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Should a social worker become a psychologist?

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Question:
Dear Psychologist,

I'm turning 40 and will be completing my MSW soon. However, I realize that I would like to become a psychologist. I still have a heart for social work but I feel I want to study more about people's behavior and psych would allow me that and I find it extremely interesting. But I am 40 and I can't course-hop. Do you have any suggestions as to what I should do? Sincerely, Alyss

Answer:
Dear Alyss,

Congratulations on almost finishing your master's degree in social work. The MSW degree is a solid one with many advantages. It is considered a terminal degree, which means that it is not necessary to add on a doctorate degree in order to practice your career. In fact, the key thing to consider here is whether you have been on a track in the MSW program to become a therapist. As you probably already know, the MSW also includes an internship training experience if you are planning on becoming a therapist. You can become licensed at the state level (LiCSW) and be eligible for insurance reimbursement.

Social work and psychology degree programs have areas of overlap. Both train you to help people to improve their lives. Social work programs generally have different areas of specialization. You could become a clinician or an adoption specialist or help foster children.

Becoming a clinical social worker

If you have completed all the steps in a clinical social work program and are qualified to practice therapy then I am not sure there is any compelling reason to "course hop" and try for a doctorate in psychology or other advanced degree. What is it about psychology that attracts you? Do you feel that your social work program has been too heavily focused on social issues and not enough on the minds, behaviors, and emotions of individuals? Are you interested in assessment?

Perhaps you can finish your degree and look for opportunities to expand or enrich your education after graduation. For instance, you could look for a work experience with supervision that trains you in a specific area, such as treating trauma. You could take one or two classes in a doctoral program of psychology or even in an on-line program. Think about what subject areas interest you that weren't well covered in your social work program. Do you want to know more about health psychology, cognitive-behavioral treatment or group therapy? Also you could look for continuing education classes that supplement what you learned in school.

Becoming a licensed psychologist

A doctoral degree in psychology is a big endeavor. It involves four years (at a minimum) of school, an internship, a dissertation and a state licensing exam. Therefore, it is smart to consider whether you have a strong need to get this additional education before you invest more time and money into your career. With a social work degree you will be able to do most of what a psychologist can do. If you were starting fresh, I might advise you to follow the psychology degree, but given that you are almost done with your MSW, I think you will be best served by supplementing your MSW degree with specific classes as necessary.

Good luck with your career planning.

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