After “Do you think I’m crazy?” this may be the most asked question I get. Since starting my training to become a Psychologist, I have come to learn that people have no idea what it takes to get the required training to be licensed as a Psychologist. I’ve also learned that this is partially because every state requires something a little bit different, but there are commonalities. So if you want to be a therapist, or are just curious about how your therapist got to where they are these are the typical steps.
1) Get a college degree. Seems pretty obvious right. I think most people believe that you have to have majored in psychology as an undergrad in order to become a psychologist. For most graduate schools (yes, I said more school), this isn’t a requirement although it might be recommended and is definitely the easiest path. But, if you didn’t major in psychology that does not mean that you can’t attain your dream of being the therapist of the century. It just means you’ll have to take a few extra classes to meet the requirements of whichever graduate program you choose. Which brings us to my next point.
2) Get a graduate degree in psychology, either Clinical or Counseling Psychology will be your best bets. Now, you do not have to obtain a Doctorate (Ph.D. or Psy.D.) to do therapy but in order to call yourself a Psychologist in 5-10 years (yes, I said 5-10 years) you will need either a Ph.D. or Psy.D. and most likely from an APA accredited program. Most of these programs are full time, in residence programs, meaning that you have to attend class just like in undergrad and actually live within driving distance of your program. Most of these programs will take anywhere from 5 – 10 years depending on their requirements and how long it takes you to write your dissertation or its equivalent. It is always an option to stop with your master’s in psychology but that will limit your options for a career later.
3) COMPS!!! During grad school you will have to complete several steps before your program will let you go on internship (yes, there are more things after classes are over). One of the more difficult steps is passing your program’s comprehensive evaulation, better known as comps. Depending on your program, this ordeal can range from four days of written exams on every topic known to psychology to a case presentation and defense. Regardless, if you don’t pass you will not be allowed to apply to internship programs and in some cases may have to wait an entire year before you are able to retry.
4) Get an internship. Now, assuming you have passed comps and achieved an acceptable GPA, the Director of Training (DOT) at your program will approve you to apply for internship. Basically, the process goes something like this – you choose about 20 sites that you think you would like to apply to; your DOT approves your list; you complete essays, cover letters, and supplemental materials for each site; you mail your applications prior to the deadline; the sites review your application and decide whether or not they will offer you an interview; after interviews are offered you decide which interviews to go on (all that are offered most likely) and book plane tickets, hotels, etc for the trips; you buy a nice suit that doesn’t look too flashy but stands out to just the level; you interview at 10 of your sites in a 2 week time span; and finally after all of your interviews are completed you rank the sites where you interviewed. Now, this is where it get complicated (yes, that laundry list above was the easy part). As you were doing all of those stesp just listed, each site was doing basically the same process and also submitting a ranking list. This means that the way you get an internship is determined by how you ranked each site and how you were ranked by each site. Hopefully it all works out and you’re “matched” the first time around, but sometimes it doesn’t and you have to take another year and go through the process again. Sometimes that’s just how it works – that’s life.
5) Defend your dissertation. So finally all of that is done, you’ve passed comps you’re either on your way to internship or somewhere along in that process. It’s time to get that dissertation or your program’s equivalent taken care of. Depending on your program, this will be a document somewhere between 30 and 200 pages in which you either review someone else’s research or complete your own unique study. After you create the document, you will do about a hundred revisions before finally being able to “defend,” which is a fancy way of saying presnt your research to a group of people. No matter how your graduate program does this requirement, you have to finish this before you can get your degree. And, if you don’t finish it before you leave internship and start working, you’ll be working as a master’s level clinician with the commisserate pay scale plus paying tuition to your school in order to stay enrolled and complete the dissertation. Point being – finish this step BEFORE you finish your internship! I promise you, you will not want to miss the chance to walk across that stage at graduation.
6) Graduate!!! Congrats Dr., you made it. This is a day to celebrate your accomplishments, take loads of pictures, and tell everyone (yes, including your mom) that they must call you Dr. from now on. Cherish this moment, you will have enough to worry about when you start to try to get licensed.
As you can see, becoming a therapist takes a lot of time, committment and sacrifice. Each of these 6 steps could have been a full blog unto themselves. Unfortunately, just because you graduate and get your degree does not mean that you will be considered a “Licensed Psychologist” in most states. In order to do that you will have to complete another 1500-2500 hours of supervised experience, pass one incredibly hard nattional exam (the EPPP), and in most states pass at least one more state exam. In the process, you will meet people who make comments about how your job can’t be that difficult, all you have to do is listen. You will also meet amazing people whose lives will change because they know you and work with you. As with everything in life, you take the good with the bad, the sour with the sweet. Then if you, yourself have become a therapist, you realize that you are blessed with one of the greatest jobs. Everyday people give you the gift of their trust and believe that you have something to offer them. To me, that’s more good than all the bad it takes to get through 6 steps.