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Is psychology a financially secure career choice?

What kinds of careers in psychology, if any, might be more likely to have issues with financial security? Why?

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Nathaniel’s Answer

Your question is a reasonable one. But to put it in proper context, all occupations and businesses are vulnerable under our system of political-economics. This is a psychological matter as much as an economic one. Part of the way our system controls and disciplines workers and business people alike is to create a harsh gradient of 'winners' and 'losers' in which the ‘top’ are rewarded lavishly—with wealth, property, and 'toys'—while the ‘bottom’ are punished severely: to the point of unemployment, houselessness, and hopelessness. The threat of tumbling from ‘winner’ to ‘loser’ keeps those of us in the middle squirming the most. That said, there are basically two tracks within psychology—institutional and practice—that generate different economic concerns. I write this as someone who has travelled both.

The institutional track is as secure as any other salaried career, and includes roles like corporate psychologists who evaluate job candidates, advise on marketing campaigns, etc.; school guidance counselors who evaluate student mental health and advise on career choices; university teachers at every level from community colleges to graduate and professional schools. Assuming one does ones work reasonably well without ruffling too many feathers, job security in these kinds of positions depends on the economics of job markets, of private profits, of government tax collection and allocation. Economic booms and busts, however, are not occasional accidents, they are repeating and regular consequences of our economy—the smarmy like to call the busts “market corrections”—and there are additionally catastrophic outliers, like what the Covid pandemic did to our “just-in-time” supply system. These may be predictable in theory, but rarely in practice. If you frequently walk along train tracks wearing noise-canceling headphones and listening to loud music, your chances of being hit by a train definitely go up. If the freight trains don’t have a schedule, but depart whenever they are sufficiently loaded, it’s hard to predict when you are most vulnerable.

The practice track is perhaps the more vulnerable, though, in my experience, the more rewarding. This includes psychologists, counselors, psychotherapists, and psychoanalysts of every stripe and kind. To oversimplify, but just a bit, on this track you would mostly end up either working for yourself, perhaps in collaboration with others, or for a governmental entity, a county mental health department, say, or a non-profit, maybe in addiction counseling, with street youth, with people returning to school to complete some part of their education.

The insecurities of private practice psychologist are much like those of any small business person, residing in recruiting customers and collecting billings, a far more complicated matter than one might at first imagine. You might think that recruiting customers with health insurance plans is a no-brainer, but how, for what, and at what percentage private insurance companies are willing to pay can become all-but insurmountable, requiring massive form-filling with no guarantee of success. Government insurance like Medicare or Medicaid might be more reliable, but usually demands discounted prices, co-pays from clients, and even more paperwork than required by the private sector. If a practitioner doesn’t belong to a group with an office management staff, or hire staff of their own, she could spend as much time chasing dollars as providing therapy.

In the governmental/non-profit sphere, the financial collection headaches typically fall to the institution rather than the individual practitioner, though the practitioner remains subject to the same economic insecurity as any other worker. Witness the present anxieties of everyone who depends on governmental income streams in the face of a pending federal government shutdown. In addition, these organizations are systematically underfunded with the deliberate intention of wearing down and driving away some proportion of people who are legitimately entitled to and in great need of services, perhaps as many as a third. Can you imagine working in a role where you need to remain optimistic and supportive of others, cheerfully pretending to be doing the best work possible under circumstances that barely provide for ‘good enough’ let alone ‘best’?

I didn’t set out to be discouraging but realistic. It must sound ironic then that I conclude by saying that over the course of fifty years of working life as an educator, therapist, university researcher, political advisor, consultant, writer, etc., etc., I am pleased at what I have accomplished for myself and the people I served. It didn’t come easy: in my thirties and forties, I was fired seven times in eleven years, and always for the same cause—insubordination. It never got easy, but it got a lot easier once I realized that my values were mine, not anyone else’s, and that what I most needed from myself and others was respect for that, not total capitulation.

By the bye, I got the respect I needed by learning to say: "Your idea is a good idea. My idea is a good idea. You're the boss, so your idea leads." And the luck and skill of learning to work for bosses who had good ideas.
Thank you comment icon Thank you for pointing those things out, I appreciate your input. Adilay
Thank you comment icon You're very welcome Adilay. Another way of controlling us is by making us believe that to talk about such things is rude, or negative, or antisocial. After a while, what can't be talked about begins to go unnoticed: psychologists speak of cognitive dissonance, the gap between our beliefs and our experience. One way people have of filling that gap is to ignore or pretend away experience. You'd think a sane person would change their beliefs instead of trying to magic away their experience, but that's not how the human mind works, especially when all the sign-posts around us keep telling us we shouldn't think a certain way. Are you familiar with the original "Star Wars"? It's the Jedi mind-trick. "These are not the droids you're looking for." Nathaniel Wander
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mark’s Answer

Hello Adilay,

I believe that the most important factors in determining whether or not going into the field of psychology becomes a financially secure future for you are your commitment to what you do and how well you do it. The risks to financial security are relatively low, I believe, for well qualified, highly competent mental health professionals, given the current demand for practitioners and the relative lack of supply.

I encourage you to do research on earnings potential for different jobs in the field, and I also encourage you to focus on those areas where you have the greatest passion. Please keep in mind that financial security will not guarantee happiness and that pursuing your passion is what matters most.

Yes, psychology can and should be a financially secure field for all competent, caring, dedicated professionals.

I hope this helps.

All the best to you,

Mark V.
Thank you comment icon This was definitely helpful, thank you! Adilay
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Debbie’s Answer

Please check out bls.gov. A psychologist for years 2022-2032 is expected to grow at a rate of 6% faster than all other occupations. The projection is 12800 for new jobs in the field of psychologist every year.
Thank you comment icon I'll check that out, thank you. Adilay
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