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Career Considerations for Clinical Psychology Psy.D. Students

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Willis, T., DeVore, C., Owusu, E., Gupta, R., Wilbert, A., Knadler, S., Lockhart, A., Mathewson, K., Rhoda, J., Shanley, D., Tillman, S., Cornish, J. E. (2014). Career considerations for clinical psychology Psy.D. students. Psychotherapy Bulletin, 49(2), 51-56.

Introduction

Willis_et_al_Student_Feature_#3_PhotoA large number of clinical psychology doctoral students graduate each year, half of whom are from Doctorate of Psychology (Psy.D.) programs (American Psychological Association, 2010). Statistics compiled by the Association of Psychology Postdoctoral and Internship Centers (APPIC, 2011), demonstrate that Psy.D. students represent 45% of all students in the yearly national internship match (APPIC, 2011). Unfortunately, these students tend to have higher student loan debt than their counterparts, Doctorate of Philosophy (Ph.D.) students. Psy.D. students’ average debt is $123,787, compared to an average of $53,160 for Ph.D. students (APPIC, 2011). A 2009 American Psychological Association (APA) salary survey reported an average salary for licensed doctoral level clinical psychologists (based on 1,750 valid responses) of $87,015 (Finno, Michalski, Hart, Wicherski, & Kohout, 2010). In hopes of reducing Psy.D. student debt and building satisfying careers, this paper aims to inform Psy.D. students of their employment opportunities and provide loan repayment considerations.

Employment Settings

Work opportunities for Psy.D. graduates include psychotherapy, assessment, supervision, consultation, administration, teaching, and research. These activities take place in governmental organizations, the armed forces, community mental health centers, correctional facilities, educational settings, academia, college counseling centers, medical settings, corporate organizations, and independent practice. These settings have various hiring requirements, offer differing compensation packages, and ranging of levels of autonomy and flexibility, which will be reviewed and condensed below. Table 1 summarizes career options for Psy.D. graduates. 

Veteran Affairs

In 2012, the Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) announced a plan to hire 1,600 additional mental health professionals, making it the largest employer of psychologists in the United States (Dao, 2012). Despite this fact, getting hired is actually quite difficult. The positions are competitive, with several dozen applicants for each available position, which is largely due to the VA’s benefits, competitive pay, and job security. Psychologists with the VA are generally hired at an initial pay grade of GS-11 (early career staff psychologist), with promotion potential to a GS-15 (Director, Center of Excellence). Compensation for these positions ranges from approximately $57,000 to $150,000 annually plus a comprehensive benefits package (medical, dental, retirement). These positions require the applicant to have completed both an APA accredited doctoral program and an APA accredited internship. In most cases a current, unrestricted state license is recommended, but often this requirement can be waived for a maximum of two years from the date of hire. Interested applicants can view VA jobs at www.vacareers.va.gov or www.usajobs.gov. It should be noted that the VA has part time positions and offers up to ten veteran preference points (if qualified) for military veterans.

Armed Forces

Another employment opportunity for Psy.D. graduates, especially those interested in working with military personnel, is within each branch of the armed forces. There are three primary ways for individuals to obtain these positions: as government contractors, via a military scholarship, or by joining the military post-degree as a psychologist. For those individuals who are hired as contract psychologists, these positions are paid according to the government GS pay scale (similar grade to the VA). These positions vary widely in scope of practice, from performing direct client care in mental health clinics to advising policy makers or providing psychological expertise to specialty units (Special Forces, training schools, survival, escape and evasion conditioning etc.). In terms of entering the armed forces through scholarship, each branch of the military also offers full scholarships for students pursuing graduate degrees in psychology. These scholarships typically require that the individual complete the application process with a military recruiter. If the applicant is successful, the student can receive up to two years of full tuition, plus books and fees. They will also receive a monthly stipend of approximately $2,000. Upon graduation they will be commissioned as an officer and be required to serve at least one year for each year they were on scholarship. Another option is to join the military as a psychologist after a doctorate degree and licensure have been obtained. Similar to those receiving the military scholarship, these individuals are commissioned as officers and are eligible to receive loan repayment. The Army Loan Repayment Program offers up to $65,000 in loan repayment for psychologists (Clark, 2012). More information on all of these programs can be obtained by visiting www.usajobs.gov to find out about current openings or a local military recruiter to with whom to discuss the health professions scholarship program.

 Department of Corrections

Correctional facilities offer another unique employment setting for Psy.D. graduates. In correctional settings psychologists balance the needs of incarcerated individuals while ensuring the safety of the community and the correctional facility (Boothby & Clements, 2000). Licensure is required for these government positions. These positions generally offer full benefits, including relatively generous vacation packages, and salaries ranging from $69,000 to $80,000 (Todd, 2008).

Community Mental Health

Community mental health centers are another employment setting for Psy.D. graduates. In these settings, psychologists tend to work with severe and persistent mental illness, as well with primarily low-income, Medicaid, and uninsured individuals. In 2008, over 17 million people utilized mental health services at community mental health centers across the United States (Wells, 2010). For interested applicants, having a license is generally preferred for positions, which range from part-time to full-time. The positions generally offer comprehensive benefits with salaries ranging from $63,000 to $80,000 (Finno et al., 2010).

Educational Settings.

Other settings that allows Psy.D. graduates the opportunity to participate in a variety of activities are elementary, middle, and high schools. In these placements, a large component of the psychologist’s work entails psychoeducational assessment. It is estimated there are approximately 42,060 jobs in these settings for psychologists (Todd, 2008).

 Academia

For Psy.D. students considering working in academia after graduation, starting as an adjunct professor can be a great way to get a “foot in the door.” As an adjunct professor, a psychologist may have the opportunity to teach undergraduate and graduate level courses. Responsibilities of an adjunct professor typically include creating a syllabus, preparing and delivering lectures, and leading classroom discussions. Grading and evaluating students’ assignment and holding office hours are additional job requirements. Compensation for adjunct positions varies by type of institution and program, but typically ranges from $3,000 to $4,500 per course at the graduate level (Wicherski, Hamp, Christidis, & Stamm, 2014). While traditional benefits are not typically available for adjuncts, most programs offer certain privileges, such as access to the Employee Assistance Program, entry to the library, reduced memberships at the gym, and discounts at the bookstore as well as other school-affiliated events. Working as an adjunct professor can provide recent graduates with flexibility and opportunities for building connections with other well-established professionals in the field. In addition to adjunct positions, Psy.D. graduates should consider pursuing clinical and tenure-track positions at psychology professional schools and in Psychology Departments at universities. These positions may prefer teaching experience or prior work as a teaching assistant, but it is not always a requirement. Developing an area of expertise and/or showing that you have published in a specialty area can create opportunities for teaching positions.

University Counseling Centers

Psy.D. graduates can work in one of approximately 677 university counseling centers across the nation that serve undergraduate and graduate students, as well as staff and other members of the college community (Mack, 2004). At university counseling centers there are often opportunities for early-career psychologists who are license-eligible. Salaries range from $54,000 to $78,000 (Finno et al., 2010), with comprehensive benefits packages. Many university counseling centers offer flexible paid and unpaid vacation, due to the varying seasonal demands of the counseling center.

Medical Settings

Psy.D. psychologists can work in a variety of medical settings. Health care settings allow a psychologist to work in many capacities, such as a behavioral health consultant, psychotherapist, assessor, crisis interventionist, and rehabilitation specialist. Psychologists work in inpatient and outpatient settings. Employment in medical settings typically requires licensure and a degree from an accredited doctoral program and internship. Often medical settings have a preference for several years of experience. Salaries can range from $60,000 to $120,000, depending on the setting and position (Finno et al, 2010).

Organizational Settings

Another area of employment for Psy.D. graduates in industrial-organizational (I/O) psychology. This type of work entails collaborating with organizations to improve productivity, retention, team cohesion, and anti-discrimination practices in businesses, with salaries ranging from $55,000 to $200,000. In a down economy, psychologists who can help companies make sound selections and human resource decisions, boost employee engagement, and help people improve work performance are in high demand (Novotney, 2011). A degree or relevant training in I/O psychology is preferred (Todd, 2008).

Consultation

Consultation is another area career option for Psy.D. graduates. Block (2000) defines a consultant as “a person in a position to have some influence over an individual, group or organization but who has no direct power to make changes or implement programs.” Being a clinical psychology consultant involves applying clinical or research skills in a variety of settings. It also requires flexibility and creativity. A survey of current consultation psychology jobs advertised on Indeed.com, for example, lists a variety of clinical psychology consultation jobs in areas of business administration, management, forensics, behavioral health, organizational development, and research, with a salary range of $30,000 and $110,000.

Independent Practice

Independent practice is often chosen by Psy.D. psychologists who seek to specialize in psychotherapy and/or assessment. Approximately half of all psychologists who deliver mental health services work primarily in private practice (DeAngelis, 2011). Private practice has many benefits such as autonomy, financial gain, and flexibility in terms of time and schedule (DeAngelis, 2011; Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2013). In a difficult economy, starting a private practice after graduate school can be challenging due to lack of business training, community connections, and clientele (DeAngelis, 2011). Those who lack business experience can benefit from consultation from experts in accounting, taxes, and mental health law, and with practitioners in established private practices. The Practice Institute (http://thepracticeinstitute.com/) is one such organization that offers free monthly webinar, phone consultation, articles, and a home study course for individuals starting a private practice. Another resource is The American Psychological Association’s Division of Private Practice (http://www.division42.org/), which offers consultation, resources and opportunities for networking.

Other Strategies and Considerations

There are a number of helpful strategies to assist young professionals in beginning their private practice careers. Psychologists starting out in independent practice may benefit from developing a niche, paying attention to social, geographical, and political trends. Psychologists are encouraged to develop a plan that includes a mission and values statement. Prior to starting a private practice, it is imperative to that psychologists understand the potential income factors and to create a budget. A useful tool to start to calculate these figures is available at http://thriveworks.com/blog/private-practice-profit-calculator-how-much-can-you-make/. It is important to note, however, that this tool does not calculate the amount of taxes one is required to pay. Clinicians in private practice can pay up to 35% of their income in taxes; this figure varies by individual, state, and by available deductions (Internal Revenue Service, 2013). Additionally, independent practitioners must note that administrative activities, such as charting, consultation, and referrals, will be unpaid.

Postdoctoral Fellowship

Postdoctoral clinical, counseling, and research fellowship positions have become popular and increasingly important in obtaining licensure and employment). Obtaining a postdoctoral position is beneficial in many ways (Smith-Bailey, 2004). These positions offer advanced training in a specialty area, clinical hours for licensure, pay equivalent to starting salaries for other entry level clinical psychology positions, and student loan deferment. Positions usually range in duration from one to two years and have salaries ranging from $20,000 to $40,000 (APA, 2013; Kirshcstein, 2012). Finding a postdoctoral fellowship position can prove challenging. One challenge is that there is no unified application or notification process. This requires interested applicants be willing to use several different methods to learn about potential positions (Kuo, 2012). To help remedy the issue, the APA has a postdoctoral fellowship listserv to which students can subscribe that allows them to receive emails regarding available postdoctoral positions all over the country (Kuo, 2012). As well, the APA offers a database of postdoctoral positions. The limited availability of positions has made obtaining a postdoctoral fellowship challenging and highly competitive. Obtaining a position may entail travel costs, which may prove difficult for an internship student. While acquiring a postdoctoral position may require time, research and financial cost, there are many demonstrated benefits.

Loan Repayment

Given the state of the economy and competition for employment positions, it has become increasingly important that Psy.D. graduates remain abreast of career options. Although the development of a niche has previously been the most viable route in securing a position, it no longer guarantees the ability to acquire gainful employment. Unfortunately, this dilemma is further compounded by Psy.D. students’ increasing educational loan debt. Because entering the field of psychology may not be paired with a large paycheck, a number of repayment options have been developed to encourage graduates to continue to work with vulnerable and at-risk populations. According to the Federal Student Aid website, some of the available loan repayment options include pay-as-you earn, income-based, and public service forgiveness (http://studentaid.ed.gov/repay-loans). The repayment options can allow graduates to pay up to a percentage of their income towards their loans, which offers considerable financial relief. It is important to note that anecdotal reports indicate some graduates have had problems with getting their loans repaid. For example, graduates often realize, after consolidating their loans, that they are no longer eligible for certain repayment programs. Therefore, graduates should contact their loan originator or servicer before beginning to pay on their loans, to confirm the type of loans they possess, repayment options and the conditions associated with that particular loan.

Recommendations

A workforce analysis for the field psychology is strongly encouraged. While there is a considerable amount of unmet mental health need in the U.S., there also seems to be a lack of funding and positions. With substantial changes to health care in the foreseeable future, including the Affordable Care Act, increased clarity about funding sources and where clinical psychologists are needed is necessary. In addition, it is important that students be aware of existing loan repayment programs. It is strongly recommended that academic programs review information regarding student loan debt and repayment programs during the admissions process, so that students can be fully informed before matriculating.

Summary

Overall, Psy.D. graduates should be encouraged about their career prospects. A 2009 survey of graduates from the Graduate School of Professional Psychology at the University of Denver revealed that, despite increasing student debt, graduates were highly satisfied with their careers (Burgamy et al., 2009). As noted here, a wide variety of career options are available to Psy.D. graduates. According to Kuther (as cited in Novotney, 2011), the level of success a graduate achieves can be dependent on thinking about the skills he or she has developed and how they might best be put to use in forging careers in both traditional and in new settings. While earning a clinical psychology degree can be costly, the clinical psychologist tends to be equipped with skills that can be focused on specialty or diverse areas, providing many opportunities for financially successful, meaningful, and rewarding careers.

 

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References

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