Difference between a Doctor of Human Services and PhD in Human Services

September 5, 2017

How is a Doctor of Human Services (DHS) different from a PhD in Human Services?

A PhD focuses on creating original research in the field. A DHS focuses on applying existing research to solve real-world, professional problems in human services.

If you currently work in the field of human services and are looking to move to the next level, you may be considering either a PhD or professional doctorate in human services.

Dr. Paige Krabill, faculty member at Capella University’s School of Social and Behavioral Sciences, has spent her human services career working primarily in schools and community-based settings. In this interview, she explains key differences between the two degrees.


 Q. Why do students seek a degree in human services?

A. Generally speaking, human services students are passionate about helping other human beings and have a desire to work in service of others. Their goal is to empower those who need help so that they can begin to help themselves.


Students who pick this field want to make a difference in their communities and have a desire to learn the skills to engage in all aspects of the helping process.


 Q. What background do students pursuing a human services degree generally have?

A. Human services is a diverse field and would be appealing to people with a broad range of degree backgrounds. Students from the following fields might find a doctorate in human services appealing:

  • Psychology
  • Social work
  • Counseling
  • Sociology
  • Criminology
  • Public health
  • Non-profit management


Anna Hultquist, PhD, LMFT, Capella’s Dean of Counseling and Human Behavior Programs,  shares more about the Doctor of Human Services program


Q. Why would a human services professional pursue a doctoral degree?

A. A doctoral degree will provide human service professionals the opportunity to build upon and advance their work. In addition, a doctoral degree can provide valuable skills to help them become leaders for positive change in their communities

Both the PhD and professional doctorate programs offer a rich understanding of the field, best practices, theory, and specific interest areas. Both degrees also equip graduates with the research, analytical, and advocacy skills to be active leaders within their agencies and communities.

The specific skills learned in each degree will be slightly different, but both will establish a foundation for how to make a significant impact in the field.


Q. So what sets a Doctor of Human Services degree apart from a PhD in Human Services?

A. Having a professional doctorate myself, I find that one of the biggest differences is the focus on real-time application versus long-term or strategic understanding of issues or problems.

professional doctorate helps prepare individuals to be effective in the field on a day-to-day basis. In the program, they are taught how to conduct research, manage information, advocate, and build strategies to increase service effectiveness.


Compared to a PhD, the Doctor of Human Services program will feature more practical skills such as:

  • Applying leadership principles and strategies to effectively manage for profit, nonprofit, and government organizations
  • Applying data and analytics tools to guide programs in meeting the needs of identified target populations
  • Applying professional ethics and cultural competence in the field of human services

A human services PhD program will teach the above skills, but also helps prepare individuals to conduct research essential for deeply understanding trends, interventions, and best practices needed to advance the field. PhD coursework includes advanced studies in:

  • Research
  • Leadership
  • Critical thinking, writing, and communication
  • Interdisciplinary team management

Q. How will career options differ depending upon the chosen degree?

A. Individuals with a PhD in human services could pursue:

  • Careers in academia (colleges or universities, community colleges)
  • Careers as researchers for for-profit, non-profit, or government agencies
  • Director or executive director positions
  • Lobbyist or advocate roles

Individuals with a Doctor of Human Services often pursue positions as:

  • Social services managers
  • Adoption services managers
  • Director of child welfare services
  • Executive directors
  • Vocational rehabilitation administrator

Both degrees offer an opportunity to deepen an individual’s passion and area of interest. The difference lies in the focus of the training in preparation for their chosen career.


Learn more about Capella’s  Doctor of Human Services  and  PhD in Human Services  programs.

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