Originally Posted by psychgeek
Everything would have been great except that I eventually realized that this was it. I was in my mid twenties, and I had achieved the highest level of occupational attainment I could reasonably expect within my chosen field. It isn't like there is some sort of "super private practice" to which one can aspire. Once you have a stable and full private practice, that is pretty much the top of the occupational ladder. At 27 my day was spent seeing individual patients, maybe consulting for an hour or two, and meeting my colleges for drinks after we got off work at 9 PM. I looked at my mid and late career mentors, and they spent their days seeing individual patients, consulting/teaching for an hour or two, and meeting their colleges at 9 PM for drinks. I expected to spend September 20th, 2040 in a way that was not materially different from how I spent September 20th, 2009.
Even this would have been OK except that I feared the effect 30 to 40 years of clinical work would have upon me as a person. Private practice wrecks havoc on personal lives. It cost me one partner, and seems to have had a similar effect upon most of my therapist friends. Over half of my friends' long-term relationships did not survive internship/post-doc. Even if a therapist's relationship does survive the early years of his or her career, the hours and nature of the work makes family life very difficult. Private practice means working when other people do not. As a result, most of my friends ended up with a schedule more similar to that of an actor or restaurant worker than a standard white collar job.
Also, it becomes hard to relate to non-psychologists after you have spent too long as a therapist. Our job involves hearing about the worst things that happen to people and trying to establish an empathic bond that gives us access to their pain. I think this changes you as a person (both for the better and for the worse). I became a lot less judgmental and a kinder person overall, but I lost the ability to care about things like the outcome of "The Bachelor." All of my therapist friends noticed something similar, but I think this change was more prominent for the single therapists. It is hard to go from 8 hours of exploring early traumas to a first date over tapas with a advertising executive. The thematic juxtaposition is jarring.
In the end, I should not have gone to a Ph.D. program immediately out of undergrad, and I think I would have had a better 2000-2010 if I had waited a few years before I made my decision. I think I probably would have ended up pursuing a Ph.D. anyway, but I doubt it would have been in psychology. A few years of reflection and work outside of school would have given me a better basis of life experience to evaluate my career goals, and I think I would have realized that I would be happier as an economist or sociologist than I was as a clinical psychologist. Being a psychologist is a very hard job, and the money will not come close to fully compensating you for the difficulties you will face. Maybe you are willing to sacrifice part of your happiness to secure peace for someone else. In the end, I was not.
I definitely agree about the emotional toll that the career takes on you. For me, it was dealing with terminal patients that gave me a led to similar feelings to what you mention. It was hard being single and having women ask me what I did and have the answer be that I watch people suffer from chronic illness and die and try to make them as comfortable as possible. It really kills the mood. However, I never cared about 'The Bachelor' and found a comfort ins dating other healthcare professionals.
As for having accomplished the heights of our career in private practice early and being stuck doing the same thing for decades...that really is up to you. You can choose to change settings, teach, research, etc. Personally, I don't mind a bit of boring in the way you mention. It leaves more time for me to enjoy my family, friends, and the other things that make life worth living.