wilkinson says. “We are constantly responding to problems, to crises, in the world and in our communities. … The DHS degree program really is geared to develop somebody’s skills and knowledge so they can apply those directly to the field, and to those issues in the world, and have almost an immediate impact.”

For more than 50 years, Walden has empowered working professionals to make an impact as social change agents. And individuals who earn human services degrees acquire the tools they need to do just that. Dr. William Barkley, dean of Walden’s School of Counseling and School of Human Services, says that though students earning human services PhDs and professional doctorates may have earned their master’s degrees in other disciplines, they share a common desire to help.

“If you want to help people and you’ve decided you want to change your career, I would go into human services, because you don’t have to do all of that psychopathology, all that training—you don’t need it. What you need to know is how you go about helping people and what you need to do. It’s out in the real world, in the field, helping figure out what you need and then helping figure out ways to address it,” he says.

“We used to say human services is about helping—helping individuals, families, communities. Identifying the needs that aren’t being met and helping them find ways to meet them. And that’s, to me, what human services is all about.”

Walden University is an accredited institution offering Doctor of Human Services and PhD in Human Services online degree programs. Expand your career options and earn your degree using a convenient, flexible learning platform that fits your busy life.

Walden University is accredited by The Higher Learning Commission,