The Masters in Social Work (MSW) is a very versatile degree. Social workers can be involved in many different types of careers and in many different types of settings. I recommend a visit to the website of the National Association of Social Workers for an excellent description of the field. As you will see on this website, some social workers become involved in advocacy or policy settings. Others become licensed clinical social workers and are able to provide therapy to clients, in ways that can be remarkably similar to the practice of a doctoral-level psychologist. Clinically-trained social workers may include: Social Caseworkers (case management, assessing needs and applying agency services and resources to address social, health or economic problems); Medical Social Workers (work with the special needs of patients and families in hospitals, long term care facilities, and other medical care facilities); School Social Workers (help with emotional, social and economic problems so students can focus on getting an education); Clinical Social Workers (found in private practice or in psychiatric & mental health care settings, or employee assistance programs within larger companies, where they provide psychotherapy and counseling); Administration and Management (social workers oversee the programs and systems that provide social, health and public welfare services); Community Organization social workers work in cooperation with the community to identify needs and to develop or improve services and systems to meet those needs; Social Policy and Research (analyze social problems, design and conduct in-depth research studies and develop ways for social programs and systems to overcome those problems). What is the training like? Although you can obtain a doctorate in social work (DSW or Ph.D), it is completely possible to be an autonomous, practicing social worker with a master’s degree. With only two years of schooling (plus an internship), it also can be a quick way to get into the workforce. Masters programs generally can accept a much higher proportion of applicants for admission than doctoral programs; thus, it is somewhat easier to gain admission if going this route. Many social work graduate programs offer some training in evidence-based practice, but this varies considerably from program to program. This is important to look into further when determining which social work programs you want to apply to.
Clinical Mental Health Counseling
Admittedly, I do not know much about the field of mental health counseling beyond what one can learn from professional websites, such as the site for the American Counseling Association. The distinction between mental health counseling and other mental health fields may be lost on the general public as well. Even a casual look at “Find a Therapist” directories on sites such as Psychology Today reveals many who identify themselves as mental health counselors, yet their education and effectiveness as mental health providers is relatively unknown, at least to me. The American Counseling Association indicates that counselors may have focused expertise in Mitch’s Advice for Applying to Grad School Page 7 addictions, career counseling, clinical mental health or community agency counseling, marriage, couples and families, school counseling, student affairs and college counseling, gerontology, or counselor education and supervision. What is the training like? A counselor is eligible to practice after receiving a master’s degree, typically in about 2 years. There are many programs nationally to obtain this type of degree, and relatively few of them promote training in evidence-based practice. However, this may be changing.
What is counseling psychology? “Counseling Psychology” is not quite the same thing as being a “counselor.” The American Psychological Association’s Division 17 is specifically focused on Counseling Psychology and a section focused on the opportunities available within the field. A long time ago, a clear distinction between clinical psychology and counseling psychology was offered. The field of clinical psychology was meant to address serious mental illness, such as any of the disorders that might be found in the DSM. In contrast, counseling psychology sometimes was referred to as a field that addressed “normal people with normal problems,” often including vocational counseling. This distinction remains somewhat true, but the boundaries between clinical and counseling psychology are certainly a bit more blurred. Both require a doctoral degree for independent work. Both are referred to among the public as “therapists” or “psychologists,” and few potential clients discriminate between the fields when selecting a therapist. A great many clinical psychologists primarily offer “counseling” to clients with no obvious DSM symptoms. Counseling psychologists also have substantial contact with individuals who meet the criteria for some specific disorders (e.g., depression, anxiety, substance use, and eating disorders, for instance). Counseling psychologists work in private practice, many work in counseling centers (e.g., College Student Mental Health Services; Community Clinics; Community Mental Health Centers). Some counseling psychologists also work in academia as professors or clinical supervisors in counseling psychology graduate programs. Counseling psychologists also can conduct and interpret assessments. To a large extent, counseling psychologists, and counseling graduate training programs, are less heavily involved in research activities than are clinical psychologists. Counseling psychologists also are less likely to work as professors within university departments of psychology, or as instructors in undergraduate classes. As compared to clinical psychologists, counseling psychologists also are less likely to work with severe forms of mental illness, such as autism, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. See the web link above for more information on counseling psychology, its mission, and training emphases. What is the training like? Like clinical psychology, counseling psychology requires a doctoral degree. Doctoral programs typically require 4-6 years to complete in addition to a year-long internship. A dissertation is required, although the research expectations for this project sometimes are lower as compared to the clinical psychology dissertation. Counseling programs often involve more coursework and practice than clinical psychology programs.
Clinical Psychology (Ph.D.)
Many describe the clinical psychology Ph.D. degree as one of the most versatile graduate degrees available. Clinical psychologists with a Ph.D. degree are qualified to work as practicing clinicians, professors in academia conducting research or teaching, consultants, and supervisors to other mental health professionals. However, there are different types of clinical psychology training philosophies, doctoral programs, and even two different doctoral degrees available to those who want to become practicing clinical psychologists. So, some further explanation is needed… Clinical psychologists trained in “scientist-practitioner” (sometimes referred to as ‘Boulder model’) or “clinical science” approaches to training have some unique advantages over most all other mental health care providers. The scientist-practitioner and clinical science models suggest that all clinical psychologists should be trained both as researchers and practitioners, and should integrate science and practice skills in all that they do. In other words, in addition to the research expertise required to complete a master’s thesis and dissertation, students’ experiences include many “clinical hours” conducting assessments and therapy in a variety of structured, supervised clinical placements to develop practitioner skills. Moreover, by integrating all clinical and science activities, the quality of both research and clinical work is improved. For instance, when conducting research, a clinical psychologist trained in the scientist-practitioner or clinical science model may reflect on their experiences with clients to help generate or test hypotheses about the factors that may prevent or ameliorate mental illness. When engaged in clinical practice, this same clinical psychologist should rely on scientific principles to understand psychopathology, use standardized methods to measure patients’ diagnosis or progress, and - especially important - offer evidence-based treatment approaches to treat psychopathology. If you have considered clinical psychology as a career, you may have already heard about one or both of these training models. In fact, you may have even heard that to get into a clinical Ph.D. program, it is important to say you want to do research for the rest of your career. Is this true? Not quite, but it’s a common misconception. Another misconception is that those who want to be researchers should get a Ph.D. degree, while those who want to do practice should get a Psy.D. degree. That is also false. It is true that doctoral Ph.D. programs almost exclusively are located within university departments of psychology that employ clinical psychology professors who themselves are dedicated largely towards research and teaching endeavors. Thus, many clinical psychology Ph.D. students feel that they receive excellent exposure to research experiences during graduate school, and perhaps even implicit pressure to pursue a career that includes some research activities following graduate studies. It’s also true that many graduate programs specifically examine graduate applications for information confirming interest in research. In fact, some programs are indeed explicit that they will hope for you to remain involved in research to some extent throughout your entire career and are not looking for applicants who are strictly interested in clinical practice. But even at these heavily “research-oriented” programs, the majority of graduates pursue careers that involve at least some work as a practitioner. In fact, there are many students from most research-oriented programs that work exclusively in practice. So what’s all the fuss about research all about then? Many believe that to be a successful clinical psychologist, it is critical to have a research mindset, or to be able to “think like a scientist.” The emphasis on research in almost all clinical Ph.D. programs is to help you develop that mindset. An apt analogy may come from a description of graduate training in law. Many who have pursued a law degree state that the curriculum is not specifically designed to teach trial room strategies or jury selection techniques, etc., but rather graduate training is meant to help students learn “to think like a lawyer.” Doctoral Ph.D. training often is based on the idea that students must learn to “think like a psychologist.” This means that students must be extremely comfortable with the scientific method, including the generation of hypotheses, the development of standardized procedures that can be used to evaluate these hypotheses, and the ability to draw appropriate conclusions that may inform future hypotheses. These skills are necessary not only for research endeavors but also when interacting in a therapeutic context. Case conceptualization skills involve a similar set of procedures as described above, and it is this approach that necessitates dual training as a scientist-practitioner during graduate school in clinical psychology. Unlike law school, however, graduate school in clinical psychology involves direct application of coursework learning in real-world situations. Within a year of admission in most programs, clinical psychology graduate students will begin seeing clients, conducting assessments, and offering treatment (all with supervision, of course). Thus, the reason why many Ph.D. graduate programs emphasize, and even select, students who are interested in research is because it is believed that research training helps students develop the critical thinking skills needed in any activity as a clinical psychologist. Having said this, it is important to note that research training is a major emphasis of the graduate curriculum (including a master’s thesis, dissertation, etc). Students who do not enjoy research or the research process will not be happy graduate students. Students who do not anticipate any openness to the possibility of conducting research in their careers, even if only as a small proportion of their job responsibilities, also may not be a good match for Ph.D. training. It is important to be very honest with yourself at this stage in your professional development. The Ph.D. application process is somewhat arduous, and graduate training can be demanding. It is very important to carefully determine whether this is a good match for you. Research and Clinical Work in Clinical Psychology Perhaps you still are unsure whether you are interested in research, or you would like to know more about different possibilities for research activity in clinical psychology.
Clinical Psychology (PsyD)
All of the information above describing doctoral training has been focused specifically on the Ph.D. degree. However, a separate option exists for doctoral training. Although not an expert on this type of degree, I have offered a general description of this option below. The Psy.D. was developed as a new type of doctoral degree several decades ago in response to some opposition regarding the “Boulder Model” (i.e., scientist-practitioner). Specifically, it was argued by some that the training in science was not necessary to become a practicing clinician, and a new training model largely emphasizing clinical work was developed. Mitch’s Advice for Applying to Grad School Page 17 Today, many Psy.D. programs are available. Like other doctoral degrees, Psy.D. programs typically take about 4-6 years to complete (plus an internship year). The vast majority of training experiences are clinical in nature, as well as some coursework. Some programs require a “dissertation” document; however, this usually is quite different in scope from what is expected in Ph.D. programs. Many students ask whether Psy.D. programs are less prestigious than Ph.D. programs. Although it is difficult to comment on this specifically, there are some important differences between some of these programs that should be noted. As mentioned above, Ph.D. programs are almost exclusively located within university settings, which are not-for-profit institutions. Some Psy.D. programs, however, are located in for-profit institutions, such as freestanding ‘Professional Schools of Psychology,’ or institutions with the word “university” in the title, but not offering a wide range of degrees like most universities do. While most Ph.D. programs typically waive tuition costs for graduate students and offer assistantships that provide a modest annual stipend (typically between $20,000-27,000), many Psy.D. programs charge tuition to students, which can cost approximately $20,000-$30,000 annually. Data comparing Ph.D. to Psy.D. programs on several other metrics also reveal a number of differences. Compared to clinical Ph.D. programs or Psy.D programs are traditional universities, Psy.D. programs in large “professional schools,” or “universities” that exclusively offer psychology degrees tend to offer far less training in evidence-based practice. They also have much less desirable faculty-to-student ratios, with some students unable to see their mentors for months at a time. Data reveal that the rate of obtaining an accredited predoctoral internship (required to become a license for practice in many states) also is significantly lower within unaccredited Psy.D. programs (7%) and accredited Psy.D. programs (48%) as compared to accredited clinical Ph.D. programs (81%). The rate of passing the national licensing exam (called the EPPP) also differs between Psy.D. and Ph.D. programs. These data reveal that students from accredited Ph.D. programs score significantly higher and are more likely to pass than those from Psy.D. programs. This is critical to consider – the last thing you want to do is to spend tens of thousands of dollars on graduate school, but end up unable to graduate or get a job! Overall, the Psy.D. option can be a reasonable choice for students who are interested in obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology, and have decided that they do not wish to be involved in research – either during graduate training or during one’s career. However, the Psy.D. option should be exercised cautiously. Some very high-quality programs are available (often those that are at not-for-profit institutions), and excellent training is certainly possible. However, applicants will need to do their homework investigating the adequacy of training more thoroughly if pursuing this type of degree. For more details regarding the qualities to examine in a clinical psychology doctoral program, see the undergraduate website for the Council of University Directors of Clinical Psychology (CUDCP)."
I would highlight that our Psy.D. program offers funding to all admitted, has a balance between practice and research, embraces evidence-based practice, admits small cohorts of students (6-8 students/year), and is housed in a university setting.
Physician's Assistant School