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How to Become
a Psychologist

 

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Page Contents: Preface / Beginning in High School / College / PhD or PsyD? / Clinical or Counseling? / Graduate School / Common Questions (Time; Workplace and Salary; Career Change; Personal Psychotherapy; Stress; Specialties; Personal Psychiatric Disorders; Past Crimes; Accreditation; Foreign Degrees; Masters vs. Doctorate; Age; Distance Learning; Motive) / Academic and Career Resources

 

 
ARE YOU thinking of becoming a psychologist? Many students have written to me, asking various questions about what the process entails. I therefore offer the following advice.

 
Preface

In the state of California (USA), where I am licensed, the term psychologist is protected by state law (Business and Professions Code Sections 2900-2918). This means that only a person who has passed the state licensing exams, and who therefore has a psychologist license, may call himself or herself a psychologist.

Also, California law requires that to become a psychologist a person must have a doctoral degree in either psychology or education.

  

To find the Board of Psychology in your state (or Canadian province) to learn its requirements for licensure as a psychologist, use this link: Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards

  

Yet, when students ask me the question, “How do I become a psychologist?” they aren’t really asking so much about the licensing process as about the educational process of getting a doctorate in psychology. (During the course of his or her doctoral education, a student will receive supervised clinical training and experience as well. It’s a long process. So if you’ve come to this page looking for some secret tricks about how to be a “psychologist” and impress your friends, you’ve come to the wrong place.)

Therefore, in what follows, even though there are other degrees and other fields of study that relate to mental health (such as psychiatry, social work, marriage and family therapy, counseling, and education, I will focus strictly on the educational process relating to doctoral level psychology. And, because California law reserves the title psychologist to a licensed practitioner, I won’t be discussing fields of psychology such as social psychology, developmental psychology, cognitive and experimental psychology, biological psychology, or industrial-organizational psychology which are unlicensed and usually focus on teaching, research, or corporate consultation.

  

Note that according to psychology licensing law in California, psychologist is a generic term; there is technically no such thing in California as a “child psychologist” or a “neuropsychologist,” or a “criminal psychologist.” If you want to practice psychology with children, for example, you can specialize academically in child psychology, but your license will be simply “psychologist.” So, regardless of your intended specialty, you will have to follow the same basic path to your license as any other person aspiring to be a psychologist. Of course, locations outside California may have other laws about the practice of psychology—or no laws at all.
 
In California a person can, however, become licensed as an educational psychologist. Unlike the license for a “psychologist,” which requires a doctoral degree, the license for an “educational psychologist” requires only a master’s degree in psychology, educational psychology, school psychology, or counseling and guidance. Such a person is authorized to perform (a) educational evaluation, diagnosis, and test interpretation limited to assessment of academic ability, learning patterns, achievement, motivation, and personality factors directly related to academic learning problems; (b) counseling services for children or adults for amelioration of academic learning problems; and (c) educational consultation, research, and direct educational services. (See Business and Professions Code Sections 4986.10 and 4986.20)

  

 
Beginning in High School

Let’s be honest here. The study of psychology is not for everyone; if it were, it would be a video game, not a profession. And so, in a society in which many high school graduates cannot even spell the word psychology, the requirements to become a psychologist can seem almost impossible. But the discipline, dedication, and academic requirements are no more difficult than those of any other profession.

In addition to recommending that you use the advice and resources of your school’s guidance counselor in regard to planning your junior high school and high school courses, I can offer five other suggestions.

FIRST, in regard to general academics, I suggest that you prepare for a career in psychology by some basic high school science courses: chemistry, biology, physics, and mathematics—and, of course, psychology, if your school offers it. Science courses teach you to think logically, and they give you important insight into how the physical world “works.” Moreover, biology and chemistry courses prepare you for later studies in the biological aspects of brain functioning. Mathematics teaches you analytical thought, and it prepares you for the statistics courses that are necessary to understand all the research that is fundamental to the field of psychology.

SECOND, to be a really good mental health professional, you must develop an early interest in what motivates people; courses in the humanities, such as history, sociology, art, literature, and religion, will be helpful. Language courses will also be helpful. You should also become very good at writing and should develop excellent grammar, spelling, and punctuation as well as keen analytic thought. And, if you’re especially ambitious, begin reading Sigmund Freud’s Psychopathology of Everyday Life, a small but classic work on the nature of the unconscious.

  

To improve your grammar and writing skills, pay attention in English classes and study Strunk and White’s timeless classic, The Elements of Style.

  

THIRD, keep your grades up; you will be competing for entrance into college with other students who have a perfect 4.0 Grade Point Average (GPA).

  

Your high school grades will be important primarily for your being accepted into college. Once you get into college, your undergraduate grades will be important for your being accepted into graduate school.
 
So, if you want to become a psychologist and your high school grades are not that good, all is not lost. Through hard work and discipline you can improve your study skills and earn better grades in college. And, if your current grades are not good enough for you to get accepted into a university, you can apply to a junior college (AKA community college) to prove yourself and then transfer to a university.

HOW TO GET GOOD GRADES

On the behavioral side, take your assigned readings seriously, pay attention in class, and complete your assignments carefully. If you need to learn how to concentrate and focus your mind, start Autogenics Training. On the psychological side, DESIRE to get good grades more than you desire any human desire. More than dating, partying, or having fun. Period. Because your future depends on it.

  

FOURTH, I suggest you interview a local psychologist. Look in your local Yellow Pages and call up a few psychologists. You will probably get an answering machine or service, so leave a message explaining that you are a student and ask to be granted some time for an office interview (without charge). At the end of the message, give some good times during the day and evening to call you back. (And make certain that you’re available at those times every day to take any calls.) Don’t be surprised if not everyone calls you back—just tell yourself that when you get to have a practice you will be more courteous. If you don’t hear anything within a week, call back and leave another message—politely. Be persistent. Call a third time, if necessary. If you get really desperate, offer to pay for the interview. If anyone does return your call and offers you some time, you can make an appointment to ask some direct questions about the day-to-day experiences of the profession so that you might be able to decide whether it really suits you. Don’t try to do this the easy way by asking e-mail questions over the Internet; psychology is all about face-to-face interactions, so you had better get used to this early on.

FIFTH, around your junior year of high school you should begin to think about which undergraduate universities you might want to attend. Look at their admissions requirements and begin to work toward satisfying them. Ask your guidance counselor for help with this. You might also visit the APA Resources for Students page.

 
College

Your college (i.e., undergraduate) track should have a heavy load in psychology courses as well. In fact, many graduate programs in psychology require an undergraduate major in psychology as a prerequisite for graduate study in psychology. So even in your first year it wouldn’t be too early to identify some graduate programs you might be interested in attending and contact them to find out what exactly they require for admission. Ask about majors and minors, required courses, minimum GPA, and any other issues specific to you. It’s also time to begin to grapple with courses in statistics.

Since psychology is heavily involved with research (hence the reason for studying statistics), it can help you to get to know a professor who conducts psychological research; offer to work as an assistant. This experience will be looked at favorably when you apply for graduate school later; if you apply to a university graduate program, this experience will be essential.

  

This process of finding a mentor really depends on your own resourcefulness. One approach would be to identify a professor who conducts research on a subject that interests you; another approach would be to find a professor who is simply a decent person, regardless of his or her field of research. You can begin by taking as many courses as possible from that professor; then you can arrange for some office visits for additional discussions; and then you can offer to do some volunteer work on research. Like all relationships, it has to start slow and cautiously and then grow through unfailing proof of your humility, reliability, and dependability. You can ruin everything by making excuses, breaking promises, or acting with conceit or arrogance.

  

Finally, you might need to take some specialized graduate school entrance exams, such as the Graduate Record Examination (GRE). A well-rounded education can help to prepare for such exams, so, as in high school, take as many humanities courses, especially literature (for the writing skills), as you can. 

 
Graduate Degree: Ph.D. or Psy.D.?

After you have completed your undergraduate (college) degree, there are two different types of graduate level degrees you could pursue. A Ph.D. (Doctor of Philosophy) is the classic psychology degree necessary to become a psychologist; the Ph.D. places an equal emphasis on research and clinical training according to the traditional Boulder Model [1] of psychological education. A core element of the Ph.D. is the dissertation, an original piece of scientific research. An empirical dissertation is generally composed of four sections: an in-depth review of the scientific literature to date; a description of the measures and methodology involved in the data collection; a technical analysis of the data; and a comprehensive discussion of the results. A theoretical dissertation can introduce a novel theoretical concept and need not involve any data collection.

A Psy.D. (Doctor of Psychology) is a newer professional degree, offered by the professional schools of psychology, and it emphasizes clinical practice with only a minimum of research training. It requires a dissertation (or a “project”) that is usually practical (such as designing a treatment program), but it can be theoretical.

Either of these degrees will take a minimum of about five years to complete.

In general, in the academic world, the Ph.D. is preferable to the Psy.D.; in the world of clinical practice, both degrees have about the same status and functionality.

 
Clinical Psychology or Counseling Psychology?

You will also have to decide if you want to pursue studies in clinical psychology or counseling psychology. For more information, see my page on Psychology: Clinical or Counseling or ...?.

 
Graduate Schools: University or Professional?

You will have two choices of graduate schools: university graduate programs and professional schools.

University programs are highly competitive (something like six applicants accepted per year from over several hundred applications). Your application will be helped by excellent grades as an undergraduate and some previous research experience—preferably, a published paper, if only as a co-author.

Professional schools are easier to get into, but they are very expensive. You will have to take out enormous student loans, or you might try to work while studying—perhaps even studying part-time. Also, many professional schools offer primarily the Psy.D. degree, reserving the Ph.D. (if they offer it at all) for a few, select students.

My advice in regard to making these decisions is to apply to many different programs. The application process, of course, is time-consuming and can become almost a full-time job for a few months. You will need to research the various programs, get their admissions requirements, take the GRE examinations if required, get application forms and fill them out, and pay the application fees—and travel to admissions interviews. You will receive many rejections, so be prepared, but the acceptances will help to shape your future choices.

 

 
Questions and Answers

1.

How much time does it take to get a graduate degree and become a psychologist?

2.

Where do psychologists work, and how much money will I make as a psychologist?

3.

I was wondering if a career in psychology allows one to pay back student loans and lead a comfortable living?

4.

I would like to make a career change and become a psychologist. I already have a bachelor’s degree in [economics, chemistry, engineering, etc.]. Will I have to go back to school to get another undergraduate degree?

5.

I have been working in [my] field for 7 years now, and I am 25 years old. My question is would it be worth it to change fields at my age and go into child psychology? I am not worried about the money. I am worried about the age thing though. It is something I would really like to consider, and I am also aware that there are many people a lot younger than me getting into the psychology field. I am just wondering if you think waiting this long to go to school for a new field is a good idea? My heart says just do it, but the fear of failing, when I already have a steady career, seeps through. One other thing what do you think the oldest age to get into the psychology field should be?

6.

I am certain that I assist people with their problems for self-satisfaction and this is the real reason why I’d like to study psychology; later finding a profession where I am able to help people all day, thus satisfying my needs. Is this a wrong reason to get into your field (i.e., does this become an issue when I make this my living)? I understand we all have selfish reasons for all that we do, but is this what motivates you and others in your field or is there something I seem to be missing?

7.

Is it hard to live up to the example of being a good psychotherapist? I read about so many abuses. How do I know I won’t end up doing that same sort of thing?

8.

Is psychotherapy a requirement for studying psychology?

9.

How do I become a [child psychologist, school psychologist, neuropsychologist, criminal psychologist, etc.]?

10.

Recently I have been told that if I want to go into practice all I need is a MA because of insurance and HMO restrictions on patients being reimbursed for visits to psychotherapists with a PhD. Does the same apply for PsyD holders? While I want to achieve the highest degree in the field that trains me to become the best possible psychotherapist I can be, I also know that PsyD programs are very expensive. Is it worth it financially to go for the PsyD over the MA? Will I make more money overall with the PsyD cancelling out the extra money it takes to get through three more years of school?

11.

I want a low-stress high-paying job where I can help people. Do you think psychology is the right career for me?

12.

iranked your website not at its best because you really elaborated your answeres [about becoming a psychologist] instead of specificly giving one, making it confusing for a person like me to readilly find what i need.

13.

Can a personal psychiatric disorder disqualify me from becoming a psychologist?

14.

Will a very old felony DUI conviction matter in the licensing process? I don’t want to put in great time, monies and effort to discover this later.

15.

Can a high school dropout become a psychologist?

16.

Can a school’s accreditation have any affect on my becoming a psychologist?

17.

I am planning towards doing graduate studies by distance learning (via the internet) with a U.S.A. university. Will this provide me with as recognizable a training as if I were attending the university as a resident student?

18.

I have a degree from another country. How can I become a psychologist in the US?

19.

I am currently a . . . PhD student in social psychology. . . . in [an] applied-only (i.e., no clinical) program. . . . I have my eye on an academic career but have begun to toy with the idea of possibly looking into a private practice/counseling operation somewhere down the line. To my knowledge, [my school] is not accredited by the American Psychological Association, not to mention my program is heavily research oriented. My question is this: would it be possible, if I really decided to pursue the matter, to become a certified counselor with a non-clinical PhD (from an non-APA accredited school)? It would seem the cards are stacked against me. I have heard that through supplementary clinical courses some psychologists with non-clinical PhDs do manage to get certified by state boards. It sounds difficult, but I am curious as to how one might proceed. . . .

20.

Suppose I get (or have) an MFT. Do the hours I’ve completed as an MFT intern (and conceivably many many subsequent hours as a practicing therapist) affect in any way the post-doctoral training hours requirement if I subsequently decide to return to school and become a Psychologist?

21.

Can you recommend any schools in [my area]?

 


 
How much time does it take to get a graduate degree and become a psychologist?

It could take you forever (well, almost) if you do not complete every requirement (such as your doctoral dissertation) on time. Many individuals get stuck in the process because they lack organization or motivation, or because they have family obligations, or because they take a well-paying job along the way and never find time to finish their schooling.

But, in general, college should take four years. It will take about five years of full-time study after college to get a Ph.D. or Psy.D. degree.

  

Should you go directly from college to a doctoral program, or should you get a master’s degree first? It all depends on whether your immediate priority is time or money. To minimize the time spent on your education, go directly for the doctorate. To minimize your debt, go for a master’s degree (about two years of full-time study), then work a while, and then resume your studies (perhaps in an accelerated doctoral program) when you have saved some money.

  

Then, after you earn your doctoral degree, it will take about two more years to complete your post-doctoral training hours and study for—and pass—two psychology licensure exams.

The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is administered nation-wide as the first step in the psychologist licensing exam process. It has a multiple-choice format and asks difficult questions from such domains as psychotherapy, statistics, research methodology, test construction, psychological assessment, learning theory, developmental psychology, physiological aspects of psychology, social psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology.

Once you pass the EPPP you will then have to pass a written or oral exam specific to your state.

  

California uses the California Psychology Supplemental Examination (CPSE), a 100 question multiple-choice examination that, as of February 1, 2006 replaced the California Jurisprudence and Professional Ethics Examination (CJPEE) which previously (as of January 1, 2002) replaced the Oral Exam. The CPSE focuses on California laws and regulations relating to the practice of psychology and the Ethical Principles and Code of Conduct of the American Psychological Association.

  

The failure rate of each exam is about 50%, and some individuals can spend several years just trying to pass both exams. Passing the exams does not require that you be extraordinarily gifted, however; it just requires considerable dedication and discipline—qualities often lacking in today’s educational system.

 
In case you’re wondering, I became a psychologist as a mid-life career change. I earned three masters degrees (M.A. in Religious Studies; M.S.E. in Counseling; M.S. in Psychology) between my B.A. (English Literature) and my Ph.D. (Clinical Psychology); I finished the Ph.D. in four years. I published part of my doctoral dissertation in a peer-reviewed, APA scientific journal. I completed a one year Post-doctoral Fellowship in Health Psychology, and then I passed both the EPPP and the old (pre-2002) Oral Exam on the first attempt.

 

 


 
Where do psychologists work, and how much money will I make as a psychologist?

Psychologists work in all kinds of settings and institutions, and the salary varies accordingly.

If you work for a university, professional school, or community college in teaching or research, your salary will depend on that institution’s pay grade for faculty. The same applies if you work for a hospital, or a government agency (such as the Veterans Administration, the military, law enforcement, or the penal system) or a community agency. Salaries vary depending on experience, tenure, and geographical location and can range from an entry level of about $30,000 to an administrative level of well over $100,000.

In private practice, your income will depend on how many days you work each week, how many clients you have each day, and what you charge for each session. Just multiply the number of client hours by your hourly fee. You could make a bundle with a full-time practice of full-fee clients. Also, if you become famous and have a TV show or make movies, you can make millions. But if you see a lot of lower-fee clients, such as in managed care, or if you have only a part-time practice (because a full-time practice can be difficult to maintain), or if you spend a lot of your time maintaining a free, public-service website without advertising, your income will not be as high as a full-time, full-fee practice. And remember that, regardless of how much money you take in, you have to subtract from it all your expenses: office rent; time spent on paperwork, phone calls, and free services; insurance; continuing education; etc. If your primary concern is money, then consider another career. Competency in any career in the human services depends on the depth of your heart, not the size of your brokerage account.

 

 


 
I would like to make a career change and become a psychologist. I already have a bachelor’s degree in [economics, chemistry, engineering, etc.]. Will I have to go back to school to get another undergraduate degree?

Not necessarily. Everything depends on the graduate program to which you apply. Some of the more high-profile programs may require that you have an undergraduate degree with a major in psychology. But other programs may only require that you have taken a few prerequisite undergraduate psychology courses. The only definite answer, then, can come from each program to which you might want to apply. So locate some graduate programs and then do some research to learn what they require. (When I made my career change, I already had two masters degrees—one in Religious Studies and one in Education—but I still had to take undergraduate courses in statistics, developmental psychology, personality, and abnormal psychology in order to get into my Ph.D. program in Clinical Psychology.)

 

 


 
Is psychotherapy a requirement for studying psychology?

To answer this question, I must make two important distinctions.

First, we must distinguish academic psychology (teaching and research, for example) from the clinical applications of psychology (as in psychotherapy and counseling). Second, we must distinguish between the concept of required and the concept of necessary. If something is required it means that without it a task cannot be accomplished. Necessary can be used to mean “required,” but it also can be used to mean “something so advisable that without it the task cannot be accomplished very well.”

Therefore, we can say that it is never required that a person receive psychotherapy in order to study or work in academic psychology. Nor is psychotherapy any more necessary for someone studying academic psychology than for someone studying nuclear physics, for example.

Many universities or schools that teach clinical applications of psychology, however, require that their students receive psychotherapy in order to graduate; usually (in California) the requirement is about 45 sessions of psychotherapy. But note that the licensing boards which administer clinical licenses do not require that a candidate receive psychotherapy; these boards require only a minimum academic degree and a minimum number of hours of supervised clinical training.

So, even if personal psychotherapy is an academic requirement only by some schools, we can still ask philosophically if personal psychotherapy is necessary to practice clinically. My answer is “Yes.”

To practice clinically, a person must be able to understand the factors which are motivating the client, especially those factors which interfere with the client’s progress. No one can do this unless he or she has been in psychotherapy and thoroughly understands the process of psychotherapy from the perspective of the client. In addition, the psychotherapist or counselor must understand his or her own desires, biases, and weaknesses so as not to get “trapped” in them when trying to do clinical work.

The objection to this view usually comes from psychotherapists who do cognitive-behavioral therapy. They will claim that the work is very “mechanical” and problem-focused and does not depend on insight into unconscious motivations. If the psychotherapist does not have any “problems” to be “fixed,” they claim, then personal psychotherapy is a waste of time.

But those who respect the unconscious know that even if unconscious functioning is ignored it still is at work motivating us in every little thing we do. Unfortunately, even 45 hours of psychotherapy is far from adequate to achieve the depth of understanding necessary for good clinical work. This is why there is such a difference between mediocre psychotherapists and the really good ones who have been through a rigorous personal psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis.

And finally, the really sad thing is that even bad therapists can make a lot of money, because the clients never know what they are missing.

 

 


 
I want a low-stress high-paying job where I can help people. Do you think psychology is the right career for me?

No. Become a plumber. Just about anyone will pay you a small fortune to unclog a stopped-up toilet, but only a few will pay you more than pocket change to unclog a mind stopped up with confusion, self-indulgence, and unconscious hostility. (Please understand, though, that I say this to be clear and realistic about the sort of world in which you will be practicing—should you actually become a psychologist—not to be harsh.)

 

 


 
iranked your website not at its best because you really elaborated your answeres [about becoming a psychologist] instead of specificly giving one, making it confusing for a person like me to readilly find what i need.

You, too, might want to become a plumber, although even there you might have to learn how to spell.
 
In all seriousness, psychology may not be the right career for you. In fact, a good psychologist is a bit like the detective Sherlock Holmes: always inquisitive, always observant, taking nothing for granted, and always making connections between remote and seemingly unimportant facts. The truth is not just handed to you without effort.
 
(And I hope I haven’t offended any plumbers, because, in all seriousness, they, too, have to do a lot of thinking and planning. But I probably have offended some of those bad “therapists” out there.)
 
In any event, I don’t say any of this to be cruel. You just have to understand that good psychology demands that you not avoid the dark, ugly truth that everyone wants to avoid; and it’s all done in the hope of leading others to the healing they want but, in their confusion, still secretly fear.

 

 


 
How do I become a [child psychologist, school psychologist, neuropsychologist, criminal psychologist, etc.]?

First of all, note that, as I said above, the psychologist license (at least in California) is a generic license that does not distinguish specialties, so terms such as “child psychologist,” “neuropsychologist,” and “criminal psychologist,” if not actually illegal, are technically misleading. Such terms can imply to the general public that a specialty has been licensed, when, in fact, it hasn’t.

Secondly, note that in California there is a license for an educational psychologist, but persons with such a license need only a master’s degree, provide services specifically related to academic learning problems, and are governed by the Board of Behavioral Sciences, not the Board of Psychology. Therefore, many of the things I say on this page about how to become a psychologist may not even apply to you if your interest is school psychology.

Finally, in regard to criminal psychology, a person who studies this field may end up working as a police officer, for example, and would not need to be licensed as a psychologist. Therefore, many of the things I say on this page about how to become a psychologist may not even apply to you if your interest is criminal psychology.

Nevertheless, psychologists do specialize in child psychology, school psychology, criminal psychology, and neuropsychology. What are you to do if you want to become a psychologist with one of these specialties—or any other specialty?

Well, most graduate programs in clinical psychology or counseling psychology have certain core courses that everyone has to take; but then they leave room for various elective courses. Thus it would be advisable to make sure that the program you choose has elective courses in your intended area of specialty. Moreover, if you are really serious about your education, you should also take workshops and seminars outside the curriculum, at your own expense, for additional training. Then, when it comes time for your internship, you need to select an internship that offers clinical training in your specialty interest.

Remember, though, that regardless of your specialty during training, you will still have to pass the same National Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) licensing exam that every other applicant must take. You will be required to answer questions from such domains as psychotherapy, statistics, research methodology, test construction, psychological assessment, learning theory, physiological aspects of psychology, developmental psychology, social psychology, and industrial-organizational psychology. Be careful not to get trapped in the illusion that you can focus just on your special interest and ignore other aspects of psychology or else you may not be able to pass the EPPP examination.

Finally, after you become an established professional, you might want to apply for a diplomate (pronounced DIP-low-mate) in your specialty; a diplomate is a sort of professional stamp of approval offered by certain professional organizations to those candidates who have a history of professional accomplishments and can pass a rigorous examination. Many organizations also offer Fellow status to members as a reward for years of exceptional, dedicated service to the field.

 

 


 
Can a personal psychiatric disorder disqualify me from becoming a psychologist?

Not necessarily. Let me explain.

Consider for a moment the field of aviation. A pilot’s “license” really has two parts to it: the pilot certificate, which documents the holder’s competence in flying certain types of aircraft, and the medical certificate, which documents the holder’s current physical health and physical ability to fly in general. Even though a person may have high technical and experiential qualifications as a pilot, certain physical conditions and illnesses can automatically disqualify that person from medical clearance to fly.

But psychology is nothing like aviation.

Any license to practice psychologically in the field of mental health—psychologist, MFT, LCSW—represents the successful completion of a series of professional requirements, such as an academic degree, a clinical internship, personal psychotherapy, and the licensing exams themselves. As long as you can complete each requirement along the way, regardless of any physical or psychiatric disability, you most likely can get a license to practice.

Nevertheless, some psychiatric disorders will in themselves prevent you from meeting your requirements. A lack of concentration because of depression will interfere with your academic work. A severe personality disorder will result in conflicts with professors and clinical supervisors. Deep unconscious conflicts can prevent you from completing your dissertation. Intense anxiety or personal insecurity can prevent you from passing the licensing exams. And so on. Thus, unlike a medical disqualification in aviation, “disqualification” in psychology usually results from self-disqualification because of the effects of the disorder, not from the mere fact of the disorder itself.

  

Note that, in California, the Business and Professions Code (Section 2960.5) says, “The board may refuse to issue any registration or license whenever it appears that an applicant may be unable to practice his or her profession safely due to mental illness or chemical dependency.”

  

Moreover, once you do get your license, you have to be careful that your emotional state does not interfere with your ability to practice competently. Someone with recurring depression or mania, for example, has to be very careful to suspend his or her practice if symptoms become serious enough to adversely affect clinical judgment. If you make any grave blunders in this regard, and if your licensing board finds out about it, then your license can be suspended or revoked.

So, what is the “bottom line” here? Well, it’s personal psychotherapy (see Questions #7 and #8). In intense psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis you have the opportunity to resolve your depression or anxiety, or alter your personality structure, or become more emotionally honest and confident and less shy.

 

 


 
Will a very old felony DUI matter in [my state’s] licensing process? I don’t want to put in great time, monies and effort to discover this later.

You should ask the Board of Psychology in your state about its regulations; everything varies state-by-state.

In California, the Business and Professions Code (Section 480.a.1) says that a board may deny a license regulated by the code (and that includes the psychologist license) on the grounds that the applicant has been convicted of a crime.

However, the code also states the following (480.b):

  

Notwithstanding any other provision of this code, no person shall be denied a license solely on the basis that he has been convicted of a felony if he has obtained a certificate of rehabilitation under Section 4852.01 and following of the Penal Code or that he has been convicted of a misdemeanor if he has met all applicable requirements of the criteria of rehabilitation developed by the board to evaluate the rehabilitation of a person when considering the denial of a license under subdivision (a) of Section 482.

  

Consequently, at least in California, conviction of a crime does not necessarily disqualify someone from licensure as a psychologist. It all depends on the circumstances. And only the Board of Psychology can determine how it will act in any particular case.

 

 


 
Can a school’s accreditation have any affect on my becoming a psychologist?

Your school’s accreditation may have an effect on your ability to receive a state psychologist license, and getting a license is a key part of becoming a psychologist. Problems can occur in either of two ways.

Accreditation can become an issue for you (a) if you receive your degree in one state and then move to another state to take the licensing exams, or (b) if, after having received your state psychologist license, you move to another state and ask to be licensed there. If your school, at the time you attended it, was nationally accredited by the American Psychological Association (APA), then you shouldn’t have any problems. But if your school had only a regional accreditation, then the board of psychology in the state to which you move may declare that your academic training was deficient by its standards, and you would therefore have to retake some courses, or take additional courses, or receive additional training, that fulfill(s) the state’s requirements for a psychologist license.

In California there are also schools called Unaccredited California Approved Schools. These schools, which have neither a national nor a regional (WASC [Western Association of Schools and Colleges]) accreditation, have been “approved” by the California Bureau for Private Postsecondary and Vocational Education (BPPVE). Although the California Board of Psychology can grant a psychologist license to a graduate from such a school, other restrictions could occur. State law mandates the following disclosure statement to all applicants to such schools:

  

“Prospective students should be aware that as a graduate of an unaccredited school of psychology you may face restrictions that could include difficulty in obtaining a teaching job or appointment at an accredited college or university. It may also be difficult to work as a psychologist for some federal government or other public agencies, or to be appointed to the medical staff of a hospital. Some major managed care organizations, insurance companies, or preferred provider organizations may not reimburse individuals whose degrees are from unaccredited schools. Graduates of unaccredited schools may also face limitations in their abilities to be listed in the National Register of Health Service Providers or to hold memberships in other major organizations of psychologists.”

  

 

 


 
I have a degree from another country. How can I become a psychologist in the US?

Everything depends on the laws in the state to which you intend to move. The board of psychology in that state will have to examine your credentials. It may or may not recognize your degree or any license you already have. It may require you to take the psychology licensing exams, and it could also determine that you need to take additional courses or receive additional training before you can sit for the exams.

Therefore, all you can do is contact the board of psychology of that state and ask for guidance. Here’s a link that will allow you to find any of the state or provincial boards in the US and Canada: Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards.

 

 


 
Recently I have been told that if I want to go into practice all I need is a MA because of insurance and HMO restrictions on patients being reimbursed for visits to psychotherapists with a PhD. Does the same apply for PsyD holders? While I want to achieve the highest degree in the field that trains me to become the best possible Psychotherapist I can be, I also know that PsyD programs are very expensive. Is it worth it financially to go for the PsyD over the MA? Will I make more money overall with the PsyD cancelling out the extra money it takes to get through three more years of school?

If your primary interest is money, then become a plumber. Haven’t you ever heard the joke about the man who writes out a check to his plumber and says, “Good heavens, you charge more than my doctor.” The plumber responds, “Yes, I know. I used to be a doctor.”

Now, in all seriousness, your question gets to the fact that in many managed-care systems the reimbursement is about the same for masters level practitioners as doctoral level practitioners. So, in such circumstances, what is the point of getting a doctorate, whether it be a Ph.D. or a Psy.D.?

Well, there isn’t any way to answer that question without offending somebody. So, I will just tell a story (a true story, mind you) and let people take offense as they will.

A man was attending a public event. The man sitting next to him suddenly caught his attention and said, “I have been biting my tongue, but I just have to tell you. How long have you had that blemish on your face? You should get it looked at, because it’s skin cancer. It’s benign, but you should have it removed.” The man who spoke up, of course, was a dermatologist.

Consequently, our friend went to his managed-care medical office. The masters level physician’s assistant who examined him looked at the blemish and said, “It looks like a mole to me. Nothing to worry about.” Our friend, however, insisted that he be seen by a dermatologist. Eventually a dermatologist came into the room. He looked at the blemish. “Yup, skin cancer. It’s benign. When shall we take it out?”

Now, physician’s assistants can make a lot of money. So is it really worth while to take on the educational expense of becoming a doctor? Does this story have any relevance to psychology? You decide.

 

 


 
I have been working in [my] field for 7 years now, and I am 25 years old. My question is would it be worth it to change fields at my age and go into child psychology? I am not worried about the money. I am worried about the age thing though. It is something I would really like to consider, and I am also aware that there are many people a lot younger than me getting into the psychology field. I am just wondering if you think waiting this long to go to school for a new field is a good idea? My heart says just do it, but the fear of failing, when I already have a steady career, seeps through. One other thing what do you think the oldest age to get into the psychology field should be?

Practically speaking, 25 is still young. In fact, students with some serious life experience make better and more mature students. So you needn’t hesitate about your age.

Assuming that you already have a bachelor’s degree, the education for a doctorate in psychology will take about 5 years, and it will take about two more years after that to complete your post-doctoral training hours and study for—and pass—the licensure exams. Therefore I would say that the oldest age to get into the psychology field would be about 7 or 8 years before you die.

 

 


 
I am planning towards doing graduate studies by distance learning (via the internet) with a U.S.A. university. Will this provide me with as recognizable a training as if I were attending the university as a resident student?

Your first concern should be about the school’s accreditation. See the question above for more information about this.

Aside from accreditation, in psychology, unless you intend to pursue an academic career in teaching or research, the general prestige of the school you attend isn’t necessarily all that important. The critical issue, then, isn’t simply in getting a degree, it’s in whether the classes you take are acceptable to the agency that will issue a license to practice clinically. In the US, the Board of Psychology of each individual state makes that decision in regard to the psychologist license, and if it finds that any aspect of your education is not up to its standards, then it will not allow you to sit for the licensing exams. Before you commit to any degree program, then, you should have some idea of where you would like to practice clinically, and you should then contact the appropriate licensing agency to determine its policy about distance learning courses. Do this now just to avoid any problems later. Some Internet companies will do anything—even lie—to get your money.

For example, a large part of clinical training involves supervised clinical experience, so be sure that any program you attend makes provision for that training—and make sure that such training will meet the requirements of the licensing board in the state in which you intend to practice.

In general, it is important to understand that even though training in psychology does require considerable intellectual skills, the clinical work itself is far more than an intellectual process. It demands a profound intimate emotional connection between two people, and it’s impossible to acquire this training from a textbook, from e-mails to other students, or from video conferences.

 

 


 
Can you recommend any schools in [my area]?

No. That’s really a matter for your own research.

 

 


 
I am certain that I assist people with their problems for self-satisfaction and this is the real reason why I’d like to study psychology; later finding a profession where I am able to help people all day, thus satisfying my needs. Is this a wrong reason to get into your field (i.e., does this become an issue when I make this my living)? I understand we all have selfish reasons for all that we do, but is this what motivates you and others in your field or is there something I seem to be missing?

Yes, we all have to look after ourselves to a basic extent. If no one is going to give us shelter and food, then we have to earn the money to provide these things for ourselves. So, if you have to work for a living, you may as well do something you enjoy.

The practice of psychology, however, does put a twist on all this. A psychotherapist must work very intimately with the unconscious desires of another person, and it can be very easy for the psychotherapist’s personal desires to contaminate the desires of the client. That’s why the great psychoanalyst Jacques Lacan taught that the analyst’s only desire should be to help the client get close to his or her own unconscious and should ask nothing of the client but fair payment for a job well done.

The prerequisite for such intense work is personal psychotherapy—the more intense the psychotherapy, the better—so as to become familiar with your own personal unconscious issues. Most “bad therapists” are caught up in their own pride and ego because they are blind to them, and they do considerable damage to their clients as a result.

Therefore, if you believe you have a gift for psychology, then pursue it and let your own personal psychotherapy show you if you really have what it takes. If you can face your own inner darkness and grow from it, and can tolerate what is missing in life by not trying to use perversions to hide from yourself, then blessings to you.

 

 


 
I was wondering if a career in psychology allows one to pay back student loans and lead a comfortable living?

The answer to your question is simple, but not very satisfying: “It depends.” That is, if you take a position in a university or hospital or government agency, your career will be like any other career in its ability to pay off loan debts. If you choose a career in private practice, however, finances can be extremely unpredictable, because in a private practice you will be self-employed. If you have a good sense of business and marketing, you might do very well. You will, of course, have to struggle with competition from all the other mental health providers in your area, and you will have to contend with meager compensation from managed-care insurance companies. So remember that, as in any self-employed field, everything will depend on your own motivation and integrity.

 

 


 
Is it hard to live up to the example of being a good psychotherapist? I read about so many abuses. How do I know I won’t end up doing that same sort of thing?

The answer to your question is simple, and very satisfying: “Personal psychotherapy.” The more rigorous and the more intense your personal training psychotherapy is, the better you will be as a psychotherapist. You get what you pay for—and so will your clients.

 

 


 
Can a high school dropout become a Psychologist? If so, could you please tell me what are some of the things that I could do to obtain this. My love of human behavior as always been profound, but I never knew how to get myself motivated. Now that I have reached the age of 19, I feel it is my time.

Let’s look at it backwards. To get into a graduate school to get your Ph.D. or Psy.D., you first have to have an undergraduate degree and good undergraduate grades. But to get into an undergraduate program, you have to have a high school degree with good grades. So, if you don’t have a high school degree now, you can get your GED. Then, if you can’t get directly into an undergraduate program, you can at least get into a junior college to prove yourself with an AS degree. With good grades there, you can transfer to a BA or BS program. Once you get into an undergraduate program and demonstrate good grades, it won’t matter if you had to get a GED because you dropped out of high school years ago. In fact, it can even be a plus for you to demonstrate good college performance in spite of having dropped out of high school. It will show your profound dedication. And that will help you get into a graduate program.

 

 


 
I am currently a . . . PhD student in social psychology. . . . in [an] applied-only (i.e., no clinical) program. . . . I have my eye on an academic career but have begun to toy with the idea of possibly looking into a private practice/counseling operation somewhere down the line. To my knowledge, [my school] is not accredited by the American Psychological Association, not to mention my program is heavily research oriented. My question is this: would it be possible, if I really decided to pursue the matter, to become a certified counselor with a non-clinical PhD (from an non-APA accredited school)? It would seem the cards are stacked against me. I have heard that through supplementary clinical courses some psychologists with non-clinical PhDs do manage to get certified by state boards. It sounds difficult, but I am curious as to how one might proceed. . . .

The only way to proceed is to look carefully at the laws of the state in which you intend to practice and to ask the licensing board responsible for counselors (or any other license you might want to consider) what it would require of you.
 
What you propose, though difficult, may not be impossible—but everything depends on the individual case. I personally know one university professor with a Ph.D. in Developmental Psychology who became licensed as a psychologist; it wasn’t exactly a process of getting a new degree, but it took several years of course work and clinical training to accomplish the feat.

 

 


 
Suppose I get (or have) an MFT. Do the hours I’ve completed as an MFT intern (and conceivably many many subsequent hours as a practicing therapist) affect in any way the post-doctoral training hours requirement if I subsequently decide to return to school and become a Psychologist?

No. The MFT license is not based on doctoral-level training, so none of your supervised training is “post”-doctoral.

Furthermore, in regard to the licensing process, professional experience in itself counts for nothing. To become a psychologist, a person with an MA degree and an MFT license would first have to go back to school to earn a Ph.D. or a Psy.D., then accrue the necessary hours of post-doctoral supervision, and then pass the psychologist licensing exam.

 

 

 


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Notes.

1. The Boulder Model refers to a scientist-practitioner model of training that emerged from the American Psychological Association’s Boulder Conference on graduate education in clinical psychology in Boulder, Colorado in 1949. The term has nothing to do with a graduate student in clinical psychology being caught between a rock and a hard place. Really.

 
Additional Resources
 
General Academic and Career:
AmoebaWeb: Graduate Study in Psychology  has many links which may be of help in researching graduate programs in psychology.
APA Resources for Students  may be of special help for prospective students.
Career Information for Psychology  offers many helpful links for students researching and applying for psychology programs.
Divisions of the American Psychological Association  lists the various divisions of the APA and will give you an idea of the many varied applications of psychology.
Encyclopedia of Psychology - Psychology Websites  has a section devoted to career links.
Graduate School & Careers in Psychology  from Rider University.
Marky Lloyd’s Careers in Psychology Page
Psychology Departments on the Web  —links to psychology department home pages at colleges and universities around the world; from Psych Web.
Psychology Web Pages  from the Department of Psychology at the University of Illinois; has links to many university psychology departments.
socialpsychology.org  provides a ranked listing of U.S. psychology Ph.D. programs.
U. S. Department of Labor: Occupational Outlook Handbook: Psychologists
 
Biological Psychology:
Pschology Jumping Stand: Biological Psychology
 
Child Psychology:
History of child psychology, testing, psychiatry etc.  provides an overview of the history of child psychology through many articles by and about the most famous psychologists who worked with children.
Psyche Matters: Infant and Child Psychology and Psychoanalysis Resources — see their Links section for training programs in infant/child psychology.
 
Community Psychology:
Knowledge Exchange Network (KEN)  from the Center for Mental Health Services.
 
Cognitive and Experimental Psychology:
Experimental Psychology Society
 
Criminal/Forensic Psychology:
Educational Opportunities in Police and Criminal Psychology
Forensic Psychology Index Page
Other Applications of Psychology (on this website)
 
Developmental Psychology:
European Society for Developmental Psychology WWW server
Developmental Psychology Links by Subtopic  from Social Psychology Network
 
Health Psychology:
Health Psychology on the Net
Health Psychology and Rehabilitation: Promoting Mental and Physical Health
 
History of Psychology:
Classics in the History of Psychology
History of Clinical Psychology
History of Psychology Archives
 
Industrial-Organizational Psychology:
The Society for Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP)
Industrial-Organizational Psychology Links by Subtopic  from Social Psychology Network
 
Neuropsychology:
Neuropsychology Central
 
Psychology in general:
AmoebaWeb
Athabasca University Psychology Resources
Divisions of the American Psychological Association  lists the various divisions of the APA and will give you an idea of the many varied applications of psychology.
OMNI: Psychology
Psych Web
SOSIG: Psychology
Web Site Resources  from Harcourt College Publishers in conjunction with their textbook on psychology.
 
Psychology Licensure:
Association of State and Provincial Psychology Boards  —Roster for US and Canada. Find your state’s Board of Psychology to learn its requirements for licensure as a psychologist.
CALIFORNIA BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONS CODE —Index
CALIFORNIA BUSINESS AND PROFESSIONS CODE 2900-2918 —the “Psychology Licensing Law”
The California Board of Psychology
The California Psychological Association MCEP Accrediting Agency  provides information about continuing education for psychologists in California.
Psychologist Licensure — General information, sponsored by the Student Counseling Center at Tarleton University.
 
Psychology Licensure Exam Preparation:
The Association for Advanced Training in the Behavioral Sciences (AATBS)
Academic Review
 
Psychology & Religion:
Institute for the Psychological Sciences
Nielsen’s Psychology of Religion: Graduate Study
 
School Psychology:
National Association of School Psychologists
School Psychology Resources Online
The WWW School Psychology Homepage
 
Social Psychology:
Social Psychology Network
Society for Personality and Social Psychology (SPSP)
 
Related pages within A Guide to Psychology and its Practice:
Other Applications of Psychology
Psychology: Clinical or Counseling or ...?
Psychology and Psychiatry
Questions and Answers about Psychotherapy
Reasons to Consult a Psychologist
Types of Psychological Treatment
 
CONTACT ME
 
INDEX of all subjects on this website
 
SEARCH this website

 



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Raymond Lloyd Richmond, Ph.D.
San Francisco
 
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Psychology is a complex subject, and many issues are interrelated. And so, even though you may find a topic of interest on one particular page, an exploration of the other pages will deepen your understanding of the human mind and heart.

Psychological Practice
To Become a Psychologist
Choosing a Psychologist
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Throughout this website, my goal is simply to help you realize that although life can be painful, unfair, and brutal, it doesn’t have to be misery.
 
The practice of good clinical psychology involves something—call it comfort—which does not mean sympathy or soothing, and it certainly doesn’t mean to have your pain “taken away.” It really means to be urged on to take up the cup of your destiny, with courage and honesty.

 

 

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his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation to this website in gratitude, as a “down-payment” on the success of your hopes!

 
Donate

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation in appreciation, even if it’s only a few dollars, to help offset my costs in making this website available, without charge or advertising, to you and to all.

 

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation in appreciation, even if it’s only a few dollars, to help offset my costs in making this website available, without charge or advertising, to you and to all.

 
Donate

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation to this website in gratitude, as a “down-payment” on the success of your hopes!

 

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation in appreciation, even if it’s only a few dollars, to help offset my costs in making this website available, without charge or advertising, to you and to all.

 
Donate

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation to this website in gratitude, as a “down-payment” on the success of your hopes!

 

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation in appreciation, even if it’s only a few dollars, to help offset my costs in making this website available, without charge or advertising, to you and to all.

 
Donate

his is a FREEWILL WEBSITE with NO ADVERTISING. If you find this page to be informative and helpful, please send a donation to this website in gratitude, as a “down-payment” on the success of your hopes!

 


 

A Guide to Psychology and its Practice

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