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
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
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.
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
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
For more information about a career in counseling or social work,
Sam Burns, Ph.D.
Director of Community Services
Miller Student Center
Susan McGinness, Ph.D.
Director, Counseling and Student Development Center