Calculating Your Dreams
Psychology is a wonderful field full of many different areas of exploration. As an undergraduate student at Florida State University, I first majored in English writing and then picked up psychology as a second major. In all honestly, it was just a desperate attempt to stay in college loner as my parents at the time requested I come home since I was nearing graduation with plenty of credits. It was while taking these classes that I realized instead of psychology just being an after thought, I wanted to go into the field; I wanted to become a psychologist.
Over the next ten years, I walked and sometimes ran along a difficult and arduous path towards realizing my aspirations. Today, I am indeed a licensed clinical psychologist and was lucky to gain expertise and training in an area I love: substance abuse. Teaching college classes was also a lifelong dream that has finally come to fruition that I probably would have never been exposed to had I not become a psychologist. One of the most valuable pieces of information I learned along the way was something I could have used much earlier. Now I would like to share this information with anyone young, old or in between considering becoming a psychologist.
There are several different avenues towards a profession in mental health. Many undergraduate students with high hopes and GPAs to match want to “go all the way” and become a licensed psychologist. This is an ambitious goal and for a few people it is a perfect fit. On the other hand, numerous factors dictate whether or not it is a reasonable goal for others. Let me explain.
It is important before you make a decision like this to calculate your dreams—literally. What I mean is that you must take considerable time to sit down and actually weigh the time, cost and sacrifice against the future benefit of becoming a licensed psycholgist rather then a masters level therapist.
What it Takes to Become a Psychologist
A doctoral level program, soup to nuts, takes an average of six years if you there are no bumps in the road. So, if you are twenty now and beginning your psychology major, you will not earn your doctoral degree until you are uncomfortably close to thirty. Unfortunately, you will still not be a psychologist capable of producing income. After your internship (which has now become absurdly competitive because there are not enough slots, which means you will have to relocate somewhere else for one year), you will have to complete a year’s worth of postdoctoral work in order to become eligible to sit for your licensing exam. Most internships and postdocs do pay a salary but at a low apprenticeship level.
Once eligible for your national exam, six months preparation will be necessary, after which you will then have to prepare for your state jurisprudence exam. Unfortunately, a lot of these requirements come just when marriage and children are beginning, which can increase these time frames and complicate matters. For some people, waiting all of these years to work and produce income is not an issue, depending on the financial situation. For others, not only are they not bringing in income for 10+ years, they are also living off of loans, which can frighteningly amount to a whopping $200,000 (with interest). Yikes!!
How Much Psychologists Actually Make
Where the real misfortune comes into play here for many psychologists is that people think that because you have a doctorate it means you will make A LOT OF MONEY. This is not necessarily true! No matter how educated or skilled you are at your job, you are still working in social service . For the most part, these positions do not pay more than $50,000-$100,000 a year, the latter being the very highest. This is not enough money to pay back loans with interest. Owing money like this will make it difficult to take out other loans, such as a home mortgage. This is not even enough to live the lifestyle you imagined you would have as a respected professional.
On the other hand, in order to get a Masters in mental health or clinical social work, you will be required to do much less and, surprisingly, the income will not be that different. You would certainly be able to practice independently and help people however you choose based on your training. In fact, many Masters-level therapists are more hirable because they qualify for good therapist positions for which the psychologist may be considered overqualified.
This may sound negative, and I certainly do not want to discourage students from achieving a high-level degree and realizing their dreams. The message I would like to convey here is that while you are considering your dreams make sure you logistically calculate them so that your dream does not become a nightmare.
Beware of Unaccredited Psychology Programs
Here is what I suggest: Before you decide what kind of career in mental health or a helping field you would like to do, fully research the available programs. Find out what they are about, whether they are accredited by an appropriate entity and what the statistics are in terms of alumni employment and income. Speak to actual professionals in the field. Be forewarned: there are many fly-by-night, online or brick-and-mortar professional schools of psychology that are diploma mills. They enroll students in programs and graduate them with expensive degrees that do not lend themselves to any reasonable employment at reputable jobs.
DO YOUR DUE DILIGENCE! Research the cost of the program, how many years it will take—not to graduate but actually be working in that field as a licensed professional—and weigh that against your earning potential. This tip goes for women in their 30's especially. Think about where you might be in your life when you finish. If the answer is raising three children and making a home, then you might want to reconsider a long psychology program that will constantly be competing with your role as a wife and mother.
Make The Right Choice For You
Every day of my life, I benefit from identifying and working as a licensed psychologist. It has impacted my professional life, my social opportunities, how I feel about myself and most importantly the way I have been able to help so many different types of people. Achieving this level of education has given me confidence and respect in my field, not to mention it has improved my organizational and time management skills. And yes, in the end I have made more money because my first name begins with Doctor and my last name ends with Psy.D. But, for many hard working people, that road led to an outcome most unexpected and difficult.
Here is my take home message: Spending years in school does not necessarily equal success or a lot of earnings. There are many different paths to realizing your dreams. The people who fully investigate all available options, in the end, are making life-changing decisions based on factual information that sometimes changes their course of direction. If you are going to spend years building a career take the time to find out what that career will actually look like when all is said and done.
Dr. Blair Mor is a licensed clinical psychologist in Boca Raton, Florida specializing in cognitive behavioral therapy of addiction, depression and anxiety. For more information about whether to become a masters level therapist of a psychologist, please visit www.MorMindful.com.
Written by: Blair H. Mor, Psy.D. Licensed Clinical Psychologist
MorMindful Therapy & Psychiatry