By: Jennifer Noble, PhD Clinical Psychologist
Being a clinical psychologist is a rewarding career. It is challenging and it’s hard work, but it’s a wonderful feeling to see people make improvements that make their lives happier and more manageable. If you’ve thought about becoming a psychologist, take a look at these 4 tips. They will give you a bit more insight to know if it’s the right career for you!
1. Undergrad Doesn’t Matter
Are you shocked to read that? Well, hear me out. An undergraduate degree in psychology is often required before applying to a graduate program in clinical psychology. There will be a set of courses you are expected to complete in order to graduate. So your undergrad degree in psych DOES matter on your way to becoming a clinical psychologist. However, undergrad courses will only be the foundational classes that will get you ready for a deeper dive that will happen in graduate school. An undergraduate degree is just the beginning. So, unlike other fields, where you can get a job in your field with just a bachelor’s degree, this is not true for clinical psychology. In fact, the place where you earned your undergrad degree really doesn’t matter. A well-known ivy league school will offer some of the same foundational courses as your respected community college. So just remember – becoming a clinical psychologist doesn’t actually “begin” until you start graduate school!
2. All Graduate Schools Are Not the Same for Psychology
A doctorate degree is required to become a clinical psychologist (person who provides therapy). You’ll need a doctorate degree along with your license to practice. Your doctorate degree can be a PhD, a PsyD, or an Ed. If your goal is to be able to have the skills to provide psychotherapy to those suffering from mental health disorders, then you will want to attend a graduate school that is focused on honing those skills. The person you see for therapy is not likely to be one who went to a graduate school with a Bench Scientist model of training their students. The Bench Scientist model is a graduate program focused on preparing you to be a researcher. In contrast, a Scientist Practitioner graduate program training model will prepare you to understand and conduct research, but will make sure you are intimately aware of how to conduct the clinical face-to-face work. A Scholar-Practitioner model will have an even stronger focus on the clinical foundations and thought processes that make for a well-trained clinical psychologist who can provide high caliber therapy. This model will also make sure the student can conduct research in line with and influenced by the people they work with. It is of utmost importance to research the graduate schools you are interested to see what training model you will be offered and make sure it will fit with your overall goals.
3. Don’t Become a Clinical Psychologist for the Money.
Clinical psychologists can earn a good income, but it is not a career one goes into for the income. Careers in law, business or finance are known for the high salaries, bonuses and benefits. Clinical psychology is different. If you are a clinical psychologist providing therapy in a hospital or community-based agency environment, you might earn around $70,000 a year (median annual salary). If you worked in private practice you could certainly earn more – perhaps closer to $120,000. If you are creative in how you use your doctorate degree you might be able to make even more, but it’s rare to see a clinical psychologist making a seven figure salary. It’s always helpful to decide to pursue a field having all the pertinent information you’ll need. And if you need “the big bucks,” then clinical psychology may not be for you.
4. Get Your Own Therapy!
Can you imagine trying to get your car fixed by someone who has never driven a car? What about going to a dentist who has never had a checkup for their own teeth? If that seems absurd, then it should also be absurd to see a clinical psychologist who has never had their own therapy. Many graduate programs in clinical psychology require their students to get their own individual therapy before graduating. Why? First, it is to make sure they know the experience of being on the other side of the therapy experience. What is it like to tell our feelings and thoughts to a professional we don’t know? Once we feel that for ourselves, we can be more sensitive to the clients who are finding it difficult to share in their therapy sessions. Secondly, it is important for a therapist to be aware of their own blind spots and personal experiences that might get in the way of them helping certain people. The more aware of our own issues we are, the more objective we can be when we try to help others. This is extremely important. So, as you decide to pursue a career to become a clinical psychologist, think about making time to seek out your own therapy if you have not already. And plan to continue to do so throughout your career as you grow and evolve as a psychologist. While there are lots of things to consider on your journey to become a clinical psychologist, these are just a few tips that might not always be addressed. They cover not only the educational portions, but they address the deeper parts that really make for a good psychologist – integrity and purpose! In any career, no matter what you do, we always want to make sure we are doing it for the right reasons and to the best of our ability.
Jennifer Noble, PhD Clinical Psychologist, educator, and champion for all marginalized communities and the parents trying to raise their teen within them. Learn more.