Clinical Psychology

In my experience working with undergraduates, I’ve observed that students are really intrigued with the peculiarities of human behavior. Anorexia and depression are probably among some of the “hottest topics” that appeal to psychology majors. Ask students and they’ll usually say that they are interested in being a therapist or counselor. They want to facilitate the process to help others experience relief from debilitating psychological problems. And then most students seem to think that Clinical Psychology is the only way to achieve their career goal.

Wait! You mean that’s not true?

Have you ever heard of the field of Counseling Psychology? Very similar to Clinical, except that while clinical psychologists focus on diagnosis and treatment of mental disorder, counseling psychologists work with clients through everyday life issues and transitions, such as career development, family and relationship issues, even issues of race identity or sexuality. Usually, these psychologists have earned the terminal degree, or the Ph.D.

You may have also heard of the professional degree in psychology or the Psy.D. The Psy.D. focuses almost exclusively on training in therapy rather than research. This is a great option for students interested solely in therapy. (Warning: If you have no interest in research, it is probably not the wisest idea to pursue a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology!).

Many students are also unaware of graduate programs outside of Psychology that offer training in therapy. A Masters in Social Work (M.S.W.) will also provide necessary training to work as a therapist. Social workers who practice psychotherapy are usually called either clinical social workers or psychiatric social workers. Clinical social workers also have the ability to diagnose and treat psychological issues, so this is another great area to consider given your particular interests.

I encourage students to be very specific in defining their career goals. While “I want to help people” or “I want to be a counselor” sounds admirable, it is still nonspecific in determining which graduate program best fits your career goals. Are you interested in exclusively working with clients with mental disorders? What about everyday life problems? Are you interesting in going the distance to receive a terminal degree (Ph.D. or Psy.D.)? Taking some time out for self-reflection may enable you to figure out which career path works best for you!