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Preparing for a Career in Psychiatry, Psychotherapy, Psychology, Counseling, and Social Work

Psychiatrists, Psychotherapists, Counselors and Social Workers work with people or groups who have emotional, behavioral, educational and/or family problems. These careers are very different from each other, so their training requirements are also different, both at the undergraduate and graduate levels. Also, licensing requirements vary not only between careers but also from state to state. Students will want to carefully research the specific requirements of the state in which they intend to work.

The following sections provide general information about each of these "helping" professions. They include the names and campus addresses of the faculty members who can provide more specific and detailed information.


Psychiatry, which is a medical specialty, requires the Medical Doctor (MD) degree. Therefore, those who are interested in this area of specialization should follow the same course as any other pre-med student. Refer to Section IV.A of this Handbook for details.


Students who wish to become a fully certified psychotherapist must earn the Philosophy of Science (Ph.D.) degree in Clinical Psychology. This is a very competitive degree, which requires a minimum GPA of 3.8.

In general, students who plan to become psychotherapists should:

-- begin career planning during their Freshman years, majoring in psychology and concentrating on earning high grades;

-- begin looking at specific program requirements during their Sophomore years, in order to tailor their undergraduate courses appropriately. The book Graduate Studies in Psychology is probably the best source for such information. Most faculty members in the Psychology Department keep the book in their offices;

-- do a lot of volunteer work during their undergraduate careers.

For more specific information about psychotherapy as a career specialty, see: Thomas A. Skurky, Ph.D., Psychology Department, 108G Hesperus Hall.


Most counselors in the United States work in the educational system at all levels, from public schools through colleges and universities. In general, there are two different routes to becoming a counselor, a Master of Arts (MA) degree in counseling and a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree. Each of these degrees can lead to different areas of specialization.

Practitioners with an MA in counseling can become a licensed Counselor in Education. After that, he or she might specialize in one of the following areas; Family Counseling, Mental Health Counseling, and School Counseling.

Social Work

Practitioners with an MSW might do a number of different kinds of work, depending on the area of specialization. Some programs focus on psychiatric social work, some are oriented toward administration and policy making within social agencies. Students planning to enter a particular MSW program need to examine its curriculum and see the specific requirements of that program.

Training programs and state licensing requirements for those who do social work vary from state to state. However, there is an association that certifies and approves curricula in social work at the national level, The American Council of Social Work Education in Washington, D.C.

Students who plan to become counselors or social workers often ask whether their undergraduate degree should be in sociology or psychology. There is no "correct" answer. Almost any degree in the social and behavioral sciences is appropriate. It depends on the type of program the student wishes to enter and on any special career interests.

For more information about a career in counseling or social work, see:

Sam Burns, Ph.D.
Director of Community Services
Miller Student Center

Susan McGinness, Ph.D.
Director, Counseling and Student Development Center
Noble Hall

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