Beyond the Clinical Psychology PhD: Alternatives for Careers in Therapy

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Many undergraduate psychology majors at least briefly consider careers as therapists, often citing their desire to work with people and help others. Television and other forms of media most commonly portray clinical psychologists as therapists. Therefore many aspiring therapists wonder whether a doctoral degree in clinical psychology is for them. Perhaps but there are there are several master's degrees that offer the opportunity to work with others and conduct therapy. Here are a few.

PhD in Clinical Psychology and Counseling Psychology
The PhD is the most common doctoral degree among psychologists. The label "psychologist" is a protected term. A doctoral degree in psychology is required to call oneself a psychologist. Clinical and counseling psychology are the two traditional areas of practice in psychology. Clinical psychology studies pathology and disease whereas counseling psychology emphasize normative processes and aiding in adjustment issues.

PhD programs in clinical and counseling psychology fall into two basic training models. The scientist model trains graduates to be research scientists and have careers in academic and research settings. Graduate programs that adopt the scientist practitioner model train students in both science and practice. Students learn how to design and conduct research, but they also learn how to apply research findings and practice as psychologists. Graduates obtain careers in academia and practice, including colleges, hospitals, mental health settings, and private practice.

PhD degrees in clinical psychology and counseling psychology require a dissertation in addition to practice hours and an internship. Additional practice hours and licensure is required to practice. Clinical and counseling PhD programs are among the most competitive graduate programs in all fields for both admission and for internship sites.

A PhD in clinical or counseling psychology, however, is not the only path to a career as a therapist. If your desire is to practice and have no intention of conducting research, you might consider a PsyD degree instead of a PhD.

Alternative: PsyD in Clinical or Counseling Psychology
The PsyD is a doctoral degree, developed in the early 1970s. As a doctoral degree, the PsyD permits graduates to use the title of "psychologist." In contrast to the scientist and scientist practitioner models of PhD programs, the PsyD is a professional doctoral degree that trains students for clinical practice. Students learn how to understand and apply scholarly findings to practice. They are trained to be consumers of research. Graduates work in practice settings in hospitals, mental health facilities, and private practice. Given that PsyD students are not trained to conduct research, their dissertations tend to consist of lengthy literature reviews and to be applied in nature. Usually this requires less time than completing a PhD. PsyD students complete pre and post degree mandatory practice hours and are eligible for licensure.

Generally speaking, PsyD degrees are more expensive than PhD degrees. Graduates generally have a significant amount of debt. There are other degree alternatives that permit entry to a career as a therapist that are less time consuming and expensive.

Masters Degree in Counseling (MA)
A master's degree in a counseling field, such as community counseling or mental health counseling, entails completing both academic and practice requirements. students complete 2 years (on average) of academic coursework including theories of therapy, assessment and diagnosis, and therapeutic techniques. In addition students complete supervised practice hours as part of their degree. After completing their degree they complete several hundred additional hours of supervised therapy in order to be eligible to seek certification to practice therapy independently. Every state has a different set of requirements for practice with regard to supervised hours and whether an exam is required Master's degree holders who are certified to practice may work in traditional therapeutic settings such as hospitals and mental health centers or may practice independently.

Masters in Family Therapy (MFT)
Similar to the MA in counseling, the masters in family therapy consists of about 2 years of academic coursework and practice. MFT students specialize in marital therapy, child therapy, and strengthening the family. After graduation they seek additional supervised practice hours and licensure as a marriage and family therapist with the ability to practice independently

Masters in Social Work (MSW) Like the MA in counseling and the MFT, the master of social work degree is a 2-3 year degree that includes both academic and practice requirements. MSW students are trained in assessment, therapeutic techniques, and assisting families functioning. After completing a specified number of supervised practice graduates can seek certification to practice social work independently.

As you can see there are several opportunities for students whoa re interested in careers as therapists. If you are considering such a career, do your homework and learn about each of these degrees to determine what is right for you.

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Your Citation
Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Beyond the Clinical Psychology PhD: Alternatives for Careers in Therapy." ThoughtCo, Aug. 26, 2020, Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. (2020, August 26). Beyond the Clinical Psychology PhD: Alternatives for Careers in Therapy. Retrieved from Kuther, Tara, Ph.D. "Beyond the Clinical Psychology PhD: Alternatives for Careers in Therapy." ThoughtCo. (accessed January 27, 2021).

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