The insider’s guide to careers in psychology

Neil Parmar







The Therapist

* Works in private practice with individual patients, couples and families, as well as in hospitals and schools.

* Treats short term emotional crises, behavioral disorders and chronic conditions.

Possible careers for the M.S.W. and L.C.S.W. include hospital rape counselor, workplace therapist, school psychologist, forensic specialist, custody mediator, family therapist

PSYCHIATRIC NURSES also practice therapy and prescribe drugs. This career requires an R.N. and an M.A.

COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY: Emphasizes the role of thinking in how we feel and what we do. CBT stresses the fact that thoughts, rather than people or events, cause our negative feelings. CBT is a structured collaboration between therapist and client and often calls for homework assignments. Brief and time-limited, CBT includes rational emotive behavior therapy and cognitive therapy.

PSYCHODYNAMIC THERAPY: Also known as insight-oriented therapy, it evolved from Freudian psychoanalysis in which the therapist interprets the patient’s words and behaviors. This approach holds that bringing the unconscious into conscious awareness promotes insight and resolves conflict. This therapy involves more frequent sessions than CBT does.

The COLLEGE Graduate

The Researcher

* Works in private, government or university research centers.

* Studies human behavior in all areas of life.

* Mental health workers use these findings and results in therapy practice.

Neurologists are often mistaken for psychiatrists, possibly because they study and treat brain-related illnesses, such as dementia or Alzheimer’s disease. Oliver Sacks is one such neurologist; he treated catatonic patients and wrote about it in his best-selling book Awakenings.

Industrial/organizational psychologists often apply their knowledge to the workplace–in human resources or management consulting, for example.


Talk Show Host

Some of the most famous shrinks aren’t even shrinks.

Dr. Ruth Westheimer, for one, pioneered therapy in the media when her show, Sexually Speaking, hit the radio in 1980. Dr. Ruth holds an Ed.D. from Columbia University. Dr. Laura Schlessinger went on the air in 1994 and continues to share advice with some 12 million listeners. Though her doctorate is in physiology, she holds a postdoctoral certificate in counseling. Dr. Phil McGraw does have a Ph.D. in psychology. He opened a private clinic with his father and later co-founded a litigation consulting firm. After Oprah hired him to coach her when she was sued by Texas cattle ranchers, he became a regular on her show. The “tell-it-like-it-is” life strategist is now his own brand.

Life Coach

You don’t need a degree to coach others, but chutzpah is a plus. Life coaches don’t treat mental illness. Instead, they show healthy people how to realize their goals in work, family and life in general. With coaching, individuals learn how to live happier lives. This area also includes executive coaching; professionals learn to be better managers, for example. Well-known life coaches include Martha Beck, who has a Ph.D. in sociology, and guru Anthony Robbins, coach to Bill Clinton.

(Life coaching varies widely in method and pay.)



$42,000-$47,000 academic researcher

$46,000 therapist

$49,500 social worker

$66,000 university administrator

$70,000 project manager *


$35,500 part-time university instructor

$53,000 associate university professor

$65,000 academic researcher

$66,500-$72,000 licensed psychologist

$77,000 school psychologist

$78,000 tenured university professor

$79,000-$96,000 management consultant *

$85,000-$100,000 project manager *



Developmental or Child Psych University of Minnesota

Evolutionary University of New Mexico

Social Psychology University of Michigan

Cognitive Carnegie Mellon University

Personality Stanford University


Developmental or Child Psych Institute of Child Development

Evolutionary Groundbreaking work on mating and


Social Psychology Children and media violence studies

Cognitive Center for Cognitive Brain Imaging

Personality Culture and Emotion Lab

RELATED ARTICLE: So you think you want to be a shrink?

Say the word shrink and Dr. Melfi of The Sopranos may come to mind: a coolly detached professional, listening attentively and occasionally interjecting, “How did that make you feel?” One way to become a practitioner of this sort is to earn a doctorate in clinical psychology. Traditionally, this has meant a Ph.D. (and less commonly, an Ed.D. or doctor of education), but in the last 30 years the Psy.D. (doctor of psychology) has become an increasingly popular route; it now makes up more than half of new clinicians.

The difference? The Ph.D. is an academic degree: You’ll get clinical training but you’ll also learn more about theory as well as tools like statistics and data gathering. These skills are good preparation for a career in research and teaching as well as in the private practice of psychotherapy. This educational track could also land you in a government agency or even in a corporation. The Psy.D., on the other hand, is focused solely on work with patients, so you’ll spend more time studying psychotherapeutic approaches.

With either degree, you can practice therapy with individuals, families or groups on your own, in a hospital or clinic; or with schools, courts or corporations.

Psychologists, though, are outnumbered by social workers: The last head count (in 2000) found 77,500 psychologists and 192,800 social workers. According to the National Association of Social Workers, that number is expected to increase some 30 percent by 2010.

Social workers practice therapy on their own or in a variety of settings–schools, clinics, even charities like the United Way. They may help individuals get the medical attention they need, or they may help them navigate the criminal justice system. To enroll in a two-year master’s degree program, you don’t need to major in psychology or any other particular subject in college.

And then there are psychiatrists. While psychiatrists may also practice psychotherapy, they are of a different stripe altogether. First of all, they are medical doctors (M.D.s) knowledgeable about physical as well as mental health. But many of the 40,700 psychiatrists who work in the U.S. spend the bulk of their time treating mental illness with medication. (Like all physicians, psychiatrists are licensed to prescribe drugs.)

The only other medically trained professionals licensed to do psychotherapy and prescribe medication are psychiatric nurses. These master’s degree–level registered nurses (R.N.s) may also work as case managers or consultants, usually in hospitals or clinics.

Increasingly, however, it’s the nation’s 80,000 counselors who provide a good share of today’s mental-health care. To be licensed, you’ll need a master’s level degree in psychology or counseling. Counselors often treat people in crisis or with problems like drug or alcohol abuse, and usually for short periods.

But in truth, you don’t need any training whatsoever to offer services–just call yourself a psychotherapist and “treat” whomever answers your ad. You won’t be subject to state regulation, but health insurance won’t pay for your work, either.

The same goes for life coaching, one of the fastest growing areas of psychology. Anyone can become a coach (many psychologists cross over for the higher pay). Individuals seek life coaches for guidance in achieving professional or personal goals. No certification or education is necessary, but there are training programs offering the skills you’ll need.

Carl Sherman

Carl Sherman is a mental-health writer based in New York City.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Sussex Publishers, Inc.

COPYRIGHT 2004 Gale Group

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