Career Advice for Job Seekers

Interview with a Clinical Psychologist

William Frierson AvatarWilliam Frierson
February 9, 2012

I am a licensed Clinical Psychologist and a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. I have been working in the social services industry for 25 years. Specifically, I have worked for school districts, university counseling centers, the justice system (county and state detention centers and juvenile hall) and in private practice.

Currently, I am in private practice. My daily activities can vary, but most days, I spend at least half of my day seeing clients for individual sessions. I also run two groups per week. I conduct a total of approximately 30 client hours per week. The rest of my time is spent writing reports, consulting with other clinicians and conducting marketing activities.

More than just listening to people talk

What many people think happens in therapy is that the therapist just simply sits there and listens and gives the client advice. In reality, although I am carefully listening to a client while they talk, I actually talk very little. While I am listening, there is an entire process going on in the back of my mind in which I am paying attention to their body language, connecting what they are saying with past sessions, reviewing what I know of their history, looking for patterns, paying attention to what they are saying beyond the actual words (the meta-message), thinking about potential outcomes and also strategically thinking about the potential impact of anything I say before I say it. On the surface it may appear that I am just sitting and listening attentively. However, there is a great deal of background work that is happening also.

If I were to rate my job satisfaction on a scale of 1 to 10, I would rate it at around a 7 to an 8. I greatly love being a therapist. However, what I do not like is dealing with insurance companies. They require a great deal of paperwork and they also attempt to dictate treatment. The reality is that no single treatment works for every person with the same issue. For one person struggling with depression, medication and working on changing their perspective about the problems may work. However, it may not work for the next person, who may need more intensive therapy that focuses on a history of past abuse that is now rising to the surface. Therapy is not a “one size fits all” science and insurance companies often do not understand that.

My job as a Clinical Psychologist is very satisfying work

The work is moving and passionateMy job definitely moves my heart. I have a great number of clients who are in mid-life, where major things in their life are changing and they are not sure about how to find their way again. It is extremely satisfying to provide the space for someone to explore what they want in the second half of their life and then watch them begin to make changes to help them achieve their dreams to become the person they really want to be. For me, being a therapist is a calling. I am passionate about what I do. I think that helps me really be authentic and real with my clients and provides them with what is, hopefully, a model for what living the life you want can be like.

I actually came into being a therapist as a result of my volunteer work. In the 1980s, I had several friends die of AIDS. It made me very angry to see how they were treated and so I began to do volunteer work at a local AIDS organization. Within a year, I had graduated from bagging groceries to conducting peer counseling support groups and providing peer counseling sessions. I discovered that I was really good at providing counseling and decided to return to school to eventually become a professional therapist.

I approached my education with a strategic plan. Since I was an adult learner, I had adult responsibilities. I attended non-traditional schools that allowed me to continue working until I was able to begin working as a therapist. Once I was able to shift over to working as a therapist, I earned all of my licensing hours and earned my first license as an MFT. While I was accomplishing that goal, I was already working on my doctorate and was able to earn a higher income as an already-licensed MFT when I began my licensing hours to become a psychologist.

Challenges of being a Clinical Psychologist

The biggest lesson that I had to learn the hard way is to take some time off. I accomplished a great deal very efficiently in a decade. However, I paid for it with my health and became very ill for several years. I have since learned that I do not need to accomplish everything all at once! It is part of good clinical practice to build self-care time into the week and to take time away from my practice doing things that have absolutely nothing to do with being a therapist. So I travel, read novels, work in my garden and write fiction and nonfiction.

Some of the challenges that occur as a therapist are about the issues that clients can bring to you. Often, they will be issues that you have some experience with yourself. So it is important to be able to distinguish between what is really the client’s issue and what is your own issue. This is why many therapists continue in their own therapy as long as they practice. The other challenge that can come up with clients is knowing where your own boundaries are when it comes to taking them on. For example, I once had a male client who stated up-front that his mother had been incesting him since he was a young boy and it was only recently that it had stopped – this man was in his late 30s. Personally, I felt it would be far more ethical and helpful for him to work with a male therapist and referred him to someone I respected greatly who I felt could help him far more than I could.

Salary and education

How to make it as a clinical psychologistThe salary range for therapists varies greatly, depending on the setting in which you work, years of experience and education level. Based on reports I have read, it can be as low as in the $20,000 per year range to upwards of over $100,000. Therapists in private practice tend to make more money, but they also have to work hard to do their own marketing and attract clients.

The level of education you need depends on several factors. The first is what your state requires for licensing. Most states today require at least a Master’s degree, but many states require a Doctorate-level degree to become a psychologist. It also depends on what level of licensing you have your sights set on. A Marriage and Family Therapist often requires at least a Master’s degree, plus clinical internship hours and a licensing exam. For licensing as a Psychologist, most states require a PhD, plus clinical internship hours and a licensing exam. The difference between the two licenses is that an MFT often provides counseling services, but Psychologists also can provide clinical testing. Once you have earned your license, you are required to earn continuing education credits to maintain your license.

If I were talking to a friend considering entering this line of work, I would ask them to make sure they are passionate about it and committed to the profession. It takes a great deal of training and education to even reach the point of being able to practice, so you should be very clear that it is what you really want to do for many years to come.

If I could write my own ticket, I would like to be teaching classes and writing books in the field, in addition to continuing to work with clients.

This is a true story as told to DiversityJobs Street Smarts, where you can find interviews with professionals in your desired career.  Visit to read an interview with a physical therapist and a nurse today.

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