I am 37 and have been working as a nurse in a psychiatric hospital. I recently applied to a doctoral program in psychology but now I am thinking maybe I shouldn't become a psychologist because I will be over forty before I am licensed to practice. What do you think-- should I go forward or am I making a mistake? Sincerely, Carrie
I understand that you might have hesitation in starting a new career in mid-life; however, there can be many advantages to becoming a psychologist after 40. It sounds like your wish to pursue this new field comes in part from your experience in a psychiatric hospital. If you have come to your decision after thoughtful reflection then indeed this might be a very good time of life for you to make this career change.
Advantages of Becoming a Psychologist at 40?
1) Life experience: Even if you have worked in a completely different field, the experiences you have had can contribute to your becoming a better psychologist. If you have been a parent, cared for elderly relatives, managed direct reports in an organization or taught children you have had to use your skills in interpersonal relationships. Your life experiences can also help you in specific client populations; for instance, a parent of an autistic child may have a keen understanding of the challenges and resources for autistic children.
2) Work experience: In your case you have worked in a psychiatric setting. Such related work experience can be quite valuable for obtaining the most out of your further education. For instance, when you study Abnormal Psychology for your doctoral degree you will probably be able to have images in mind based on the work you have already done. Your background can help you contribute more fully to the classroom discussion. Often work experience can provide the motivation to go further in education in order to be better able to help clients.
3) Better understanding of life goals: Another advantage of beginning a new career after 40 is that if you have been a reflective person, you have had time to consolidate your values and life goals. Is there a specific area of psychology you want to pursue? A type of client you feel strongly about helping?
4) Perception for clients: Psychology is one of those careers in which being older can be an advantage. Clients often want to go to someone for treatment that they perceive as having as much or more life experience than they do.
5) Maturity and wisdom: Finally, hopefully you will be bringing a greater sense of maturity and wisdom to the profession now than if you were in your early 20s. Studying clinical psychology is a demanding endeavor that will often require you to know yourself well in order to help your clients. The best psychologists have a keen self-understanding and ability to monitor their own behaviors. They are able to assess their competencies and to use supervision well.
The American Psychological Association can be a rich source of information for you. Do you have a passion for this field? Do you spend time in self-reflection? If you want to become a psychologist, please do not worry about your age: instead focus on building your skills and competencies and you will do great.