Masters Ed. in Counseling Psychology
August 30, 2016 9:32 AM   Subscribe

Do you have a Master's in Counseling Psychology or similar? (social work, clinical psychology, etc) or do you work in/know about the field? I'd like to know what it's like and whether the degree is worth it.

I've always been interested in psychology, and therapist/counselor has long been one of my dream careers. For the past almost 15 years I've worked largely in the education/social services fields, as a tutor, teacher, advisor, program coordinator, outreach worker, etc.

I'm at a turning point in my career, no longer willing to work for peanuts in the social services job I currently have, yet still wanting to work in education/social services generally.

In order for me to work as a counselor or therapist, I'd probably have to get a Master's degree (at least, to have the title and accompanying salary). I'm currently excited about the idea of getting a Masters in Counseling Psychology and becoming either a school counselor or therapist in another capacity. School counseling appeals to me because I like working with youth, like the education aspect, and like the idea of working in a public setting. Summers off don't hurt. However, I do have an interest in private therapy as well. I'd have to choose either the school counseling track or agency counseling track.

My father and stepmother are both retired school counselors in the district I would work in, so I have a good idea of what the job entails. Still, I'd like to know more:

My specific questions:

1. What is this degree like?
2. If you are currently a school counselor or have this degree and are working in another position, what is your job like?
3. If you have this degree, do you feel it was worthwhile?
4. Are you working as a therapist/counselor with a different Master's? In what? Is there another degree that is "better"? (MSW, Clinical Psych, etc)
5. I already have about $25,000 in school loans- does it seem worthwhile to take out more for this?

Anything else I should know?

posted by bearette to Education (7 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
I have a Master's in Counseling Psychology and I live/work in Arkansas.

First of all, your information will be greatly affected by the state you live in or plan to work in. For Arkansas, if you want to be a school guidance counselor you have to have a state teaching license and two years of classroom teaching experience. No counseling training or background required (I will leave my judgement about that for another discussion). So even with a Master's in Counseling, I am not qualified to be a school counselor in Arkansas. :/

If you want to do testing (such as IQ testing in schools, etc) in Arkansas, you can get a Master's in School Psychology, but I believe the push now is to get the PhD in School Psychology. My Counseling Psych program prepared me to become a Master's Level Psych Examiner, but Arkansas retired those licenses in 2012 so that now the only new examiners being licensed must have a PhD. And I haven't seen a school counselor position advertised here that didn't require the teaching certificate and classroom experience. Those who are looking for a school psychologist mainly want that person to do testing and probably create behavior modification plans...I don't see that they actually do individual counseling. For what it's worth, a lot of school districts have therapists who work at local therapy offices come to the school and do counseling with their clients there. They seem to be outsourcing the work, so you may want to find out if that's the case in your area. If so, you wouldn't work for the school'd work for a mental health outpatient center and take on school aged clients.

My Master's prepared me to be an individual, family, and group therapist, so I can be an outpatient therapist with any population. I can also go get additional certifications in Play Therapy or Addiction Services to specialize if I want. I am qualified to teach undergraduate psychology classes, which I started doing last week so we'll see how that goes! I currently work at an inpatient psychiatric hospital doing admissions, but I'm burned out on that. The psych hospitals in my area have all moved to the "medical model" of providing services, so nurses run the show and they hire people with a social work background to serve as their therapists (which actually just do case management stuff and a couple of groups). Once again, you would have to explore your area to see what the trends are. For the record, I get paid way less than an RN who graduated from a 2 year nursing school and that doesn't have a BSN. That sucks too, but that's the medical model for you. I'm working on getting out of the hospital environment anyways.

Social Workers (Master's in Social Work) in Arkansas are in high demand, but they usually work in facilities and are more focused on connecting people to social services in the area. They are trained to do therapy but are more trained in what services are available to people who need help. There are outpatient therapists who have a Social Work degree, but they tend to work outside of the facility/hospital setting if they want to dig into individual therapy.

My suggestion is to look at what Master's programs are available in your state/area and what classes they teach. Reading the class descriptions to see what grabs your interest, which will tell you which degree program would interest you the most. If you don't like the subject matter you won't enjoy the work. I'd also look at a lot of job postings for what you may be interested in doing and see what the minimum qualifications are.

Once again, this is from my experience in Arkansas. Other places will differ.
posted by MultiFaceted at 10:04 AM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

What I very much wish my MFT program had emphasized more, before we enrolled, was that the training to become a therapist is not just getting the master's degree but then also doing a several-year-long low-paid or sometimes unpaid internship(s), and then taking the licensing exam, before you can practice solo. The larger the metro area in which you live or want to work, the more likely you'll be able to get paid while doing the internship, but you need to find out what's required, what the pay scale likely is, and factor that in to your cost.
posted by lazuli at 10:35 AM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

Is there another degree that is "better"? (MSW, Clinical Psych, etc)

(IANAC, just someone who did a lot of research on this at one time.) I think one question to ask is, "better for what?". When I was looking into all this (maybe 3-4 years ago, nb, may be different now), I learned that among masters-level qualifications, the MSW is generally the most understood/recognized by employers (in the US, I think especially by the VA hospital system?), and is the most portable qualification, if you want to travel across states/provinces or even countries.

(Vs some other qualifications. Licensure requirements are very location-specific, so a psychology "counselling" qual might work in place A but not place B. Or may not be as sell-able as the MSW in place B, just because of employer perceptions. This may be changing, depends on what kind of advocacy is happening within the professional organizations in any given place. Laws too - where I live, there is now a college/license for "psychotherapists", which didn't exist before a change in law. Previously, masters-level providers had to register as social workers, nurses, or "psychological associates" - ie people with an MA/MSc in clinical psych (not counselling or community or school psych) + 5 years of supervised experience. The thing with that was that most clin psych programs only accept people intending to do a PhD. (And are super competitive, I think the acceptance rate was 0.6% at a few local universities, harder to get into than med school.) So people would have to drop out after the master's and then get this 5 years of experience. Sorry for the long detour - that was all just to reiterate what's been said about local laws and hiring practices mattering a lot.)

Read and heard lots of complaints about MSW training as far as the counselling component is concerned, compared to other qualifications. But it's always possible to top things up with continuing education and experience, if you're motivated. One thing I think is great about the framework - in theory, can't speak from experience of how it's actually taught - is the emphasis on context (situational factors, systemic vulnerabilities, etc). It seems to be a pretty versatile qualification as well - with some clinical experience, could continue on that path, or move on to admin, program development, etc. (Which isn't to say other quals don't offer that possibility, just that it's a well understood path for the MSW.) Maybe not a bad option if you're after an accessible qualification to hang your hat on (don't know, but hear that it's not as difficult to get into as some other programs), and are motivated to pursue further training on your own. (And get lucky with internships/placements.)
posted by cotton dress sock at 11:53 AM on August 30, 2016

If moving states is ever likely in the cards, you may also need to pay attention to whether your internship hours are portable, too, or what would be required for them to be as portable as possible.
posted by lazuli at 12:23 PM on August 30, 2016

And to be less grar-y about the whole question: I'm a licensed MFT with an MA in counseling psychology. I'm very happy with this mid-career change, but I wish I had become an LCSW instead, I think. I had a private therapy practice (and interned as a 50-min talk therapy therapist) for years, and I ended up feeling bored and isolated with the format. I ended up getting a job in county-level mental health, and I'm loving it. With an LCSW, I suspect I'd have a lot more flexibility for other agency work.

I don't know that being either an MFT or LCSW would let one work as a school counselor in my state, though, so there's not a lot of overlap. My master's program in counseling psych had an MFT track and a school counseling track, and we never shared courses or mingled at all -- they were really different programs.
posted by lazuli at 6:07 PM on August 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I am an LPC (Licensed Professional Counselor) in Missouri. I work part time at an non-profit agency and also own my own private practice. I would be happy to answer any questions if you would like to memail me.
posted by rglass at 6:35 PM on August 30, 2016

Agency child therapist here. I got an MSW and did indeed find that is was very portable (got a job in WA while living in OR having gone to school in MI.) You'd need to look up your individual states' requirements for licensure, but in WA it takes about three years and if you have an MSW or MFT, it's relatively simple to get an agency therapist job and get licensed. For example, at my agency, we have 1 LiCSW supervisor, and 2 MFT supervisors. We also have staff with their Masters in Counseling, who go on to get their LPC. We don't specifically have school counselors on staff, but we have a growing program which places MH therapists in area schools. Many folks go on to start a private practice, I, on the other hand, am a community mental health lifer, and love it very much. Feel free to message me if you want more info about my grad program (#1 in the country at that time, as they loved to trumpet) or about agency life. It's really an excellent job and we need more excellent people!
posted by fairlynearlyready at 7:17 PM on August 30, 2016

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