The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook states, “Overall employment of psychologists is projected to grow 6 percent from 2021 to 2031, about as fast as the average for all occupations,” though the anticipated bump for specialists in clinical and counseling psychology is slightly higher, at a projected 10%.
The publication continues, “About 14,100 openings for psychologists are projected each year, on average, over the decade. Many of those openings are expected to result from the need to replace workers who transfer to different occupations or exit the labor force, such as to retire.”
Are you considering graduate school in psychology?
There are master of science degree programs in clinical counseling that provide the education and pathway to become a licensed professional counselor (LPC) or a licensed social worker (LSW), both of which are essentially secure careers as mental health counselor professionals. An LPC must work under the supervision of an LPCC (licensed professional clinical counselor), whereas an LSW must work under the supervision of an LISW (licensed independent social worker). Both the LPC and the LSW have career paths that require a master’s degree from an accredited university, a minimum of 3,000 hours of clinical work supervised by an independent practitioner, and certification with an advanced licensing exam. Once an LPC or LSW has met the criteria to advance in their field and practice without mandatory supervision, they may become an LPCC or LISW counselor and are able to diagnose and treat mental health issues, though they are not able to prescribe medications.
According to a May 2020 Psychology Today article called “Careers in Psychology 2020,” “Master’s-level programs overlap more with undergraduate education. People may pursue a master’s education as an end in itself, to deepen and broaden their knowledge in a certain area.” Some mental health caseworkers pursue a graduate degree through a work incentive to achieve licensing; others do so because they’re ladder climbers and can find themselves – upon completing an accredited master’s program in psychology – eager to keep climbing after encountering the work of a clinical psychologist or clinical psychology researcher.
Do you want a medical degree (MD, DO) or a doctorate or PhD in psychology?
Some people come to clinical psychology after weighing the options: psychiatry versus a doctorate in clinical psychology versus a PhD in clinical psychology.
A psychiatrist is a medical doctor (MD or DO) who completes medical school and pursues a specialization in psychiatry. Following medical school, they complete a residency in psychiatry, which involves specialized training in the diagnosis and treatment of mental health disorders. Psychiatrists often work in clinical settings, hospitals, and private practices. Psychiatrists are qualified to provide talk therapy, but they more commonly focus on medical management of mental health conditions. They can prescribe medication to address psychiatric disorders and might use a combination of therapy and medication for treatment. Their approach to assessment might lean more toward medical and biological factors when determining whether medication is appropriate. Patient care is often managed in tandem with a clinical counselor or therapist who provides therapy and counseling services.
Psychology doctoral programs demand a different level of motivation and commitment than master’s degree programs, and they require one to be quite clear about one’s life and career goals. A PhD in psychology (Psy PhD), a doctorate degree in psychology (PsyD), and a doctorate in education (EdD) in psychology are all pathways to professional counseling careers, though not with the same career goals.
Generally, the application and graduation requirements for EdD and PsyD programs can be less rigorous than those for PhD programs. However, any doctoral-level grad school degree is highly competitive and a means to a rewarding and reputable career.
The EdD appeals to teachers and administrators who will continue to work in higher education and schools. According to Psychology.org, “The Ed.D. remains a popular option for professional educators like teachers, administrators, and counselors wanting to gain more expertise, qualify for an additional license, or move into a leadership position.” The site notes that school psychologists who hope to enter independent clinical practice would benefit more from completing a PsyD.
Choosing between a Psy PhD and a PsyD program depends on one’s career goals, interests, and preferences. Both programs lead to a doctoral degree in psychology, but they have different emphases and outcomes.
If your primary goal is to work as a clinical psychologist providing therapy and counseling, a PsyD program aligns better with your career aspirations. Licensed clinical psychologists work in clinical settings such as hospitals, clinics, and private practice. They primarily use talk therapy and counseling techniques to help individuals address emotional, psychological, and behavioral issues using various therapeutic modalities, such as cognitive behavioral therapy, psychoanalysis, and humanistic therapy, to help clients understand and manage their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. Clinical psychologists are trained in conducting psychological assessments and diagnostic testing to evaluate a person’s mental health and cognitive functioning.
PsyD programs typically take four to six years to complete. They can involve fewer research requirements than PhD programs, and although some PsyD programs do include research activity, the focus is primarily on developing clinical skills and practical experience.
If you are more interested in conducting research, teaching, and potentially pursing an academic career, a PhD program is a better fit. PhD programs in psychology emphasize research and academic scholarship. Students are trained to conduct original research, contribute to the field’s knowledge base, and publish scientific papers. PhD graduates pursue academic careers as professors, researchers, and scholars. They might teach at universities, conduct research, and mentor students. Some work at research institutions, government agencies, and private organizations.
PhD programs are typically longer than PsyD programs, taking five to seven years to complete. They require comprehensive exams and a dissertation on original research.
Either way, know the specific focus of the schools and programs you’re interested in attending. Look for accredited schools with certifications in subspecialities conferred by professional associations, including the American Board of Professional Psychology and the American Psychological Association.
Know the clinical counseling focus and philosophy of a PsyD program and the career aims of those orientations. Some schools have a wide reach in that their curriculum and research cover many tracks, from neuropsychology to multiculturalism, whereas other schools’ research interests are narrow.
Take Rutgers University’s PsyD program, for instance. The program focuses primarily on two tracks, clinical counseling and school psychology. As a result, the research focus is on these areas of specialization, offering research exposure and experience in applied behavioral analysis, autism spectrum disorders, and addiction.
The University of Hartford, on the other hand, is a general program serving students who want a population focus in child and adolescent development and psychology broadly.
Aim to find a school that presents a program, curriculum, service learning, and faculty that are committed to your field of interest. Additionally, for Psy PhD programs, know the research focus and philosophy goals of the professors and their laboratories. PhD research in clinical psychology often falls into the following categories: clinical, counseling, school, cognitive, social, industrial organizational, marriage and the family, behavioral neuroscience psychology, and forensic.
For PsyD programs, know their curriculum orientation within the scope of employment you’ll be seeking, because they often differentiate between adult clinical, child clinical, and health tracks. Many schools have subspecialities and corollary tracks.
Whether the EdD, PsyD, or Psy PhD degree is for you, always seek out an accredited program. Do your school research, looking at specializations, the scope of the educational experience, the orientation to the field and subfields, the expertise of the faculty, graduation rates, and work placement success – and start that application early.
Dr. Mary Mahoney, PhD, is the medical humanities director at Elmira College and has more than 20 years of experience as an advisor and essay reviewer for med school applicants. She is a tenured English professor with an MFA in creative writing from Sarah Lawrence College and a PhD in literature and writing from the University of Houston. For the past 20 years, Mary has served as a grad school advisor and essay reviewer for med school applicants. Want Mary to help you get Accepted? Click here to get in touch!