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MFT Masters - Career Changer, Chicago

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magda_madzia

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I’m currently applying to MFT masters programs in the Chicago area. This is a total career change for me (have been in finance for 13 years) and through my research, I feel like masters is the best way to start my education and get a better understanding of the potential paths to take. My ultimate goal is to go into private practice.

I have a few questions regarding this, as the more research I do, the more confused and overwhelmed I feel.

On school: does the school (name) matter?
I’ve received acceptance into Northwestern and am also interested in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I shot myself in the foot on not timing out the application process better given Northwestern offered a whole 5 days to accept. The program and faculty seems fantastic and exactly what I’m looking for in terms of exposure to the clinical aspects early on in the process. The downside is of course cost. I’ll be funding everything via small savings I have and school loans. The idea of ~140k loans against the potential salary is just scary.

The Chicago School is a reputable institution from my research. It’s a bit more of a flexible program and of course cheaper than Northwestern by about 50k.

I figure what you put into your studies makes the most impact regardless of the school but then again the clout of Northwestern and The Family Institute is hard to ignore.

Not to make this any longer of a question, but is there a path to go directly to a PHD program without the undergrad/research experience? Asking mostly because funding support is substantially stronger for doctorate programs.

Second question -
I’ve come to learn LMFT seems to be more limiting in comparison to LCP or LSW. I would consider a counseling program but social work/policy is not at all what I’m interested in yet seems to be the most flexible in employment opportunity. Is this accurate?


Thank you all for your time and guidance. Greatly appreciate it!
 
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1. This is a rough estimate how much money you'll be making when you're fully licensed as an LMFT. I would absolutely refuse to take out more money in debt than the national average wage for one year.

2. School name does not matter. You will end up working in a community mental health program regardless for at least the beginning portion of your career. I've worked with people who had MSWs from Ivys and they still get paid the same as the MSW from the local state school, online program, cracker jack box, etc... I'd say shoot for a state school that can offer you training by people who are held responsible for publishing in the field of study while also responsible for your learning.

3. Social work is by far the best degree to get if you're going to practice at the master's level. It offers the most flexibility and the most room for advancement. Social workers have a very good lobby and thus have better access to training opportunities than LPCs/LMFTs. Many well-known family therapists are actually social workers.
 
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magda_madzia

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Thank you for your advice. I appreciate the realistic view point.
 
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chicandtoughness

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Not to make this any longer of a question, but is there a path to go directly to a PHD program without the undergrad/research experience?
Given the competitiveness of PhD programs (I assume in Clinical/Counseling Psychology is your goal), this is very, very, very, very unlikely.
 
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summerbabe

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I’ve received acceptance into Northwestern and am also interested in The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. I shot myself in the foot on not timing out the application process better given Northwestern offered a whole 5 days to accept. The program and faculty seems fantastic and exactly what I’m looking for in terms of exposure to the clinical aspects early on in the process. The downside is of course cost. I’ll be funding everything via small savings I have and school loans. The idea of ~140k loans against the potential salary is just scary.

The Chicago School is a reputable institution from my research. It’s a bit more of a flexible program and of course cheaper than Northwestern by about 50k.
I don't know anything about either MFT program but I'll echo the other posters in that attending any private institution for a mid-level degree (MSW, MFT, LPC, LMHC) is a terrible financial choice. It's like buying a top of the line Land Rover to take your 1 kid to dance practice and get groceries. Also, the Chicago School has a not so great reputation for their Clinical Psychology PsyD program.

Additionally, a significant amount of your learning will occur via off-campus clinical placements, rather than via the classroom. I'd rather save the money, go less into debt, and continue to invest in continuing clinical education by attending intensive trainings that will help you to further your private practice career.
Not to make this any longer of a question, but is there a path to go directly to a PHD program without the undergrad/research experience? Asking mostly because funding support is substantially stronger for doctorate programs.
Most mid-level clinical degree are not likely to provide a pathway to a funded clinical psych PhD program, which will require more intensive research experience and academic publication(s), which most Master's programs won't have. If you're interested in keeping the door open for a clinical psych doctorate, the best path might be a research-focused (e.g., required thesis based on new data collection and analysis) master's in psychology or counseling and LPC-eligible program.

A PhD in MFT allows you to be called a doctor but you'd still be using your MFT license for any clinical work and billing. I think it's similar for a social work doctorate but I'm not 100% sure. Of course, both could open up future academic opportunities but that doesn't seem to be your focus.
I’ve come to learn LMFT seems to be more limiting in comparison to LCP or LSW. I would consider a counseling program but social work/policy is not at all what I’m interested in yet seems to be the most flexible in employment opportunity. Is this accurate?
Yes, you'll get broad education on all components of social work but most programs also allow people to specialize in a track like counseling and then help place you into appropriate fieldwork internships.

Whether you do a LMFT, LPC, LMHC, or MSW program, there is zero chance you'll come out feeling 100% competent to be a counselor. But that's why you're required to complete a lot of supervised hours prior to getting a license and continued education to maintain your license. If you're really serious about improving your counseling skills, you'll be able to invest yourself in attending advanced trainings from experts.

And lastly, if you don't know already, there are more restrictions on billing for LMFTs and LPCs than LCSWs (for example, only LCSWs can bill Medicare). If your ultimate goal is a private insurance/cash pay practice, no worries. But this could limit some employment options, including things you may want to/need to do prior to getting established on your own.
I shot myself in the foot on not timing out the application process better given Northwestern offered a whole 5 days to accept.
Without knowing more, that seems shady IMO. Some psychology PhD applicants may get up to 3 months to decide, depending on how early in the cycle they receive their offer. Good luck and if the timing isn't right, it might be best to wait a cycle or see if any state schools have rolling/extended admissions.
 
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foreverbull

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One huge caveat I want to add given your specific location is that we’ve had several folks in here in the Chicago area talk about the field being so oversaturated in Chicago that some folks are having to take UNPAID employment after graduating to earn licensure hours. Meaning spend a bunch of money in your masters and then you’re trying to figure out how to survive while you’re needing to be supervised until you have enough licensure hours to qualify for licensure. And agencies/individuals supervising may not pay you if you aren’t licensed and they have tons of people to choose from, so free labor while you have zero income and quite a bit of debt.

I kid you not, people in here in the recent past have discussed having to do this work for free because there are so many master’s graduates in the area flooding the market.

I would discourage getting a masters degree in Chicago in counseling. I would either choose a less saturated area to get an LCSW or an MA or a different path. You are looking at being underpaid and not a great salary for many many years to come. Folks who “like to help others” can’t afford a reasonable standard of living if they’re underpaid in the field.

That said, if you have a spouse/partner who is paid far better than you will be, then perhaps you can afford this path and the financial challenges it will bring.
 
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foreverbull

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I don't know anything about either MFT program but I'll echo the other posters in that attending any private institution for a mid-level degree (MSW, MFT, LPC, LMHC) is a terrible financial choice. It's like buying a top of the line Land Rover to take your 1 kid to dance practice and get groceries. Also, the Chicago School has a not so great reputation for their Clinical Psychology PsyD program.

Additionally, a significant amount of your learning will occur via off-campus clinical placements, rather than via the classroom. I'd rather save the money, go less into debt, and continue to invest in continuing clinical education by attending intensive trainings that will help you to further your private practice career.

Most mid-level clinical degree are not likely to provide a pathway to a funded clinical psych PhD program, which will require more intensive research experience and academic publication(s), which most Master's programs won't have. If you're interested in keeping the door open for a clinical psych doctorate, the best path might be a research-focused (e.g., required thesis based on new data collection and analysis) master's in psychology or counseling and LPC-eligible program.

A PhD in MFT allows you to be called a doctor but you'd still be using your MFT license for any clinical work and billing. I think it's similar for a social work doctorate but I'm not 100% sure. Of course, both could open up future academic opportunities but that doesn't seem to be your focus.

.....
Whether you do a LMFT, LPC, LMHC, or MSW program, there is zero chance you'll come out feeling 100% competent to be a counselor. But that's why you're required to complete a lot of supervised hours prior to getting a license and continued education to maintain your license. If you're really serious about improving your counseling skills, you'll be able to invest yourself in attending advanced trainings from experts.

And lastly, if you don't know already, there are more restrictions on billing for LMFTs and LPCs than LCSWs (for example, only LCSWs can bill Medicare). If your ultimate goal is a private insurance/cash pay practice, no worries. But this could limit some employment options, including things you may want to/need to do prior to getting established on your own.

Without knowing more, that seems shady IMO. Some psychology PhD applicants may get up to 3 months to decide, depending on how early in the cycle they receive their offer. Good luck and if the timing isn't right, it might be best to wait a cycle or see if any state schools have rolling/extended admissions.
I agree with the majority of this!

The one part that I would be cautious about is suggesting a doctoral program that doesn’t lead to licensure and isn’t widely accepted in the field. A DMFT is a career no-man’s land so to speak, because you aren’t a psychologist yet you have a doctorate that has no equivalent license. In my opinion, it’s basically throwing your money away to a program that likely won’t lead you to any viable career options above master’s level practice. Academia may be an option, but the person would be competing side by side with psychologists with far more impressive CVs, which makes finding a tenure-track position unlikely (and if the person wants to get into counselor education, those programs favor their own MA in counseling and doctorates in education, so that likely wouldn’t be a path either).

I would strongly discourage ANYONE from going into this path—-instead, clinical or counseling psychology doctorate OR just stick with a master’s. A DMFT isn’t typically recognized or understood by employers. I’ve never once run into someone with this degree in my career, and I tend to see this program as an online offering, which is a huge red flag right away.
 
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chicandtoughness

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There’s a difference between the PhD in MFT and the DMFT though! The latter is only offered by online diploma mills, the former is actually a legit degree that can prep you for a teaching career (that said, don’t be expecting much). Both will still keep you at the LMFT license level though.
 
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magda_madzia

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Thank you all for your responses. Definitely puts things into perspective.
 

magda_madzia

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One huge caveat I want to add given your specific location is that we’ve had several folks in here in the Chicago area talk about the field being so oversaturated in Chicago that some folks are having to take UNPAID employment after graduating to earn licensure hours. Meaning spend a bunch of money in your masters and then you’re trying to figure out how to survive while you’re needing to be supervised until you have enough licensure hours to qualify for licensure. And agencies/individuals supervising may not pay you if you aren’t licensed and they have tons of people to choose from, so free labor while you have zero income and quite a bit of debt.

I kid you not, people in here in the recent past have discussed having to do this work for free because there are so many master’s graduates in the area flooding the market.

I would discourage getting a masters degree in Chicago in counseling. I would either choose a less saturated area to get an LCSW or an MA or a different path. You are looking at being underpaid and not a great salary for many many years to come. Folks who “like to help others” can’t afford a reasonable standard of living if they’re underpaid in the field.

That said, if you have a spouse/partner who is paid far better than you will be, then perhaps you can afford this path and the financial challenges it will bring.

I won’t lie... that’s discouraging to hear. Given the need for mental health assistance during covid, I can only hope the field and the opportunities improve. Hope doesn’t pay the bills though.
 

chicandtoughness

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I won’t lie... that’s discouraging to hear. Given the need for mental health assistance during covid, I can only hope the field and the opportunities improve. Hope doesn’t pay the bills though.
You'll find this is a common occurrence in most metro areas in most states. Many of my colleagues in Texas would work one non-counseling job to pay the bills and do counseling part time for a pittance (or pro Bono) to earn their hours. Or many had spouses that could support them for a couple years. It’s a sad sight.
 
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foreverbull

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There’s a difference between the PhD in MFT and the DMFT though! The latter is only offered by online diploma mills, the former is actually a legit degree that can prep you for a teaching career (that said, don’t be expecting much). Both will still keep you at the LMFT license level though.
That is a fair point, but given that neither lead to licensure, I’d caution against both and encourage folks to go into counseling or clinical psychology to achieve the same thing (academia) and still have far more career flexibility to practice, etc.
 
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foreverbull

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I won’t lie... that’s discouraging to hear. Given the need for mental health assistance during covid, I can only hope the field and the opportunities improve. Hope doesn’t pay the bills though.
It is unfortunate. That’s one thing I learned after graduating is that the field does not live up to any kind of ideal that we might hold on to before and during grad school (“but we should be paid better because the work is challenging,” or “but mental health should be receiving more funding in the community, especially during a pandemic”). Capitalism is all about supply and demand (master’s level practitioners are everywhere) and our society doesn’t value this work as much as we’d hope. As a doctoral practitioner, I found the job market to be far more bleak than I expected upon becoming licensed (to be fair, I live in a very large/competitive metro area).

With that said, some master’s level folks are thriving in the town I live in in private practice, so it’s not all terrible. But then again, I also know some folks I refuse to to refer to at the master’s level because they lack the competence to treat a wide range of issues and they also lack self-awareness of their competence limitations, which is a huge red flag to me.

So this isn’t to say you can’t pursue your desired path, but that there are definitely some challenges along the way that some don’t know to expect when they’re pursuing this career path.
 
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