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I am a strong believer in the importance of the scientist-practitioner model for psychology. I think that training in the scientific method is a major component of what makes a person trained in psychology more employable.

In many jurisdictions, a student wanting to be registered as a psychologists is required to complete one more research theses. For example, in Australia, a student will typically complete an undergraduate fourth year thesis and a thesis as part of a larger masters or doctoral program. While it is obvious that training in research will make a student a better researcher, I have heard some people question whether completing a research thesis will make the student a better practising psychologist.

Thus, my questions are:

  • What empirical research exists that has tested whether completing a research thesis in psychology makes you a better practising psychologist?
  • What theoretical frameworks justify or challenge the value of completing a research thesis in terms of improving practical skills required by a psychologist?
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I would doubt that the only difference between a Bachelor degree and a Master or PhD degree is just the additional thesis that has to be written for the latter ones. What about the two to five years of additional study/training time? –  H.Muster May 23 '12 at 8:16
    
I agree, you'd have to take that into account; possible comparisons of interest would be someone who has done everything that a masters or doctorate program involves but without the thesis; or perhaps comparing someone who has done more thesis with someone who has done less thesis but otherwise the same amount of coursework and placement; I also imagine that there would be selection effects in any observational sample (e.g., perhaps PhD students are different to masters students before doing their respective courses). –  Jeromy Anglim May 23 '12 at 8:19
    
How about just asking whether people holding a Master/PhD degree are necessarily better practical psychologists than people holding a bachelor degree? –  H.Muster May 23 '12 at 8:24
    
My interest is largely driven by discussions about whether Masters degrees in psychology should or should not have a compulsory thesis component. Thus, the comparison with Bachelor degree students is not really of interest. –  Jeromy Anglim May 23 '12 at 8:27
    
Do you know of any Master programs that do not require a thesis? –  H.Muster May 23 '12 at 8:55
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up vote 9 down vote accepted

You might want to study differences in PsyD and PhD clinical psychologists. The thesis per se doesn't seem to be the question but the focus on research. A PsyD dissertation generally does not involve the conducting of an original line of research while the PhD does. I can't think of a better way to equate your groups at the moment.

As a comment I'd like to mention that the benefits of a scientist-practitioner model reach beyond the immediate and are best seen long term, as the practice of psychology evolves. Someone trained only in therapeutic techniques is trained in a stagnant psychology and is ill equipped to understand new research that motivates changes in the field. They may change but the decision to won't be as well grounded in science and will be more based on their clinical judgment.

If you've ever been to a clinical conference where the budding field of clinical neuroscience was endorsed by a speaker through a careful presentation of (astoundingly powerful) research and logical argument you'd see an embarrassing number of practitioners making serious scientific errors dismissing the idea. And it's not just a bias against new but an inability to make sound scientific judgments. The ridiculous case of Autism and vaccines and how many psychologists actually endorsed that research highlights how we need better scientific training. A training that many an experienced scientist can tell you really only comes through practice.

If you come up with a better way to produce a clinician on the day after they graduate then you haven't necessarily come up with a better way to train a psychologist.

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