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Joyous_5
3-17-11, 8:38am
Another thread on this forum spurred me to write this post.

How do you KNOW if it's the right decision to pursue a Master's degree? I completed my bachelor's in psychology several years ago and had originally intended to complete my graduate degree in counseling.

Now we have a 2-year old and I'm thinking about entering the workforce again (I've been rather unsuccessfully freelance writing for the past 3 years), either now or in the near future. While I'd like to find something part-time so I can stay home with The Boy until he enters Kindergarten, I'm not sure it will be possible financially.

I've been thinking about my long-term career options and wondering if it might be time to pursue that Master's degree. It's such a huge time and financial commitment, though, I want to be sure I make the right decision.

Suggestions? Opinions?

Rosemary
3-17-11, 8:43am
I suggest you talk with people who are doing the type of work you'd like to do in your field. I know two moms who work as counselors part-time and both find it highly rewarding (but I don't know if they have grad degrees). Speaking as a mom, a career in which you can work part-time is fabulous.

iris lily
3-17-11, 8:54am
Check, realistically and carefully, your job options. Why do you believe there are job opportunities in counseling?

Kat
3-17-11, 9:21am
I have both a bachelor's and a master's in psychology. I went for the master's because I couldn't really do anything with the bachelor's. My only options were social-work type jobs or working at rehabilitation centers (if I was lucky enough to get in, and then, I'd be on the lowest rung with no hope of advancement). I went for the master's so that I could pursue teaching at the college level (which is what I do now, and I love it).

The situation might be different in your state/area, but it has been my experience that psychology is one of those fields that requires additional education. The more education you have, the more options you have. Counseling almost always requires at least a master's degree, and even then, you are up against other candidates with PsyDs. I'm not trying to sound negative, but I think it is important to realize that psychology is, in some parts of the country, an overly-saturated field.

If counseling is something that interests you, I encourage you to research the field and talk with some professionals to see if they have any advice or suggestions for you. See what the job market looks like in your area. Also, remember that a master's alone may not be enough for you to counsel. I have a master's and still am not qualified to counsel because I am not licensed and certified in my state. Be sure to look up the licensure/certification process in your state and, if you decide to go back to school, be sure that you understand if that process is part of your degree program or if that is something you will have to do on your own after graduation.

Please understand that I am not trying to discourage you. I think it would be wonderful for you to pursue your dream of becoming a counselor. I just wish that someone had told me some of these things before I started so that I could have made a more informed decision. Good luck and keep up posted!

goldensmom
3-17-11, 9:50am
Check, realistically and carefully, your job options. Why do you believe there are job opportunities in counseling?

Advanced degrees are nice, I have 2 . I have a MA in Psychology/Philosophy and MA in Administration with a labor relations concentration. The is a partial PhD. I got so tired of working and going to school that I never finished the work for the PhD. At the end of may paying career in social work I can say from experience that you do need an MA to pursue your counseling dream but there is not much money or security in it unless you work for a government agency. If your primary goals are income, security and benefits, I agree with <Iris lily> that you need to check into all career options. If your primary goal is satisfaction and you feel counseling with fulfill that goal then go for the MA and counseling.

Back to your question, how do you know? If counseling is what you want to do then a MA is pretty much required to find a job in counseling or go it on your own. I don’t know what area you are interested in but geriatric counseling is a growing field. I always encourage further education regardless of the goal.

iris lily
3-17-11, 10:51am
... I'm not trying to sound negative, but I think it is important to realize that psychology is, in some parts of the country, an overly-saturated field.

... I think it would be wonderful for you to pursue your dream of becoming a counselor. I just wish that someone had told me some of these things before I started so that I could have made a more informed decision. Good luck and keep up posted!

That's my opinion as well, based only on non-objective facts, but the number of people I personally know who are going $50,000 into debt for a "counseling" degree is rather extreme.

So how does one get objective information on employment opportunity? Well, do NOT ask the professors in the field, they are paid to turn out students.

Find the local area professional network and join that and inquire among that group : who is hiring? what credentials are needed? HOw long is practice in the field needed before license? How long did it take newly minted people in the group to get full employment? And, do they like it? In other words, how soon can you start paying back the debt because I assume you would be, as everyone seems to be doing these days, taking out ginormous loans for the coveted advanced degree.

Look, I don't have anything against advanced degrees, both DH and I have them, btu I think so many students are being sold a bill of goods these days to get that piece of paper.

There are some fiedls that you cannot enter without that advanced degree, and I understand and respect that. But if you

1) go into debt
2) are limited in where you can move to get a job
3) are in an oversaturated field

You are NOT ahead to get the degree.

Joyous_5
3-17-11, 10:53am
Thanks for the feedback and ideas--yes, I definitely will need an MA to practice here in VT. I'd like to eventually work independently, which would require me to get licensed. I have a friend who's a counselor, so I'm getting a lot of good info from her. I'm also contacting local Christian counselors (as this is my area of interest) to see if there's a need for this particular type of counseling, how they find their clients, etc.

I, too, found that there's little I can do with my bachelor's in psychology. My friend (the therapist) recommended I try to get in at a local mental health agency for more experience. Also, I would definitely try to get into an agency or company which offers tuition reimbursement as school is so expensive.

I hestitate to get too excited because I'm not sure if it's the right time, family-wise. My son is so young--I'd like to stay home with him part-time until he's in school but my part-time job options aren't great right now. My friend is doing therapy 2 days/week and loves it--I'm regretting that I didn't buckle down and finish my education before having a child. Now it feels a little overwhelming. How will I juggle work AND school AND my family?

Anyway, I thank you all for the ideas and information--and please, keep it coming!

Kat
3-17-11, 11:37am
I feel for you, Joyous! I always wanted a PsyD in criminal psychology/forensics. When I found out we had a baby on the way, that dream got squelched (at least for the time being).

When I was in graduate school full-time, I worked a full-time job, a part-time job, and took care of my aging father (plus I had a marriage/home to tend to). It was a NIGHTMARE. The amount of stress was almost unbearable; I wouldn't wish it on my worst enemy. Yes, I got through it, but I would never put myself in that situation again. The cost was just. too. high.

It is hard to juggle all of those things. People do it, but it's very hard. It is difficult demonstrating excellence as a student AND a worker AND a mother AND a wife all at once. Ultimately, I ended up letting some things go and compromised my values in the process.

I would encourage you to really consider what your priorities are. There are reasons you want to stay at least home part-time with your son. What are they? Are you willing to compromise in that area? Are the benefits of obtaining that degree greater than the sacrifices you would be making? Remember that any decision you make will impact your family life, too. I'm not trying to tell you not to do it. Just be sure to consider how this decision will affect all the domains of your life (physical, emotional, relational, financial--even spiritual).

I did have a thought about part-time work that might work for you. I know some folks around here with your background will sometimes post ads in the paper to care for the elderly or the mentally disabled part-time. Not nursing care, obviously, but to check in on people, provide some company, run errands, teach social/life skills, etc. I know one gal that does this for the elderly, and she brings her small children with her. Her clients love to see the kids, and she helps them with light housecleaning, laundry, bill paying, etc., shopping, etc.

Just a thought. Might not interest you at all, but I thought I would mention it in case it did and you decided not to return to school at this time.

pinkytoe
3-17-11, 1:08pm
DD got her bachelors in psychology. After working as a waitress for a year (at good money I might add), she decided to go for a master's in social work/business. She thought about the counseling aspect but decided to learn the business side of social work instead. Her first interview out and she landed a position at a large nonprofit here where she has learned every aspect of running the organization - operations, development, marketing, etc. In this way, she is still helping people as was her original intent. She figures if she ever takes time off to raise kids that she can sideline as a grant writer or consultant in her field. Although she bemoans her student debt, she makes a good salary and does not regret her choice to get the advanced degree. She felt as you do that there was little she could do with a basic psychology degree other than be entrepreneurial. Perhaps you could volunteer or work part-time at a nonprofit in your area of interest and give it more thought.

Selah
3-18-11, 9:27am
Masters degrees in social work can pay off very well, IF you manage to snag a job with security, benefits, and room for advancement. Medical social work is a growing field, as is the demand in some areas (depends on your state & county) for child/family services and family counselling. Geriatric services and end-of-life bereavement counselor positions are also on the uptick, as I understand, given the greying of America. Avoid grant-funded positions if you can, since they can disappear like smoke at the most inconvenient times. All these are big "ifs," though, and I do agree with the other posters...you must take into consideration your current financial, professional, and domestic situation and goals to see if it is truly workable for you.

mira
3-18-11, 10:05am
I would find out what your career options would be either way. Have you had a look at the American Psychological Association's (http://www.apa.org) website? They may have online forums where you could get information from people in the field. This is how I decided on what type of postgraduate qualification to get in my field.

leslieann
3-18-11, 10:20am
Do be aware of what kinds of credentials are attached to what kinds of degrees, and though it pains me to say it, have a good idea of what kinds of services (and what professionals) are reimbursable by insurance. Here in New Brunswick psychologists are covered by many health plans, though at a very restricted level, but counselors and social workers are covered by fewer plans. Of course that is relevant for private practice, but it also makes a difference if you work for an agency. If you work for an agency that bills fee for service, it will make a difference whether your work is reimbursable by most health plans. And this stuff varies state by state. In some states, there is no legislation around counseling and counselors, so there is no registration or license required (or available). But that also means that you are not going to be covered by insurance. Third party payors pay attention to credentials (because of where liability falls).

ApatheticNoMore
3-19-11, 1:49am
I, too, found that there's little I can do with my bachelor's in psychology. My friend (the therapist) recommended I try to get in at a local mental health agency for more experience

Yes do it. Or don't, hey it's your life :). But here's why I say do it: it's probably true enough that there is little you can do with a bachelors in psychology, but it is better to actually DO that little that you can IF (and only if) it gives you a bit of a feel for the field before committing to that masters. Because otherwise you're building castles in the air. And they may be formed by some good insight into your own personality etc., which is all to the good, but they are still missing the information on actual job reality. Now social work sometimes deals with more messed up people than private therapy does (people in private therapy may find navigating life excessively hard, but I get the feeling many of those sent to social workers have never been socially functional in the slightest). So it's not apples to apples and if it's too different it may not work as a comparison. But on the other hand the amount of actual experiential data you are operating on now is what? so...

And yes talk to people. Find out what percentage from various universities get jobs doing the work you would like to do on graduating (I mean if they just get social work jobs when they graduate that master wasn't worth much). Find out what people in the field think about their jobs (but this is no substitute for first hand knowledge). What the downsides are as well as the upsides? What is the local (if you plan to stay where you are) employment picture like from their perspective? Heck even interview recent grads if you can find them. Just the more information you can gather the better.

Someone is going to come here and make a purely economic argument: If the additional amount (above what you would make now) you make on graduating pays off the loans and whatever work if any you lost due to school in x years then it's a great deal. Yea but it's not so great a deal if only 50% of the graduates get jobs in the field (the other 50% then would have taken out massive debt for nothing). And even bigger but, it's not such a great deal even if the payoff is quick, the jobs are plentiful, if you end up hating the work.

So it's not just doing the math or finding the odds, although both are necessary, it's also gaining all the knowledge you can about the choice you are making and what it really means.

grendel
3-19-11, 8:38pm
I have a Masters in Social Work, and it has definitely paid off financially. Plus, it provided me with options I wouldn't otherwise have had, which translates into more security. The downside to me was the amount of time and energy it took. I was working full time and going to grad school half time, so it took me four years. That was four years of continuous exhaustion and being on autopilot. No time for friends or family, no time to lay on the couch and watch movies. No time to clean my house. No time to sit down and balance my checkbook and pay my bills. It's one of those things that I recommend, and I'm so glad I did it. But it was hard to juggle everything and just keep on plodding through.

redfox
3-19-11, 10:16pm
I got my MA at the age of 42. I will be paying it off for years - and I immediately doubled my income. It is in Community Development. My circle of good friends are all from grad school & I met my husband there. Many benes from this investment, not all of which are financial.

grendel
3-20-11, 12:11pm
I forgot to mention one other side effect (not sure everyone else would call it a benefit) of having a masters in the behavioral sciences. I question things differently now. When I find myself making decisions intuitively, I now slow down and examine the decision making process, make sure my decisions are grounded in reality or research, and then proceed. This has helped me be a better manager and human being.

I also find myself having debates differently as well. Discussing policy issues isn't the emotional issue it used to be. When someone presents a different point of view, I now see it as "data," not opposition. When a decision doesn't go my way, I see it as a "result," not a failure. I've also learned how to present an opposing point of view in a powerful manner even if I'm the only one with that point of view, so I am much less likely to feel bullied even when the decisions don't go my way.

ApatheticNoMore
3-20-11, 1:01pm
Wow lots of shrinks on the board and others with Masters in related subjects. It does make me wonder what the strong appeal is to them of FI. I mean really it seems they have a pretty much ideal job, and well if I really liked my job I think I might prefer working to retirement!! I want to contribute, I just don't want ugh .... my job. Of course if people post here for other reasons that's cool: in financial trouble due to running up debt (and not all of it the responsible kind), concern about simplicity for the environment, enjoying a simple life, wanting to work part-time, just want more flexibility so they can make sure they are doing work in a manner that best suits them. And of course just saving for retirement for when one day you are unable to work is simply a sensible thing that everyone no matter what their beliefs should do whenever they can.

My job: inside in a cubical (how many days I would have preferred to be outside!), solitary (I'm an introvert, but it's a bit much), competitive high stress environment (ugh, but aren't they all these days?) but yea everyone is always rushing, often repetitive work, always know you are at the low end of the totem pole no matter how much you are paid or what skills you have - you just aren't management, a coworker described his work as "groundhog day". Oh well I could analyze it to death (but I'll spare you, if not myself :)), and anyway many who have worked in corporate America may have worked similar, but I certainly understand why if you had my job you might want out by any means possible. Appears that may happen anyway. Then there is a part of me that dreads and a part of me that just thinks: "thank heavens I'm FREE!!!!" (yes I can afford to be for awhile, whether or not I filed for unemployment)

Joyous_5
3-22-11, 3:46pm
This information is all so helpful. I will definitely check out the links and follow up on ideas suggested. The more I think about it, the more I'm leaning towards waiting until my son begins school (three years from now) to pursue this. I can't see balancing coursework, a job and my family while he's so young. But that will give me plenty of time to pursue something part-time in a related field perhaps, or at least continue researching and making sure this is definitely what I want to do before spending all the time/money required.

Thanks again for all the input!

PS ApatheticNoMore, I think that you're right--people do utilize these boards for a variety of reasons. My own being like-minded views on environment, frugality and creativity.

screamingflea
3-27-11, 2:30am
DD got her bachelors in psychology. After working as a waitress for a year (at good money I might add), she decided to go for a master's in social work/business. She thought about the counseling aspect but decided to learn the business side of social work instead. Her first interview out and she landed a position at a large nonprofit here where she has learned every aspect of running the organization - operations, development, marketing, etc. In this way, she is still helping people as was her original intent. She figures if she ever takes time off to raise kids that she can sideline as a grant writer or consultant in her field. Although she bemoans her student debt, she makes a good salary and does not regret her choice to get the advanced degree. She felt as you do that there was little she could do with a basic psychology degree other than be entrepreneurial. Perhaps you could volunteer or work part-time at a nonprofit in your area of interest and give it more thought.

Pinkytoe, this is really what I'd love to learn. Do you know of any particular degree or certification for this work?

Gina
3-27-11, 3:43am
I'm also contacting local Christian counselors (as this is my area of interest) to see if there's a need for this particular type of counseling, how they find their clients, etc.
One of my closest friends went back to school for her master's. The school she went to was about 70 miles away. It was very difficult in all repects. At the time her two daughters were 10 and 12 or so, and I think they were a bit neglected. She also worked concurrently as a waitress to help pay the family's bills.

But she got her degree and passed whatever tests she had to in order to counsel legally. She works from an office at her church so no rent but I think they take a small piece of the pie for overhead. Most of her clients she gets are directly or indirectly from the church. It took her a few years to build a clientele, but now she works long hours and can work as much as she can schedule. It's a sliding pay scale based on ability to pay, but I think she makes a good living. Her DH is in construction so that income is hit and miss.

In the end she loves her job, feels as if she is really helping people, and never would have made as much money doing what she formerly did. But it was a very hard task to get there.

Location - S. California. I think we have a lot of successful counselors here. Two reasons, lots of messed up people here ( ;) ), coupled with much less stigma associated with going for help than there might be in other parts of the country.

grendel
3-27-11, 7:43pm
Pinkytoe, this is really what I'd love to learn. Do you know of any particular degree or certification for this work?

I'm not Pinkytoe, but I think I can clarify. I think that would require a masters in social work. In a rural area, you could probably do it with a bachelors in social work.

A bachelors in social work or psychology can prepare someone for entry level clinical work as a supportive or paraprofessional counselor. They are not licensed to do psychotherapy.

A masters in counseling, social work, or psychology will allow someone to continue that work at a higher, but still not professional level. A masters in social work also prepares someone for administrative work, or work with communities, families, individuals, and agencies. A masters in counseling prepares someone to work with individuals and families.

Someone with a masters in social work or counseling can also accumulate hours toward licensure. Once licensed, they are considered professionals and can practice psychotherapy. They can bill insurance companies for their services and practice independently or in an agency. They are called Licensed Marriage and Family Therapists or Licensed Clinical Social Workers.

If you have a masters in psychology, you cannot practice professionally or independently. You must have a doctorate in psychology and get licensed for that. Doctoral programs in psychology will accept someone with a masters in psychology or an LCSW. Once you have a doctorate, you can either practice, or do research.

Of the three, only the masters in social work allows you to do all of the following: get licensed without a doctorate, do administrative work, and apply for admisison to a doctoral program in psychology.

If you are interested in research, psychology is the way to go. If you are interested in clinical work, counseling is the way to go. If you want options to do research, clinical work, or administrative work, go with social work.

jennipurrr
3-28-11, 10:52am
Lots of good thoughts here. Definitely check out licenseure process for all related degrees and also which credentials insurance particularly likes in your state. I would definitely consider working the mental health field, even just in a tangential role to see what it is like.

I have a Masters in Mental Health Counseling and honestly, I am not sure if I will ever truly use it. At the time I started, I really needed to explore something different and I loooved my coursework and experiences in the program. I enjoyed my internship experience but learned the community mental health system here does not have the quality of life I need from a job. The pay is low and the workload is brutal. It may not be like this in your state but here therapists (social workers and counselors) working my for my local community mental health agency start at about $30,000/yr. Of course after achieving liscensure it is higher, and then as you get more experience you can work in better paying avenues.

If liscensure is something you know you want to attain, also look into the costs of that. Many employers do not pay for supervision (some do) and that can run up to $100/hour and you will typically need 4 hours a month. I am considering taking advanced coursework towards liscensure since I get free classes and I would one day actually like to be able to use my degree, but I am enjoying my break from school right now. I would also highly consider finding a part time job on a college campus where you could take free or reduced cost classes. Looking back, I am very glad I have no debt related to this degree.