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2/06/2008

Is clinical psychology an overrated career?

That's what you can read in US News and World Report (February 2008). The writer who expressed that opinion is Marty Nemko, a self-described career coach. He says that a career as a "personal coach" is a more rewarding alternative. Is his analysis of any import? No. Quite frankly his opinion is misinformed, uninformed and nonsense. Clinical psychology may be overrated if one assumes that it provides a hassle-free path to easy money and immediate gratification. Otherwise, career seekers will recognize that psychology is about challenge and satisfaction.

Nemko says that the appeal of clinical psychology is that "you'll work one-on-one with clients in a private, peaceful setting, helping them conquer their inner demons." That statement is not even remotely adequate to describe the range of career activities and options within the field. Some people enter this profession because they think we are about "helping people." Most enter because they are deeply fascinated by the roots and dynamics of the human condition.

Psychologists set forth on the career path only after completing college studies. By this point, they have been exposed to mentors and educators, as well as professionals, who have inspired them to be curious about how people think, feel and behave. At no point in the education of a psychologist will any senior member of the profession suggest that we are simply about "helping" people.

We have a rich intellectual history, and no career candidate can escape immersing themselves in our scientific methods and traditions. We are a doctoral level profession. Most of us hold the Doctor of Philosophy degree, indicating that even if we are in professional practice, we are trained first as scholars. Only those who are intensely fascinated by our subject matter and our body of knowledge will endure the rigorous training and the years of effort.

For those who are motivated to "work one-on-one with clients in a private, peaceful setting," there are many career paths. One can become a "counselor" or therapist with much less effort. And with no effort or knowledge at all, one can hang out a shingle as a "personal coach." If clinical psychology was simply about sitting in an office with patients, it is hard to imagine that it would appeal to anyone.

Nemko says that the profession of clinical psychology is being overshadowed or diminished because "research is revealing that many psychological problems have physiological roots, taking some of the luster off traditional psychotherapy." This is like saying that auto mechanics are in danger because the airline industry has an increasing number of passengers.

The fact is that the U.S. Department of Labor describes the expected growth in clinical psychology jobs as "faster than average." 24,000 positions will be added in the next ten years, a 16% increase. Right now in Great Britain, there is a major government funded initiative underway to increase the number of psychology-trained clinicians. The British government recognizes that more psychologists are needed if their system is going to provide comprehensive and effective health care.

Nemko also says that people are rejecting psychologists in favor of therapists and coaches who can provide practical solutions to the problems of living. He would like you to believe that those who are trained to understand the complexities of those problems are incapable of helping you to solve them. It's like saying that if your gardener understands how and why the grass grows, she won't know how to cut the lawn.

Is psychology an overrated career? If you think that it's an easy path to easy money, then it is overrated. Psychologists pursue this field of work because they are deeply fascinated with our profession's rich knowledge base. Psychologists are motivated by scholarly inquiry. If you pursue this career because you think it is glamorous or will provide prestige, you are bound to be disappointed. It is a difficult path from college graduation through graduate study and training. And when you arrive in the profession, you are left with nothing more than a challenging, satisfying and rewarding career.

Was the analysis and ranking from the US News and World report really worth anything at all? One only has to look at the online video that accompanied their list of overrated careers. In the videos, an architect describes the hassles and frustrations of his business. He also comments on what is "wonderful" about his career and "where the joy comes from." He ends by saying, "if you don't have the passion I have, forget it."

In the end, that is not the definition of an overrated career. A career that can be described as wonderful, and as a joy, and as a source of passion is not something that should ever be described as overrated. It is not true about the architect who was featured, and it is not true about clinical psychologists.


Copyright, Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D.