If you think you would like to become a therapist, there are many avenues open to you. Most often, we think if psychiatry, clinical psychology and counseling psychology as the only possibilities for a clinical career. There are other possibilities including psychiatric social work, psychiatric nursing, pastoral counseling, and forensic psychology. Although there has been a blurring of the boundaries between the disciplines, each clinical field has a traditional approach to therapy and a different training style. Also, licensure, typical client populations, and the average fee for service in private practice differs. Making an informed decision about which field best matches your aspirations and goals requires planning. Optimally, you should
- talk to professionals in the field(s) that are of interest to you
- look up the webpages of programs/schools that are of interest to you to see what they offer and to get an idea of admissions criteria and mission
- attend (if possible) regional and national conferences, either as a presenter or as an attendee and speak to graduate program recruiters on site
- talk to the counseling/clinical faculty in the department and in The College (e.g., the Counselor Education program, the Counseling Center staff, etc.)
- Frequently Asked Questions
- The Divisions with the American Psychological Association
What is involved in becoming a licensed psychologist?
The qualifications to sit for the licensing exam vary from state to state. However, the exam itself is usually twofold:
- a national examination, and
- a state examination. The state examination may be a multiple choice, essay and/or an oral examination
You must pass each examination by the criteria set by the state. This may be the national average for the time that you sat for the exam or it may be a fixed percentage point (e.g., 70% is a popular percentage used by many states).
Both masters and doctoral programs are common and available in counseling psychology. Many students initially complete a masters degree program and then apply for a Ph.D. program. This is a useful strategy for a variety of reasons (e.g., you are currently interested in pursuing a terminal maters degree, you do not want to commit to five to seven years of graduate school for a Ph.D. at this time, or you are trying to improve your chances in getting into a doctoral program by doing well in a masters program).
Schools of counseling psychology are granted from Departments of Education. Counseling psychology programs typically have a developmental/assessment focus. Individuals interested in counseling psychology want to work with less disturbed client populations. Both clinical and counseling programs involve training in counseling theory and interventions, psychological testing, etc. The therapeutic techniques and training in psychological assessment may differ from a clinical program. For example, counseling psychologists take at least one course in career assessment.
Since psychology is a licensable term, you must be licensed to use the title of psychologist. However, if you are not licensed, you can still be a practitioner and use the title of counselor or psychotherapist but you will not be able to receive third party payments. Counseling psychologists are able to become licensed psychologists in all states but you must have a degree from an APA accredited program. Licensure is given through state psychology licensure boards. The requirements to qualify for the licensing exam vary from state to state but most states require a doctoral degree and at least two years of supervised experience totaling 3000 hours. However some states allow you to become licensed with a masters degree but the requirements may differ (e.g., number of supervised hours and types of coursework, etc.). Attending an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited graduate program and an APA accredited internship will help to make you more competitive in the job market and will make it easier to assure you meet the licensure requirements (although some people may become licensed without attending an accredited internship and/or graduate program).
State licensure boards and the publications of APA, APS and ACA are good resources to find out more about the practice of psychology. Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide third party payments for licensed psychologists.
- American Psychological Association
- American Psychological Society
- APA Division 17, Counseling Psychology
- U.S. Department of Labor
People who identify themselves as counselors tend to see a population similar to counseling psychologists. A national certification exam for counselors is sponsored by the American Counseling Association (ACA). Currently Nationally Certified Counselors (NCC) are recognized in New Jersey and in nearly all other states (see website below). To become a Nationally Certified Counselor you need to have a minimum of a masters degree in counseling and two years of supervised post-masters clinical work. However, if you graduate from a Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Program (CACREP) and pass the national counselor examination, the two years of clinical work is waived. An NCC cannot receive third party payments. Licensed Professional Counselors (LPC) can receive third party payments in many states. An LPC is someone who earned 60 graduate credits in counseling, passed the National Counselor examination and acquired a specified amount of post master experience (the number of hours varies from state to state). For an independent practice the LPC is the important credential to have. It is beneficial to obtain an NCC since an NCC fills some of the requirements for the LPC. Graduation from a CACREP program reduces the amount of post-masters supervision necessary (TCNJ has a CACREP accredited masters in counseling program) to be an LPC.
There are certificates available in specialized fields in counseling including Mental Health Counselor, Gerontological Counselors, Career Counselors, and School Counselors. State licensure boards and ACA publications are good places to find out more about the work of counselors.
- The American Counseling Association
- Council for Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP)
Becoming a clinical psychologist involves completing a doctoral program in clinical psychology. There are a few masters programs in clinical psychology but a masters is not seen as a terminal degree and the job market is significantly limited for clinicians with a maters degree. Clinical programs cover a wider span of pathology than most counseling programs. Individuals interested in clinical psychology are interested in working with a more disturbed populations and their training includes the types of assessment tools and clinical interventions that are applicable to this population.
In order to receive third party payments and to call yourself a psychologist, you must be licensed. Psychology is a licensable term. Thus if you become a therapist and are not licensed you may not call yourself a psychologist. You can still practice under the title of counselor or psychotherapist however but you will not be able to accept third party payments. Licensing comes through passing the national and the state exams. The requirements to qualify for the licensing exam vary from state to state but most states require a doctoral degree and at least two years of supervised experience totaling 3000 hours. However a few states do allow you to become licensed with a masters degree. Attending an American Psychological Association (APA) accredited graduate program and an APA accredited internship will help to make you more competitive in the job market and will make it easier to meet the licensure requirements although some people are successful without these credentials. State licensure boards and the publications of APA and APS are good resources to find out more about the practice of psychology. Blue Cross Blue Shield provides third party payments for licensed psychologists.
- American Psychological Association
- APA Division 12, Society for Clinical Psychology
- Division 40, Clinical Neuropsychology
- Division 53, Society of Clinical Child and Adolescent Psychology
- American Psychological Society
- U.S. Department of Labor
What is the difference between a Psy.D. (doctor of psychology) and a Ph.D. (doctor of philosophy)?
Ph..D. programs are in departments within the College of Arts and Sciences of a university. Psy.D programs are usually housed in independent schools and not necessarily affiliated with a university. The primary focus of individuals in Psy.D. programs is to become a therapist while the focus of Ph.D. programs includes being a therapist, an academic and/or researcher. In Ph.D. programs, your dissertation must be an empirical study and as a Ph.D. you are able to teach in undergraduate psychology departments and in graduate schools in the College of Arts and Sciences. Usually dissertations in Psy.D. programs are theoretical rather than empirically based. Psy.D.s who are interested in teaching do so in Psy.D programs. While Ph.D. programs take 5-7 years to complete, Psy. D. programs average 3- 4 years for completion.
Psychiatric Social Work/Clinical Social Workers
Traditionally social workers have provided more of a case management function, helping people to get connected with the social services. The focus of psychiatric social workers is to provide therapy but recognize that modifications in the environment to must be taken into consideration to accommodate the individual. While psychology’s emphasis is on how the individual ‘fits in’ to society, psychiatric social workers are more systems focused and take into consideration how society must accommodate the individual. The National Association of Social Workers is the primary professional organization. There are state chapters as well, each with their own webpage. Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide third party payments for Licensed Clinical Social Workers.
Pastoral counselors are counselors that combine clinical skills with their religious training.
Forensic psychology is field for those interested in the interface of law and psychology and on the issues and needs of individuals involved in the criminal justice system. The type of employment varies.
Psychiatric nursing combines the skills and training of nursing with that of mental health. Psychiatric nurses usually work in inpatient hospital settings. Many also have private practices and have other types of employment. Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide third party payments for Clinical Nurse Specialists(CNS) and a Certified Nurse Practitioners (CNP).
School psychologists are trained in the School of Education and usually have an M.Ed. in school psychology. School psychologists are not trained clinicians: their charge is to evaluate and refer students who are brought to her/his attention by teachers, school counselors, etc.
Certified Addictions Counselor
There are many types of certification available in mental health. For example, a certified addictions counselor is a person who works with individual with drug and/or alcohol problems.
Psychiatrists have a medical degree and are physicians who specialize in psychiatry in their residence. Unlike psychologists, psychiatrist can prescribe medication to their clients. Most psychiatrists are psychodynamic in their theoretical orientation. Blue Cross Blue Shield will provide third party payments for licensed psychiatrists.