I am currently a junior undergraduate majoring in psychology. I understand that in order to pursue a career in psychology it is mandatory for me to attend graduate school. My desire is to eventually have my own private practice, concentrating on social psychology.
What should I expect from the years to come while on my journey to obtain my degree? Approximately how long would it take for me to become established as a psychologist upon graduation? What credible experience should I get involved in prior to graduating?
The designation of "psychologist" is confusing to the general public and even to people in the field. A Ph.D. psychologist most likely has a B.A. in Psychology and four years of graduate work in the same program. This work is often focused on research and testing. A clinical psychologist does specialize in therapy, but again, many focus on testing. People with this degree can go into private practice, teach, research, or work for the private sector in fields such as advertising.
A Masters level psychologist or counselor often has a B.A. in Psychology, but many have degrees in an unrelated field like English. They take a 2 year graduate course in Counseling, and now most states in the U.S. require them to have a year internship with a supervisor in the field. Following this, they are either certified in the state or licensed. The abbreviations vary: M.A., M.S., M.S.W., and M.C. are the most common and comparable. The state often makes further distinctions and licenses in Substance Abuse, Marriage and Family, and General Counseling. Most counselors do all of these no matter what their specialty license says, and are usually qualified, thanks to their classes at school and work experience. In the last 10 years most of the therapy in this country has been done by people with their Masters degree in Counseling.
It is also possible to have a Ph.D. in Counseling. An Ed.D. is similar, but the degree is under the College of Education. All of the counseling designations allow people to go into private practice, hospitals, counseling in schools, human resources, teaching, research, or the public sector.
People who get their degree in Social Work usually work in social agencies and focus on community liaisons. They help people connect with social resources and often work in community clinics, Child Protective Services, and hospitals. Some teach or are engaged in private counseling practice. The state, once again, licenses or certifies them. There is no real distinction in quality between being licensed or certified. The state just offers one or the other. Insurance companies often are more willing to pay if a state offers licensure. An M.A. in Social Work means the person has a Masters degree, which is a two year program. It is also possible to get a doctorate in Social Work. In this case, a persons' undergraduate work is usually in a field other than psychology.
Psychiatric Nurse Practitioners have a regular 4 year degree in Nursing School and then 4 years of studying psychiatry and medication. They can prescribe medication and often engage in counseling.
A psychiatrist studies general pre-medicine in undergraduate school and then goes on for 4 years of medical school. Only after that do they spend 1 or 2 years in an internship studying psychology. Psychiatrists these days focus almost exclusively on prescribing medication and do very little therapy.
Allen, one of the newest trends in the business is that many insurance companies are requiring specialty certifications to allow you to see different populations. They have now made a special designation for those working in EAP (Employee Assistance Programs). I think this is a very poor trend and simply a way for the certification boards to make more money. Any qualified therapist has most of the skills necessary to handle a variety of specialties.
Health care has changed in the last 15 years. Now, different insurance companies artificially develop guidelines for how many sessions someone with depression or anxiety should have in order to be considered "cured." This takes the responsibility away from the client and therefore, harms treatment. The insurance companies will only allow a certain number of providers on their panel for a geographic area and will only let counselors practice after 2 years experience, post Masters. A case could be made for restraint of trade. They usually contract a fee for service well below what most therapists charge for a total fee for the service non-insurance rate.
It usually takes a long time to get into private practice and most people work for community agencies or hospitals for several years before trying it. I would also suggest that you get as much varied experience in the field as possible. It will help down the road.
I hope this will help. Good luck!
Jef Gazley, M.S.
This question was answered by Jef Gazley M.S. Jef has practiced psychotherapy for twenty-five years, specializing in Love Addiction, Hypnotherapy, Relationship Management, Dysfunctional Families, Co-Dependency, Professional Coaching, and Trauma Issues. He is a trained counselor in EMDR, NET, TFT, and Applied Kinesiology. He is dedicated to guiding individuals to achieving a life long commitment to mental health and relationship mastery. His private practice locations are Scottsdale and Tempe, Arizona. You can also visit Jef at the internettherapist, the first audiovisual mental health online counseling center on the net.
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