Am I a Psychologist?

A blog for those considering graduate school in Psychology.

Let's Continue

Let's continue our discussion on grad school, training, and publishing.

I do apologize for being away so long. School, work, two dogs; it all adds up.  I have received many comments from readers expressing confusion about their future career as a psychologist.  I have discussed previously about the time commitment, 4+ years of school plus possible years of post doctoral education and supervision to obtain licensure.  I will stress that you must be dedicated.  The time involved can place a serious strain on your relationships and non-degree activities. 

Let us consider as well the changing role of the psychologist.  As stated previously, many will watch movies and expect to be sitting with a client discussing life altering experiences and childhood trauma. This is far too often not reality, at least not for the psychologist..  There are many professionals each trying to take a bite from the people helping field.  Psychiatrists, psychologists (counseling and clinical), licensed professional counselors, licensed clinical social workers, career/life coaches all perform various roles in consulting and helping the public.  Psychiatrists attend medical school and primarily oversee the administration of medication for those suffering from specific psychological/mental disturbances or chemical imbalances.  Most psychiatrists rarely conduct traditional therapy.  Licensed social workers and professional counselors often conduct the lion's share of talk therapy (what we think of when we think psychology).  Life and career coaches also offer some counseling but their credentials are often questionable.  So where do psychologists fit.  Some do therapy, but, as stated, the bulk of therapy is now conducted by social workers.  Some work and teach in universities where they are expected to publish a significant body of research.  Some work in supervisory roles at community and college counseling centers. It is important to know your options, want you want, and what you find most interesting prior to beginning a course of study.  If counseling is what you want, you may want to consider a degree in social work; it is a shorter program and prepares students with much of the same curriculum as provided psychologists. 

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A word about publishing.  I mentioned that as a university employed psychologist you may be expected to publish a significant body of research.  This is often not simply a expectation but a requirement, especially if a professor is seeking tenure.  Often the research overshadows their strict teaching duties.  Professors can often 'buy out' of their teaching obligations based on money they receive from research grants.  The teaching is then conducted by adjuncts and graduate students.  Most psychological research is conducted using surveys with likert scale responses (never, seldom, sometimes, often, always type responses).  The results are collected, organized, and then statistically analyzed to form the basis of a meticulously revised research article.  Your thesis and/or dissertation will be such research. Hopefully, if your research is interesting enough, follows closely a specific trend, or builds on existing research you will be offered publication in a reputable journal.  In my experience in graduate school, conducting research was valued over all other activities of the psychology graduate students.  Remember your research will often piggyback on your mentor's research bringing positive attention to you, your mentor, and the university.  Your individual therapy is not as valued because research brings the reputation.

Timothy Lisagor is a former psychology graduate student currently pursuing an M.A. in English (Literature). His main interest is to help students make informed decisions about school and career.

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