Career as a Therapist/Psychologist
Berkeley Parents Network >
Working & Careers >
Career as a Therapist/Psychologist
My 20-year old daughter wants to become a marriage and family therapist. She's going
to community college, but would like to do some volunteer work in the
therapy/counseling field to see what an actual workday would be like. Any suggestions
on where she could volunteer on an intermittent basis in the Albany area? Also, does
anyone know what the cost of graduate school is to become an MFT? My daughter has
enough saved for undergrad, but unsure about how much to budget for grad school.
need MFT information
There are lots of places to volunteer-suicide prevention, the Zen Center
living/dying project are 2 that come to mind. I also recommend that your
daughter look into MSW programs (at Cal and SF State)- an MSW is actually a
much more versatile and marketable degree. Also, might be much cheaper to go
I'd like to pursue a Masters degree in Counseling Psychology
or Clinical Psychology. We are moving to the Sacramento area
which puts a wrench in things... Sac State's program is
currently suspended, and UCDavis' program is more
research/teaching oriented. Are there online programs or
distance programs or other programs? Thanks for the
recommendations, future counselor
Have you thought of taking classes online? Many colleges and
universities now have distance learning options. I can
recommend the Eisner Institute for Professional Studies.
I'm not a psychologist, but I'm married to one (!) You may
want to consider Chapman University's Brandman University
programs. There are on-line and 'blended' (in-class and
on-line hybrid) courses at the three Sacramento area
campuses in Roseville, Folsom, and Yuba City (which is not
as far away as it sounds)! Chapman's a 150-year old
institution out of Orange, CA (apparently well-known as a
teacher's college) that has recently been moving their
well-established distance learning to be under the Brandman
name. My understanding from my spouse, who teaches there and
at other colleges, is that their accreditation is in order
(which you cannot say about all private colleges). You can
look them up under http://www.brandman.edu. Also, apparently
Alliant is well regarded in terms of the distance learning
also (http://www.alliant.edu). Good luck! Prof's wife
Rather than search aimlessly online I am hoping that the BPN community can
help me answer this. My very bright and hard working nanny would like to
become a clinical/counseling psychologist, however she is worried about the
cost of the education, as she does not want to go into debt. I would hate to
see her give up on a dream for financial reasons.
If you can shed light on any or all of the following questions we'd appreciate
- Do most of the students who enter a PhD or PsyD program already have a
masters degree or is it easy to get into a program right after an undergrad
degree? Does it help to have work experience relevant to the field?
- What are the pros and cons of going to a professional school compared to a
research institution? What are the requirements to get admitted?
- What is the average time to graduation in a PhD/PsyD program (not the
stated length of the program, but actual time it takes).
- Can you recommend some programs here in the Bay Area?
- Is it easy to get financial aid? I am in science and there graduate students
in general do not pay for their education but instead work as teaching and
research assistants during their PhD, is that available in psychology
programs? What about other types of financial aid or alternatives to taking
- What are the job prospects/expected salary after graduation, do they justify
I am a licensed clinical psychologist with a PhD and I am a researcher at Cal.
So I can answer questions from that perspective (I don't have first-hand
knowledge of professional schools).
PhD and PsyD programs include the Masters degree. Most programs want
applicants with BAs, not MAs. Professional schools are expensive and the
training is not empirically-based or rigorous. However, they are much easier
to get into and do not take so long to complete (maybe 4 yrs. for a
professional school degree compared to an average of 6 yrs. for a PhD from a
university). I don't know about requirements to get into a professional
school. But to get into a university-based PhD program you need good GREs
and great recommendations. You need research experience and you need to
formulate ideas about the research you want to pursue. University-based
programs receive, literally, hundreds and hundreds of applications and
typically accept 5 to 10 students per year. The odds of admission at a
professional school are much higher.
I don't know about financial aid at professional schools, but in a university-
based PhD program there are lots of options for teaching and fellowships,
although these are harder for foreign students to get.
I can't say what her chances are of admission. If she wants to get into a
university program, she needs to find volunteer or paid work as a research
assistant at a place like Cal or UCSF or Stanford. She also needs to study hard
for the GREs.
The real issue is what kind of work she wants to do when she is finished. If
she had NO interest in research, academics, teaching, and wants to be a
clinician (therapist) then the professional school or PsyD would be a better fit
for her. The major down side is that it is very expensive.
And incidentally, the licensure process is completely separate from the grad
school process. Once she has a PhD or PsyD there is another process
involving amassing clinical hours, taking courses, and then sitting for 2
exams that will ultimately result in licensure.
Maybe she could check out some of the open houses that are
offered at some of the local campuses that offer these
sorts of programs? I am a licensed Marriage Family
Therapist and went to school at JFK University in Pleasant
Hill where in my program and in the PsyD program I
remember there being several international students, so
there must be some assistance in not only figuring out how
prior educations transfer as well as financial
assistance. There are several private school options in
the area JFKU, Wright Institute, Argosy University, CIIS,
(more?) as well as the public state schools and
universities in the Bay Area. Another thing for her to
consider is the length of time not only for the university
degree but also the required internship hours and then
state licensing exams, for me to become an MFT from
beginning school to getting licensed took 6 years and that
was doing everything full time (minus a 5 month maternity
leave.) Hope this info is helpful.
My experience with this was 10 years ago. But when I
applied to grad school, good clinical Ph.D. programs were
very difficult to get into - they take small numbers of
students and you sort of needed to already have your name
on published research papers and target your application
to a specific faculty member with your interests. That
said, if you get into one of these programs, the financial
situation is good.. there are research funds to support
grad students. PsyD programs are easier to get into, but
cost much more. Overall, my opinion is that this field is
difficult financially - the programs are 6yrs for a
doctorate, then you have to pay for supervision hours and
build a practice. I'd suggest getting a Master's degree
first - it will be quicker to get working and she may find
it's sufficient for what she wants to do. She can always
go back for a doctorate later!
Hi, I am a 46-yo lawyer who has been a SAHM for the past 7
years. I have two kids under age 10 who can be challenging.
After a lot of soul-searching, I think I'd like to get a PhD
or Psy.D. and explore a career in psychology -- particularly
addictions counseling and psychotherapy. My undergrad B.A.
was in history, and I had virtually no math or science,
aside from the basics to graduate. My husband thinks I'm
crazy and wants me to go back to work as a lawyer. I did
that for 13 years and was very unsatisfied. However, the
thought of embarking on a new degree at my age is daunting.
Can anyone share their experiences as an addiction
therapist? Can anyone recommend a career counselor? How
should I do my prereqs - at a JC or UC Berkeley Extension?
Have other moms raised kids and pursued Ph.Ds from scratch?
Would I be too old to start a new career in my mid-50s? Any
advice or thoughts would be much appreciated.
Don't want to be 65 and full of regrets
It is most certainly not too late! I have spent most of my
career teaching people just like you who want to make a
change in their professional lives and go back to school
to do so
I would, however, suggest you look into all options before
opting for a PsyD or PhD program. If you are specifically
interested in addictions counseling, you should call local
treatment centers and talk to someone who has a position
you would be interested in and see what they recommend.
most of the PhD therapists I know say that in today's
market, they would opt for the MFT degree instead -- much
shorter, but the pay and opportunities are relatively
equal -- or at least can be. I suspect most treatment
programs hire MFT's. There is also an 'addictions
certificiate'. Having seen a lot of the inside workings
of addiction work through addicts in my family, I would
also caution you that many people really resist working
with people who have not ''been there'', as in have been
addicted and are in recovery themselves. If this is not
you, this might limit your options in this area more than
any degree you have. That's something else you should ask
I went back to school (not in psychology) at 45, and a year
and a half in, am really enjoying it. I recommended
researching both the application process and the classes to
see if it's what you really want. If so, go for it. (I
took a course thought the UC Extension to see what it would
be like before I applied.)
You're never too old to learn!
You must have an amazing amount of courage and energy to
be considering this--or else it's a testiment to how much
you don't want to work as a lawyer anymore! In any case,
I certainly understand your hesitation. Unless there's
some reason you want to be a psychologist, I would
recommend you do a masters program and become an MFT
(Marriage and Family Counselor) or an LCSW(Clinical Social
Worker). In fact, you can get an addiction certificate
without even getting a Masters. While a PhD takes about
five years, a masters takes two. After that there are
counseling hours to collect and licensing exams for each
of these licenses. Cal State East Bay has a Masters in
counseling program, and Cal has a social work masters
program. Basically the only thing psychologists can do
that masters-level therapists can't is psychological
testing, and certain jobs that are only hiring
psychologists (usually because they need someone to do
testing). I've had my MFT license for over 20 yrs and
have worked at chemical dependency rehab jobs (in my
youth), and private practice doing psychotherapy with
individuals ever since. Also, remember that school can be
not just classes, but probably 20 hrs/wk of practicing
psychotherapy in a clinic at the same time.
I hope this helps!
I am a psychologist who previously had a career as an
attorney. The switch has been very rewarding for me but
the time and effort commitment is substantial, as is the
financial cost. For a doctoral degree it takes at minimum
5 years to licensure, and then it takes time to build a
The Wright Institute (in Berkeley) has both PsyD and MFT
programs, and it's easy enough to contact them and learn
about prerequisites and the programs themselves. The
Masters' degree program is designed for working
professionals, whereas the PsyD program is fulltime.
I say go for it, though, at 46, you may not want to do the many years
required to obtain the Ph.D. (my degree) or Psy.D required by a
doctoral graduate program. A briefer alternative (though you'd
probably need to take some udnergraduate psychology courses) would be
to do a either a 2 year Masters Degree program in Social Work
(S.F. State etc.) or a 2 year MFT (Marriage and Family Therapist)
degree, with a specialty in chemical dependency issues. Many
drug-treatment programs, and many Kaiser Medical Center Psychiatric
Departments are dying for people with this kind of expertise. A
parenthetical comment: As a forensic psychologist who works daily with
attorneys I can tell you unequivocally that most therapists really
like their work and most attorneys either do not, or find it so
stressful that they wish they'd chosen another profession. Be bold!
Aim high! Two to four years from now you could wind up loving what
Hi--I can share my own thoughts about your question, and
also recommend a really great career counselor. I ultimately
decided to go for a master's degree (not a doctorate) after
talking about my situation with Toni Littlestone
With Toni, I decided to put the logistical questions (what
prereqs, where, etc.) on hold, and make sure I really did
want to change careers and go for a degree at all. She was
incredibly helpful in exploring these underlying
questions--although I had a lot of fears about changing
careers, I ultimately decided it was right for me, both
because of my particular skills and because I had been SO
unhappy in my past work.
When I felt really clear about changing careers, Toni was
equally helpful with my more specific questions--which
degree, where, how. At my age (a little older than you), I
felt like a master's degree would really be enough to
prepare me, as well as being less expensive and
time-consuming than a doctorate.
For me, getting clear that it was right for me to leave my
old career and go back to school (even with a family) was
really key--the questions after that felt much easier! I
feel great about my decision now, and I have to say I
couldn't have had a better counselor than Toni. I went to
her because a couple of friends had great experiences with
her, and I really saw what they meant. It was definitely
worth the money to feel like I was getting expert support.
Happy with my M.A. (and new career)
Hi, for anyone who's gone through the licensure to become a
California MFT in the last several years: I'm trying to get a
sense of how long, once the 3000 clinical hours are completed,
the process of licensure takes: applying, taking the test,
waiting for results, getting the license. If the test isn't
passed and has to be re-taken, how much time does that add to
the process? I'd be glad to hear about anyone's experience.
I am an LCSW licenced within the last year and i believe the
process is identical but i'm not 100% sure. Once you finish
your hours, and have taken all your pre-requiste classes, you
are eligible to sit for the part 1 of the exam. my
recollection is that the board has 90 days to get back to you
once all your paperwork is turned in and then you can sit for
the first exam. Once you have passed the first exam (i didn't
pass 2x's and they make you wait 6 months between taking the
exams) you will get a piece of paper saying you passed to send
into the board with your money and then once this is accepted
you are eligible to sit for the second exam (the same 6 months
rule applies for taking the exam again if you do not pass).
The results of the exam are immediate now that you take it on
the computer. Your board is the best best to talk to about
I finished my licensing process in May, so all of the info is
I'm not sure if you already have your hours, or still need to get
them, but you can be eligible to take the test within about 15
days of submitting your paperwork. You can start studying for
the test before you are done with your hours. However, I found
that to be emotionally pretty stressful--I was so happy to be at
the end of the process, but it was still a hard transition.
Practically speaking the knowledge tested in the two tests is
very similar, but the focus in the first test is more 'name that
tune. The second test has more of a focus on knowing the
difference between theories and the specifics of their treatment
plans. I did Gerry Grossman seminars for both, and found myself
very well prepared. There is a temptation just to take the
practice tests, but I strongly urge you to study the raw
material. A friend used a different system and found the Gerry
Grossman practice exams to be much more like the real test.
I you don't pass the tests the first time you have to wait 180
days (6 months) to take it again. I found it very useful to have
a study partner for the second exam.
I'm considering switching careers, from academia to therapy, but
I need more information before I make the leap. I find my
current job to be quite stressful and incompatible with my desire
to have time and mental energy for my family, or with my desire
to stay in the Bay Area. I think I have a knack for listening,
empathizing, and giving practical advice and would enjoy working
with people one-on-one.
Here are my questions:
1) How should I go about deciding which degree I need (MFT, PsyD,
MSW, PhD...), and which school? Is there a resource online, or a
book that describes the options? I'm particularly interested in
cognitive behavioral therapy, since this is the therapy that I've
found most useful personally.
2) I have a toddler-age daughter and hope to get pregnant again
soon, so I'm eager to find a career that I could build part-time
while my kids are small. Is it possible to obtain a degree and
log the necessary hours of experience on a part-time basis?
3) How much can I expect to make in the Bay Area, once I'm
working full time and have completed interning? My husband has a
well-paid job so I could swing the financial sacrifice for a
while but not indefinitely...
4) Are there sources of stress/unhappiness in this career that I
might not be anticipating? Does it continue to be stimulating
after many years of practice? How difficult is it to build up a
If anyone would be willing to talk to me personally, please leave
your e-mail address. Thanks!
I am a licensed therapist and this is a second career for me. I
was formerly a video producer and journalist.
I have worked in schools, pediatric hospice, and mental health
agencies. I currently supervise trainees (graduate school
students) and interns(post grad)at a bay area mental health agency.
I would be happy to share what I know and what I tell my students.
I'll give you my perspective on question #4. As a therapist in
Berkeley who knows many others in private practice (it sounds like
that's what you're asking about), it is quite difficult to build a
full practice. This is one of the most therapist-saturated areas in
the country (like top 3 or something like that). The majority of
therapists I know (and virtually all of them in their first 10 years
after licensure) are struggling to maintain a full client load
(whether that's full time or part time). That is not to say that many
people don't support themselves nonetheless. I find it difficult as a
mother to figure out a schedule since it's easiest to fill early
morning and evening hours with clients, while these are the hours that
I am least able to work since I have little kids. However, by the
time you'd be licensed, your kids will be bigger. Will you be willing
to work 1 or more evenings? (Almost everyone does.) (Note that it
will take you probably 6 years or more from starting grad school to
being licensed, and most internships are unpaid.) Building a private
practice is easier if you're a networking kind of person, someone who
is willing to put yourself out there, market yourself in some way.
So, it's not an easy or well-paid road. However, I am happy I picked
this field, especially given that my family is not reliant on my
income. I really enjoy the work after 15 years doing it, and still
feel like I have a lot of control over my hours and what interests I
pursue. I can get involved in new projects and areas of focus, so my
interest never wanes. I love the work with clients and the work on
myself which I see as the cornerstone to being a good therapist. Be
prepared to examine yourself constantly and not get paid much!
I had the same question as you. I talked to several therapists
about the same thing. Basically, I decided not to go into it
because of the financial component. Getting hours is difficult
and takes a lot more time than the coursework. Also, you don't
get paid well while working. It's very hard to build a private
practice with the intense competition here in the Bay Area where
therapists are a dime a dozen. Most of the jobs are with
socioeconomically disadvantaged populations and involve a lot of
triage, not much depth work which is what most people think of
when they think of therapy. One therapist I talked to had to work
a lot of part time jobs outside of therapy just to survive and
when choosing a job in therapy, had to settle for one in a jail.
As far as getting a doctorate, one therapist who worked years to
get it, said even with the Phd, it was extremely difficult to get
a decent salaried position and building a private practice was
just as hard as with a MFT. Incidentally, this person is
supported by a spouse and can pick and choose, so you might be
able to do the same thing as well. However, getting a salaried
position where you actually get to do real therapy is very hard
no matter what the circumstances.
Glad I Didn't Go That Route
Both my wife and I are psychotherapists in the E Bay. We have
practiced in an HMO, County Govt., NonProfits, Schools, Criminal
Justice Agencies, Hospice,and Private Practice. My youngest
daughter is attending an MSW Program out of state. Our combined
years of practice in the Bay exceed 60 years. We both have felt
rewarded and honored to participate in the lives of others as
Your knack for empathizing and desire to work one on one is a
good match with the profession. Most of my hours practicing do
not include "giving practical advice" but does include giving out
info. Work can be quite stressful due in part to the settings.
However, the work is often with flexible schedules. I encourage
you to try a volunteer experience to further explore the fit.
I recommend Family Paths, Hotline Volunteer. Good training too.
We agree with our daughter's decision to get an MSW because
it is more portable and flexible than the MFT. Employment
opportunities exist for the MSW (LCSW is the license) that do not
exist for the MFT. LCSW is qualified for all MFT positions.
Cheaper than a PhD that probably costs 150,000 by now and
takes many more years. Getting into MSW programs are tough, apply
to all in the area. I will discuss this more with you if you wish
I do not know of online or books to read about this. Your
interest in CBT is good. CBT is the best practice and evidence
based treatment for many things. License will not dictate what
you learn in the long run. Yes part time work and training is
Range of income in Bay at the Masters Level is 40 to 80 K
FTE my best guess
I will talk more with you about the upside and down side. But, we
have never gotten bored or lost excitement in our work.
Can anyone give some advice about getting a Masters in
Counseling in the Bay area, and/or input about what it's like
to be a counselor? I am interested in all kinds of counseling,
guidance, marriage and family, genetics etc. Is it hard to get
a job once you get out of school?
The UC Berkeley Extension is offering a course this fall called
''Counseling and Psychotherapy as a Career Option.'' I'm planning
on taking the one offered in November. It seems like this class
should answer the questions you are asking.
Good luck to you!
I have a Masters in Counseling and am working as an intern in a
non-profit organizaton in San Leandro. I received my degree
form USF, which I thought had a good program. I would recomend
you looking into a social work degree (MSW). This is especially
helpful if you ever plan to move out of state as this degree is
more recognized in other states. Also, with an MSW, and if you
plan to become licensed, you can do all things, including
therapy, with the degree. Good luck.
The MFT track is a long and not so well paying journey, but
also a calling and work you might enjoy well if you are drawn
to it. MSW training differs from MFT, in general I'd say MFT
emphasizes more therapy, family counseling whereas MSW more on
social agencies- casework, case management, though this is in
general and there are areas of overlap. MSW is slightly more
well regarded in the overall medical community and may be more
highly paid if you are not in private practice (was the case a
few years ago.) I had a great experience at JFK and loved the
program; however the post-master's internship hours (often very
low pay, stipend only, or unpaid,) required for licensing have
been very daunting for me and after a 2 year break from it to
raise my little ones, I now find I cannot afford to go back as
a (post-grad.) intern because I will get paid less than the
cost of childcare and have no time to complete my notes. It is
not always this way, but the Bay area is flooded with
therapists and so abyssmally low pay, especially for interns is
the norm. Friends in the PsyD track said they could obtain
their PsyD (don't need a separate master's first) in the same
time someone could start an MFT program and become licensed. I
believe this is true, you may want to look at PsyD options as
well. It is a newer type of degree but well-regarded thus far,
more therapy than a PHD or MD, more psych. testing than an MFT,
is my take on it. JFK may offer info on counseling careers and
help deciding on which track to pursue. I believe they may
offer educational counseling degrees as well, and St. Mary's
College in Moraga definitely does. I would say JFK and CIIS
(San Francisco) are the most process-oriented of the counseling
programs that I know of.
this page was last updated: Nov 8, 2013
BPN is now a 501(c)(3) non-profit and we are building a new website!
Read more, and see how you can help:
The opinions and statements expressed on this website
are those of parents who subscribe to the
Berkeley Parents Network.
Disclaimer & Usage for
information about using content on this website.
Copyright © 1996-2015 Berkeley Parents Network