Not for psychology undergraduates only:
Pursuing graduate school in clinical psychology
Updated January 2018
Psychology undergraduates interested in pursuing careers in the psychology, health and helping professions might consider these questions:
What about psychology interests you? Working with people? Studying and researching human behavior? Teaching? A mix? Your answers will inform your decision as to whether you should contemplate graduate school and, if you do, what sorts of graduate programs you consider. Beyond this, are you interested in a particular theory of psychotherapy? Are you interested in psychodynamic psychotherapy or psychoanalysis? Or, cognitive behavior therapy? Or, family systems theory? Or, something else? These are all important things to think about and to learn about before applying to graduate school.
Please note: Recently, following an article, about psychoanalysis and me, on the Johns Hopkins, School of Education, website, “Freud Lives”; I’ve received a number of questions about how to obtain training in psychodynamic psychotherapy at the graduate and post-graduate, level. I’m responding to those questions on the page about psychodynamic psychotherapy.
In an article published in the Washington Post, I describes the myriad of options available to those considering these professions. These include a career in: clinical psychology, psychiatry, (which must be preceded by getting into Medical School) or, for those interested in a two year degree, social work, counseling, nursing and pastoral care. Alternatively, those whose interests lie in the study of human behavior might consider a career in Clinical Research.
Students who plan to apply to graduate school in clinical psychology, or related disciplines, are encouraged to take the following steps:
- Make certain that you take the required courses. Don’t just focus on coursework in Abnormal Psychology and Personality Theory. Clinical psychologists are expected to be knowledgeable about Statistics, Neuroscience, Cognitive Psychology, Research Methods as well as other areas of experimental psychology. So, to make a successful application to graduate school, it’s crucial to enroll in these courses. Those pursuing social work & counseling programs should follow a similar path, though they may opt for fewer quantitative courses. Those considering medical school, should consult their college, pre-med, advisor.
- Participate in class. Make the best use of your college or post-baccalaureate experience. Actively participate in class. In many places, psychology graduate students are expected to teach. Psychologists often deal with the public. So, if you are shy, this is something that you need to address. Don’t hide behind shyness or a lack of self-confidence. Take a course in public speaking or get involved in an activity that requires you to do public speaking. Push yourself. Graduate programs want to see that you can be actively engaged in your coursework and more ….
- Get to know faculty: Tips on establishing relationships with psychology faculty As a psychologist, you will need to establish collegial relationships with your faculty, your peers, and, ultimately, your own students. It’s important to develop skills in this area as a psychology undergraduate.
- Try your best to do well and address any weaknesses in your academic record. No one is perfect and you will have deficits in your academic and/or research record. Maybe you had a death in the family, an illness, or you had difficulty separating from home during your freshman year. It’s very important to assess your weaknesses and to take active steps to rectify them. Psychologists, like any professionals, will suffer from the ordinary strains of living. It’s important to demonstrate that faced with life’s roadblocks, you could manage them effectively.
- Prepare to take the GRE. Take a Stanley Kaplan or Princeton Review course. Sure it’s expensive but how well you do on the GRE will have a heavy influence on whether you can get into a good graduate school and/or obtain a fellowship. Not to prepare for the GRE is penny wise and pound foolish.
- Obtain research experience and a research position. All psychology doctoral students in Ph.D. programs are required to do research. Therefore, you must obtain research experience prior to entering.
- Obtain research experience for graduate school in clinical psychology.
- Write a compelling cover letter for a research assistant position. Here’s a sample cover letter for a research assistant position.
- Here are some undergraduate psychology internships.
- Ask psychology faculty and research advisors for references for graduate school. Psychologists must be able to work collaboratively with peers and others senior to them. Therefore, it’s important to have senior colleagues document your capacities in this arena.
- Write a thoughtful graduate school application. Writing is an essential skill for any psychologist. So, it’s important to have a well written essay. If you have difficulty with writing, get help at the undergraduate level so that this will not be an obstacle at the graduate school level. Virtually all schools have writing centers. If writing is a weakness and/or if English isn’t your first language, check out the Writing Center.
Although it is not required, for those interested in a career as a psychotherapist, it’s important to seek clinical experience. If you don’t like clinical work, there are many other areas in psychology that you might pursue. However, prior to undertaking the rigorous demands of a clinical psychology program, it’s important to find out whether you enjoy clinical work.
Add icing on the cake by obtaining experience as an undergraduate teaching assistant. Finally, if you are interested in a clinically-oriented, program. Seek out your own personal psychotherapy. Not only will this help to deepen your self-awareness, it is the best preparation and training experience for working as a clinician.
The faculty at psychology graduate schools like to know that psychology graduate students are well-suited to the profession and that they will work hard to complete their degrees and to contribute to the field. If you take these steps, you’ll be providing compelling evidence that you are up to the test. More importantly, you will be laying the groundwork for doing well in graduate school as well as testing out your interest in the field before making such a weighty commitment.
Washington DC Psychologist and Career Counselor
If you live in the Washington DC area and you have come to this page because you are seeking psychological evaluation, psychotherapy or career counseling, feel free to call me at: 301.656.9650. Please streamline this process by making it easy for me to reach you. Leave your day and evening numbers and the time that it’s best to reach you. I welcome your call.
This material is copyrighted. However, Psychology Departments, Psi Chi Chapters, Psychology Clubs and University and College Career Centers may republish this column, free-of-charge as long as it is reprinted in its entirety and without alteration. Also, along with this column, copyright and the following byline must be attached: Dr. Lynn Friedman is a clinical psychologist, psychoanalyst and executive coach in Chevy Chase, Maryland, 1/2 block from the Washington DC border. She is on the associate faculty at Johns Hopkins University. Web site: www.drlynnfriedman.com. She can be reached at: (301) 656-9650.