LCSW or Ph. D in Psychology?
October 30, 2007 1:33 PM   Subscribe

I'm currently completing a B.A. in Psychology with the intentions of becoming a practicing therapist (mental heath, family, individual, children). Here's my question: the path to practice as a therapist diverges. I can get a Masters of Social Work in two years following my undergrad, but in order to be able to practice, I would need to get my license, which would require typically another 2 years of supervision. I could work, by at a low salary. The other path would be to following up the Undergraduate degree with a Masters in Psy and then a Ph.D. Any thoughts?
posted by bydar to Work & Money (8 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you apply for a PhD program and skip the MA? Or apply into a MA program that will let you segue into a PhD program dependent on your grades/project?
posted by porpoise at 1:57 PM on October 30, 2007

What is your concern? Is the length of time between school and the ability to fully practice?

I'm not a therapist, but I've been to a fair number over the years, and all of them have been LICSWs, not PhDs. They may have had BAs in psych, but the terminal degree was the clinical social work one.

I imagine it depends a lot on where you intend to practice, and who your clients will be - the range you list above is a huge one. When you say "children", for instance, do you mean little kids, or teens? Institutionalized kids? Kids in the foster care system? Middle class kids having trouble focusing? Talk with your department advisor to see if they have pointers.
posted by rtha at 2:04 PM on October 30, 2007

Community Counseling would be another path.
posted by rlef98 at 5:54 PM on October 30, 2007

The other path would be to following up the Undergraduate degree with a Masters in Psy and then a Ph.D.

Which, without scholarships, will likely run up about $100k+ in student debt that you will never be able to repay while working in public mental health. And if you get a Ph.D. or Psy.D, you'll still likely need supervision before licensing, depending upon the state.

rtha fills in most of the blanks, but you also have to think a little about where you want to practice, the licensing requirements for that state, the state of public/private mental health (i.e. is there any money for mental health in the state budget? or are you lucky, and in a state with not enough money) and the steps necessary to get licensed elsewhere should you choose to move. Or you could look outside the US for graduate studies and a career.

In short, you are majoring in an oversubscribed field where you will be treated as bonded labour while a graduate intern, deal with an underfunded and demoralised public mental health system, and most likely spend the next 25 years chipping away at student debts unless you specialise in therapy for rich, spoilt celebrities or overworked corporate employees. Sorry.
posted by holgate at 6:05 PM on October 30, 2007

I'm currently in my Master's program in Mental Health Counseling (LPC).

To answer your question, my understanding is that you must be licensed to practice regardless of the degree program. I know people that have pursued both social work (for MSW/LCSW) and Mental Health/Marital and Family Therapy (LPC). It's possible that you will be happy regardless of your choice.

My understanding is that social work programs focus on more systems-related problems. Social workers are more likely to go to their clients' homes and speak to their family members in addition to the client, whereas LPC's tend to work mainly within the confines of an office or meeting room . Although Social Workers may work out of a private practice, many are employed by government agencies or Employee Assistance Programs (EAP). Pay may be higher on average, but so is the risk of burnout due to scarce resources and need to provide your own transportation to and from each site.

LPC's on the other hand, tend to work either for community organizations, private groups, or in private practice. You may practice with a master's degree and state licensure (unless you're in California, where currently there is no state licensure process). However, you may choose to continue your studies with more specialized training at a theoretical institute (e.g., the Psychoanalytic Institute or the Adler School of Professional Psychology) or training in a particular technique (e.g., Linehan's Dialectical Behavior Therapy) or a topic of interest (e.g., grief or EMDR).

LPC's tend to work with private-payer insurance rather than through a company EAP or government agencies. Depending on what your ultimate professional goals are, you may be able to stop at the master's level or with some post-graduate certification. You will make more money with a PhD or a PsyD, but you will have spent more money to get there. The best part of it all is that there's no such thing as a point of no return. You can always go back to school for more training or go forward from your master's to your PhD/PsyD. You can also get additional certifications through your professional association (which I mention below.)

Both Social Work and LPC programs can provide training that will enhance your helping skills and ability to support people in times of need.

You may wish to contact local school to see how their programs work. You also may want to conduct an informational interview with someone with your ultimate career goal. I learned invaluable information from interviews I conducted. If you do interview someone, you may want to find out if there are any rivalries between the two schools and if so, which is the favored program in your region (here, it's social work, and apparently there are fewer openings for LPC's than social workers, however, if an LPC can demonstrate similar and relevant skills/training, an employer may not discriminate against them.)

I chose LPC because of my need for autonomy and my disinclination to drive all over the county 8 hours a day. What you decide, however, is up to you. If you haven't already done so, you may want to check out the professional associations for both social workers (NASW) and Counselors (ACA). Also, take a look at ONet summaries for social workers and counselors

No matter what you decide, I wish you luck and welcome to the helping professions!
posted by mynameismandab at 8:32 PM on October 30, 2007 [2 favorites]

Many states also have an MFT (marriage and family therapy) license, which is a Master's level degree. I chose it specifically because it seemed to qualify me for the work I wanted to do (mental heath, family, individual, couples) without putting me into the debt that a Ph.D. program would create; an article I read also indicated that I would be unlikely to recoup the Ph.D. debt as a private-practice therapist.
posted by occhiblu at 11:43 PM on October 30, 2007

mynameismandab is incorrect about what "most" social workers do. Clinical social workers have provided psychotherapy in this country for decades longer than counselors. There are important differences in SW between community practicioners, case managers, and clinical social workers. The Master's program you choose should be chosen based on the strengths of that program to teach you what you really want to do.

It's true that if you get an MSW you will have to work under supervision for a couple of years before you can be licensed to practice independently. It's really not too onerous, and there are a bunch of reasons why its a good idea, not least because starting a private practice is tough and it takes both contacts and a back-up plan. Many people have both agency jobs and private practices for several years before having a full time PP (if that's what they want). Keep in mind that when you have a full time PP you need to pay for not only your time, but also office space, insurance, health insurance, etc. It can take a while to get your referral network established so that you can do that easily. You would be unlikely to make all that much more (if any more) as a therapist in PP your first couple of years.

If you're just interested in private practice then I would choose a profession in which the terminal degree is short (Master's). It doesn't much matter if that's MFT, Counseling or Social Work. (Although I think social workers ask "What's better?" best! :) ).

If you think you might want to do something like teach, then and really only then, would I consider a PhD.
posted by OmieWise at 6:06 AM on October 31, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for your suggestions. I'm inclinded towrds a LCSW. I want to get there in the shortest amount of time, but my objective is to find out which degree best serves one wanting the be a therapist with the potential for having their own practice, so your comments help.

posted by bydar at 11:50 AM on November 3, 2007

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