If you love helping people, are often the go-to person for advice, and have a deep fascination with psychology, then becoming a psychologist could be the perfect path forward for you. Psychology is one of the universal subjects, so even if you decide later on that becoming a psychologist isn’t for you, the education and schooling you will have earned up till then can still serve you well in various career paths in all industries.
Psychology is the study of people and understanding people, their thoughts and processes, and how to help them. For most, however, helping people directly as a registered psychologist is one of the most worthwhile and fulfilling paths forward.
Becoming a psychologist may seem like a long journey. It is true that it can take at least eight years, and in many cases, even longer. Just because it takes that long to earn that Ph.D. or Psy.D, however, does not mean that you cannot get started on work as a therapist or that you are putting your life on hold.
It is simply a matter of continuously progressing through your qualifications while earning clinical experience. With this approach, it doesn’t take you ten years to reach your goal. You instead work progressively through the ranks until you reach your dream role.
The Difference Between a Therapist, a Psychologist, and a Psychiatrist
One of the biggest concepts to understand when you want to get into psychology as a whole is the difference between therapist, psychologist, and psychiatrist. When you first start out, you may be tempted to use these terms interchangeably, but they are entirely different professions.
Therapists work holistically and offer an open ear to their clients. They work to help clients identify key areas in their lives and offer advice and suggestions on how to make the improvements their clients want to see in their own lives. To become a therapist, you typically need a master’s degree in psychology.
Psychologists also work in a similar way as therapists. One of the biggest differences is, of course, that psychologists need to have either a PhD or a Psy.D in order to practice. Psychologists are the highest level of therapist and often work closely with psychiatrists to help guide and treat patients with various concerns and mental illnesses.
Psychiatrists focus primarily on the health aspect of mental health. Rather than offering guidance, they work to diagnose mental illnesses and prescribe medication. They may also use and offer advanced treatment options or refer their patients to specialists for ongoing care and guidance. To become a psychiatrist, you need to complete medical school and then complete a psychiatric residency that typically lasts around four years.
How to Choose the Right Path
A good way to understand which route is right for you is to ask yourself the question of how you want to help people. If you want to help people with a medical background, work as a psychiatrist. Technically you can actually work within mental health as a nurse and earn an MSN in mental health as well, but that’s another distinction entirely.
If you want to help people holistically, meaning you focus primarily on their mental processes and thoughts rather than their brain chemistry, then you will want to work towards becoming a psychologist. A therapist is a level below psychologist and a role that you will typically work in while completing your PhD or Psy.D.
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How to Get Started
Getting started with your career means a lot of education, both theoretical and practical. Caring for someone’s mental health is a huge responsibility, after all, so go knowing you’ll need to complete all of these steps before you can get started with practicing independently.
1. With a Bachelor in Psychology
The basics are the best place to start, and the basics in this career path are with a BSc in Psychology. Don’t immediately assume that you need to start from scratch, however. Unless you have only just graduated from high school and would benefit from the on-campus experience, you will more likely benefit from an online college psychology degree instead.
These online degrees mean that you don’t need to pay to move, for student accommodation, or for higher living costs. In some cases, you can continue working or at least continue to care for your responsibilities while pursuing your dream career path.
If you already have a bachelor’s degree, then you can even transfer credits to graduate faster and more affordably. In short, use every option to help you save and to help you graduate faster so that you can get started on your career in mental health.
2. Earning Your Next Credentials
To become a psychologist, you will need to progress through the entire gamut. This means you will also need to earn a master’s in psychology and earn a PhD in psychology or a Psy.D in psychology. To earn your license, you will also need to complete a certain number of clinical hours, though it is important to note these clinical hours may be earned during your master’s or your doctorate, as they are supervised, in-person training opportunities.
3. Residency and Clinical Hours
Every psychologist-to-be will need to complete between 2000 to 4000 clinical hours before they can practice independently. Some practices allow you to get started when you are working towards your master’s; others won’t. The rules will depend on your state, so check licensing requirements before you get started with your master’s degree so that you can prepare accordingly.
Once you have completed the necessary education and clinical hours, you can then apply for a license through your state. The exact requirements do differ depending on where you are practicing, so stay up to date with the licensure so you can get everything ready in advance.
5. Practice Independently
Once you are fully licensed, you can then start to work as a doctor, apply for open role, start your own clinic, and more. You can work publicly, privately, or in a hybrid model that works to bring in money through private clients so that you can support yourself and can offer pro bono work to those who are in desperate need of your services.