Education/Career in Mental Health (long)?

Discussion in 'Nursing and medical-related degrees' started by swoerner, Sep 17, 2004.

  1. swoerner

    swoerner New Member

    I've been lurking here for a bit, and have gotten a lot out of these posts, thanks for providing this forum.

    My name is Scott Woerner, I am a 46 year old Computer Manager, and a commuting father of 2 young boys. And I want a different career.

    SO.... DL is likely to be the path I need to take. I am looking to move into the mental health field, and am trying to negotiate all the various options/requirements. I know that I will not know exactly what I want to do until I actually start the work, so I'm looking for education that gets me entry into the field, and will be useful further down the road. I live in NJ.

    I have an interest both in working in the school system with Middle School/High School kids, but would also like the flexibility to move into private practice to do therapy, both with adults and children. I know the MSW is a good, flexible way to start, but to be honest with you the curriculum doesn't really excite me at all, and there don't seem to be any accredited DL MSW programs. I'm interested in psychology, particularly depth psychology. To get started ina school system, it looks like school psychologist or guidance counselor, and since I'm much more interested in one-on-one work than in tests and evaluations, guidance counselor seems like a better fit.

    BTW I have no prior coursework in psychology, but am active facilitating men's work, volunteering on a crisis hotline, and have done extensive reading and work on my own.

    So my current thinking is that I could do the Counseling track, getting coursework leading up to an LPC or LMHC, and then supplement that with the school work to get me in the door as a guidance counselor.

    Couple of concerns/questions:
    If I had the time and money I'd go on for a doctorate in psychology. That may still happen, but I want to get started doing the actual work earlier, not wait until I'm in my mid 50's to start doing what I love. So I want to get licensed earlier, but maybe have the ability to use the education to transfer into a doctoral program later.

    And, I don't know for sure that the guidance counselor work will be what I'm meant to do. So I want the education and certification to be more portable.

    Based on all this, I'm seriously considering either Capella's 3 year counseling program, Seton Hall onlines counseling program (but this isn't CACREP approved?? How much should I care?), or simply taking psychology classes somewhere like Walden, and making a MA/MS in Psych out of it.

    Any comments/insights would be appreciated, and thanks for your time.

    Scott Woerner
  2. Harijan

    Harijan New Member


    You need to check with your state labor & licensing board first to determine the basic requirements for your area.
    A MSW or DSW are great degrees, and are accepted by most insurers for reimbursement. Also, you may want to investigate licensed professional counselor or marriage & family therapy programs.. I believe that Southern Christian University has one that can be done almost entirely online.

    One of the drawbacks inherent in any of these programs that you are searching for is that for licensure, you must do a practicum or internship as part of your program or before you are allowed to practice independtly... that is the kicker, and most are kind of expensive!

    I believe that most states have slightly different course requirements when you do not graduate from a CACREP or AAMFT school, and as far as psychology goes, most wont let you sit for the licensure exam if you have not attended an APA affiliated institution.
    Good luck to you, I hope this helps.
  3. DaveHayden

    DaveHayden New Member

    Kevin brings up a great point. In the state I am in, a Master's in Psychology or Counseling can meet the requirements to become a Licensed Counselor, but a MSW is what the insurance providers are looking for. Without it or a Ph.D. you can open a practice but not bill the insurance companies. It is possible to only accept cash payments, but it is pretty tough.
  4. swoerner

    swoerner New Member

    Thanks for the feedback. And I'd love more.

    If I do an MSW, am I right that continuing later to a psych PHD I'd likely still be at square one, none of the credits would really transfer? I also gather that there are no DL degrees for it. So how many of you with DL degrees are actually able to get insurance reimbursement?

    And, in the school system it seems that School Social Workers don't really work one on one with the kids, but the counselors do. I guess I can follow up on this one offline, maybe its possible to augment an MSW with some other classes to go the guidance counselor route.

  5. DaveHayden

    DaveHayden New Member

    My understanding is that Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work are considered distinctly different fields at the graduate level. So much so, that classes in one will not apply in the other even though the material or knowledge covered might be identical. My experience in this area is limited so hopefully others can reply with more experience.
  6. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Kevin and Dave have given some very good feedback. I wouldn't argue with any of it. I'd like to add a few thoughts of my own, however. First, there are no 100% DL MSW programs. There are a number of very good schools in your area however and you might want to check them out to see if they offer any part-time or night school courses. Also, you could check out the NJ chapter of the National Association of Social Workers for more info in general.
    Secondly, I'd suggest that you go to one or two local high schools and talk to a few of the Guidance Counselors. I think you'll find that they don't do a lot of one on one psychotherapy, especially not in the style of depth psychology. In general, troubled adolescents are not good candidates for depth psychology techniques.
    Finally, every state has a Board of Licensure or Registration that covers everything from Barbers to Doctors. They will be able to tell you clearly what is required for a license to practice psychotherapy. As a side note, if you're willing to put aside your idea of private practice then you can always work in a community mental health clinic. Even if you get a degree that allows for licensure and private practice, you have a huge task ahead in regards to developing a practice caseload. You need a steady stream of referrals to do this and, no offense, but at that point you'll be a 50-something year old rookie therapist...why would someone send a patient to you (as opposed to the other zillion therapists who've been around for 20 or 30 years and have well developed practices and solid reputations. Still, it can be done. Just food for thought.
    Good luck,
  7. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Oh yes, there's one other thing. While the credits from an MSW degree will not help you much toward your PhD in Psychology, there are two distinct advantages to going this route. The first is that if you work for a couple of years as a Clinical Social Worker prior to enrolling in a PhD program you will be seen as a more attractive applicant. In the mental health field experience is crucial. There have been LOTS of people who thought they'd love it but later found it to be something other than what they envisioned. So an experienced therapist, even just a couple of years worth, will be seen as someone who knows what they're getting into.
    Along a very different line of thinking, with an MSW and a license to practice, you could earn your PhD in an area of Psychology other than Clinical Psychology such as Developmental Psych, or Cognitive Psych for example. These are areas in the larger field of Psychology that do not themselves allow for the practice of Psychotherapy but they are certainly relevant to Psychotherapy. A PhD in such a field would make you a somewhat unique practitioner. It may also broaden your choices of PhD programs that would be available to you through DL.
    Again, good luck.
  8. Guest

    Guest Guest


    Go here and check out your state's requirements for the various mental health licenses.

    Good luck!
  9. DL-Luvr

    DL-Luvr New Member

    New Profession

    Scott: All the advice is good - I'd like to point out a few additional items.

    School Counselors are generally licensed under a states Education Department and many states require teaching experience. Check in New Jersey because you might have to first get a teaching license/certificate/credential and actually have teaching experience before you can apply for a school counseling permit.

    I agree with Jack, talk with some school counselors in your area. Many that I know of only do vocational counseling and refer any depth counseling to the school psychologist or to outside professionals.

    Many different professions are involved in counseling which Jimmy's links point out. These professions and their title variations, normally require a master's degree and two to three years of experience.

    Licensed Professional Counselor - LPC
    Licensed Clinical Social Worker - LCSW
    Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist - LMFT

    In every state I can think of licensure as a psychologist requires a doctorate - PhD/PsyD/EdD etc.

    Licensing info on Counseling
  10. Rob Coates

    Rob Coates New Member

    There are no distance learning programs in school psychology. The path that leads to certification as a school psychologist requires a B.A. or B.S. in psychology (sometimes a bachelors degree in education will be accepted) and then acceptance into a graduate program in school psychology. Competition for slots in graduate programs is competitive but not as competitive as clinical psyc. brick and mortar programs. Graduate programs in school psychology terminate in the Specialist in Education (Ed.S.) or equivalent which consists of 60-70 semester hour credits along with a thesis or research project, or the Ed.D. or Ph.D. or Psy.D. In most states, school psychologists are licensed by the dept. of education and not the psyc. licensing board and are exempt from regulation by the psyc. board. In some states (such as Iowa) school psychologists are allowed to practice in any setting including private practice while in other states they are allowed to practice only in schools or institutional settings. If you are interested, you can get more information by visiting the web site of the National Association of School Psychologists.
  11. Rob Coates

    Rob Coates New Member

    Guidance counselors at the middle school / high school level (at least in my area) don't do all that much one-on-one actual counseling. Most of the work consists of monitoring and arranging student's class schedules and credit situations, working with transition from high school to post high school issues, SATs and ACTs, managing district wide assessments (Iowa Tests of Basic Skills etc.) and various other chores that administrators dump on them.
  12. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Someone ought to put some sort of digital asterisk alongside of this thread because it is a treasure trove of info on this subject. Thanks to all for their contributions.
  13. Dr. Gina

    Dr. Gina New Member

    Check out the schools in your area for evening/weekend classes. I think rutgers has an evening/Weekend program and you can do your internship at night. If you live close to NYC - Fordam University has a Saturday only Masters in SW program, and they are very highly regarded.
  14. Dr. Gina

    Dr. Gina New Member

    BTW - You may possibly use your volunteer positions as venues for your internship - saving you a lot of time. The only catch is that your field supervisor has to have a MSW or a PHD in Psychology to supervise you in most schools.
  15. Jack Tracey

    Jack Tracey New Member

    Nice catch Gina.
  16. simon

    simon New Member

    Several points to consider.

    Licensed Professional Counselors can in fact become eligible to receive third party reimbursement from many health insurance companies for the provision of private psychotherapy services on par with social workers in the majority of states. Check out several major health insurance providers in your state and determine their position regarding this matter.

    The major issue to consider is whether to pursue graduate training in any of the mental health disciplines due to the high level of competition from sister mental health disciplines in private practice, the poor labor market and low pay in this field. This is an especially critical issue to consider especially when considering a midlife career change. In addition, many private practitioners have closed shop due to the hassles involved in obtaining insurance reimbursements for their services.

    If you decide to consider School Psychology there are in fact distance graduate programs available such as at Walden and Capella.

    Good luck!
  17. Rob Coates

    Rob Coates New Member

    Although they're not entirely by distance. I believe both have residency requirements.
  18. Dr. Gina

    Dr. Gina New Member

    Thanks, Jack!:D
  19. swoerner

    swoerner New Member

    Re: Re: Education/Career in Mental Health (long)?

    Wow, I'm getting a lot of good feedback here, much thanks...

    So when a student is having trouble with being bullied, or peer pressure for drug use, etc., then who counsels him/her, and if longer term treatment is needed, who does that? my impression was the school psych's did the testing/evals, etc, and that guidance counselors did the actual one-on-one.

    My interest here is primarily in mentoring/counseling boys trying to make the transition to young adulthood.

    And yes, I understand this would mean a significant drop in pay, particularly from my current IT career. I am willing to make a lot less money for a chance to do something I really love. I just need to figure out how to get into it so the love for the work pulls me along, with some chance of at least making enough $ to survive.

    Thanks for all your responses.

  20. simon

    simon New Member

    Within school systems, guidance counselors may be able to conduct some basic counseling. However, they are generally inundated with extraneous issues, such as a great deal of paper work, to engage students in the level of counseling you are seeking to perform.

    School Psychologists primarily administer and interpret assessments. However, they may provide ongoing counseling based on their client load. Students requiring a significant degree of counseling may be referred to a doctoral level School Psychologist or to a Psychiatrist for in-depth therapy.

    School Social Workers may also perform ongoing counseling but this is determined by their job description within their school district.

    I would suggest that you schedule meetings with a Guidance Counselor, School Psychologist and Social Worker in your hometown and ask them for more information regarding their daily job functions. If possible, determine if it is possible for you to "shadow" these professionals so that you can observe first hand what their actual day consists of in terms of interactions with students.

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