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Wavering between a JD and a MSW...

Discussion in 'Psychology [Psy.D. / Ph.D.]' started by seabreeze7, Dec 8, 2008.

  1. seabreeze7

    2+ Year Member

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    Hello! :)

    I've discovered this forum very recently and I am very glad to find a place where others are going through similar situations as I am.

    I graduated a few years ago from NYU (undergraduate) and since then, I have worked at the UN, HIV/AIDS prevention centers and various law agencies. Currently, I am in the midst of the law school application process. Although I am still waiting for other admissions decisions to arrive, I have already been accepted into Notre Dame. So, basically, I know I can go into a decent law school by next fall if I choose to. :confused:

    However, since I've started my law school application process, a part of me is resisting the career of law. I truly want a profession where I can help other people, but at the same time, I don't want to deal with the stress and the tremendous loads of paperwork. I don't think I can be happy if I have no life outside of my career. :scared:

    Some of my supervisors at the HIV/AIDS prevention center suggested me to look into becoming a therapist. I did and I find it to be a great fit. So, in addition to my law school applications, I've also submitted my MSW applications.

    As I now wait for decisions from both law schools and MSW programs, I have some questions that I would like to ask. While I do want to choose a profession that can help other people, money is still a factor I must consider.:( I need to be realistic especially after the accumulation of all my student loans. Thus, if possible, I would greatly appreciate it if there's anyone here who is able to answer them for me. Much thanks in advance!

    1- For those of you who were once in law and now decided to go into therapy, what is it about law that made you want to make the change? If given the choice again, will you have gone into law first to make the $$ before you go into therapy?

    2- With the lack of scholarship funding and a therapist's low salary, how long will it take to realistically pay off all the debts accumulated through a MSW program? (i.e. Columbia's MS program)

    3-On average, how long does it take before a therapist can start his or her own private practice? Will it be very costly to do so?

    4-On average, how long does it take before a therapist can establish a reputation for his or herself and make a comfortable living? (i.e. so he or she can start a family etc.) Starting out, does therapists really make less than 30K a year?

    5- For those are already therapist, what would you say is the best and worst thing about this career?

    I do apologize for such a long post. But, if you can help answer some of my questions, I would truly truly appreciate it.
     
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  3. xenobart

    xenobart MSW 2010
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    This probably isn't the detailed, specific answer you're looking for, but if you have a passion for law and human services, I'd seriously consider a JD/MSW dual degree program. My MSW program offers that dual degree, and it takes four years instead of five. There are a number of ways to combine both interests - a couple that immediate come to mind are psychosocial assessments for low-cost legal counsel, or a public defender for minority and economically disadvantaged clients. Or hell, you could even open a joint law counsel and therapy office if you wanted. ;)
     
  4. seabreeze7

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    Hello Xenobart,

    Thank you so much for your kind response.

    I did applied to several JD/MSW programs; however, based on what others in this forum have said, it seems like a JD/MSW degree is not very worthwhile. In reality, it is also very costly.

    I know I would very much enjoy doing one-to-one counseling. Thus, even if I choose to pursue law, I will still choose to practice uncontentious areas of law--such as adoption law--where I can work directly with people and make a direct impact on them.

    Parts of me just wondered if I will end up making the wrong decision by choosing law over therapy or vice versa. In truth, I just wanted a stable and meaningful career that can provide me with a comfortable lifestyle (not an extravagant one).
     
  5. WannaBeDrMe

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    re: stress/paperwork... I'm not sure that you have a clear understanding of either profession. BOTH are paperwork and STRESS intensive. re: debt... same thing re: pay... same thing

    There are funded law programs (if you are top % of candidates) and there are funded MSW programs. On average, an MSW program (in-state) would be cheaper than a law degree if only because of the shorter duration.

    Both professions can work excruciating hours for little pay.

    The legal jobs that pay exceptionally well are at top firms and getting in at top firms requires graduating from top programs with excellent grades in which case, you likely already had a scholarship to attend school and wouldn't need the salary anyway. I know there are exceptions... but I've been very close to the legal profession for years and this is how I've seen it unfold for friends, family, etc.

    As for paperwork, lawyers do even more paperwork than we do in the beginning. Baby lawyers are absolute workhorses for the big dogs. All they will do is research and write briefs and all of the other paperworky things that lawyers do... Yes, social workers do a lot of paperwork but I'd venture a guess that lawyering is one of the only professions that has it worse in that end of the deal. Perhaps not once you get along in your career and have half a dozen paralegals or baby lawyers under you... but in the beginning, depending upon your firm, yup...

    1. I've never been in law but I considered law school after I had my MSW -- don't really have any input that would help here as my decision was due to local/state issues

    2. If you can't afford Columbia's program, don't go to Columbia's program. There are 100s of MSW programs across the country and not all will leave you with a mountain of debt. There was new student loan policy introduced in 07 that I'm not going to detail but basically, if you are poor, your loan payment will be adjusted accordingly and as long as you work in a service position and pay on time for 10 years, ANY remaining debt will be automatically forgiven after 10 years. (same for low paying lawyers too)

    3. private practice rules vary by state... I could have done private practice immediately after receipt of my MSW but there's a special application procedure for that and MORE intensive supervision... you must be supervised on every single case and keep documented records of that supervision... private practice, independently, is hard... you have to consider overhead costs like building space, utilities, advertising, bigger insurance policies, etc... you have to have a reliable client base, you usually need to be able to bill multiple types of pay sources (in my state, we can only bill medicaid as provisionally licensed), etc... I don't feel comfortable in private practice even now and I've been at this a while... but then again, I wasn't well trained in individual psychotherapy, so that varies I suppose... check your state licensing regulations to see when you would be eligible to practice

    4. that depends on your market, you'll have to do the research in your area, no one else can speak to that... it varies tremendously based on where you live... and what sort of therapy you intend to provide whether you offer specialized or generalized services and even which theoretical basis you utilize for typical therapeutic practice... i started out making more than 30k a year... everyone i know did, other than 1 person, and that was years ago AND we live in a crappy state, your information doesn't seem comparable to my area

    5. best -- it's hard to explain... the best and the worst are really tied up together... the best is having been at your worst, then having something go right, and you get this feeling of peace like... "oh yeah, that's why i do this"... it's really, really hard to explain... maybe others have bests that are easier to articulate.. the worst... the losses... the suicides or the no shows or the kids getting pulled out of foster care jsust when things were starting to go better or the parents in tears or the kids in tears or the politics of the pay sources or the lack of access to services or the idiots in general society who toss around words like bipolar and schizophrenic and crazy and don't care how that affects your clients or the people in our field who overreact and protest every little thing not realizing that the only people they are helping are themselves with a false sense of accomplishment for getting a tv show off the air whent hey could have been working for real change in public opinion in other ways

    good luck with your decision, based on what you wrote, either you live in an area completely and totally different from my market or you might need to do a little more ground work before committing to a career...

    good luck !!!!
     
  6. Thrak

    Thrak RU experienced?
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    If you're going to do that, make sure Notre Dame is worth the investment. If you're not headed to BigLaw, and don't want to go into high-level government, you may be better off going to a lesser-ranked, but much cheaper, in-state school. I don't know if you can realistically pay off Notre Dame-type loans on an adoption lawyer's salary, especially in the early goings.
     
  7. seabreeze7

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    Thanks for all the valuable comments!

    Yes, debt is certainly a major concern for me and I will wait till all my acceptance comes in before I make a decision with regards to the program I choose to go into. I certainly do not want debt to become a barrier hindering what I truly want to do as a career.

    However, until then, I will do more in-depth research on both fields. Putting the money issue aside, however, I wonder if I can handle the emotion ups and downs (I suppose, mostly down) as a therapist. I wonder if I have what it takes.

    And, is it really true that a therapist has a lot of paperwork?
     
  8. Rapunzel

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    Only if you want to get paid and be legal.
     
  9. harpar9298

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    I hope I can help. I've been practicing law for 20 years and have decided to become a therapist instead, so I can speak to your first question.

    "1- For those of you who were once in law and now decided to go into therapy, what is it about law that made you want to make the change? If given the choice again, will you have gone into law first to make the $$ before you go into therapy?"

    I have found law to be a difficult profession given my personality, which is non-adversarial and genuinely compassionate. One can of course chose areas of law that are not directly adversarial, such as adoption and estate planning (I do the latter) and that does help, but you just can't get around the fact that your role is an advocate. You are not there to "help" people except to the extent that the end result is what they want...you do not and cannot do therapy and your fees are too high to permit you to sit down and have a long conversation with anyone.

    That said, in my own case, I cannot say that I made the "wrong" choice for myself when I chose to go to law school. It has only been through my own growth and maturation that I have come to want to be a therapist.

    As far as money is concerned, please understand that except for lawyers in big firm practice, lawyers do not make megabucks...and having done the big firm gig for several years at the start of my career I can report that this lifestyle borders on inhumane.

    The bottom line is that a lawyer is not a therapist and never will be. If you gravitate towards therapy, you will likely not feel fulfilled in the law.
     
  10. PizzaButt

    PizzaButt New Member
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    I have a law degree; I hated law school and thought it was boring. I didn't like how law school was taught--i.e. the Socratic Method and with casebooks instead of textbooks (textbooks have explanations, definitions, examples. Casebooks just have case after case in them with little, if any, explanations or theory).

    I just never found an area of the law that interested me.

    Becoming a therapist, on the other hand, is a career that is totally the right fit. I want a career where I'm not behind a computer all day doing legal research. I want a career that is nurturing, not adversarial. I never had any interest in litigation, and I found transactional law incredibly boring. Instead, the health care field is what interests me. I love the mental health field.
     

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