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How do I choose the right mental health career for me?

I'm interested in understanding the differences between a clinical social worker, a licensed professional counselor, a clinical psychologist, and a psychiatrist. I’m particularly interested in understanding their different approaches or philosophies towards treating mental health. Currently, I'm on the pre-med track towards med school (mainly due to my interest in psychiatry), but I want to explore other career options.
If you are a mental health professional, here are a few questions: What initially drew you towards your career (what are your passions)? What do you love (or not love so much) about your career? What does your typical day look like? Please feel free to add anything else you think would be helpful :). #mental-health

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Dr.’s Answer

You need to focus on whether you want to be a TALK only therapist or a combo medical biological sciences & talk Doc. I always wanted to be a BRAIN Doc & pre-med Neurobiology Major & budding Neurologist until Year 3 Med School when I was clear that General Neuro was too dry & NOT for me. The combo or Neuro-Psychiatry was better, with my MD Psychiatrists very nice & cool & ore normal, with better life & schedule when off-duty. Pay for MDs, $200-300k, less than 1/2 for good PhD & less for Master level talk therapists. Being a MD is the 1st decision you need to make, them the type of Doc once finishing 4 years of diverse Med School, where you are REQUIRED to rotate through all Depts.

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Priya’s Answer

Hi! This is a great question to have. I also was stuck between the different professions in my last year of undergrad! From what I understand, psychology and psychiatry would approach therapy from a medical model (finding a diagnosis, and treating), whereas counseling would approach therapy from a wellness model (maximizing client's wellness and building on their strengths.) This does not mean a therapist in either of these fields can't address the other issues, but the way they approach therapy will be from a different outlook. One big difference, though, is that a psychiatrist can prescribe medicine, where the other fields cannot. Psychologists can also perform certain tests and assessments that counselors cannot. Essentially it is best to know for yourself how you see a person, what you think a person's issues stem from, and what you believe would be a good way to approach treatment of an individual. Treatment can help from any angle, and each field will approach it from various sides. Even within psychology and counseling, there are different theories you can ascribe to that would direct your treatment. I do not have much knowledge of social work, so I cannot speak on behalf of it, but I have met some very nice counselors with a social work degree. That being said, I do not have information on their direction of treatment. What drew me to this career was my own struggles and my own experience in therapy for the first time. It really opened my eyes to how much I valued this type of work. I do not want people to feel as if they have to struggle alone, so I want to be a presence to be there and help them hold their pain and struggles while they find the solution that works best for them. Of course, I am trained to offer my guidance in helping them address and move past any roadblocks to their path. I love counseling, and I love the moment of connection a client and counselor has when someone is really willing to address their struggles and be vulnerable to share them. It's really amazing. What I do not love, as I am currently working toward my LPC, is the LPC Intern period before obtaining your full LPC license. It is a struggle and it can be difficult if you have limitations in what populations you can see earlier on. Despite this, I am still pushing through because I believe in this field. An LPC or LPC Interns day can look very different depending on the setting they are at. Typically every site I have been at has a fair amount of flexibility, and some sites may be more counseling based, some more behavioral based. I think it really just depends on the setting and what you are looking for in a career, that would tell what a typical day looks like.

Priya recommends the following next steps:

Think about what you want most out of your career. Do you want more one on one time with the client? Do you want to approach the client from a medical approach or a wellness approach? Look up which careers would give you the things that you want.
Ask some of your professors as well! I got lucky that in my last year, a psychology professor did a quick presentation about the differences between these fields. It helped me to make my ultimate choice.
Are you willing to take part in the intern experience to get to this field? Look up what types of intern experiences and how many hours will be required of you to get your license.
Look up where some of these professionals may work. From what I know, a full LPC may have many options such as schools, colleges, community centers, private practice, companies, etc. Where are some of the other professions able to work? Would you like those settings?
Look up some approaches and theories typical to that field. For me, I ascribe to Person-Centered Theory, and would read Carl Rogers who is the creator of Person-Centered Theory. There are tons of other approaches and books you can read from to gauge how you want to approach the field.
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