The public perception that the large majority of psychologists are clinicians or therapists is not true. Still, over 1/3 of graduates with terminal degrees in psychology work in some kind of clinical setting. Private clinical practice is not as common as it was in the 20th century. Today, clinical and counseling psychologists are more likely to be employed by hospitals, counties, prison systems, and schools.
There is a high demand for clinical psychologists, and that demand is expected to continue.
QUESTIONS FOR STUDENTS TO CONSIDER
- Can I gain experience working with clinical populations while I am an undergraduate?
- Are there specific groups of people or diagnoses that I am particularly interested in? Can I get experience working with particular groups of people (e.g. those who suffer with anxiety disorders) while I am a student?
- What graduate training do I need? Should I become a psychiatrist? A clinical PhD? Is a Master's degree sufficient?
Many courses in Psychology, Human Development and Family Systems, and Sociology will be useful. Knowing a foreign language (like Spanish) and taking a class to practice your communication skills may also help. Here are some examples of courses for those thinking about counseling fields…
- PSYC 1004: Introductory Psychology
- PSYC 2034: Developmental Psychology
- PSYC 2044: Psychology of Learning
- PSYC 3014: Abnormal Psychology
- PSYC 3034: Psychological Disorders of Children
- PSYC 4114: Cognitive Psychology
- HD 1134: Introduction to Disabilities Studies
- HD 2304: Family Relationships
- HD 2335, 2336: Principles of Human Services
- HD 3304: Advanced Helping Skills
- HD 4324: Advanced Family Relationships
- HD 4334: Perspectives on Addiction and Family Systems
- HD 4364: Gender and Family Diversity
- SOC 1004: Introductory Sociology
- SOC 2004: Social Problems
- SOC 2404: Deviant Behavior
- SOC 3414: Criminology
- SOC 4414: Drugs and Society
- SOC 4714: Sociology of Mental Illness
- COMM 11015-1016: Communication Skills 1 and 2
RELEVANT UNDERGRADUATE EXPERIENCES
Graduate programs in clinical psychology can be very competitive, and you will want a variety of experiences in your undergraduate years to help you stand out. Research experience will be vital, particularly if you are going to apply to PhD programs. Getting counseling experience will be more difficult but not impossible; you want to gain any experience you can with clinical or disadvantaged populations, even if your job is simply observation or office work.
- Probably the most intensive counseling experience that undergraduates can get is through the RAFT Crisis Hotline.
- Several of our students also volunteer for the Women's Resource Center of the New River Valley, in Radford.
- Some volunteer for the Women's Center on our campus.
- You could also volunteer at a healthcare center, such as the Community Health Center of the New River Valley.
- You should join the Active Minds student organization.
- You should also become a member of the Psychology Club.
Practicing clinicians have several different degrees to choose from. Many faculty focus on the advantages of PhD programs, and Master's degrees in clinical psychology or social work. But all of the degrees have their pros and cons. Here are the main types…
- Psychiatry M.D.– – the salaries are high and psychiatrists will be toward the top of the hierarchy in decision-making about client care; but schooling is expensive, and psychiatrists are no longer the only clinical professionals with the authority to prescribe medications.
- Clinical Psychology PhD – – very strong degree that combines research investigation and clinical training and internship; students in PhD programs generally do not have to pay to go to school; Clinical PhD programs are considered very competitive
- PsyD (Doctor of Psychology) – –intended for those interested in only clinical practice and not research; PsyD students can accumulate a great deal of debt because programs last for an average of four years, and generally they are not compensated like PhD students are.
- Master's in Clinical or Counseling, or Master's in Clinical Social Work (MSW) – –these degrees can be earned in approximately two years, and are very useful if the training involves contact hours with potential clients, and a clear path to licensure.
Arguably what is more important than the letters of the degree is the quality of the actual program. Regardless of whether you are looking at a Clinical PhD program, a Clinical MSW, or something else, you will probably want to ask several questions. For instance, what is the likelihood that a graduate student will get financial assistance, and will that assistance come in the form of a teaching assistantship, research assistantship, or something else? How many "contact hours" can you expect, where you work with clinical population? Is the program accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA)? Does their training help you to obtain licensure in the state where you would like to practice? Are there data on what students do right after they leave the program, and how long it takes them to obtain licensure and establish a practice?
A lot of very useful career information can be found on the webpages of the American Psychological Association (APA.org). It is strongly recommended that you review these websites, and do some searches on your own. The last link is a video that could be very helpful to you if you're interested in FORENSIC PSYCHOLOGY…
- Data tools from Workforce Studies, from APA