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"Would you do it again?" - nonacademics

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by psychQs, Mar 8, 2012.

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  1. psychQs

    psychQs

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    Hi everyone,
    I've been a frequent lurker around here, but I'm finally ready to speak up...
    A long time ago there was a thread that asked, "Would you do it all again?" about going into graduate-level psychology. I want to raise this question to the current crop of Ph.D. and Psy.D. students, specifically those who aren't interested in careers in academia or other intensive research settings. Knowing what you know now, are you satisfied with choosing the psychologist path?


    (This isn't intended to be presented in a negative manner whatsoever; I'm looking to hear from people in the field to see whether I could be a good fit, etc.)
  2. aequitasveritas

    aequitasveritas PhD

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    No.

    The fact that my life is marginally satisfactory now does not indicate that my decision to enter the field was sound. Quite the opposite.

    I enjoy my job as a psychotherapist in private practice, but I am 30 yrs old and just beginning to make money. Most of my friends were well on their way to a fruitful career in law, business, or other fields and now have homes, and budding families. My path has been one of scraping by and having little yield to the effort. I feel blessed now; simply because I make enough money to live ok. That is effed up...having sacrificed years 24-29 for a doctorate, lived in squalor-poverty through graduate school, having been above the flock with milestones and accomplishment, and now to be making just enough to live normally is stupid. When I am fully licensed and on my own, I will need another year or two to rebuild a practice to a sustainable income. So again, there are more hoops of destitution to jump through. You can end up making some income when you're in your 2nd half of life, but there is no front end torque. I wish I knew that before hand.

    This field needs more students asking the questions like you are, and then avoiding the training because of the cost and diminutive rewards. When we correct the supply side overflow things might start reforming a bit.
  3. PavlovWolf

    PavlovWolf

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    I totally echo this person's statements. I am proud that I've come this far, but I also look around and see what everyone else is doing/how they are doing (and yes, I know it isn't productive to compare oneself to others - but we do it anyway). In all honesty, if I went back in time, I would have become a teacher. They get lots of days (and summers!) off, and while some of them work in tough school districts and struggle, many of them have perfectly fine qualities of life. I would have then been able to pursue my value of a career working with children, without all the sacrifice that psychology has cost me. But, this is all in retrospect. I believe things happen for a reason, and the universe wanted me to become a psychologist for some complicated, insane reason that I guess I won't know til the afterlife :laugh:
  4. Duck Duck Goose

    Duck Duck Goose Senior Lurker

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    No. I haven't even finished my degree yet.

    Sure, good things happened along the way (met my husband, for example) but going for the doctorate (PsyD) was not the best path for me to reach my goal of being a therapist and "helping people." (quotes indicate it is still my goal :cool:)

    By now, I'm sick of psychologists and I haven't even graduated. Had I gone for the MSW or an MFT or something else, I would most likely be licensed (and with the MSW, on my way to private practice). Maybe if I had gone to a funded program, I would feel differently (even though I don't have the $100,000+ loans :wow: that weigh down almost all of my classmates).

    If I get the degree - I'll drop out if I don't match for internship this year - I don't think I'll ever use it. And if I do, people with their masters degrees will already be outearning me. :annoyed:
  5. PavlovWolf

    PavlovWolf

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    Of course you'll get the degree!! Do not give up. If you want to hear my own story about this, PM me. And, I hear you about meeting your husband. I met my boyfriend when I moved for internship. It all worked out. Sometimes I think I might not stay in the field, but I'm going to keep jumping through hoops til I find something I'm more suited for...so far, it hasn't found me yet (although I love animals...)
  6. Markp

    Markp Post-Internship (ABD)

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    Personally, I could not have made a better choice! I'll be the anomaly in the thread I suppose.
  7. AcronymAllergy

    AcronymAllergy Neuropsychology Fellow Moderator

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    I'm with you, Markp. I've enjoyed my years in grad school (despite the meager pay), am enjoying my internship year, am looking forward to postdoc, and will remain flexible when it comes time to find employment (in addition to exploring the odd offer here and there that's been hinted at).

    I could compare myself to my friends, but there's no way I'd want to be stuck doing anything that any of them does. Are there areas we, as a field, can improve on? Certainly. But there isn't a service or research project I've yet been involved with that I haven't enjoyed in some capacity...and that's a pretty tough situation to beat.
  8. erg923

    erg923

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    Statements like these always perplex me. :laugh:

    I mean, really? I like learning stuff, but its always primarily been a means to an end for me. That's it. I do not enjoy being poor and do not enjoy dragging my wife across the country. I frankly, don't even like interacting with most psychologists I've met, save my mentor and few amazing supervisors.
  9. Rivi

    Rivi

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    I am not really sure. I go back and forth on this a lot. I can't tell you how many times I have ALMOST dropped out, went the med school route, the PA route, etc.

    The most rewarding, interesting, and memorable experiences I have had in my career have been side jobs (psychiatric inpatient hospital work) that are completely unrelated to my Ph.D. Those experiences are what made the last couple of years memorable and rewarding, not data crunching, counseling privileged college kids, or helping to publish articles that no one reads or cares about.
  10. ClinicalABA

    ClinicalABA

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    I agree with you. It's all seemed to have worked out well for me and my family. I do wish I was a little more frugal and didn't max out loans (I went to a fully funded program), but otherwise I can't complain. However, I don't think it would be possible to do it again, given some of the difficulties in the field (e.g. more competitive admissions and ridiculous match related goofiness). I will agree with erg- I found grad school to be more of a necessary evil, a means to an end. Even though I learned a lot, benefited greatly, and made some lifelong friends and professional contacts, I found the whole process rather silly and very annoying.

    All that said, this is how I feel 12 years out. 5 years ago,I would have been less likely to say I'd do it again. 10 years ago, I would've said there was no f**king way I'd do that again. I guess I've kind of grown into it.
  11. cara susanna

    cara susanna Predoctoral Intern

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    Some days I regret it, but most I don't. I'm uber research-oriented, though.

    And, yeah, I envy my friends who have 9 to 5 jobs sometimes but then there are times that I don't.
  12. Doctor Eliza

    Doctor Eliza

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    I don't think I'd do it again. I'm well-suited to working in mental health, but nearly every day I wish I had become a psychiatrist instead. I resent that they make roughly 3x what I do and didn't go to school any longer than I did.

    But also, I feel I could help people more effectively if I had an rx pad. I am a little disillusioned that no matter how hard a therapist works with a patient, a large chunk of folks will not attain satisfactory remission without meds. Of course meds aren't the only answer, blah, blah, blah, and I still believe that and all, but therapy alone doesn't cut it for so many. Also, there is such a shortage of good, smart, caring psychiatrists. My patients wait months to get in for a new patient appt. And God help you if you need a psychiatrist and you are under 18!

    Also, I feel a huge sense a regret that I spent my 20's (supposedly one of the best decades of your life) being poor, depressed, abused, and miserable. I feel like I lost a decade of my life.

    And I hate to keep bringing up the money, but I feel resentful when I have friends, clients etc., talking about cool vacations, private schools for their kids, new cars, and I don't have access to any of those things (btw, one of the only things I liked about working in community mental health was that I was more financially stable than my clients!)

    Okay, last major complaint...if I want to continue in private practice, there really is no room for "advancement.". By that I mean, Aetna is going to pay me the same small amount of money for my services (typically 1/2 of what they are worth) whether I have 1 year of experience or 50. Also, most years, that meager amount won't even reflect a cost of living increase.

    Okay, one more...I always thought private practice was so glamorous. But it has significant drawbacks that never occurred to me as a starry-eyed grad student. No health insurance. No sick days. No 401k. Of course, there are many other ways that one can practice in a clinical setting, but I always thought that PP would be so awesome.

    All that bitching aside, I do enjoy working with my patients and I find psych stuff interesting in a way that I do not find other stuff interesting. There are many good aspects of being a psychologist.

    Best,
    Dr. E
  13. psychstudent5

    psychstudent5 Post-Internship (ABD)

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    No way!!! A thousand times "NO!"

    Let me list the reasons:
    1. Low pay for the years of training
    2. My program is stuck in the past. Way too much emphasis on psychodynamic and not enough on EBTs.
    3. I took out loans for my program, which is a phd program.
    4. Incessant interviewing and yearly re-branding of yourself. Applying to grad school, then applying to externships, then internship, then postdocs, then jobs. Not to mention the hours long interviews for a 1 year job that pays 20-30k. It is truly absurd.
    5. Market saturation and declining wages of psychologists.
    6. Lack of professional unity.
    7. Not taken seriously in healthcare systems.
  14. Sanman

    Sanman O.G.

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    See, there are times when I would say no, but I would have to say that I am happy with my choice as an early career psychologist. While grad school was not fun, I still enjoy reading about psych in my spare time more than just about anything. However, I have a bit of a different background from some of the others here. I went to a funded program (thought I am now wishing that I too took out fewer loans and lived more like a student), never interviewed for an externship. While internship was a bit of a nail biter, I did match at one of my top choices and the specialized health psych training put me in a good position for jobs. My dissertation was the biggest frustration and hurdle, but being in a cutting edge area of health psych, it helped me land both of my jobs. I will make a liveable wage this year and have an offer of ~75k plus benefits from my current job once I am licensed. There is also interest in my mentoring other clinicians in health psych and geropsych as I have more experience than many at my job despite being unlicensed. My career is also geared towards the VA and I would ultimately like to land there permanently. I am good with 100k and a 40-50 hour work week. Then again, my gf also pulls down similar money, so we will be alright. We are both still in our 20s.

    As for the grass being greener elsewhere, I guess I have not seen what some of you have seen. I have several friends who are teachers and only one has a tenure track job. A few are working and teacher assistants for $25k/yr and pulling 70-90 hr wks to make 50k. I have several lawyer friends that are only making $50-60k and stuck in a part of the field they hate because it is the only area hiring a good number of attorneys in this economy (foreclosures/ debt collection). I also know more than a few PhDs in other academic fields adjuncting for $40k and no benefits. Sure, I know a the guy that make s $160k, but his company has been taken over and he might be fired. The team at his old job were all sacked when the economy turned. There are doctors I know as well. However, what psychiatrists do bores me. I am more than happy to counsel geriatrics, terminal, and chronic patients and let the psychiatrist handle the sticky suicide situations and severe mental health issues while I go home to my family at the end of the day. I'm willing to work some private practice for cash only, but I am experimenting with private practice this year to see if I like it as more than a side gig. Personally, 20 years at the VA and a pension with a nice teaching position afterward sounds like a nice life to me.

    It feels like this has more to do with what type of program you what area of the field you went into than anything else.
  15. AcronymAllergy

    AcronymAllergy Neuropsychology Fellow Moderator

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    In all honesty: yep, really. A large part of this was likely influenced by the fact that I had an amazing group of friends outside of my program (both at home and at school), so once I left campus, I really was able to turn things off if I so chose. Beyond that, I enjoyed the school component itself as well--I liked my classes, enjoyed all of my professors, and actually (for the most part) enjoyed my moves as well. Again, this is just my experience, as 1) I tend to be a very easy-going individual, and 2) I only have myself to worry about.

    I've just never remained focused on the negatives of the situation, as they simply weren't very negative to me. Sure, the workload sucks sometimes and the pay is horrible, but at the same time, I was earning that pay by going to school. Not many people have the opportunity to do that, especially in a subject area they actually enjoy. Don't get me wrong, that doesn't mean I don't see the problems facing our field (my posts in other threads obviously should indicate otherwise), nor does it mean that I don't realize my experience is fairly unique (others even in my program have been exceedingly miserable, at least in part owing to poor relationships with advisors that had little or nothing to do with anything they'd done directly). In the end, I've just chosen to appreciate how fortunate I've been to have this opportunity, and am planning to make the best of it however I can; in my mind, it doesn't do me much good to continually zero-in on the few things I haven't enjoyed /have disliked.
  16. Jon Snow

    Jon Snow Senior Member

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    I like Sanman's post.

    I am primarily an academic, but I have seen lots of good models of doing interesting and financially fruitful work as a clinician. I think psychology has a lot to offer society at large. I have no interest in RxP. We affect neurotransmitter levels/physiology with therapy.

    I think most careers have apparently inane hurdles and challenges to get to something interesting and comfortable. Sanman mentioned lawyer friends hovering around 60K a year. That's average. To do well in law, you have to be lucky or elite. I think psychology is similar. But, of course, doing well is relative. Many people are happy fighting the good fight in community mental health. This is about mindset. If you want to make money, put yourself in a position to do that. There are very few sure things out there.

    I didn't like aspects of graduate school. But, overall, it is was an interesting experience. And, to me, that's what life's about. It's a journey. A few of my most fun years were my internship and postdoc. It was a great lifestyle for me despite not making lots of money. I learned a ton at work, had lots of good friends and lived a very full life outside of work.

    I think in structuring your career and education, it's important to deal with the basics (i.e. Maslow).

    So, as a student, I'd rec:

    1. Attend a fully funded program

    2. Say yes. Work hard, get a well rounded experience that funnels to a niche.

    3. Live frugally. Stay away from loans as much as possible.

    4. Ride the wave. Don't be rigid, direct the flow.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  17. AcronymAllergy

    AcronymAllergy Neuropsychology Fellow Moderator

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    I attempted to "like" this post, which has caused me to realize I've spent far too much time on facebook lately.
  18. Jon Snow

    Jon Snow Senior Member

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  19. lava12345

    lava12345

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    I don't agree with you about teachers, however this could be a regional issue. Possibly due to statewide budget cuts, the education market is completely saturated. I graduated from undergrad 4 years ago, and I have many friends who were education majors who are struggling to even find substitute teaching jobs. When one teaching position does open up, there will be hundreds of applicants for that job, and it usually goes to someone with inside connections.

    The grass is always going to be greener if you cherry pick successful people you know from various professions to be jealous of.

    And to answer the people complaining about how we don't make as much as physicians... how did you not know this going in? I was fully aware that I would maybe max out at 100K per year in middle age, while my physician friends would be living the high life. This was a conscious choice. And quite honestly, 100K is more than most Americans would ever dream of making. It's a trade off. I said I love this field, and I am perfectly content with an "average" lifestyle. If you need to be living in a big expensive city, living an upper class lifestyle, then maybe you shouldn't have chosen to get a PhD in psychology.

    I think we need to engage in some more downward social comparison :laugh:
  20. Doctor Eliza

    Doctor Eliza

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    Of course I knew MD's make more before deciding to go this route. I underestimated just how little psychologists actually make (I think I assumed closer to 80k) and how important money is in the real world! It is hard to make my modest mortgage on my income after being out since 2009 (without any school loans). The idea of not being as successful financially as my engineer father is unsettling. He went to college for only 4 years! I was idealistic when I started school. You can't pay your mortgage with job satisfaction.

    Dr. E
  21. lava12345

    lava12345

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    I think it all comes down to values. Job satisfaction vs. salary, and which one is more important to you. And that is a personal decision.

    I think our parents screwed over us "children of the 80's" by telling us what very special snowflakes we all were and how we could have whatever we wanted when we grew up. Real life is about trade offs, and I think we all need to make peace with our choices.
  22. zensouth

    zensouth

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    I finished an M.Ed degree in counseling and I followed all of these except the last two. I am about to enter a fully funded PhD program and I think I will really embrace #4 this time around. Also, thanks for a positive take on all of this. Maybe my undergraduate adviser was unique, but all the complaints stated on this thread I knew as a sophomore in undergrad, so I entered this will no fantasies about what life would be like. I briefly worked in the business world and I realized that it simply was not for me and I didn't feel comfortable making my money by getting others to work longer hours for less pay. Maybe I am just to rigid in my own ethics, or too much of an optimist, but even as I finish out my time as an LAPC in community mental health I feel like I am happier in many ways than I would be if I were a lawyer, doctor, etc. And for me, learning is not a means to an end but the end itself. Maybe I'm just weird.
  23. NYRangers1

    NYRangers1

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    A majority of responders have said they wouldn't do it over again. To those who said "no" for various reason; I'm curious as to what were your primary drives entering your doctoral programs? Did you pursue a doctorate to work primarily in academia, private practice, both, etc... Did you enter the field directly from undergrad? Had you considered other routes prior to applying/entering a doc program? What were they, and what were the reasons for not pursing them?
  24. PavlovWolf

    PavlovWolf

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    To NYRangers1,
    First of all, GO FLYERS (ha)...that aside.. I am one of those who went right from undergrad. While I was considering options, an undergrad advisor told me if I ever thought I wanted a doctorate, I "might as well do it now," and I was under the impression I needed a doctorate to do all the things I now know master's level clinicians can do...I think I was mostly misinformed (unfortunately) but I don't totally regret my choice.

    To lava about teachers, perhaps it is a regional thing - however - even the people I know who don't make "high" salaries have decent qualities of life, reasonable schedules, and can have lives outside of work (not that psychologists don't, but it's hard when you are a grad student or intern). Also, teachers don't make a lot of money (nor do most psychologists) but they also didn't work as hard as we do to get to this point (not to mention, entire summers/extensive holidays off etc). And, not to say teachers don't work hard - but teachers don't go through doctoral programs and jump through hoops of fire like we do. My statement wasn't to say "being a teacher is the best job ever," it was just providing an example of something that might have been an "easier" route for me.
  25. busybusybusy

    busybusybusy

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    Absolutely. Even though I'm only in my first year of my PhD, I know that I need it for what I want to do. Much like Erg said, it is a means to an end. I worked for years at either a Bachelors level or Masters level under PhDs, so I made sure that it was exactly what I wanted before I jumped in.

    Do I love being in school? No. Did I love going from a great salary to a stipend? No. Did I have to do it in order to get what I want? Yes. There it is, it is that simple. Sometimes to get what you want you have to do **** you don't like. It's a hard road, but delayed gratification never killed anyone (that I'm aware of). I don't understand why so many people think it should be easy, if it were easy everyone would do it.

    As far as the money goes, you can make really good money in psychology. Similar to the grad school route, it will require more work and will be hard. I'm not begrudging anyone for getting out of school, getting a VA job or a CMHC job and coasting, but if you're going to do that you should know you're not generally going to be making $100,000+ for the majority of your career. Personally, I want to work in the forensic arena. This can pay VERY well, but you have to work for it. Get a post-doc, get boarded, it takes years - but you'll be making $$$ when you're done. Or maybe I'll try for a BOP job and coast. Either way, it's all about how much time and effort you put in, even after you finish school. Maybe I'm just weird that I don't mind working hard, continuously, for what I want.
  26. Sanman

    Sanman O.G.

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    I agree with almost everything you said. However, I have met plenty of psychologist in the VA system that 'coasted' and made more than $100k for the majority of very long careers there. If you take on administrative or clinic director positions this happens faster.
  27. Doctor Eliza

    Doctor Eliza

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    I agree with you and I'd add that throughout your life, your values can change in ways you might not anticipate. When I was 21 and starting grad school, I definitely strongly valued job satisfaction over earning potential. I still do value job satisfaction, but the balance has certainly has shifted significantly.

    For me, I have shifted to thinking of myself more as a mother than an individual. One example: the thought that I will not be able to provide well enough for my daughter to attend my amazing undergrad alma mater without taking on significant debt herself, saddens me.

    It is hard that when you have to make decisions about your future (e.g. as an undergrad), you don't necessarily know who you will actually be in that future.

    Best,
    Dr. E
  28. cara susanna

    cara susanna Predoctoral Intern

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    I think in this current economic situation a lot of us are going to not be able to pay for kids' college etc. Is that such a bad thing? There are options other than student loans: attend CC and transfer over, commute to a local 4-year college (if there is one) and live at home, apply for scholarships or work/study. I actually think it would help our future generation if they had to work a little bit to attend school because I see so many kids who attend college because they feel that they "have to" and pick some useless major that interests them but in which they can't get a job.

    Teaching jobs are DEFINITELY over-saturated unless your focus is in math or science. Also, remember that even if you like teaching, you have to deal with the parents. Granted, so do college instructors sometimes (haha), but not at the same level.

    The only one I really envy is my brother, who is making absolute bank with his 4-year degree in computer science. But I also know that I personally would not make a good programmer, math just doesn't click for me like it does for him. Sometimes I wish I'd gone into something else computer-related, but I also don't want to be stuck in a cubicle all day. Also, I really think I was meant to be an academic. If it weren't psych, it'd probably be something else--and probably something less flexible, like history or English.
  29. Pragma

    Pragma

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    I would do it over again, but I would have wanted more financial things clarified up front. I did research on programs, funding, etc., and personally I believe I received some misinformation about what kind of salaries and job prospects to expect. I was not savvy enough to check SDN (only found out about this recently). When I asked psychologists these kinds of questions, they made it sound like a more favorable market. Even now, I see APA salary surveys and a recent neuropsych one that suggest that you can make a lot of money.

    I don't doubt that you can make a lot of money, but what I wish I had known was that you may have to sacrifice other things in order to do it and it is becoming increasingly difficult. NO ONE that I spoke with made clinical psychology sound like anything other than an excellent career choice, particularly if you are competitive enough to get in. The PhD was sold to me as being in high demand with lots of flexibility. That isn't really true though - I do appreciate the flexibility of career options I have, but we are becoming more "dime a dozen" than I had realized. Where you live, how many hours you work, perhaps the type of job you get...as a 21 year old applicant I didn't fully understand that after putting in all of this work, I may not have as many options as I imagined.

    When I advise undergraduates, I try to give a realistic appraisal and don't paint everything out to be rosy.

    Now, I think I can say (and my cohort would probably agree) that I worked harder than most of them over the years to accomplish more extra things and network. I was able to get APA accredited positions in the city I love (and not move at all), and I enjoy the work I do. I think my CV is very competitive. But the job market is still a HUGE challenge. If I worked 80 hours a week for all of these years, kept my creds competitive, and am on the market WITHOUT some of the issues a lot of people struggle with (non-accred training, stigma against Psy.D), shouldn't it be easier to get interviews and secure a job in the place I want to live?

    I feel confident that something is going to work out soon, but I have to say this is not what I had anticipated before going to school. I thought relatively higher-paying jobs (60-80K entry - I consider that to be plenty and fair) would be easier to find than they actually are. But, the upside is that I have the flexibility of the degree and can make things work with on-the-side adjunct teaching or private practice. It just may not be the combination/amount of effort that I was hoping for after graduating. I don't think my attitude is entitled. I just am frustrated that the job market is much tighter than I expected. Working on the side takes a lot of energy and takes a toll on your family, so it isn't ideal.

    To answer these other questions, yes I considered other routes (Psy.D., nursing, possibly medical school) but considered them to be backups for what I really wanted. I took a year off to work a psychiatric unit job before applying to school and enjoyed the range of applications. I viewed myself as maybe doing both academic and clinical work, and still view myself that way today.

    Interestingly, the other thing I wish I had known was how much of an emphasis is put on specialization and hard-core commitment in this field. I got into the degree for the flexibility and have some broad experiences and interests. For example, I am in a neuropsychology subspecialty, and I have to say that supervisors turn their noses up often when I say I enjoy teaching. The attitude of "if you don't want to emulate me then you must be critical of me" is more pervasive than it should be in this field, IMO. I get similar attitudes from academics when I say I might want to keep up a part time private practice. Even though I know people that engage in careers like the one I want, it seems like you could get punished for suggesting it is what you want, because then you aren't 100% committed.

    Maybe I just have had some Axis II or spectrum supervisors on internship/postdoc. Those are also plentiful (good to know up front about the high # of weirdos that become psychologists). The best thing I've done for myself is seek out mentorship from people who I respect if I feel formal supervision is lacking. I have coffee and meet regularly with folks I have learned about things from through teaching, clinical work, or research. This keeps me networked and also helps me keep things in perspective.

    That was long...back to work! :cool:
  30. Pragma

    Pragma

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    Yes, I have had parents contact me or even come to office hours more than once. Those situations are a lot of fun :laugh:

    Your other points are excellent, and I see a lot of kids doing those things these days. It encourages me...but I am scared for some of them. It is a terrible time to graduate from college.
  31. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty Moderator Emeritus

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    I left a lucrative prior career (tech/biz consulting) to go back to school because I didn't enjoy what I did. I found myself working 80-90hr weeks and during my little free time I was reading neuroscience and psych journals. I can always go back to my prior career, but I couldn't always go back to school. I initially planned to do an M.D. / Ph.D., though I was actively talked out of it by multiple people doing it, and I didn't find a great research match for what I wanted. Day to day practice of medicine didn't really appeal to me, though placement into neurology or radiology would have been doable.

    My grad school plan was to graduate and spend 50% of my time doing clinical work & 50% of my time teaching/mentoring/consulting. I love consultation and assessment, which is what I mostly do now. I very much enjoy academic medicine and working with non-psych populations. In retrospect, I should have taken the MD/Ph.D. route because it wouldn't have been that much more time. I would have missed out on some great aspects of neuropsychology, but I'd have more financial flexibility. Eh, all and all I think I'll be fine, it just took a lot more work than would have been needed in most other fields of study (finance, business, etc).

    I think there are opportunities for some psychologists to do quite well in the field, but the 'average' psychologist is going to struggle. I actively discourage most people who want to primarily be therapists. I tell interested students that they better have a plan and realistic chance of following it if they want to pursue training. Most don't know enough about the field to make an informed decision. The competition from all sides is discouraging, and it is just a piss poor economic decision for the vast majority of people wanting to do it. Speciality work may help with the economics, but the road is longer and harder...and it still may not pan out. Financially I'll probably never regain 8 years of loss income ($100k-$150k+/yr), but I think my quality of life is better now because I genuinely enjoy what I do...on most days. There are still ways to make a lot of money, but there are FAR easier and shorter paths for that.

    ps. Go Devils!
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  32. psychgeek

    psychgeek Senior Member

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    As it turns out, I have a lot to say about this topic. That is probably not surprising since I kind of left the field. Sorry for the long post, but some of this might be helpful to some of the people thinking about entering the field straight from undergrad. Also, I think a few of you might be able to identify me based upon the information I've included. Please don't do so publically even if you can figure it out.

    Honestly, no, I would not do it again, but my reasons are different from the ones stated by most of the posters here.

    My experience also may not be generalizable, but whose is? I went straight through from undergrad, was in a funded program, and was able to find a really good job immediately after my internship/post-doc year. I started a niche private practice that was generating a number of referrals, and the money was pretty good. Importantly, my niche involved a particularly challenging population, and that might have a bearing on the rest of my story.

    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.

    After a few years of this, I largely quit private practice to try to find a way to work as a psychologist without have such close contact with clients. Most of my friends did something similar. Some started group practices (which basically meant switching from a clinical to a business focus). Some started a family (which basically meant working half-time). Some got jobs in less-demanding branches of therapy (like screening for mood disorders for life insurance policies taken out on CEOs). I was able to do this by switching back into academia. Even this was kind of an attempt to fit my square collection of skills into a round hole of research, so I eventually left psychology for another academic discipline entirely.

    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.
  33. cara susanna

    cara susanna Predoctoral Intern

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    Dude, that sounds awesome! How much does it pay and how available are these jobs?

    Sorry, probably not the point you wanted me to take from your post. ;)
  34. Therapist4Chnge

    Therapist4Chnge Neuropsych Ninja Faculty Moderator Emeritus

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    This idea scares the crap out of me...which is why I'll probably always do 2-3 different things/jobs at a time.

    McCann & Pearlman have done some excellent work with vicarious traumatization that may be helpful to check out. I attended a talk on VT a few years ago (and then did an in-service on it), and I found it very helpful to help frame some of the challenges therapists face when they provide clinical services to survivors of sexual abuse, incest, violence, etc.

    McCann, I. L., & Pearlman, L. A. (1990). Vicarious traumatization: A framework for understanding the psychological effects of working with victims.Journal of Traumatic Stress, 3, 131–149.

    Pearlman, L. A. (1995). Self-care for trauma therapists: Ameliorating vicarious traumatization. In B. H. Stamm (Ed.), Secondary traumatic stress: Self-care issues for clinicians, researchers, and educators (pp. 51–64). Lutherville, MD: Sidran.

    Pearlman, L. A., & Mac Ian, P. S. (1993). Vicarious traumatization among trauma therapists: Empirical findings on self-care. Traumatic Stress Points: News for the International Society for Traumatic Stress Studies, 7(3), 5.

    Pearlman, L. A., & Mac Ian, P. S. (1995). Vicarious traumatization: An empirical study of the effects of trauma work on trauma therapists. Professional Psychology: Research and Practice, 26, 558–565.

    Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995a). Trauma and the therapist: Countertransference and vicarious traumatization in psychotherapy with incest survivors. New York: Norton.

    Pearlman, L. A., & Saakvitne, K. W. (1995b). Treating therapists with vicarious traumatization and secondary traumatic stress disorders. In C. R. Figley (Ed.), Compassion fatigue: Coping with secondary traumatic stress disorder in those who treat the traumatized (pp. 150–177). Bristol, PA: Brunner/Mazel.
  35. Pragma

    Pragma

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    Very thoughtful post. It sounds like you made a good decision for yourself. I don't think everyone understands up front how much being a clinician can change a person. I certainly view the world differently and have to be aware of when to turn things on and off. Some friendships have changed. Fortunately, I don't intend to be a clinician for most of my career, because it wouldn't be sustainable for me.
  36. psychgeek

    psychgeek Senior Member

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    Mood disorder screening for high-value life insurance pays A LOT, but I have it on good authority that it is the most boring job in the world. My friend gets a salary in the high five figures for doing less than three hours of actual work per week. He sees about 5 people a week, gives them a short self-report screening instrument, and talks to them for about 10 minutes. Then he writes a "report" that goes into a file which is reviewed by an insurance adjustor to determine the exact premium one rich person has to pay in order to protect against the financial loss associated with the death of another rich person before the latter can make the former even richer than he or she already happens to be. He spends the rest of his time playing words with friends. Sometimes I envy him. :)

    Incidently, he has figured out that the amount by which the premiums change if he finds a mood disorder is usually less than his part of the fee the insurance company pays to the clinic at which he works. Let it never be said that private industry is more efficient than the government.
  37. Doctor Eliza

    Doctor Eliza

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    Great post psychgeek! I can totally relate to all your points.

    Props to the poster who started this thread! I wish I had had a more realistic view of the field before I committed to it.

    Best,
    Dr. E
  38. Doctor Eliza

    Doctor Eliza

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    Sounds like he sold his soul though, huh? Promoting insurance company discrimination against people with mood issues. I couldn't do it.

    Dr. E

    P.S. I guess we are just talking about rich people though. In that case, screw them all!:laugh:
  39. animaladvocate

    animaladvocate

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    I was just wondering if there are any Canadians on here who could give me a Canadian perspective of their experiences in Clinical Psychology here.
  40. paramour

    paramour

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    I laughed at this because for some reason we were talking about how everyone was their own unique individual snowflake during class this morning (comment made tongue-in-cheek). :laugh:


    +1 re: fun due to students' parents! :laugh: I have multiple students in the past who have tried to give me notes from their parents (even though I structure my course in such a manner that it doesn't really do anything, so notes are pointless). One memorable parent's note included a request to excuse the student because a tornado picked up & damaged the family truck, which prevented them from driving the student to campus on time. And also destroyed their assignment.

    Notes from "the athletic department" can be fun as well--especially when you have students who believe that they are guaranteed an "A" regardless of their performance "because the athletic dept says so." :p

    I also agree that there are some students who are pushed into an education when they do not need to be there at all or they do not need to be there just quite yet. They're ill-prepared. They have no idea what they want to do, but they are being told by everyone (their parents, teachers/counselors, and everyone else) that they're all those special snowflakes and can be & do anything they want to be... but they need to pursue a higher education or they allegedly won't amount to anything else... and they need to do it RIGHT NOW. Then you have numerous folks who are returning to school at the present time because the economy sucks, and they think that any ole' education is going to help them out of their slump. Unfortunately, I have seen too many of these who receive generic liberal arts degrees that really do not prepare them for much of anything--IF they manage to get that far without dropping out first. We need to quit with the messages re: stinkin' unique snowflakes, and you can do anything & be anything you want to do and be, and the everyone needs/must go to college to become a success. It's simply not the case. And when some of those students fail, they are absolutely crushed because they have received such messages their entire lives. What then? They give up and work at any ole' crap job they can find? Maybe that's fine for some folks, but some of those folks could have been successful pursuing other avenues if they hadn't been pushed into certain things that "the majority" consider to be the "right path" for everyone.

    /finally! :oops:
  41. psychQs

    psychQs

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    WOW, what a turnout! Thanks, guys :)

    I'm so grateful for your candid discussion of the topic. Collectively, you've confirmed my worries (and created some new ones!), but you've also given me some hope and made me think.

    The big fear I'm left with is: if not psychology, what? The other path I'm seriously contemplating is becoming an LCSW, but the huge debt for salary prospects similar to a funded doctorate makes me wonder if the lifestyle costs of becoming a psychologist might be worth it after all. I realize this is something I'll need to tackle, but I'm really enjoying hearing your opinions - please keep 'em coming!
  42. edieb

    edieb Senior Member

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    I know I coming in late to this thread, but I thought I would answer anyway. I finished an APA-accredited medical school internship in 2009 and received my Ph.D. and license in 2010. I now work for the V.A. and would N-E-V-E-R repeat this path again. I think the field is rapidly moving in the wrong direction. Declining reimbursement rates mean that psychologists will have to work more and more for less and less. While salaries of psychiatrists are increasing, ours are falling. Psychiatrists make enough an hour where they do not have to work full-time and, thus, do not have to become quagmired in the world of mental illness. On the other hand, psychologists are forced to work 8+ hours/day.

    I am finishing my Masters degree in psychopharmacology in September and am looking forward to cutting time devoted to psychotherapy in half (or less).
  43. AnnoyedByFreud

    AnnoyedByFreud

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    Hey PsychQ, I was initially very interested in becoming a clinical psychologist and actually worked in a lab for over 3 years (worked closely with faculty, also did an honors thesis, poster presentation, etc... all the hoops you jump through in order to be competitive for PhD programs) before coming to the conclusion that the field isn't for me. I am entering healthcare instead and will be starting school this summer in order to become a family psych nurse practitioner. I'm not sure if this is an alternate path that you'd be interested in, but that's what I chose.
  44. Sanman

    Sanman O.G.

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    I'm curious what you were originally interested in doing when you started grad school?
  45. edieb

    edieb Senior Member

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    I went to Louisiana State University's clinical psychology program and was interested in behavioral medicine research and also cognitive theory and therapy. I co-published quite a bit in big journal (some in Bmed but mostly in other areas, like test validation), etc. However, when my classmates landed positions at prestigious schools, such as brown and johns hopkins/kennedy krieger, told me how little they were making and how long they had to work for those salaries, I started having my doubts. I was always quite a cog therapy afficionado and would practice and read about it every chance i got. That died out when i realized that therapist = no money. To top it off, I had an offer to do a post-doc at University of Washington SOM /Univ of WA under a DBT guru but when she told me how much i would make licensed working her or her consulting company, I backed out, moved near New Mexico State Unviersity so I could take the in-person psychopharm classes. I have 5 months left and I will be a prescribing psychologist

    I love psychology, but not enough to sacrifice my future!
  46. gth1985

    gth1985

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    To those who would NOT do it again (or anyone else, actually), what do you think of something like an MPH with behavioral health concentration?

    e.g.
    www.health.usf.edu/publichealth/cfhbehavioralmph.html


    I realize this is an extremely broad question, but it's stemming from the fact that I'm feeling a bit bewildered as I'm looking at alternatives to doctoral programs in clinical psych in which I could still be involved in mental health care, but without the cited pitfalls of working as a psychologist.

    Any thoughts are welcome.
    Last edited: Mar 9, 2012
  47. Sanman

    Sanman O.G.

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    I definitely agree that being the most competitive in the field and going toward a more prestigious and academic career is not always the path to money in this field. This is true in medicine too, but the base pay is higher. I would not b surprised in the VA paid you more than most of those offers. I would not say that there is no money in therapy, but you certainly won't make a ton. The truth is that training under a guru only matters in the field and the money is gotten by scoring that nicely paid private hospital job, where they give you nice money and a clinic to teach others. Working for others will never make you much in this field. Running a group practice, clinic, doing admin, and a few things like the VA, and some med school positions pay well. If you do not want to think about money and want to do traditional therapy this is not the field it used to be.
  48. Sanman

    Sanman O.G.

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    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. :)
  49. O Gurl

    O Gurl

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    +1

    I agree with everything above. So quickly, I will say that I love what I do, but I did not love the process of getting here. I see a lot of comparisons to psychiatrists and while they earn more, I would not have wanted their training experience (spending years learning medical stuff that has nothing to do with mental health; years of residency at modest pay for long hours and abusive treatment) nor their professional quality of life (having to see so many patients in an hour; being confined to med checks). I like the fact that I have a relationship with my patients and get to spend a decent amount of time with each one. I made a conscious decision to sacrifice some $$$ for happiness.

    I also cannot think of much I'd rather be doing except either: A) being a political pundit on MSNBC :D or B) maybe real estate because I love the idea of matching a person to their dream property and I have a bizarre love of houses :oops: That said, I am about as interested in psychology as I am in politics (spend free time reading about both) and real estate also comes with quality of life concerns. One is very much at the mercy of the economy and the hours can be brutal. The guy I am dating is a residential real estate developer, which is why I have time on a Saturday night to be on SDN :rolleyes: Still, I prefer being curled up on a cold, rainy night in my jammies with a glass of wine over what he is doing--still crunching numbers and meeting with project mgrs.

    Everything comes with pros and cons
  50. PavlovWolf

    PavlovWolf

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    +1, Dr. E. :laugh:

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