Social butterfly or talking head?
September 20, 2007 7:22 PM   Subscribe

PsychologyFilter: Getting ready to apply to grad school. I am torn between two programs...

My research interests all lie in social psychology, but I want the option to be able to treat clients in the future. I was originally planning to apply to a Counseling Psychology program but I love social psych research and I love psychoanalytical processes. Since I want the most possible career options open to me when I finally finish my PhD (academia and/or private practice) I am now torn. Can I gain licenture to treat clients with a Social Psych PhD- or only Counseling/ Clinical PhD? It seems that only Couseling/ Clinical/ School psych programs are accredited. Advise me please mefites...
posted by MayNicholas to Education (4 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
I suggest that you check with the licensing agency in the state that you might want to practice. My guess is that you would need a counseling/clinical program. There is a big difference between research on how/why people act they way they do and knowing how to help them change. I don't know for sure but my guess is that social psych phd would have a theorectical orientation - it would not give you the experience you need to actually sit in a room and be there for a specific, real, complicated person. On the other hand, it seems likely to me that you could find some interesting questions for a counseling phd that would fit with a social psych emphasis.
posted by metahawk at 8:07 PM on September 20, 2007

Best answer: I am a psychology PhD student and I worked counseling psychology undergrads at my school. I started out just answering your specific question, but then there were so many other important grad school things to add, so it got a bit long. Anyhow, take or leave what I have to say, but here goes...

If you want to counsel people, you need to go to an APA accredited program. That is the quick and dirty answer. I strongly recommend clinical psychology and would not recommend counseling, ed psych, school psych, marriage and family therapy, or any other counseling oriented programs other than clinical.

You also want to look at the theoretical orientation of the program you want to attend. If you want to do research, you want a program that follows the scientist/practitioner model. This trains you to do research and have a clinical practice.

A PhD in clinical psychology gives you the most options to have private practice, work in academia, be a consultant, work in a school etc. you also have the freedom to work where ever you want in the country--not so with degrees in some of the other fields I mentioned above.

Another benefit of doing a PhD, rather than a MS in counseling, ed psych, marriage and family therapy, etc., is that most (psychology) PhD programs are fully funded. You get a stipend, tuition waiver, health insurance (this varies by school), and in return work for the school doing research, TAing, or what ever else they want you to do.

When in a clinical program, you can do research on what ever you want--even social psych. At my school there are people in the clinical program doing research on topics ranging from autism, post partum depression, neurobiology, interpersonal relationships, cognition, hormone levels, gambling, eating disorders, and more. The one caveat here, is that you can do what ever research you want to do as long as your advisor supports you in this. Some advisors do not want students working on projects outside of a defined area.

The downside... and this is a very big downside, is that clinical psychology programs are the most competitive programs to get into. We are talking about a 2-3% acceptance rates at most decent schools. To get in you need:
--3 amazing references
--2 years of research experience
--a great personal statement
--to fit in with a particular faculty member’s research interests
--to find a faculty member whose research interests match yours, AND who has space in their lab to take another student (this is usually a decision about spreading around the funding, e.g., who has how many students, who is slated to get the next student... but it is also important to know if someone is retiring or going on sabbatical, because then they wont take you that year!)

To find out what the advisor is like, you have to talk to current students. Your advisor can make or break your academic career. Some are too busy writing books to bother with you, some hound you to keep on top of your work, others are just right. Here are some important questions to ask a potential advisor:
--what projects is his/her lab working on (you should know this from their website and be able to ask a more informed and directed question)
--can you work on projects that do not fit in with exactly what the lab is doing now
--if you need specific equipment, does s/he have it
--how many people has s/he graduated
--what is the average length it takes his/her students to graduate
--ASK TO TALK TO CURRENT STUDENTS and ask them about the advisor’s personality, how things work in the lab etc.

Other random advice:
--Do not take advice from friends/family/anyone who applied to other graduate programs, especially master’s programs. Psychology is a different ballgame, mostly because of the funding (many other graduate programs are not fully funded), and because of the need to match your research interests with a particular faculty member. Most clinical programs will fly you to come visit if you are a strong candidate. Again, you will not find this in most other programs and people will think you are crazy when you try to tell them that this is true.
--You are not really applying to the school, you are applying to a person. That faculty member, if they want you, will advocate strongly for you.
--That said, you still have to appeal to the whole selection committee, so you have to walk a fine line of appealing to a professor and appealing to the rest of the people making decisions.
--Apply to at least 10 schools. Rejection rate is very high.
--Talk to graduate students at your school. If you are working in a lab (YOU SHOULD BE!), the grad students there should help you with questions about grad school.
--Join Psi Chi (the psychology honor society), or at least go to any forums they have about graduate school. That is, if your school has a Psi Chi chapter.
--Talk to people in your psychology advisement office.
--Talk to the psych faculty who is in charge of undergraduate students (most schools have one person).
--Talk to people in the career development office.
--Start looking for schools and contacting professors in the spring, or beginning of the fall (most applications are due January-December).
--Look over a few applications and see what they entail.
--Start working on your personal statement and ask a psychology faculty member to read it over. They are the people at your school who admit graduate students, so they know what other people will be looking for in your personal statement.
--Put the name of the person you want to work with in bold in your essay. Seriously. But you only need to do this the first time they are mentioned.
--Ask people to be your references early.
--Be careful who you ask for a reference. I know of one situation where a good reference from Dr. X meant that the person would, in no way, be admitted to a program.
--Make sure you ask someone to write a positive reference.
--Generally, the higher up someone is, the more weight their reference carries. A letter from the department head (if they actually know you), is better than from an associate faculty member. Anything is better than a reference from an adjunct professor or graduate student. If someone is low on the food chain at your school but a star in your particular research area, their reference will mean a lot.
--When you ask for a reference, give them your CV (resume), any reference forms they need to fill out, and envelopes that are stamped and addressed. Make sure you tell them when they are due. Remind them. Send a thank you note.
posted by brevator at 8:52 PM on September 20, 2007 [4 favorites]

Response by poster: Wow brevator, thank you! That was a really great and thoughful answer.
posted by MayNicholas at 5:36 AM on September 21, 2007

Also read getting what you came for.
posted by k8t at 11:45 AM on September 21, 2007

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