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Is it Worth it to Get a Master's in Psychology?

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Question:
Dear Psychologist,

I have a bachelor's degree in psychology and have worked in a crisis center for two years. I would like to increase my job opportunities in the field by going to graduate school. I've considered several degrees: doctorate in psychology, master's degree in social work, or master's degree in psychology. If I want to treat clients in clinical practice, would a master's degree be enough? I am afraid of how long and expensive a doctoral degree can be. Thanks, Emma

Answer:
Dear Emma,

Your question is a good one. There are many paths to becoming a clinician and each has its advantages and disadvantages. As you suggest, three primary clinical degrees are the doctorate in psychology, the master's in social work, and the master's degree in psychology.

Doctoral degree in psychology

If you are seriously considering a doctorate in psychology, you will indeed be embarking upon an education of four years or more. The two main kinds of doctoral degrees in clinical psychology are the Ph.D., which is more traditional, and the Psy.D. which is quite application based. I became a psychologist through a Psy.D. program and I loved the intense focus on practical experience. Also, all of my instructors were practicing psychologists, which made the classes very interesting. Any kind of doctoral program in psychology will include course work in standard subjects such as abnormal psychology, human development, personality theories, assessment, statistics, and treatments. You will also complete at least one internship and a final project or dissertation. Finally, you will take a state licensing exam.

Although it is obviously longer and more expensive to get a doctoral degree, there are some advantages. You will have a more extended training and educational experience, you will study psychological testing, and you will be eligible for licensure. Practicing as a licensed psychologist means you are eligible to supervise junior clinicians, treat clients in private practice, and be reimbursed by many insurance agencies. On the down side, many clinics and hospitals only need one psychologist (who are paid more) while hiring many master's level clinicians.

Master's degrees

A master's degree in social work is a very good alternative for someone who wants to be a clinician in private practice or a clinic and does not want to spend the time and money required for a doctorate. You will complete an internship and you will also get licensed in your state. However, because your training is shorter you will study less courses, which means that to specialize you might want to take additional training later on in your practice. Social workers also do not do psychological testing. On the plus side, this profession is covered by most insurance agencies for therapy reimbursement.

You asked about a master's degree in psychology. In my opinion, this degree is the weakest of the choices, primarily because it is not a "terminal" or final degree. Many insurance companies do not reimburse clinician's with this degree which means that clinics are less likely to hire you. So if you want to do psycho-therapy, you are probably best off with a psychology doctorate or master's degree in social work. On the other hand, if you want to work in a crisis center or similar type of setting, it is possible that a master's degree in psychology will help you advance to a higher level. There is some merit in it, but for your money and time you are wise to consider carefully your choices.

Good luck on your path.

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