Human Services Ph.D. | Program Guide

By: Counselor-License.com Staff
Last Updated: November 2019

By taking a broad, interdisciplinary approach to the professional practice of helping others, human services degrees offer many career options and opportunities for specialization. Ideal for experienced human services practitioners with a master's degree, a Ph.D. in human services can open the door to senior leadership positions or jobs in academia.

Degree Snapshot
Time to Complete Internship/Practicum Component
3-7 years Dependent on program

Why Get a Ph.D. in Human Services?

A doctorate in human services provides many benefits, including training in leadership and research. This human services degree offers the advanced skills and recognition needed to become a leader or changemaker in the field.


You'll Be Able To Research and Improve the Human Services Discipline

Doctoral programs prepare students to conduct original research which advances the understanding of significant issues facing communities. Students also conduct research into how to improve the delivery of human services.

You'll Be Well-Equipped to Assume Health Services Leadership Roles in Academia

Colleges and universities typically require faculty to hold a Ph.D. A doctorate in human services qualifies you to teach, conduct research, and take on leadership roles in higher education.

Example Courses in a Human Services Ph.D. Program

Doctoral programs in human resources teach advanced skills in leadership, management, advocacy, and data analytics through an interdisciplinary approach. Programs differ in the courses they offer, with variations by school, degree type, and available concentrations. Human services specializations include human development, healthcare administration, family studies, behavioral health, social welfare policy, organizational leadership, and data analytics.

Doctoral programs typically require core courses, specialization courses, research courses, and a dissertation. Students who do not already hold a master's degree in human services may need to complete foundational coursework. Ph.D. programs place more emphasis on research than doctor of human services (DHS) programs. Read on for a few sample courses.

  • Human Services Management and Leadership

    This course helps doctoral students to understand their roles as human services program managers and leaders of diverse organizations. Topics include change management, systems theories, and organizational culture. Students can learn from case studies and research and apply leadership principles to real-world scenarios.

  • Research Methods

    Doctoral candidates must take one or more research courses in preparation for completing a dissertation and professional research after graduation. These courses introduce relevant research methods, including quantitative and qualitative analysis and research design. Students explore ethical issues related to research involving humans. Some versions of this course feature practice data collection and analysis.

  • Advanced Program Evaluation

    This course prepares students to evaluate human services programs and make recommendations. Students can learn various models and tools used to conduct program assessments and analyze the theories that underlie these models. Topics include the possible impact of evaluations on programs and those they serve, along with how assessments can vary across cultures.

What Can You Do With a Ph.D. in Human Services?

A Ph.D. in human services prepares graduates for senior administrative and leadership positions, professional licensure, and jobs in higher education. Some degree-holders enter academia, becoming professors, researchers, or leaders at the college level. Others use their leadership skills to direct human services agencies or programs, manage healthcare organizations, or lead nonprofits. With this advanced degree, graduates may also qualify to use their expertise to advise others as lobbyists or consultants.

Learn More About What You Can Do With a Human Services Degree

Career Advancement in Human Services

Join A Research University or Organization

After graduation, you may want to continue your research at a university or research organization as a postdoc. A postdoctoral fellow can receive a stipend as they research under the direction of a mentor. This experience gives degree-holders the additional skills and experience needed for a career in research.

Join A Professional Organization

Doctoral degree-holders can benefit from membership in professional organizations such as those listed here. These organizations provide resources and opportunities for networking, leadership, and career advancement.

  • American Public Human Services Association APHSA advocates for laws and regulations that help children and families. The association represents leaders of state and local human service agencies and offers professional development, conferences, resources, publications, and career services. Three collaborative centers provide opportunities for partnership and information sharing on critical human service issues.
  • Council for Standards in Human Services CSHSE advocates for best practices and professional standards in the field of human services. The council accredits degree programs in human services and provides resources, publications, and networking opportunities for member programs.
  • The Kresge Foundation This philanthropic organization seeks to expand opportunities for underserved urban populations by providing grants to nonprofits that advance human services in cities. The foundation forms partners with effective nonprofits and human service organizations serving low-income people living in cities.
  • National Council on Family Relations NCFR offers continuing education, conferences, discussion groups, professional certification in family life education, and career services for human services professionals interested in understanding and strengthening families. This nonprofit promotes interdisciplinary research on families and publishes three peer-reviewed journals.
  • National Organization for Human Services NOHS promotes professional certification and standards in human services. The organization offers networking opportunities and professional development through regional, national, and virtual conferences and webinars. NOHS also grants awards, distributes scholarships, and publishes a journal and a magazine for human services professionals.