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Possible new career: clinical psychology? What do I need to know?
April 24, 2014 8:14 AM   Subscribe

I currently have a career completely unrelated to clinical psychology, although it seems like a career path I'd like to investigate at the very least for multiple reasons. I'm interested in psychotherapy in particular. For people who work in the field, do you have anything to share about your line of work that isn't immediately obvious to outsiders? And what sort of person is best suited for this career? My personal interests are listed after the jump.

The personal reasons I have are:

1. There is a strong need for it in my current country of work and residence (mental health awareness is only starting to take hold in the Philippines, also there is much grief counseling required for survivors of natural disasters and so on).

2. I have a personal interest in it, having dealt with major depression and generalized anxiety for most of my life. My time in therapy, coupled with self-education and meditation has been healing and transformative. People in my own personal circles tend to ask me about mental health resources first before they consult others.

3. I find people's life stories fascinating, more fascinating than fiction. I'm analytical and reflective, and tend to go deeply into a conversation topic. Many people of all walks of life confide in me, and I find that listening to their problems is deeply enriching rather than draining. And knowing that I've helped them work through some tough issues and them coming out healthier for it is one of the best feelings around.

4. While I take a great interest in people, I also have a healthy sense of personal boundaries. After a heavy conversation, I don't tend to worry or ruminate over that person's problems anymore. After we've stopped talking, it's a bit out of sight out of mind as I get distracted with my own life.

5. I am an extravert and I gain energy from interacting with people, even if they are distraught.

6. My own unique background may be of value to the local population here, and perhaps to other populations if I decide to relocate back to Canada. I am a queer woman of colour with an immigrant background, belonging to three cultures, hyper-aware of intersectionality, and learned the art of navigating different cultures and contradictory expectations.

I am in my mid-20s, and have a BA in a completely unrelated field. But I have the time and money for the appropriate schooling, so long as I figure out whether this career path right is for me.

So what is your work experience like, and does it sound like this is career path is worthwhile for me to investigate? Is there a way I can shadow therapists and see them at work (while I'm not the patient) or is that against confidentiality rules?

Thanks in advance!
posted by Hawk V to Work & Money (6 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
 
A bit of an aside but what the hell...

I have a personal interest in it, having dealt with major depression and generalized anxiety for most of my life. My time in therapy, coupled with self-education and meditation has been healing and transformative.

My wife is finishing up her doctoral degree in this very field now. If someone, for whatever reason, says that your past history of being in therapy is in anyway a mark against your yearning to be a psychologist: DO NOT LISTEN TO THEM. I'd venture to say that a majority of her colleagues have been in therapy in one way shape or form throughout their collegiate years. To the point that they jokingly call what they do 'me-search' instead of 'research'.

I am an extravert and I gain energy from interacting with people, even if they are distraught.

Depending on the field you get into you may well get much more than "distraught". Perhaps the words "disturbing" or "soul-crushing" are better descriptors of what you should be prepared to expect to encounter with regards to people who are in situations that lead them to you. Maybe I'm being pedantic, but I get distraught when I realize I forgot my phone at home. Of the few things she's related to me or I've overheard her consulting with others for advice few of them are simple or mundane or and none of them actually lead to her getting a net 'gain in energy'. It's hard on her.

But I have the time and money for the appropriate schooling,
[emphasis mine]

How did she phrase things once.... Basically she said something like "If you have to pay for your tuition in a doctoral program like hers, you're doing it wrong and you're being scammed." The doctoral slot itself, via grants or work what have you, should pay for your tuition. Anything less and I'd be very, very cautious that you were in a program that isn't as suitable as you think it is.

Do you like doing research and how are you skills with higher math/statistics? Clinical psych at this level isn't all Freud and couches, not that you said it is... but I didn't see any mention of it given in your question so I had to ask.
posted by RolandOfEld at 8:27 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


You might want to look into programs other than clinical psychology that would train you to do the kind of individual therapy it sounds like you want to do.

Here in the US people with a Masters in Social Work or in Counseling do that kind of work. I think there is probably a great need for someone with your background and insights.
posted by mareli at 8:45 AM on April 24


But I have the time and money for the appropriate schooling, so long as I figure out whether this career path right is for me.

You sure about that? To practice as an independent clinical psychologist you're probably going to need a doctorate, either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. People with masters' degrees can work as counselors and therapists, but they report to clinical psychologists, they aren't psychologists themselves. Psychotherapy as such is usually conducted by clinical psychologists or actual psychiatrists (physicians with MDs), not counselors/social workers with masters' degrees.

Counselors/therapists certainly do good work, but they cannot independently diagnose or treat mental illness. They may assist with therapy prescribed by a treating psychologist/psychiatrist, but the kind of things they can do on their own is much more limited. They're very roughly analogous to physicians' assistants or nurse practitioners, i.e., skilled, trained professionals who are not lead clinical providers. Counselors/therapists help people work through very significant and difficult emotional and relational issues, and they often do a lot of work in treatment programs for things like substance abuse, but they are not independent.

Are you okay with that? If so, a masters program may get you where you want to go. If not, are you willing to spend the next five to ten years in school?
posted by valkyryn at 9:00 AM on April 24


My dad has a BA in Fine Arts and an MSW. When he practiced, he was a Licensed Clinical Social Worker, and he was a therapist.

It's a perfect degree for you. Few pre-requisites, and you'll be a lot more ingrained in the kind of work you want to.

Seriously, the psychological clinician, if an MD, rarely does actual therapy, and is much more into drug prescribing, which is valuable work, but not really where you want to be.

Dad got his MSW at UC Berkeley on a full boat scholarship. If you want to get educated in Canada, here is a start.

Good luck! You'll be doing God's work!
posted by Ruthless Bunny at 9:01 AM on April 24 [1 favorite]


I'm not sure what valkyryn means -- I'm a therapist with a master's degree, and I don't "report" to anyone. I have a private practice in which I diagnose my own clients, if necessary, and that's sufficient for insurance company reimbursement. I can't prescribe medication; for that, I do refer clients to MD psychiatrists. In the US, however, most psychotherapy is done by master's level clinicians and Psy.Ds. Psychiatrists usually do medication management rather than therapy, and clinical psychologists seem to do more testing/assessment. I also work for an agency part-time, and my master's level degree and license qualifies me to independently diagnose clients and get reimbursed for the time I spend doing so.

I realize things may be different in Canada or the Philippines. What I would recommend doing is finding out what degrees and licenses are transferable between the two, if moving is something you do see in your future. A lot of the licensing laws are very local -- I've known a woman who earned her MD in the Phillippines and then had to start from scratch to even become a physician's assistant in the US, because none of her training or licenses were transferable.

Beyond the licensing issue, I've actually found that most therapists are introverts; you might want to think about whether sitting in a room one-on-one with people for a couple hours a day is enough interaction, if you want to be in private practice, or if you picture yourself in more of a big agency -- and if case-management work appeals to you, where you're helping people hook up with resources and coordinating with lots of different agencies, you might want to look into social work, too, where you could train in both case-management and therapy.

Your background sounds awesome, and I think you'd be a great asset to your future clients. I went to school with a woman from Singapore who had similar goals -- she really wanted to find a way to bring more mental health awareness to the country -- and it was really inspiring to see her dedication to those overall goals. For me, personally, I have found that keeping in mind those sorts of overall goals, while realizing we can only get there one very small step at a time, keeps me focused on my clients and inspired in my work.

As for shadowing, it probably wouldn't break any laws (assuming the clients agreed), but it likely would disrupt the therapy process for the clients and therapist. Are there volunteer helplines where you are? Or drop-in therapy/support groups? Those might be easier and less fraught ways to get a sense of the process, though your own work in therapy is probably a better example of it, anyway.
posted by jaguar at 10:54 AM on April 24


I have a private practice in which I diagnose my own clients, if necessary, and that's sufficient for insurance company reimbursement.

I should have phrased that as, "I have a private practice in which I diagnose my own clients, if necessary, and that's sufficient for insurance company reimbursement for ongoing weekly psychotherapy." I see clients generally once a week for an hour of therapy (and again, I'm licensed, so while I often consult with other practitioners, I don't report to anyone), which I think is what most people think of when they're thinking about what "therapy" means.
posted by jaguar at 11:01 AM on April 24


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