Career as a Therapist/Psychologist

Parent Q&A

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  • Hello! I've been thinking of going back to school for a MFT license. I'm in my 40's, have a degree in art and have been a SAHM for the last 7 years so it's very daunting and scary to even think of this drastic career change. I wanted to reach out and see if any of you have gone through similar experience and if you are happy with your decision. Would love to connect with any of you who can answer some of my questions. 

    Just wanted to encourage you to look into social work programs as well as MFT programs. With a masters in social work you can also get licensed and offer therapy. The process of collecting hours is usually faster on the LCSW track, and sometimes it’s easier to collect hours (post grad school) in a paid job. On the other hand, social work training is broader and not just focused on therapy. Either way it’s a great field and apparently there’s a shortage of therapists right now. Good luck!!

    I was a sahm for 6 years when I enrolled in the Wright Institute's counseling psychology program. Loved it. I realized I was far better trained for “being in the room with clients” when I started my practicum in 2nd year and worked with others from Alliant (now closed program) and JFK. Be ready to look at your whiteness if you’re white, be ready to deal with others interesting personalities and get a meal service delivered even if it’s just you to feed. Good luck, moms have tons of experiences that are more valuable than being 23 years old and fresh outta Stanford, just sayin. Feel free to reach out if you need help reviewing your entrance essays! I don’t know where the comas go, but I do know good content. Been there, doing that, you got this, jump

    in :) 

    I changed my career at 37 to become an MFT. I went to CIIS (California Institute of Integral Studies), and did their weekend program. The weekend program had a lot of older people who were changing careers, which was wonderful. It was an amazing journey. I wouldn't change it for the world, and it was a wild ride! Feel free to contact me if you want to talk more.

Archived Q&A and Reviews

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20 yr. old want to become a MFT/family therapist

Feb 2013

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 that route. msw

Degree in Clinical or Counseling Psychology?

Oct 2010

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. Sydney
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 Also, apparently Alliant is well regarded in terms of the distance learning also ( Good luck! Prof's wife

Becoming a licenced clinical/couns. psychologist

Feb 2010

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 your input: - 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 loans? - What are the job prospects/expected salary after graduation, do they justify taking loans?

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. Liz O.

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. Caroline
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! anon

Lawyer thinking about becoming psychologist

Dec 2009

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 about. Good luck! anon

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! Cynthia
hello, 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 practice.

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. Ilene

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 you do! Jules
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 (workvision [at], 510-528-2221).

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. Good luck! Happy with my M.A. (and new career)

How long does the MFT licensing procedure take?

Aug 2008

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. Getting ready...

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 specifics. anon
Hi, I finished my licensing process in May, so all of the info is very fresh! 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. Sarah

Considering a switch from academia to therapy

Feb 2008

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 private practice? If anyone would be willing to talk to me personally, please leave your e-mail address. Thanks! anon

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. Debra
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! good luck!!

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

Dear Anon 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 therapists.

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 possible.

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. Jim

Get a masters in counseling? What's it like?

Sept 2004

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? career change

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! anon
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. anonymous
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. anon