Should I go to grad school in psychology?
February 16, 2018 6:12 PM   Subscribe

I work in a field totally unrelated to psychology, but I do have a BS in psych. I've been growing increasingly dissatisfied with my field and have been wondering if I should pursue a career in psych instead.

My original plan was to become a therapist - I particularly liked the idea of being a relationship counselor. I got derailed and went into a different field, and I'm now 40 years old.

1) Would it be insane to go to grad school now?
2) Would a masters be sufficient?
3) How difficult is it to get a job as a psychologist/therapist?
4) What else should I know? Assume I know nothing, which I think is probably clear from this question by now :)

I would attend school and look to work in the US, if it makes a difference.

Thank you!
posted by sunflower16 to Education (9 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I do not think you are crazy to go to grad school for psych at 40. There is a huge demand for therapists right now in many areas. Where I live there are long waits to see a therapist. I think that this is likely an often difficult but rewarding career.

There are many paths to becoming a therapist - PsyD is not the only path. An MSW is sufficient to do most traditional types of personal/couples/addiction counseling, so I think that would be enough for your goals.

There are lots of ways to be a therapist - private practice, community health centers, schools, hospitals - therapy through telehealth is a rapidly growing field. I think you would have options.

MSW's are 2-3 years. With a BA in psych you likely won't have any pre-reqs. That still gives you like 25 years of working. Just don't take on too much graduate school debt.
posted by Lutoslawski at 6:30 PM on February 16, 2018

If you want a terminal Master's degree, you'll want to pursue an MSW rather than an MA. It's not at all crazy to pursue an MSW at 40. Many people do.

Job prospects are dependent on location, so it depends on where you are. But there are definitely jobs to be had, especially if you're willing to commute and your salary requirements aren't exorbitant. I'm not an expert (my wife is a therapist, so I'm just sharing my observations of her career), but I would actually see being a little older as a benefit, because who wants to go to a 23-year-old relationship therapist who's never even been in a relationship, right?

My best advice is to reach out to some people in the field. Find a practice in town and ask some questions. Reach out to the MSW program at your local university. They'll be able to give you the best advice.

Good luck!
posted by kevinbelt at 6:31 PM on February 16, 2018

Hi, I'm a psychology grad student! You're in no way crazy to consider this. One of the other grad students in my lab is around your age. A master's is sufficient, and in fact unless you want to do research or assessment I would strongly advise against getting a PhD--it's a lot of extra time and work that you don't need to do the kind of therapy it sounds like you want to do. But as others have mentioned, you should probably get a MSW (Master's in Social Work) rather than a MA in Psychology. As one of my psychology professors said: with an MSW, if you ever get tired of doing therapy, there's a million other things you can do with that degree. With a MA in Psychology, if you ever get tired of doing therapy... basically your only option is to do more therapy. An MSW will let you do the kind of therapy you want to do and give you lots of other options as well. To be a licensed clinical social worker, I believe you'll need to do a couple years of supervised experience (varies depending on state), but I'm not sure on the details (I'm in a PhD program to be a psychologist--different requirements)--but you might want to consider that in your plans.

Nthing that being older will be a benefit in relationship counseling. The younger grad students in my department who do relationship counseling have talked about how they feel either uncomfortable or not respected because of their age when trying to do counseling with people older than them. So don't think of that as a barrier! The only real concern might be that after being out of school for so long, it might take you a little adjusting to get back in--but honestly, less than half of the students in my department came straight from undergrad, and some (like my aforementioned labmate) are loooong out of school, so it can definitely still be done. Good luck!
posted by brook horse at 7:53 PM on February 16, 2018

I have an MSW and my LCSW. The pay rate for PsyD are slightly higher in the private practice setting but the the years of additional training weren't worth it for me. I also don't do long term counseling. I may go back once my loans are covered through PSLF if that exists when I'm up. I might go for my doctorate in social work instead. I don't know. The work I do is very unique.

An MSW is tough in the since that most states require supervised experience in the field after graduation (3,000 hours here in IL) which is generally low pay case management work of some kind. My starting salary with a masters was around 40k. That was concidered a good job. Unionized, no overtime allowed. I got offers as low as 28k for salaried full time work, that may have meant up to 60 hours a week. The PsyD or PHD programs are much longer with more field experience but cost more . But your earning protential when you leave is higher. But school prices may not make the investment worth it depending on what you want to do.

Because any education route requires internships most people don't work full time or even part time as generally you are in class two days a week and in the field two to three days a week. It's pretty grueling in that money is just leaving you. I worked part time my second year over nights on the weekends. But I was 22 and pretty insane. I also could do some school work on the job.

In some states you can work for DCFS for salary and MSW tuition. But that is seriously rough, understaffed, under appreciated, absolutely stressful work. I know people who did it though.
posted by AlexiaSky at 7:53 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I recently looked into this myself (at 46) and I ran into two serious issues: it's very hard to find a grad program that's even partially funded so you don't come out 50K+ in debt, and the average early-mid-career salary is nearly the same now as it was in 1995 when I was originally going to do this: 40-50K. It's not hard to get a job, the demand is enormous, but nobody pays extravagantly and we're almost certainly headed into a serious recession if not global financial collapse.

And something to keep in mind is that to meet state licensing requirements you'll have two years of school plus 1-3 more years of sub-licensed/internship/apprenticeship before you're eligible for full certification. That was putting me at 50 before I was actually employable again, at significantly less than I make in the tech industry (for now, however long that lasts).

So I'm not saying don't do it but I am saying ask the hard questions.
posted by Lyn Never at 7:57 PM on February 16, 2018 [1 favorite]

I started my MA in Psych program at 47. 10 years later, I'm a licensed MFT, supervising a team of therapists for a homeless outreach program. I make 90k a year and I LOVE my job.
posted by johngumbo at 5:01 PM on February 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

Please note, depending on your state MFT might not be an actual licence available to you. In IL MFTs don't exist. LCPC is probably the closest equivalent with a Psych program MA.

Now I make around 60k in a non supervisory role. It took me five years from graduation to land this role. I'm very happy with it. It's just the first few years that are financially rough, it does get better once you have your LCSW, or certificate equivalent .

If you have supervisory experience pay rate will increase faster .

If you want to go into private practice you will be at the rate for your city, with your insurance market and self pay clients.
posted by AlexiaSky at 5:38 PM on February 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: This is great info, thanks so much everyone! Re: location, it would probably be NYC but that's subject to change.
posted by sunflower16 at 7:22 PM on February 17, 2018

This is great info, thanks so much everyone! Re: location, it would probably be NYC but that's subject to change.

If you're likely to move in the future, be aware that most licensing is done by state, and some states are not super-reciprocal about granting licenses to people who were licensed in other states. I've had friends who moved have to redo their (poorly paid) supervised hours, or provide the syllabi for all their grad school classes to prove that they have the required coursework for the new state, that kind of stuff. Do your research and line up your ducks before you start school so that you have the required documentation, coursework, supervision, etc.
posted by lazuli at 8:12 PM on February 17, 2018

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