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Are you interested in a psychologist career? I am a licensed psychologist. I have worked in the social services field for more than two decades and have been licensed as a psychologist for close to two decades. I have two graduate degrees, including a MA in Counseling Psychology and a PhD in Clinical Psychology.
Currently, I am in private practice, but I contract my services with several agencies, including the police department, corrections, child services, Veterans Affairs and a community-based counseling center. I see individuals, families and couples for private sessions and also facilitate group sessions.
Psychologists do more than just talk to people in their offices in private therapy. They also work in a wide variety of settings and help people with all kinds of issues. Over the years, I have worked extensively in school settings. Frequently, psychologists help identify learning and developmental disabilities for children from preschool to high school age.
Although much of what a psychologist does is similar to a Marriage and Family Therapist or social worker, there are definite distinctions. A psychologist is able to perform many diagnostic tests that other mental health professionals are not qualified to give to clients. Marriage and Family Therapists primarily provide counseling services and social workers help people and families with the services they need for healthy functioning, such as housing and access to medical care.
Frequently, people confuse psychologists with psychiatrists. Psychologists are not medical doctors. I do not have the ability to write prescriptions for medication, although I have a great deal of education and training about medications and medical conditions that can affect mental health.
Psychologists provide diagnosis and counseling services. Psychiatrists provide medication and medical treatment. I commonly consult with psychiatrists regarding medication and physical health and I frequently receive referrals from psychiatrists for counseling services for their patients.
One of the things I enjoy the most about my work is the variety of people I work with. Much of my work is now focused on helping people cope with trauma. I work with returning soldiers with the Department of Veterans Affairs, helping them reintegrate into civilian life and identifying problems such as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), depression and anxiety.
I also work with the local police department with officers involved in shootings and other violent events. Through the state’s Victim-Witness Program, I work with clients who have witnessed or been involved in domestic violence, rape, robbery, violent accidents and all kinds of other life events.
I also work with families integrating new family members or blending into a new family group, couples who are getting married, college students who are sorting out their sexual identity and children learning to deal with school problems. These are just a few of the kinds of people and issues I see in my office every day.
When I first began working in the field, I worked with individuals and families facing chronic and life threatening illness. Over the years, as my interests have changed and evolved, I have been able to also draw clients who reflect those interests. As my skills have improved or I have gained new tools to use as interventions, I have also been able to broaden the types of clients I work with and the agencies I work with.
Most states require psychologists to have a doctorate-level degree and many hours of supervised internship as part of licensing. Licensing requirements vary from state to state and some states only require a Master’s degree for licensing. Almost all states require sitting for licensing exams.
In my case, there were two exams required before my license was granted. In addition to my degrees, I also have several postgraduate certificates, which has helped me provide services to a larger number of agencies.
One thing that has really helped me is the variety of settings I was able to serve my internships at. In my state, 3,000 hours of supervised internship were required and many of these intern settings were volunteer unpaid positions.
However, by taking advantage of opportunities, I was able to stretch and learn new things. I worked at several programs providing services to homeless children and domestic violence victims. I also worked with college students, providing diagnostic services for learning disabilities.
One of my most rewarding assignments was working a suicide hotline for veterans, which provided me with tremendous insight into the things soldiers face when they return from deployments. What I have discovered over the years is each step in my learning as a psychologist provides me with a new set of skills that I continue to use throughout my career.
One of the things I have had to learn the hard way in my private practice is basic business skills. As the mental health field has changed, I have had to learn how to do my own marketing to grow my business and solicit clients. Gone are the days of simply signing up with a number of insurance companies and letting it be known you are in business.
Today, I spend time posting articles online on article directories, talking on Twitter and posting on my Facebook page. I have to work to establish myself as an authority in my field because clients are more savvy and research providers before scheduling appointments.
I have also had to learn about managing my own finances. I submit my own claims to health insurance companies and invoices to clients who do not use insurance. I have also had to learn how to work with insurance companies and inform potential new clients about the advantages and disadvantages of using health insurance for their mental health services.
One thing I am thankful for in my past is my volunteer work. By working in the social services arena first, I had a good idea of what I was getting myself into when I decided to become a psychologist. I had a good basic understanding of both the joy and the challenges of working with people in emotional distress.
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