I Want to Be a Counselor But Don’t Want to Spend an Eternity in School

Reader’s Question

I am highly interested in becoming a counseling psychologist, and I would like to work in an environment like a counseling center. I would like to get my Psy.D., but I’m getting different answers on how long you have to go to college to get it. I’m in my last year of high school, and I really need to find this out before I start applying to colleges. I would love to be in psychology, but I’m more of a person who loves to listen to peoples’ problems and give them advice on what I think. That’s why I chose counseling psychology. The only problem is that I really don’t want to be in college for so long. Someone told me it takes like 10-12 years, and that’s longer than I’d like to be in school. I hope that you can help me to figure this out. If it does take a pretty long time I would love if you could give me some other options other than psychology that don’t take as long for training.

Psychologist’s Reply

There are many opportunities for working in the behavioral health professions. To practice independently as a psychologist, most states in the US require you to have completed doctoral-level training. This typically involves completion of an undergraduate degree (approximately 4 years) as well as graduate studies leading to a doctoral degree (approximately 4 years) as well as a one-year internship. Most accredited psychology programs offer programs in counseling, experimental, and clinical psychology and confer graduates a Ph.D (or an Ed.D. if training in a university’s college of education). Ph.D. and Ed.D. candidates are required to complete a dissertation (an approved scientific research project) which can take a varying amount of time. Psy.D. programs are geared more toward the acquisition of independent practitioner skills, and most do not require dissertations. This can shave substantial amounts off the time necessary to complete your studies in comparison to Ph.D. or Ed.D. programs. Although there has been some controversy in the past about the integrity of the Psy.D. degree as compared to the Ph.D., these days there are several respected Psy.D. programs. Some states license psychology professionals to practice independently in various venues at the master’s level (two full years of graduate study). School psychologists are frequently licensed at the master’s level.

Outside of psychology and psychiatry (which requires completion of medical school training as well as an extended residency in a psychiatric setting), there are many other disciplines that offer training sufficient for practice at the master’s level (some disciplines even accept training at the associate degree level). While only psychiatrists can prescribe medicine, the other disciplines offer opportunities for training in counseling and therapy. The dominant mental and behavioral health fields include social work; marriage, family and child therapists; and professional counselors.

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So, as you can see, there are many ways for you to get the credentials you need to help people with their problems. But as you can see, the type and depth of training differs quite a bit between disciplines. Your school advisor can help you sort through the various options and help you to match up the kind of training you’d like to get, the time you’re willing to invest, and the kind of counseling you’d eventually like to do.

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