So you want to be a Clinician

Students who are interested in doing clinical work are often confused about the different degrees and licenses that qualify one to see patients for psychotherapy. Here is an outline of the various programs that might interest you.

Doctoral Level

  • MD/Psychiatry. Licensed as a physician. Probably the most prestigious degree is the MD. Psychiatrists are still at the top of the hierarchy in terms of money and status, particularly in hospital environments. Beyond that, the main advantage of obtaining a medical degree is that you will be able to prescribe psychoactive drugs. There is, however, currently legislation being introduced in several states, including California, to allow clinical psychologists with special training to prescribe.
  • Ph.D./Clinical Psychology. Licensed as a psychologist. Many of you are probably wanting to go in this direction. There are two ways to do this. The first is to get a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from an APA approved program in a university setting such as UCLA, or UCSD. These programs are very research- oriented and competitive. Some of you might prefer to get a Ph.D. from a free-standing professional school such as California School of Professional Psychology. If you choose to go this route, make sure the program is APA approved.
  • Psy.D/ Licensed as a psychologist. This degree is obtainable from some professional schools such as CSPP and some universities. These programs can also be APA approved. They emphasize clinical work over research.
  • Ph.D./ Counseling. Licensed as a psychologist. These degrees can also be APA approved and are obtained in university setting in a counseling department rather than psychology. USC has one, as does UC Santa Barbara. The focus in these programs is on dealing with normal people. They tend to focus less on research.
  • Ph.D./Educational Psychology. Licensed as a psychologist. This degree is from the education department in a university setting. I’m not sure what exactly they do.
  • Ph.D./ Psychology (related field such as social, personality or developmental). Licensed as a psychologist. Apply to a non-clinical program and then get training in clinical work after you graduate. Don’t tell them this is what you are up to when you apply.

Master’s Level

  • MA/MS/ (Various titles including: Psychology, Clinical Psychology, Counseling, Counseling Psychology, Marriage, Family and Child Counseling from departments such as Psychology, Counseling or Education) Licensed as a Marriage, Family and Child Counselor. You can obtain an MA or MS (depending upon the school) from any number of places. Most of the Cal. States have one or more programs which will allow you to sit for the MFCC license as do many of the private colleges such as Pepperdine or Chapman. These are reputable if not prestigious programs. Be very careful about fringe program such as National University. These places turn out large numbers of graduates who are never able to pass the exam, either because of poor training or the poor caliber of student they accept. None of you should need to consider such a program.
  • MSW/ Social Work. A good way to practice if you are not interested in doctoral level work is to become a social worker. I am sure some of you have a stereotype about social work but this is a very useful degree. Social workers are able to do almost everything a doctoral level psychologist can do. There are programs is social work at USC, UCLA, California State San Bernardino and CSU Long Beach.

Judy LeMaster