Ever since high school, I knew I wanted to help people with their problems. From my experiences as being bullied and not having many people to run to, I wanted to become an advocate for those who have been in my shoes as well as the bullies. I felt as if everyone had a reason for the ways they acted and why they tend to project triggered behaviors onto others as a coping mechanism.
I also found that I had a knack for listening to others problems and letting them vent. From listening to boyfriend problems to helping cope with death, it felt comforting that I could be a vessel for helping my friends get things off their chest. I thrived off of seeing their relief from opening up to me. I understood myself as an empath- sensitive and understanding to others pain. This was one of my top reasons for pursuing psychology. I came to the university with a plan: Survive four years of undergrad, obtain a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology in four more years and be successful. However, the intensity of the needs for my plans hit me hard as that bus did Regina George (is it too late for Mean Girls jokes?)
I am currently in my second to last semester in my undergraduate career after years of working through psychology classes and constant criticisms of Freud. I am set to apply to graduate school soon; however, taking an alternative route than the Ph.D. program I anticipated. I wish I would have taken more steps into becoming a more competitive applicant. My experience may contrast that of others: qualified researchers, under all of their professor's wings, have been working at mental health centers since they walked off the high school graduation stage with a diploma along with a luxurious LinkedIn account, and knows their specific desired career.
If this applies to you, I absolutely SALUTE and congratulate you! However, I didn't get so fortunate to have those experience due to lack of knowledge on my part. For those in their senior year of high school through junior year of college, I beg you, please don't give up hope and work hard. To those like me in their senior year of college or taking a year off, there is still time. There are just some things I wish I would have known to make this whole process easier.
1. Psychology is BROAD.
Me finding out the different specialties in psychologyGiphy
Many of you may feel or have felt the same way I do for pursuing a Psychology major: Helping people. Whether it be coping with mental illness, substance abuse, marriage and family, occupational or more physical such as in the neurosciences, you may feel that you thrive off of interactions and seeing progress, which is a beautiful reason. However, psychology is not limited to several specific occupations. There are so many specialties in social work, therapies, counseling, and psychological focus.
There are over 100 career paths that can be taken. Some of them are associated with each other as others are in contrast with very different expectations. In recent years, a new field Industrial and Organizational Psychology has come about as a way of applying the context of psychology to workplace issues facing individuals, teams, and organizations. It also happens to be one of the top paying careers in psychology, next to psychiatry, each bringing about 6 figures. I was considering a Ph.D. program for it, until I saw that there wasn't too big of an emphasis self-doing counseling, more so data collection and analysis.
I felt like this would be perfect for someone who had HR experience/ wanted to combine psychology and business; however, I felt like I still wanted to stick to my original goal. Part of the reason why I wanted to look into it was for the high paying salary. I wasn't too sure about medical school in order to become a psychiatrist so I felt this would be another option. I started thinking long term and seeing myself in that position. I/O psychology is a wonderful field to go in, but would it suit me and my personality? That's the main question that should be asked when choosing a specialty in psychology. With so many fields present, we tend to gravitate towards the one with the one with the highest paying salary but forgetting about passions for a paycheck.
I gravitated back to counseling. However, I didn't just want to stop at working at a school or somewhere that felt limited. I wanted to work with larger populations and possibly do research down the line. All I knew was that clinical sounded better and professional. However, I found that clinical was highly extensive on research and I would be in academia for a GOOD MINUTE(which is fine); but I knew I also wanted to have a balance of research and counseling. So I'm now floating towards a counseling PhD, which will be obtained after a Master's degree in order for me to get more training and experience; which I'll also explain later.
I encourage others to strengthen research and explore fields which best suit them before tailoring their master's/undergrad courses to them.
Speaking of research ….
2. There is a heavy emphasis on research in graduate studies.
No, For Real.Giphy
Again, silly me thinking I could just coast through undergrad, make good grades, do well on the GRE and pursue my career after graduate school. One of the top things many graduate schools look for is research experience. Recently, I attended a graduate preview program at a potential graduate school choice and although I didn't get to directly talk to the director of the Psychology graduate program, I did talk to a Clinical Psych. professor. To my colleagues, he was rude in the sense that he didn't sugarcoat anything.
However, it was a major wake up call. At first, I was certain I could possibly sneak past the fact I had NO research experience with a plethora of volunteer experience and a resume of all the part-time, unrelated jobs I worked to pay off loans and rent while maintaining a 3.5 (or close to it). I needed the tough love and I honestly appreciate it to this day. My colleagues did most of the inquiring while I observed and absorbed all of his expertise while biting my tongue about my lack of competitive skills. He mentioned that if a candidate had 75% clinical experience (i.e. working/shadowing a facility with patients) and <25% research experience, he stops considering from that point on.
Throughout that whole day, all I heard was the word research. Hearing it now makes me anxious because of my lack of experience. I thought I was doing something when I got involved with honor and volunteer organizations and worked two jobs but nope. When I did finally ponder research opportunities, many had already passed or were full. Many were also out of town and interfered with my class schedule.
Not to scare anyone off from obtaining a Ph.D./Master's, but the level of competition is high the more advanced level of degree. The crazy thing about it is that the research didn't have to specifically be in Psychology. Biological, English, and Sociological research experience is also considered to be sufficient. If I would have known then, I wouldn't have scrolled past research assistant offerings on my University job site.
I plan to obtain more research experience in the midst of my master's degree; however, knowing how truly vital it is would have made me a better candidate and would have urged me to take on more projects throughout undergrad. Although I am now considering conducting research next semester, I wish I would have gotten it out the way sooner. I also encourage other to pursue their own research. Start with a group or alone. You don't even have to be in school to work with others on their research. Networking is also key. The sooner the better!
3. You can get certified in your field before walking across the stageGiphy
LISTEN. I kick myself for not finding about this as soon as a graduated high school or even in my freshman year. After pondering the web for possible master's programs and other useful certifications that would look good on applications, I found several that could be obtained with the minimum requirement as having a high school diploma. Although there are more requirements such as education beyond a diploma to get actually LICENSED, a certification in facilitation or related to a certain field looks great on applications and can also help you gain more experience by bettering your job candidacy. Of course there are some fees associated with them (~$150-1000) but the early step into the psychology field is worth it.
Also, make sure that the certification itself is also legit. There are so many programs online where you can literally just buy a seemingly legit certification that has letters, but no experience behind it. Programs should be accredited by organizations such as the APA (American Psychological Association) and NACBT (National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapist) These programs can take as little as over a course of several weeks to a year.
Some examples of certification include
Cognitive Behavioral Group Facilitator
4. Internships aren't as easy to come byGiphy
Competing for internships are like competing for the Hunger Games. May the odds be ever in your favor. Chances of getting an internship are greater in more group settings, such as in group homes and open organizations. As far as in intimate settings such as private practices, there may be lower chances due to the level of confidentiality and patient inflow.
However, this does not mean that they will immediately turn you away. Communicate in an effective manner and make your intentions and purpose clear: to gain insight and experience. You may be able to shadow them during a counseling session, (with confidentiality agreements) or assist with paperwork and chat about their experience up onto that point in their career.
Most importantly its always essential to expand your horizons. Just because there may not be placed in your college town to shadow, there could be some in your hometown, such as shadowing at schools and helping with the Special Olympics. Experience is experience, even if it's not in your specific desired field of psychology. You can gain more skills by interacting with others and using those skills towards your desired field.
5. You will be MISUNDERSTOOD. Do you understand?
Between the "Are you analyzing me right now's" and the "What could you possibly do with that degree's", People will often make you doubt your own journey. Hearing the same questions and opinions over and over again used to be bothersome, now I find it often amusing. As a psych major, you are going to receive so much criticism and slander for your degree and how you are going to fail at a career you haven't even really started yet.. by other people who aren't even paying for your studies.
You are going to be discouraged by strangers, friends, and even family because it's not considered a "high paying field" as opposed to business and medical careers. (funny because Psychology plays an optimal part and is even interchangeable within the two)
However, if you have a heart for it and you know it's what you want to do or even use in your other related profession, OWN IT. I cannot tell you how many times my watercolor visions were splattered with black ink stains of negativity and doubt.
Through it all, I never wanted to pursue anything other than psychology because I researched other majors and honestly couldn't see my self-doing anything else than counseling people and listening to them. There are so many causes of distress with growing social and I ultimately want to serve as an advocate and never stop wondering and asking why.
So "Why do I want to deal with cr*zy people"? Because all you know them as is that very term, nothing of their inner conflicts.
I inspire anyone reading this to continue to pursue their careers in psychology as professionals. There needs to be more people that want to help people and not tear each other apart.