Skip to main content
Pepperdine | Community

Psychology Dissertation Overview

An essential feature of a university-based doctoral program is a commitment to scholarship. Students complete a clinical dissertation that emphasizes the link between research and practice and reflects our commitment to professional practice that is informed by the best available research evidence in the context of culture. The clinical dissertation provides an opportunity to investigate a clinically relevant topic and meaningfully contribute to the evidence base informing professional practice. The foundational and primary methodology for our dissertations is the Systematic Review, a focused analysis of the scholarly literature to answer clearly formulated research questions that reflect the current evidence base to inform professional practice. These questions can examine psychotherapeutic interventions, clinical disorders and presenting problems, specific populations, risk and protective factors, assessment tools, cultural and diversity considerations, and other areas of study that provide an evidence base to inform practice. The Systematic Review dissertation is informed by the foundational principles and procedures articulated in the widely-accepted PRISMA (Preferred Reporting Items for Systematic Reviews and Meta-Analyses) guidelines (see and by standards developed by the National Academies' Institute of Medicine (see Document 1).


Students can develop their clinical dissertations in the context of faculty Applied Scholarship Communities ("ASC labs") or in association with a faculty member's individual scholarly and professional activities. Our faculty work on a range of clinically relevant topics such as trauma, recovery-oriented services, child mental health, stress and resilience, interpersonal violence, culture and diversity, psychological and forensic assessment, neuropsychology, relationships and couple therapy, attachment, college student mental health, religion/spirituality, families, positive psychology, homelessness, and clinical supervision/training. Some students may choose a "Research Emphasis" option which consists of opportunities for a range of dissertation methodologies including quantitative designs, qualitative inquiry, program development and evaluation, survey research, N=1 repeated measures and case study research, theoretical scholarship, and community-based action research projects, among others. This option requires approval by the dissertation chair and PsyD Executive Committee.

Work on the dissertation commences in the first year and aims for completion by the third or fourth year. Students are given extensive support throughout the dissertation development process

The PsyD Dissertation Resource Website provides details regarding the structure and process of the dissertation requirement.