Nov 25, 2012
3
1
Status
Pre-Psychology
Hi All,

I am writing with the hope of receiving insight about whether it makes sense to do a clinical psych degree (PhD). I am currently 28 and just started an MSW program at a highly ranked school. Yet, I am finding that I am underwhelmed by the academic aspect of the program as it is not very intellectually stimulating. I was expecting to learn more about clinical work rather than policy, and there also is not much engagement with research. At times we are assigned journal articles to read but often it is pure textbook knowledge.

I have wanted to do a clinical psychology degree for awhile now - it has been a longstanding dream. However, I decided to pursue the social work degree because of financial constraints. I have no financial support from family and I know that an MSW can lead to direct practice in a shorter timeframe. Additionally, I have a few barriers. My undergrad GPA is not competitive, I was not a psych major, and although I have some research experience I think it would help if I could do research in a lab more long term so that I could have something to offer a PhD advisor and also develop/refine my research interests. My interests as of now are general trauma and also developmental. I am interested in how stress coping behavior of the mother influences the child, emotion regulation in adolescents... My ultimate goal would be to do clinical work.

I feel like I am settling with the MSW because it is understandably broad and I am realizing that I want more in-depth training. On the other hand, I am nervous about the idea of starting a PhD at age 30 because of the time that I would lose in the workforce and I worry about how I would support myself.

What would you advise? Should I stick it out with my current program? Transition to a psych post-bac? Are there other things I should take into consideration? Thank you for your insight.
 

Sendtrees

7+ Year Member
Mar 5, 2010
113
56
Status
Your reservations are as valid now as they ever were, and I would not leave your program unless you were 99% confident you could get into a funded PhD program within 2 years. Two years is a realistic time frame--it's what I took to make myself competitive (post-bacc, research experience, heavy research into programs and fit...), and it worked. But I was coming from a "name" undergrad with a very high GPA and I still got into very few programs. Most people won't get into a funded PhD program--that's just reality. And anecdotally, I would see an LCSW from a good school in a HOT MINUTE over a PsyD from a so-so program.

If you loved your classes this term, do you think you would be feeling this same regret? Because I think deeper into a social work program, you have more opportunity to focus on clinical work. Frankly, I think the policy background that social work students get should be taught to clinical psychologists, too. It's dry but important.

It may be that choosing the MSW always felt like a painful compromise, but there is no easy way out of that. There are plenty of ways to distinguish yourself as a clinician, writer, or teacher--whatever mix of things you end up doing--throughout your career. If I were you, given your circumstances, I would try to make peace with the path you are on.
 

sfgucadoc

Psychologist
2+ Year Member
Aug 15, 2017
41
24
Where the Étouffée is, there am I
Status
Psychologist, Academic Administration
Hi All,

I am writing with the hope of receiving insight about whether it makes sense to do a clinical psych degree (PhD). I am currently 28 and just started an MSW program at a highly ranked school. Yet, I am finding that I am underwhelmed by the academic aspect of the program as it is not very intellectually stimulating. I was expecting to learn more about clinical work rather than policy, and there also is not much engagement with research. At times we are assigned journal articles to read but often it is pure textbook knowledge.

I have wanted to do a clinical psychology degree for awhile now - it has been a longstanding dream. However, I decided to pursue the social work degree because of financial constraints. I have no financial support from family and I know that an MSW can lead to direct practice in a shorter timeframe. Additionally, I have a few barriers. My undergrad GPA is not competitive, I was not a psych major, and although I have some research experience I think it would help if I could do research in a lab more long term so that I could have something to offer a PhD advisor and also develop/refine my research interests. My interests as of now are general trauma and also developmental. I am interested in how stress coping behavior of the mother influences the child, emotion regulation in adolescents... My ultimate goal would be to do clinical work.

I feel like I am settling with the MSW because it is understandably broad and I am realizing that I want more in-depth training. On the other hand, I am nervous about the idea of starting a PhD at age 30 because of the time that I would lose in the workforce and I worry about how I would support myself.

What would you advise? Should I stick it out with my current program? Transition to a psych post-bac? Are there other things I should take into consideration? Thank you for your insight.

If you can get through the MSW without racking up significant loans, I would recommend your sticking with it. It will give you a marketable skill set and if you still want to pursue a PhD in clinical psychology, go for it. But realistically, that may be challenging, given what you said about your grades, etc. Also, with an MSW, you can become part of a research team, perhaps as an interventionist providing whatever new treatment is being tested. That's more likely to get you authorship than most of what you can do now with a BA.

Truth in Advertising: I have an AM and a PhD in educational psychology from a Brand Name school on the west coast, an MSW from a middle of the road school, and respecialized as a clinical psychologist at a professional school. Yes, you're right the MSW coursework is not as rigorous as what I had in my PhD. Even the clinical coursework at the professional school was better preparation for work as a therapist. Having said all that, the MSW will take you far. You may find joy in the experience that you can't see in this moment. I have an internet friend who was very angry that she ended up in an MSW program at a mediocre school but found after a semester or two that she was able to do her own research in an area that has been important to her for many years. It's a somewhat unusual path for an MSW student but her school was open to her taking this path to her bliss.

Good luck with whatever you decide.
 
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OP
F
Nov 25, 2012
3
1
Status
Pre-Psychology
Thank you for your responses, @Sendtrees and @sfgucadoc. I've thought about this a lot. While I do understand that an MSW will get me where I want to go ultimately and I still do understand that. My issue is the coursework that I am learning is much more broadly focused than I thought it would be and I am realizing (ie we are taught about sociology, policy, and some psychology etc), which makes sense for a social work degree - the field is very broad. I thought I might have a broader range of interests and felt like it was a rational choice, given my circumstances/current barriers for psychology, to go forward with social work. But now, I still don't feel satisfied. I really want to focus on psychology, the brain, and discuss current research in the field of psychology. Seldom does this happen in any of my courses. I went a rigorous college for undergrad, and I loved that aspect of academic life, so I think in many ways I am missing the intellectual discourse which I thought I might find in grad school as well. I am disappointed both because I went a top 'brand name' college for undergrad and a 'brand name' MSW program.

There are reasons why my undergrad gpa is not as strong as I would like, namely, I had an undiagnosed learning disability which was diagnosed in my senior year and as a result I was not able to receive any accommodations. In spite of this, I did well enough in my major classes where I was made a tutor for several courses, and I also have strong recommendation letters from my former professors. (I was a science major.)

I think it makes sense to stay in the program because of the clinical experiences I am gaining, and also because I am not sure if I will be able to be admitted 2 years from now to a psych program. I want to underscore another point as well. I am not interested in getting a PhD for PhD sake. I don't think that makes sense. Rather, I am trying to grapple with the idea of a grad degree as a means to an end vs going for a program which I feel like would be a better fit for my interests, and my love of learning. If MA level psychologists had as much success in establishing a private practice as LCSWs do for instance, I would have pursued that option initially. Or I wonder if it might just make sense to do a research-focused MA to prepare for a psych program instead... I've also looked into the idea of post-grad msw fellowships and training and have set up a meeting with one of my professors at my current institution to further discuss potential options.

@sfgucadoc My debt load post MSW would not be too bad ~25k when I finish. But if at the end of the degree, I decide psych is still what I would want to pursue, then I would still need to gain additional research experience. I recognize I might be making a bigger deal of this decision than I need to as life is not linear. I just don't want to look back at my life and feel regret for not at least trying for what I really want.
 
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Apr 11, 2012
462
294
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Psychologist
If you are just starting your MSW program, give it time. You may not like the coursework as much, but you'll be practicing sooner, and nothing is stopping you from reading the kinds of stuff you want to learn in your free time (if you have any now as a grad student) or later when you're a professional. Learning doesn't require a program, but a license does.
 
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psyguy83

2+ Year Member
Feb 25, 2015
24
20
Status
MD/PhD Student
If an MSW will get you where you want to go then go there. You can supplement learning in your areas of interest outside the classroom and during your practice without sacrificing another 6-8 more years of your life.

You can always volunteer at a research lab in your area of interest while you go to school.
 
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