(Where) should I go to grad school to be a (psycho)therapist?
October 11, 2009 6:28 PM   Subscribe

I’m hoping for specific information and opinions about programs and degrees, hopefully from people who are very educated about the world of psychotherapy.

I’m thinking of applying to school this year but am unsure about a few things. First of all, I wonder if this is the best time for me to pursue this (I know no one can answer that question for me; I'm just trying to give a fuller picture of my situation.) I already have one master’s degree (MFA in poetry) but feel more naturally drawn towards being a therapist than going into teaching or publishing, which is typically where an MFA leads career-wise.

Secondly, what degree should I get? There’s the MSW, which therapists have told me is the quickest way to get a degree that will get you hired by agencies and allow you to start a private practice. There are masters in psychology programs, and then I guess I’d get licensed as a counselor…? Then there’s the MFT, which, if I understand correctly, is most valuable in California…? Is this true?

In terms of specific programs, I’m interested in Pacifica in Santa Barbara, a primarily Jungian school that focuses on depth psychology and body/mind connection work. It’s fairly alternative and has a great reputation. The students spend lots of time learning by participating in group therapy, feeling out the boundaries between patient, clinician, and student, an approach that appeals to me. Pacifica prepares people to practice psychotherapy, as opposed to cognitive-behavioral, etc. I’m also interested in the MSW programs at Smith and NYU. They’re both clinical programs. I just worry that, while extremely interesting, I might not get some of what I’m looking for (things that Pacifica offers) in an MSW program. I’ve also looked into the various Antioch programs (New Hampshire, L.A.) Any suggestions for other programs?

I love where I live but am also open to moving. The most likely places where I would end up living and practicing are North Carolina or New England or New York. (Also Cali and Oregon, but those are less realistic.)

So, I know this is a mess of information. I’m really asking for advice in relation to all of this: degrees, which degrees work in which states, specific programs, etc. Thank you!
posted by tacoma1 to Education (10 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
I have no personal experience, but I knew someone who went to Naropa in Colorado and loved it. It's Buddhist-based and would probably be considered VERY alternative. Sounds kind of like Pacifica insofar as the time spent in group therapy, etc.
posted by ishotjr at 6:52 PM on October 11, 2009

I do not recommend getting a Master's in Clinical Psychology. I got mine as part of my PsyD program. There was a brief moment when I thought I might not finish the program, so I started looking at what I could do with my MA. Turns out, not much. I didn't have enough/the right classes to get an LPC license and a lot of the jobs I was looking at required an MSW. You should be able to look up licensure laws in the states in which you would like to practice to see what they require.

If you have any questions about PsyD program feel free to message me. Although, it will neither be a quick nor cheap way of becoming a therapist. Oh, and FYI, "psychotherapy" is a general term that encompasses a wide variety of theoretical orientations. I wish I would've known that when I was applying to grad school because I royally screwed up one of my interviews because I didn't know what it meant.
posted by Nolechick11 at 7:38 PM on October 11, 2009

Do you have any undergraduate background in psych? Be aware that some programs won't accept out-of-field undergrad applicants, but many are fine with it.

Here is all of the info that I know, and all is relative specifically to California, since that's where I'm working. :) (But it's likely to translate to other states that have MFTs and Ph.D./Psy.D.s and MSW/LCSWs.)

MFT is a license, not a degree. It's a master's degree in psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy (and, just by the way, a law was recently passed that will mandate those programs to be 3-year courses, beginning in 2010 I believe), and 3000 hours of supervised internship practice under a licensed MFT, then you take a test and if you pass, you get an MFT license. As an MFT, your focus will be on systems and relationships, rather than individuals only, and your interest in the Pacifica program sounds like you'll probably be more interested in a doctoral program than one in marriage and family therapy.

In L.A. at least, the Pacifica program and others like it, and Jungian orientation in general, aren't all that alternative, but there are more programs that currently train in evidence-based therapies.

A Ph.D. or Psy.D. still requires a certain number of practicum/internship hours, but I don't personally know as much about it. It will most likely be more individual therapy-oriented, so it sounds like it might be a good fit for you to look into the Pacifica program for the Ph.D., or something like it at doctorate level.

MSW programs, at least in CA, do not focus on psychotherapy as much as an MFT or clinical psych program does. MSW programs, from what I know from various colleagues who are MSWs or LCSWs, are basically a pipeline to work as case managers for DCFS in this state. Most MSWs do not become therapists, they are social workers who work in agencies to coordinate cases. To practice therapy, I'm pretty sure you'd have to go through the LCSW track of supervised practice hours. You can't just get an MSW and start in a private therapy practice immediately after graduation--that I know for sure.

You will always need to apply for a new license in that state if you plan to move your practice to a new state.

(P.S. Cognitive behavioral therapy IS psychotherapy. Not sure what you perceive the difference to be, but psychotherapy = any therapy, psychoanalysis/psychodynamically oriented treatment = a subset of psychotherapy which is basically the opposite of CBT.)
posted by so_gracefully at 9:33 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

It's been a while since I've been in the field (and I'm nowhere NEAR California, so my comments may not apply there), but I do have a Master's in Counseling Psychology. My degree led me to qualify as a therapist or a psych examiner (IQ tests, personality tests, etc). Most of my training taught me to deal with individuals in therapy. We did have group therapy classes and family therapy classes, but everything else was more individual based. I learned how to deal with all sorts of disorders (personality disorders as well as mood disorders).

I had friends in the MSW program as well. From what I understand of their program, they learned more about how individuals functioned in a "system"...in families and in groups. They also had most of their clinical hours in agencies that focused on children and families and bringing families back together (or working with children in foster care). So while there was individual therapy sessions, the focus seemed to be more on helping them in regards to a family type setting.

Either one will give you a job...but you really need to think about what you want to DO as a professional, then find the program that will help you get there. Take some time to look over job ads that interest you and see what qualifications they look for. If you can find some different therapists to speak to about their experiences and what their job is like, do that. Think about the population you want to work with (teens, geriatrics, general adults), and the issues that fascinate you (mental retardation & learning issues, psychoses, divorce, terminal illness, etc). You can figure out some of this during your program (I learned quickly that I was NOT good with young children!), but I think you would be at a much better advantage if you went into a program with some sort of idea.

Also, unfortunately you not only have to think about what would qualify you for a good job, but what is also "in demand". The Jungian school sounds absolutely fascinating to me, but where I'm from there are very few clients who pay out of pocket, and I doubt insurance would have covered that type of therapy. The focus was more on getting people to the point where they could function in life. However, if there are people in California who are willing to pay out of pocket to go to a therapist in order to grow spiritually (or whatever), then the Jungian approach may pay off there. Then there's always the possibility of combining your background in poetry with training in therapy to provide artistic therapy of some sort. You never know!
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:42 PM on October 11, 2009 [1 favorite]

I think that you need to really think about what you would like to do when you finish school. What populations do you want to serve? Do you want to work for a government agency? Do you want to go into private practice? Or work for a non-profit? What population do you wish to serve?
A good way to find this out is to volunteer for a couple of weeks at a local non-profit which serves a population that you find interesting.

Also, I was interested in Pacifica when I was doing my search. They have some good points,(Joseph Campbell?!) but I sat in on a couple of dissertation defenses and was a little underwhelmed by the topic and the lack of criticality from the faculty. I prefer a bit of challenge.

There was a program in Salem, OR to get a MSW and have all the tuition payed for by the state. Provided that you signed a contract to work for them once you graduated. http://www.ssw.pdx.edu/_mswdo/financial.php

I would say that now is a good time to start a career in mental health. Just recently Oregon passed a mental health parity law that requires insurance to cover most forms of mental illness.
posted by psycho-alchemy at 1:56 AM on October 12, 2009

Nthing that you need to know what you want to do after school. Programs which may be attractive in their own right may not actually prepare you for anything while others you may not find interesting may. There are issues of licensing (which differs by state) and issues of whether you want to be able to get insurance reimbursement (or be hired by an agency that wants you to be able to). Furthermore, different training programs will want you to have studied particular things before they accept you (not necessarily things you'd be interested in studying otherwise.)

If you're interested in a particular program, i.e. Pacifica, I'd find out how their students have prepared and where their graduates ended up.
posted by Obscure Reference at 2:58 AM on October 12, 2009

You can practice as a "Licensed Psychological Associate" with a master's in psychology in North Carolina, which, based on what others are saying, seems to not be true in the other states you're asking about.
posted by hydropsyche at 4:09 AM on October 12, 2009

Thanks so far for all the info and advice. Do any of you know WHO to contact in the states where I might like to practice? Is it the board of...psychology?

Psycho-alchemy, since you looked into Pacifica, where did you end up going instead?
posted by tacoma1 at 6:35 AM on October 12, 2009

This is the website for the Association of Marriage and Family Therapists, but their licensing board listing will get you started in the right direction. Most of the licensing boards listed here will license for several things (remember that MFT is a specific certification, not necessarily a totally different degree. Some boards oversee LPC, LSW, and LPE all at once...some have different boards for the different licenses).

I tried searching for another listing of licensing boards, but I'm at work so I have to cut this short. However, that list above gives you a very good start. Check out the websites and email them if you want...if they don't handle the license you are interested in, they will be able to direct you to the agency in their state who does.
posted by MultiFaceted at 12:49 PM on October 12, 2009

The Board of Psychology pertains to Ph.D./Psy.D.s (clinical psychologists). The Board of Behavioral Sciences is, in CA, the one corresponding to MFTs and MSWs.
posted by so_gracefully at 3:31 PM on October 12, 2009

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