For this first issue of Dr. Worthen's Newsletter, I'm going to reprint an excellent
article by Dr. John Grohol, titled "Distinctions Between Therapist
Degrees". Dr. Grohol publishes a superb website, PsychCentral.com,
which I highly recommend that you visit for abundant information about
psychology and mental health.
Here is the article:
by John Grohol, Psy.D.
As managed care continues to make substantial changes in the field of
behavioral healthcare, it is important to understand what you are
paying for with your healthcare monies. There is a great degree of
differences between professional's degrees in this field, and those
differences may impact on the effectiveness and quality of your
In nearly every state in the U.S., therapists must be licensed to
practice (e.g., receive a fee for services) under specific, protected
titles. For instance, the terms "psychologist" and "psychiatrist" are
protected legal terms in every state and, when referring to providing
clinical services, can only be used by properly licensed professionals.
Ideally, such licensure helps to ensure that the professional has
passed a minimum set of qualifications via a written examination and
that if a problem arises with their provision of professional services,
the authorities of that state have some recourse. In the real world,
however, bad therapists obtain licensure all the time and the redress
procedures for filing a complaint against a therapist nearly always
favor the therapist. Nevertheless, when shopping for a therapist, make
sure the professional is licensed whenever possible.
And yes, you should shop and compare therapists, just like you would in
making any important life decision. You will spend a fair amount of
your hard-earned money to pay for the therapist's services (whether
it's done out of pocket or via your insurance/HMO premiums). You
deserve to know basic information about the professional you are about
to trust your innermost feelings and thoughts to, including their
professional background, their educational background, how many years
they've been practicing, and how much experience they've had in helping
people with problems similar to your own. The more experience they've
had and the longer they've been in practice are usually two of the best
indicators to look for in finding a suitable clinician. A professional,
regardless of their educational background, who has had 20 years of
therapy experience and has worked with dozens of individuals presenting
with problems similar to your own is much more likely to be of help to
you than someone with 2 years of experience and you're the first person
they've seen with your particular mental health concern. (It makes
sense, doesn't it? The research backs up this view.)
Keep in mind that if you find your first choice in a therapist isn't
working out, give the therapist a pink slip and ask for a referral to
one of his or her colleagues. Remember, the therapist works for you. If
you don't feel like you're clicking after a few sessions, or the
therapist isn't listening to your concerns or providing you with enough
feedback in your sessions, let them know. Don't be afraid to change
therapists if your concerns aren't adequately addressed to your
There are a number of degrees which I didn't cover in my original
writings, but which are included in the other
people's comments section. These degrees/clinicians include
licensed professional counselors, marriage and family counselors, and
psychiatric nurses, to name a few.
Doctorate of Philosophy (Research degree)
General description: Doctoral degree in either clinical or counseling
This is the traditional degree of practicing, academic, and research
psychologists. Training includes courses in psychological assessment,
theories and practice of different types of psychotherapy, research and
statistics, as well as diagnosis and ethics. A dissertation is required
which must be defended. The emphasis of this degree is on research and
theory, much more so than any other degree discussed here. A
pre-internship experience (called a practicum) is usually an integral
part of the program. Some programs require multiple practicums. The
average length of a Ph.D. program is 6 to 7 years. Ph.D. psychologists
most often pursue careers in academia or practice.
The differences between a Ph.D. psychologist who graduated from a
clinical program as opposed to a counseling program are minimal.
Clinical programs, which are more widespread, tend to focus more on
serious mental illness (e.g., depression, schizophrenia, anxiety, etc.)
its assessment and treatment. Counseling programs tend to focus more on
change-of-life issues (e.g., divorce, relationship problems, academic
problems, etc.) and assessment of those problems. However, this is a
broad generalization and the actual experiences of the clinician will
vary according to the program they graduated from.
As an interesting side-note, psychologists are now trying to gain
prescription privileges. Given their lack of medical training and
education, where is the wisdom in such a misguided attempt to gain
ground on psychiatrists?
Doctorate of Psychology (Professional degree)
General description: Doctoral degree in clinical psychology.
This is a newer (circa. 1968) degree offered to those individuals
interested exclusively in the practice of psychology. Its focus tends
to be more clinically-oriented than the traditional Ph.D., offering
more pre-internship experience and practical coursework, in lieu of
courses on research and statistics (although most Psy.D. programs also
require a dissertation). Some programs require up to three practicum
experiences before internship. These practicums typically are 15-25
hours per week, for an entire year. Therefore, some graduate students
in these programs will graduate with over 1,500 - 2,500 pre-internship
clinical hours, and gain another 1,000 - 2,000 hours while on
internship. This amount of direct clinical training experience is
equaled by no other profession today (nor do any come close). These
clinical experiences cover all aspects of treatment, modalities, and
settings in mental health, from community mental health centers and day
treatment programs, to geriatric and university counseling centers.
If the Psy.D. program doesn't require a dissertation (which generally
includes the authoring of original research), it will have a
requirement for a research paper with less of an emphasis on creating
original research. The research paper can be a literature review or
some other similar type of contribution to the field.
The average length of a Psy.D. program is 5 to 6 years. Most Psy.D.
psychologists pursue careers in practice, although some also enter into
research and academia. As with the above doctoral degree, psychologists
aren't eligible to become licensed in a state (a legal distinction, not
an educational one) until at least one year after receiving their
degree. Licensure typically involves a certain amount of additional
supervised clinical hours, and receiving a certain minimum score on a
national and state psychology licensing examination.
To read the rest of the article--and to check out the Comments others have made--please click here to go directly to Dr. Grohol's website.