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Grad School Decisions (PsyD, PhD, LPC ect..)

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Hey GradCafesians, 

I feel like I am at a grocery store choosing which red sauce to buy for pasta, except I will be eating sauce for the next 3 - 6 years. I have done extensive research on the varieties of red sauce (grad schools), yet am still indecisive. 

My main goal is to become a therapist and open my own private practice with other licensed therapists. Secondarily, I am also interested in doing clinical research at a University. I lean towards alternative therapies such as mindfulness (e.g., dbt) and spiritual approaches as well as working with patients with anxiety and mood disorders. However, I also see the benefit of going to a more normative institution to establish a traditional therapeutic framework, seeking specialized training after graduation. 

Where my decision making falls short is (obviously) the amount of paths I can take to become a therapist. PhD, PsyD, LPC, MSW ect. I have a 3.7 GPA, with 155 Verbal and 148 Math (ouch; might take again), and sig. amount of therapeutic experience in clinical and academic settings. If I were to apply to doctoral programs, I would reluctantly take the GRE again.

I currently am leaning towards masters because of networking purposes and am honestly scared of being locked into a doctoral program for 5-6 years that may not be a good fit. On the other hand, masters programs are typically not paid for (right?) and getting a masters and PhD separately would take significantly longer then going straight for a PhD. 

I wanted to hear some of your experiences on obtaining these degrees and advice to a youngin' with both formal and informal therapeutic interests. 

Your help is much appreciated!

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It just really depends on your interests.

You can practice as a therapist/counselor in pretty much all states with a master's - either in mental health counseling (LPC) or social work (MSW/LICSW). As you mentioned, master's programs usually are not paid for; you typically have to finance them with loans, although occasionally you can get an assistantship to pay for part of it. That said, if your goal is primarily to practice as a therapist - either in private practice or at a hospital, clinic, school, etc. - a master's is all you really need. You can practice semi-independently in most states. (In some, you may need technical 'supervision', but that often just means meeting with a doctoral-level therapist once a week to chat about cases.) I have a friend who has a master's in mental health counseling and is an LPC and she works in private practice now.

It's your secondary interest that would push you towards a doctoral-level degree. If you want to do clinical research at a university, you will need a doctoral degree. There are a couple of options in those fields: you could get a PhD in clinical or counseling psychology, or you could get a PhD or DSW in a social work program. I wouldn't recommend the PsyD if you are interested in research; PsyDs are clinical degrees that are focused on clinical practice and developing you as a high-level clinician. The PhD is the research degree in this case. There are a lot of PhD students at mainstream schools studying mindfulness (I knew tons and tons of people doing research on mindfulness in psychology and public health), and many people in mainstream programs take an interest in spiritual approaches to therapy.

One option that may appeal to you is doing an MSW, getting licensed as a clinical social worker and practicing for a few years, and then returning for a PhD in social work. I have a few friends who have or are working on their PhDs in social work and this is generally the route they took. You need an MSW to get a PhD in social work anyway, and this will also allow you to practice part-time while you earn your PhD (good for earning money!) You could also get an MSW and then get a PhD in clinical or counseling psychology, or get an MA or M.Ed in mental health counseling and do the PhD in either psychological subfield with the same outcome.

If you're at all unsure about the PhD, I would personally recommend doing the master's and working first. The PhD is always going to be around. Yes, master's cost money, but PhDs cost you time and opportunity costs. That's 5-7 years that you could be working, saving money, saving for retirement and just living your life with your free time (which is something that I didn't value as much pre-PhD as I do now post-PhD). There are also ways to reduce the costs for master's programs. For example, I would highly recommend doing a master's at a public university in a state in which you are a resident. Neither social work nor therapy is a particularly prestige-focused field, and if you get a PhD later your PhD school is the one that will matter anyway.

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Hey juilletmercredi. I am only two years late on this response. Had to distance myself away from school for a while to rediscover what I wanted to do. Ironically, this falls into the paths you mention above. My plan is to get a MSW and then a PhD down the road. However, my biggest concern is that the credit from an MSW will not transfer over to a PhD, wasting two years of schooling.

Do you know much about credit transfer?

Thanks a bunch, friend! :

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