Reasons NOT to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology

First post in a long time. Probably the last post in a long time (or not… if this topic interests you, check out newer post Friends don’t let friends study Psychology). Here is a comment I left in response to a commenter in a previous post I wrote about the dismal state of the job market for Psych PhDs who was pondering going for a PhD in Clinical Psychology:

I have actually become much more pessimistic about the economic value of becoming a Clinical Psychologist in recent years. I have worked in healthcare as an Occupational Therapist for going on 4 years now. In that time I’ve seen that there is a lot of economization happening in healthcare. That is, to save money more and more we are seeing lower-degree holding professionals being hired to do the work that was previously done exclusively (or more) by higher-degree people for lower salaries,which results in the higher-degree holding people getting squeezed out or having to accept lower incomes. Examples:

* Registered Nurses (RNs, who have 4 year degrees) are often not being hired because Licensed Practical Nurses (who have 2 year community college diplomas) can do many of the same tasks and will be paid probably a good 30% less.
* Nurse Practitioners (NPs, who have a bachelor’s of nursing plus several years of experience and then a M.Sc-in nursing) are being employed in roles previously held by General Practice MDs. AGain, to save money for the payer/employer.
* In mental health, clinical psychologists are not the only ones who provide psychotherapy. There’s also social workers (who will have either a bachelor’s and/or a masters in social work), counseling psychologists (masters), occupational therapists who have aimed their careers at mental health, and even some coming from theological backgrounds w/ supplementary mental health ed. So you’ve got all these people w/ lesser degrees commanding lesser salaries competing for Clin Psychologist clients. Then there’s GPs and Psychiatrists providing psychotropic tx w/ some psychotherapy, but that’s not new.

So this is one reason why I’m skeptical of the current and future value of Clinical Psych PhD programs. The other is that if you can get into a Clinical Psych PhD program, you have MANY options. You know how hard these programs are to get into. They’re probably in the same league as med school, roughly. A person with the ability, accomplishment and ambition that would allow them to get into a Clinical Psych program could have done so many other things. Including many with much greater economic futures. I know some people will say “but I really love psychology” and the like. But reality often doesn’t live up to one’s idealism. Especially when you’re dealing w/ 50-100K in debt getting paid less than you thought you would and see people who were less smart and hardworking than you making as much or more than you and often liking their jobs just as much.

Some will say “I don’t really care about money that much. There’s more to life than money”. I used to think these things. And obviously there is some truth to them. But I think that many young people under-estimate how important money will be to them later in life. Later in life when their social status isn’t just connected to their looks, social skills and athletic abilities, but is as much or more linked to their income and title. Later in life when they can’t rely on their parents and government student loans to pay for their expenses. Later in life when they can only rely on themselves to provide and still have a sense of self-respect and respect from others.

Before going into a Clinical Psychology program, I would look into objective statistics on the job market for PhDs in this area. What is the employment rate? How much do they get paid? I’d also look into fields that would also allow you to work in a mental health capacity – Counseling, OT, Social Work – and see 1) what the employment rates are there, and 2) what the pay rates are.


How are Psychology PhDs doing on the job market?

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4 thoughts on “Reasons NOT to pursue a PhD in Clinical Psychology

  1. I hope you know that Counseling Psychologists require a PhD to practice- not a master’s like you said. No one can be called a ‘Psychologist’ unless they have a PhD. It’s a protected title. They take a different approach and they can both give therapy, but they usually work with different populations- albeit many times they can overlap as well.
    Interesting to hear your ideas on both psych and OT- I’m considering going into OT instead of my original plan to be psychologist- of course life isn’t all about money, but that’s certainly played a part in my recent change in mind.

  2. Hi, I may have miswrote. I suspect you’re correct about the protected title issue. I suspect they’d just be called “counselors” or something to that effect. or “psychological associates”.

    And while “money isn’t everything”, as I’ve gotten older I think I’ve come to be more doubtful of people who say that. Not because I think they’re ill-willed. Just that there’s a good chance they’re naive.


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