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At A Crossroads: Psych., Phil or Couns. Psych.

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At A Crossroads: Psych., Phil or Couns. Psych.


I'm at a crossroads as I consider my path toward graduate education and would greatly appreciate any guidance this community can offer as to where best to direct my focus.


I graduated in 2019 with a degree in business communications with only a 2.7 GPA. I wasn't an engaged student and even now, I find it difficult to articulate exactly what I gained from my major (I do not believe I could intellectually explain to someone what “Business Communications” even is, or what I learned). I have a full time job now with good pay, but it was through connections and not at all due to my specific area of study.

Over the years, and through a few periods of my own personal struggles, I’ve taken a massive interest in philosophical writing and depth psychology. For the past year or so, I have been planning to apply to counseling programs, envisioning myself as a therapist who integrates these interests into my practice. However, the more I learn and read, the more I question whether I would actually enjoy working as a client-facing therapist.

As I’ve been spending a large amount of time studying and writing on both subjects (writing is a very helpful tool for me in actually learning new subjects) I'm beginning to see the appeal of a research-oriented role, potentially even in academia. Despite my undergraduate struggles, writing has always been a strong suit—I excelled in all writing-centric courses, had a perfect writing score on both my SAT and ACT, and read/write about psychological or philosophic topics for fun any chance I get.

The appeal of being a therapist for me was originally in that I could perhaps work in private practice and incorporate this emphasis on depth psychology and philosophic themes in my work, and work with clients who also had an interest in these arenas. The more I explore the practical aspects of being a therapist, the more I question whether it's the right fit for me. I lack direct experience in psychology or philosophy, such as volunteer work, publications, or lab research. However, I've been fortunate to find a mentor in bioenergetic therapy, a psychology subfield that interests me greatly and has, as it turns out, a lot of correlatives to depth psychology. My fantastic mentor has provided invaluable guidance, but she can really only speak as to the counseling side of this. I'm considering enrolling in a bioenergetic certification program, hoping it might satisfy my craving to study somatic psychology more deeply, thus allowing me to use a master's program to acquire other skills more oriented toward research and teaching.

So, I’m contemplating three potential paths, each with the ultimate goal of excelling academically and advancing to a Ph.D. program. For the basis of my decision, I'm assuming little to no financial aid will be given. I'm planning to use a combination of federal loans and personal savings to fund my masters. Then, God willing, gain admission to a funded doctoral program following a terrific academic standing in my masters. Here are my thoughts:

Scenario 1: Masters in Counseling

I'm apprehensive about the curriculum of accredited counseling programs, fearing my disinterest might again hinder my academic performance as it did in undergrad. While there are some non-accredited programs with intriguing curricula to me, such as those at Pacifica Graduate Institute, Naropa, and CIIS, their high tuition costs and my lack of financial aid obstacles.

In theory, I could suck it up while in my degree and take outside certificate courses and research which more closely aligns with my interests, though I’m not sure how much free time I would have. Given my increasingly further disconnect from the idea of counseling, I’m now questioning if this is still a good choice for me. If I decide (or more accurately, confirm) that the counseling path is not what I had envisioned, I'm not sure this degree will be as applicable to my continuing education in a more research-focused field as compared to, say, a more generalized psychology degree (see: Scenario 2). However, if it turns out I really do enjoy working with clients in practice, and there is ample opportunity to incorporate other psychological methodologies which I am drawn to, then it turns out this may be the perfect choice.

Specific Questions:

  1. If I confirm throughout the course of my studies that I would like to work in research rather than clinical practice, will a counseling masters be sufficient for me to apply for research-focused psychology Ph.D. programs? Given the lesser research weight in a counseling degree, I question how prepared I would really be.
  2. Is there a lot of opportunity for writing/research assignments in counseling programs, or are you generally graded via tests and practicum?

Scenario 2: Masters in psychology

The benefit of this option is that it offers (seemingly) more flexibility, potentially allowing me to continue working full-time. Plus a smaller course load would be helpful at first. My education would seemingly have more emphasis on research and writing. However, a similar problem exists here where the programs I am most interested in also happen to be quite expensive, so my only option would likely be your more run of the mill, general psychology masters, which to me is still more interesting (in theory) than a general counseling degree, and may lend itself better to a future in academia.

Upon completion of this degree, I could then apply for Ph.D. programs. If I have a change of heart after years of learning even more about the profession, there is still a pathway to clinical practice and working with clients as a psychologist, and my idea of running a private practice (someday) could still be an option in addition to academia and research. However, if even through this degree I find my research and teaching interests lie in more theoretical fields, then I'm not sure if this would appropriately prepare me for a future in philosophy.

For the record, I do think there are myriad ways in which I could work in psychology research and find outside means of scratching my itch for philosophy/theoretical concepts. There may be enough overlap to keep me sufficiently engaged in a career in psychology, so I of course have to consider the likely fact that I could just be overvaluing my self-predicated need to combine career with passion.

Specific Questions:

  1. Would a Master's in Psychology be considered a viable stepping stone to a Ph.D. in Philosophy, should my interests solidify in that direction? Or would my only option for a potential doctoral-level education path be through continuing in psychology? If I learn throughout the course of my studies that I would like to study philosophy, I would at least like to have not totally wasted 2+ years. However, as noted above, I could also theoretically just supplement my studies in psychology with certificates and independent research in philosophy.

Scenario 3: Masters in Philosophy, Religion

These are the programs where I look at the curriculum and get really excited. Additionally, unlike both of the above, I’m having a much easier time finding programs that I am both interested in and can afford. I have read conflicting opinions as to whether philosophy programs will weigh writing samples more heavily compared to other fields. Can anyone confirm or deny? If that is the case, then despite my undergrad GPA I would be a little more confident in my acceptance status in applying to philosophy.

They are more affordable, and I'm drawn to their curricula. I'm considering several international programs as well, such as those offered by the University of Edinburgh, University of Aberdeen, and University of Birmingham, which are available in online formats suitable for part-time study.

What I'm also unsure of is if this would completely rule out ever working in psychology, i.e. if I would like to apply for a psychology doctorate program even after going the masters route in philosophy.

Specific Questions:

  1. How heavily are writing samples weighed, in general, versus GPA and past performance?
  2. Are Master's degrees, and strong performance, from UK institutions well-regarded by US Ph.D. programs? Or, would my only option be UK Ph.D. programs (which I am also not opposed to, as from what I can tell these can be much more researched heavy).
  3. Reversing my question from above, can a masters in Philosophy also be applicable or legitimately acceptable in applications for a Ph.D. in psychology, assuming it was a research-focused program?

Thank you for reading this far. Already in writing this out, my claims to sanity feel a couple percentage points less like an outright lie, so thanks for allowing me to clear my head. I'm trying to navigate these options with no prior experience in applying for graduate programs. Any insights, advice, or personal experiences would be immensely helpful!

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