Both of my careers of interest involve psychological counseling. One would be serving as a school psychologist, and the other would be working in private practice as a psychologist. I am not interested in having the ability to prescribe medicines for my clients; although I realize that there are some mental conditions that are best remedies using prescriptions, in general I feel that these sorts of medicines are overprescribed, and I would prefer to treat patients through other means. For both of these positions, I would need to finish a B.S. in psychology and gain licensure, and to gain long-term stability in either role, I would complete an M.S. in psychology as well.
I enjoy visiting with people and talking to them, and I enjoy helping people talk through their problems. However, I also find it fairly easy to compartmentalize those conversations, rather than spending the rest of the day worrying about their problems. For some people, I think that would be the hardest part of the job – carrying around the problems that other people have, in addition to my own, and worrying about them outside the office. I view my role in the situation, though, as helping people sort issues out, or listening as people talk their own situations through. It is personally rewarding, for me, because I feel as though I have helped someone. One of the ironies of the “social media” age is that we are besieged with “Friend Requests” and news posts and information, to the point where we think that those stimuli are the same thing as close interpersonal relationships. Because those relationships appear to be on the wane, there will be more and more of a need to provide therapeutic services for people in a face-to-face environment.
The typical salaries of these two positions are fairly similar, although salary in private practice could vary quite widely, depending on the area where I set up my practice, the clientele I selected, and my decision as to whether or not I would accept medical insurance to pay fees. More and more psychologists are accepting medical insurance, and I feel that it is something that I would have to do, at least at first, in order to be competitive and gain market share. For school psychologists, the current mean in the United States is $66,810 annually. However, this varies quite widely, depending on the state where you work. In Mississippi, the average school psychologist only earns $42,660 per year, while Colorado pays the most, with the average school psychologist earning $81,130 per year (School Psychologist Job Description, 2012). Of course, the cost of living varies widely between those two states as well; real estate and other costs are much higher, in general, in many parts of Colorado than they are in Mississippi.
Both of these positions would have many positives for me. As a school psychologist, I could make a difference in the lives of thousands of children over the course of a career, assisting them through counseling them in areas where they were having difficulty. Interacting with children would be very rewarding for me; as a child, I had parents going through an ugly divorce when I was in second and third grades, and had I not gone to my school counselor to talk about many of the problems that went on, I would have had an extremely tough time dealing with the situation. Her advice really helped me. In private practice, I would have fewer interactions as far as number of people, but I would have more in-depth interaction with the clients that I treated, which would be an acceptable swap for me.
The primary negative of being a school psychologist, for me, would be the considerable amount of paperwork and diagnostic work involved. In many states, school psychologists are involved with administering the torrent of standardized testing that goes on in so many schools (Job Description of the School Psychologist, 2012). I would find that frustrating, over time, because the time spent doing paperwork would be time, in my opinion, that I could spend working with students. While administering psychological evaluations is one thing, being drawn over into working with the academic assessments would go beyond the scope of my calling into the schools, and would keep me from delivering optimal counseling services to the students on my campus. Also, there are negative stereotypes of school psychologists as clumsy diagnosticians (Nugent, 2012).As far as being a psychologist in private practice, the only negative would be spending an entire work day and only seeing a handful of people. When I interviewed Jerry Isbinsen, a private psychologist from my hometown, he mentioned that there are days when he only sees a dozen people – even when he has a full slate of clients for that day. He sees seven or eight patients, might have lunch with a couple of friends, and says hello to his partner and secretary. Other than that, he has very little social interaction; on these days, he leaves work feeling like he has sat in a vault all day. On the day when I shadowed his activities, I could see how he felt this way. While only two of the patients were comfortable with me in the room as a student observer, the rest of the time I spent there visiting with his secretary, and it is a very quiet place to work. I wonder if I would need more social interaction.
The typical work schedule in private practice could range from, for example, 9 or 10 in the morning until 7 or 8 at night, depending on the schedule needs of my patients, and what I was willing to do as well. In a school environment, I would be working a normal school day, plus as much as an hour before and after school. Generally, psychologists work a longer schedule than teachers, going a week or two further into the summer and coming back a week or two sooner, to help students with scheduling and enrollment (School Psychologist Job Description, 2012). I would have more access to benefits as a school psychologist, as I would have the same pension plan, medical and other forms of insurance, and I would be paid over a 12-month schedule, even during the two months or so in the summer when I did not have to report to school. As a private practice psychologist, I would be essentially an independent contractor, responsible for securing my own insurance coverage and other benefits.
Until I have spent some more time in study and in the field, I will not be able to choose between these two career paths. However, they both offer chances to make a difference in a field that I have come to love.
Isbinsen, J. (2012, April 8). Telephone interview.
Job Description of the School Psychologist, 2012. Evaluation Manual, Department of Health
and Human Services, State of North Carolina.
Nugent, B. (2012). I had Asperger syndrome. Briefly. New York Times 31 January 2012. Web.
Retrieved 14 April 2012 from http://www.nytimes.com/2012/02/01/opinion/i-had-
School Psychologist Job Description, 2012. Career Thoughts. Web. Retrieved 14 April 2012