Since Law is the New Taboo Field of Study, What about Clinical Psychology?

Even though the New York Times has just now said something that Philalawyer clarified for us years ago, it’s worth asking: is becoming a Psychologist a viable option in the new economy? Take a look at the clever cartoon and then read on as we separate fact from entertainment:

1) People will call you “doctor”

This is usually true, although it’s mostly just to be polite as opposed to deference. Most people have deduced the difference between a Psychologist and a Psychiatrist, and for those who haven’t, once they realize you are not a physician, you’ll be more likely to get the title of Doctor followed by your first name. This is particularly true if you set out to have any sort of media presence, such as…well, me.

2) You will make a lot of money in private practice. You will also make more than therapists who have just a Master’s Degree.

You’re going to need to define “a lot” to address this point and I talk about it in CRAZY. Depending on where you live and how well you can promote a practice, it is, in fact, possible to make a significant income. Note, however, that those who do well think outside the box. If you simply climb onto as many insurance panels as possible or just work in someone else’s practice, then you probably won’t make much more than Master’s level clinicians when you’ve factored in all of the education and expenses. You need to be creative and not some sheep who just follows the common trajectory. Develop a specialty, get your name in the local media, go to physician’s offices/hospitals/community organizations and show them what you have to offer. If you just hang out a shingle and don’t think like a businessperson, don’t expect anything other than an average salary.

Bear in mind that student loans are, on average, significantly less for psychology than medical and law degrees. Remember that a vast majority of students are able to obtain tuition reimbursement and a stipend if they don’t attend the diploma mills previously discussed. While your stipend is unlikely to cover all your expenses throughout your graduate tenure, if you live modestly, your loans will be quite manageable.

Side note: The professor in the cartoon mentions dues to various psychological organizations. In many states membership in these groups is not required; in fact, it’s a flat-out waste of money. The American Psychological Association (APA) does virtually nothing but take your cash. You’ll get a very boring (also known as “prestigious”) journal each month and apparently access to their legal team if you buy your malpractice insurance through APA, but “membership” means nothing. The same is true for most state and local organizations as well. So why do shrinks join? Because they have been taught to think like their professors and the professors before them: rigid, traditional, in the box, “pay the dues and don’t ask questions.” One might argue that being part of these groups lead to good networking opportunities, but given the plethora of free groups through the internet and social media, the APA and its subgroups are pointless to you. Stay away.

3) You will not find a boyfriend/girlfriend if you get your Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology. The men are either married or homosexual. You will be too busy to meet a significant other.

This is patently false. Clinical Psychology is a female dominated field, so as a man in graduate school you would have plenty of opportunities to meet women. While some of the men are married, I don’t think I met a single gay man throughout my training and only one since I’ve been in practice. This is not to say that Clinical Psychology has less homosexual people in it than other fields, but it’s certainly not more. If you are attending a university for your graduate work, you can expect the same opportunities for meeting a man/woman than anyone else.

Here’s an idea to consider: don’t date in your program at all. I did that (twice) and would readily maim a small infant to take those experiences back. Psychology programs are very small and potentially incestuous. If/when your relationship fails, you have to see that person on a daily basis. She will haunt your dreams and make you turn to alcohol to cope with awkwardness and the new wrinkle in your social circle. Marriages that start later in life tend to be more successful anyway. Don’t fight the stats, just focus on your degree and meet your soulmate afterwards.

You will not be too busy to socialize. The key to graduate study in Clinical Psychology is working smart, not hard. If you pay close attention, you’ll note early on how much irrelevant material is built into the curriculum. You will never use this information or even remember it ten minutes after you’ve read it. You can quickly learn how to filter out this material and focus on what is important for the field, freeing you up for other pursuits. I learned to play both guitar and golf while in graduate school (badly, but I can play them nonetheless).

Side Note: as the professor in the cartoon suggests, the national licensure exam is, in fact, a test that measures virtually nothing related to the field. But it is not difficult and most people pass it on the first attempt. I studied for about 3 months (10-12 hours per week) and had no problems with the exam. And only some states have an oral examination with which to contend.

4) When you are a Clinical Psychologist, people will think that you are crazy.

This is sometimes true and not inaccurate. But, if we’ve learned anything from this site, it’s that everyone is crazy. Just embrace your crazy and move on with things. Don’t let society’s perception of shrinks change your career goals.

5) You should become a Life Coach. You do not need any education or training. There are no rules and regulations.

This is somewhat true, although there is always a buzz that certain states are implementing rules to this field. Being a Life Coach is an option if you simply want to give advice and tell people what to do to improve themselves, although this subdivision of the helping services is, bar none, the least respected. If you want to have a business card that says “Let me help you be the best ‘you’ possible,” or “Live life…on purpose,” then knock yourself out. Just don’t expect anyone to not either privately or publicly laugh at you.

EDIT: I just received this email solicitation to become a Life Coach. Talk about a respected profession!:

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Conclusion

Becoming a Clinical Psychologist is a significant undertaking. You’re easily looking at 3 years or more than just getting a Master’s Degree. My post-college experience was 6 years to licensure, and I’ve met people who took 9 years. If your only goal is to become a therapist, becoming a Social Worker or Master’s Level Psychologist is a viable option. But a doctorate gives you more freedom (e.g., teaching, researching, consulting), respect and, in my limited experience, a better educational foundation. Yes, most of my friends were making money and starting families in their 20’s and had a head start on “life,” but it’s also true that most are not nearly as happy with their choices as I am. In short, if Psychology is what you like, don’t aim for the quick buck. Take your time, get a Ph.D. It will likely be worth it.

Related Post: Should I Become a Psychologist?

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15 Responses to “Since Law is the New Taboo Field of Study, What about Clinical Psychology?”

  1. Tanya says:

    I’m not sure why I felt a sense of relief when I finished this post; with what I had to do just to get an interview I’m not sure what would have to happen to make me change my mind right now.

    From my vantage point (nearing completion of a master’s in counseling psych) I don’t think there is much worry in the Clinical Psychology PhD going the way of the law degree. 1) It’s insanely hard to get into a program meaning schools aren’t cranking out more docs than there are jobs. 2) Unless you go into private practice with a Master’s Degree it is more than likely that a PhD or an MD will be your boss. I may be off here but the super successful private practice LPC, LMHP etc. isn’t nearly as common as my LPC-mill college would like me to think.

  2. Shannan says:

    Really like the fresh layout. I were pleased with the information. Thank you for your nice article.

  3. Cam says:

    I agree “Embrace your crazy” thanks! This is all really great advice!

  4. suzy pepper says:

    That video was SOOOO depressing. I am passionate about clinical psych and thus will pursue it, but, really, I DO have to be extra nice to people so they don’t think I’m crazy. It’s a hard knock life.

  5. sport says:

    Interestling, could you update often?

  6. Joe says:

    In both law and psych, people who really have an interest and want to do it (and have the necessary talents) should be there. That said, I don’t think you can compare the insanity that has gripped the legal field since the 1990’s to the psych field. The bubble in overpriced corporate legal services just doesn’t exist in psych. Also, in the last 20 years or so, a lot of people went to law school that just shouldn’t have been there in the first place. Unfortunately, people in this country just aren’t taught to think about education in terms of cost/benefit. You can get a law degree for fairly cheap and live modestly, too. The trend is the opposite, with kids going to tier 2-4 schools where they have no chance of making 160k the first year out and taking out huge amounts of loans to live like kings while they aren’t making money. That’s the kind of reasoning that is a clear indication that those people not only shouldn’t be near law school, but should probably have a job with their name on their shirt.

  7. Celina says:

    Well timed! I just finished the 6 month race to apply for graduate schools (studying for and taking the GRE, application essays, contacting potential supervisors, etc, etc…) and the process just knocked out all my steam. Excitement for the prospect of spending 6 years learning and being payed to be a student fuelled me through it, but in the few weeks following that final submission, my entire being has been “what have I done!?” The video was horrifying! However, your little treatment of the facts helped calm some of my fears about having no free time and putting my life on hold for a mediocre profession.

    I probably decided early on to become a clinical psychologist for all the reasons mentioned in the video, but throughout my undergrad I’ve loved the way Psychology taught me to think (scientifically, objectively, creatively) and the subject is always fascinating and diverse. Thank you for refuelling my enthusiasm of the subject! On that note, I love when you do entries on the training process of becoming a psychologist. None of my profs are as candid and personal and my particular undergraduate school has almost no clinical psychologists, so they can’t share with me about that aspect of what’s to come.

  8. Kevin says:

    How come I can’t tumblr this?

  9. Rebecca says:

    This is probably the most useful post ever. I’m a junior psych major, with the goal of becoming a therapist. I’ve spent so much time agonizing over what kind of graduate program I should apply to. A grad student in our university’s psychology PhD program told me that PhD programs will immediately reject you if they find out you want to become a therapist. So that’s out. Then there’s the PsyD route, which is not an option because I don’t have $100,000 laying around for the degree program. That leaves the Master’s Program. I was worried about the salary differences, but it sounds like that’s not really much of an issue…?

    Gaahhhh! The joys of being a psychology undergrad.

  10. JP says:

    It was only after I began practicing law in the world of disability, that I realized that psychology actually was both interesting and had some pratical value.

    Honestly, I had no idea that there really were a large number of mentally ill people out there.

    There is, of course, the idea that psychology specifically attracts crazy people, which is why all psychologists are crazy. 🙂

  11. Cathryn says:

    Good shit. That video made me real sad at first, but your comments made up for it of course. I know someone mentioned above that a lot of psych programs do not enjoy the idea of a student pursuing a career in clinical psychology. But what else is there to do with a PhD in psych? Someone please tell me!

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