Top 5 degrees to become a clinician

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Dear Psychologist,

I am thinking of becoming a psychologist. I am in interested in the human mind. But mostly I want to do therapy with clients. What degrees can you recommend to me? Thank you, Jeanne

Dear Jeanne,

Becoming a psychologist is certainly an excellent way to train as a clinician, and the subject areas do cover the workings of the human mind. As you suggest, there are different ways to learn to be a clinician. I will outline some possible paths to help you in your career goals.

1) Ph.D. in psychology or counseling psychology: One of the most traditional ways to become a clinician has been to obtain a doctoral degree in an area of psychology. Doctoral degrees are a minimum of four years, include a full year internship and require you to complete a dissertation and take a state licensing exam. Once you are licensed, you can practice therapy as a psychologist. You will also be able to supervise interns and other doctoral students.

2) Psy.D.: This degree is also a doctorate but is somewhat different than the classic doctoral education in psychology. Psy.D. programs emphasize work experience. Your teachers will be practicing clinicians in the field, and you will likely have the opportunity to do a training program every year that you are in school. Psy.D. programs focus on integrating knowledge with practice.

3) M.S.W. Licensed social workers are also trained to practice therapy, as long as they have had the chance to do an internship or practicum as a clinician. The programs are typically two years in length.

The M.S.W. degree is well regarded by employers and insurance companies. Clinician fees are smaller than doctoral level staff yet still reimbursable by insurance.

4) M.A. in psychology or counseling: Like other masters programs these degrees usually take about two years to complete, and they may or may not include practical experience in the field. Professionals with this degree often find they are not covered by many insurance companies. Also, in many states, such as N.C., a therapist with a master's degree must receive supervision or consultation from a doctoral level psychologist.

5) Ed.D. or M.Ed: Though technically these degrees are in the education field, some people do go on to get the right experience and licensure with them. If being a therapist is your top career goal, however, I would not suggest this route as the best one to take.

In addition, you may have heard that psychiatrists sometimes practice therapy. Psychiatrists have medical school training and tend to focus on medication issues. While it used to be more common for psychiatrists to become clinicians, it is most likely now that a psychiatrist will confine her practice to medication.

In summary:

How to decide which program is right for you? First, how much time and money can you invest? A doctoral program is a much bigger commitment of both than the master's program. On the other hand, becoming a licensed psychologist will train you to do assessment and other skills you might not get from a two year's master's.

Like other fields, you can enroll in a traditional program, an online program or a hybrid, which is a combination of traditional and online work.

Clinicians contribute good work to the world. I hope that you find the program that is right for you.

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