Want to become a therapist at 32 with no psychology degree.
September 1, 2014 10:18 PM   Subscribe

I'm 32, in NYC, no psych degree, and I'm burned out on my current job path. How do I break into a career as a therapist or counselor?

I'm 32, in NYC, and I have a BA with a double major in English and Organizational Studies, 3.5 GPA. I've spent the last 10 years working for various startups, doing customer service / community management, web and social media strategy, and project management. I've generally made positive strides in my career and have made good connections, but I'm feeling burned out on startup life and generally feel I'd like to be doing something that's more meaningful and more helpful to people.

Customer service, managing the parade of personalities at startups, and some volunteering experience has lead me to think that becoming a counselor or a therapist is something I'd be good at and would find rewarding. So my questions are:

- How do I make up for my lack up a psychology background? Are there post-baccalaureate programs in NYC that are a good choice?
- What are the education paths? I'd really like to get into hands on counseling - would it make sense to pursue and MSW or a doctorate in psych? If it's the latter, do you get an MA and then a PhD?
- How do you transition from a 60 hour a week job to being a student with a job? Do you go part time?
- How much getting a later start affect my chances of success?
- Once I have the education, what are my options in terms of finding work?

I am open to being chastised for my general lack of knowledge about what I'm getting into and / or the extent to which I am in over my head. Thank you all in advance!
posted by ktpetals to Work & Money (8 answers total) 17 users marked this as a favorite
On mobile. I just wanted to send you words of encouragement!

I would suggest you see if its a real area of interest by speaking with practicing providers and discussing their day-to-day routines, patients, services and challenges. You can also reach out to centers and may find that you have a specific interest in working with specific subsets of patients.

If you feel that this field is still something you want to passionately pursue, most programs are happy to speak with you about admission requirements, education paths and employment prospects. This APA site may be helpful.

Colleagues and friends have made the transition from completely unrelated fields into medicine, pharmacy, dentistry and psychology well into their early 40s so do not be discouraged and feel like the train has passed you by. You may find going back to school challenging, but you will definitely find skills from your work experience to be an asset.
posted by palionex at 10:49 PM on September 1, 2014 [1 favorite]

I made a career switch at a similar time in my life. So did my major professor, who is a pretty amazing researcher and supervisor. One of the other students in my cohort was a broadcast meteorologist before she switched fields to psychology. Each one of us followed a different path, so YMMV.

First step: I went to work for a state psychiatric hospital. I leveraged my experience as a recruiter to get a job in HR at the hospital. I took a massive pay cut, but figured that testing the waters as to whether this was the type of environment that I wanted to be in was worth it. I made some wonderful connections there who were supportive of my desire to return to school for psychology.

I enrolled in the nearest university as a second bachelors degree seeking student and took all of the prerequisites needed to apply to grad school. I didn't go the Master's route purely for financial reasons -- tuition was cheaper. However, quite a few of the students in the Counseling Masters program at my school successfully applied to PhD programs. It just depends on what's a better fit for you.

When I applied to PhD programs, I pitched my recruiting experience as being part of a transferable skill set. Organizational studies and community management are directly applicable to psychology, especially if you're interested in community based care and are systems oriented (which I'm assuming you are to a certain degree as you're interested in the MSW).

I find that Counseling PhD programs a more open to non-traditional students than Clinical PhDs. Most of the older students that I've met hail from Counseling programs (myself included). It seems like there's more focus in Counseling on human service than in Clinical. Some people will tell you that the populations that you see won't be as severe as in a clinical program. That's untrue. I work primarily with adults struggling with substance use disorder and severe mental illness. A Counseling PhD allows you to earn the same license as a clinical psychologist. You just might have to hustle a little harder when applying for internships in order to break down stereotypes regarding clinical vs. counseling psychologists.

As far as the MSW: it's a really different career path that it takes you down. Not better or worse...just different. My partner is a social worker. He's able to link his clients with resources a lot more quickly than I am as that's a big chunk of his job. He's more interested in maximizing those resources such that as many client needs are met as possible. I spend more time than him counseling and doing assessment. I see myself as more intensive while he's more broad based. Think about which approach suits you better when figuring out which academic and consequent career path you want to follow.

Whichever path you decide to follow, best of luck! Being in a position to help others is an incredible gift. I am constantly blown away by the openness, bravery, and honesty of my clients. Getting to provide therapy is an incredible honor.
posted by batbat at 4:51 AM on September 2, 2014 [2 favorites]

You may like the field of Organizational Development which is applying theories of psychology, personality, behavior and motivation to how you design your business, tune your executive team etc., in order to make a business more healthy and efficient in achieving its goals. This would mate nicely with your experience and could get you out of startups and into larger more established companies too.

Columbia Teacher's College in NYC (ie a branch of Columbia) has a Principles & Practices of OD certificate (2wks) or you could look into doing a 1-2 year masters with them. This would get you the psych exposure you enjoy while leveraging your extensive experience, without resetting things entirely.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 5:05 AM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

Two things I've heard from shrinks, that you should investigate: there may be a long internship involved, and once you start your own practice the money may not ever be great. I don't know if those are widespread problems, but they were true of a couple of shrinks I've known. So, definitely look into that stuff.

My advice to potential career changers is always: learn EVERYTHING you can, and talk to every single person in the field who will talk to you. Treat it like you're writing a book. I can tell you from experience that you can think you've researched a career to death and you know all the potential pitfalls and then you go through hell to get the job and you find out you hate it and suck at it. Do not let that happen to you.

I don't know jack, but I imagine starting late isn't going to hurt your career prospects. If anything, I think patients would be glad to have a therapist who seems older than they are.
posted by Ursula Hitler at 5:39 AM on September 2, 2014 [4 favorites]

I don't know jack, but I imagine starting late isn't going to hurt your career prospects.

It's not late. Statistically, contemporary professionals will go through something like 6 career changes. Don't be put off!
posted by DarlingBri at 6:16 AM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

It's definitely not too late. I finished my PhD (not in psych or counseling field though) at 39 and started an entirely new career. My advice would be to keep as much of a paying job as you can when you return to school, as high student loan payments can really eat a paycheck.

A college of education might offer a route into some sort of counseling field that would not require a psych BS. I cannot speak to psych proper or MSW though.
posted by quixotictic at 7:12 AM on September 2, 2014

Keep in mind that with no psychology background and presumably none of the prerequisites in biology, anatomy and statistics, most high ranking clinical psychology PhD programs will not take you (might not even take your application) until you complete a master's degree or some other coursework showing you're up to speed in the field. Clinical psychology grad program admission is incredibly competitive, and your age is not your primary disadvantage here, it's your lack of exposure to the field and research experience. These programs train research practitioners, not people who have the goal of primarily practicing therapy without conducting research. Given these obstacles, a MSW or similar program might be the faster and more realistic path to practicing. A PhD puts you at probably 40 or older before you're actually seeing patients.
posted by slow graffiti at 7:54 AM on September 2, 2014

MSW is definitely the shorter path, but first look at exactly what you want to do.

You mention that you want to work with hands on counseling. One way to decide what route to take is to look at if there is a specific population you feel particularly interested in working with. Are you interested in helping people with depression, grief, college age populations, LBGTQ, PTSD... With some of these populations, there are NGOs who do great work that may be interesting to look at/talk to.

If you don't know people to talk to, or even find out what kind of qualifications people have, you could look at counseling directories, like Psychology Today's.

Good luck!
posted by troytroy at 3:39 PM on September 2, 2014 [1 favorite]

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