In a lot of ways, psychology is a great career path. It offers a good salary, with a median wage of $79,010 and near-six-figure median salaries in certain specialties, according to the United States Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS). There’s a degree of prestige to the role as well as plenty of intrigue about a field that focuses on the science – natural and social – behind why people think and act the way they do. Yet despite the many advantages, some aspects of the field are difficult. Psychologists often say that feelings of helplessness, the stress of dealing with clients’ problems, the demanding educational requirements and the tedious nature of billing for payment are among the hardest parts about working as a psychologist.
By the time you become a licensed psychologist, you have many years of learning and experience under your belt. Feeling helpless isn’t the result of not knowing what can be done to help a client, but rather, knowing what needs to be done and not being able to make it happen. Both clinical and counseling psychologists need the client to be an active participant in the treatment plan. Even the most educated and experienced psychologist can’t fix a client who isn’t ready or willing to work toward changing the thoughts, behaviors and circumstances that contribute to life problems or mental health issues – and that can be extremely frustrating.
Although a psychologist may try different approaches or interventions to help the client become able to make progress, some clients simply need more time to get to a point where they recognize a need for change – and others may never reach that point.
The Struggle of Hearing Everyone’s Struggles
It’s said that working in a negative workplace or surrounding yourself with negative people will have a negative effect on your mood and mindset, too. For psychologists and professionals in similar roles, the job is, unfortunately, full of negativity. Hearing about other people’s bad days, past traumas and the symptoms of depression, anxiety or psychosis that brought them in for treatment can certainly bring you down, even if you have trained for this career field. In fact, the constant exposure to their clients’ stress is the reason psychologists have a high rate of burnout, according to the American Psychological Association.
Experienced psychologists have learned the importance of self-care and the skill to detach themselves emotionally from clients’ stress – at least, after they leave work – but these resolutions are easier said than done.
The Rigorous Education Needed
Even before you get into the career field, becoming a psychologist is challenging. In the fields of research, clinical and counseling psychology, you need a Ph.D. or a Psy.D. degree just to get started in the field, the BLS reported. Then there are post-doctoral internships and supervised experience requirements, plus the need for licensure. If you take a long time to complete a Ph.D. program, some of which can regularly take eight years or more, you could spend a decade preparing to become a licensed psychologist on top of the four years you devoted to your undergraduate studies.
Psychologists also rack up student loan debt. The American Psychological Association reported a median student debt amount of $110,000 for students and recent graduates, with Ph.D. students racking up $75,000 and Psy.D. students, $160,000.
Just like physicians, nurse practitioners and other players in the mental health field, psychologists in clinical and counseling roles often have to accept payment from health insurance policies for their clients to afford treatment. Billing health insurance companies can be a big hassle, especially for small agencies and private practices. The paperwork, negotiating plans and prices, decoding policies to understand benefits and collecting clients’ copays all take up time. For psychologists in private practice, that time is necessary for getting paid, but it isn’t bringing in any additional income the way spending time to see new clients would.
How much of the billing hassle falls on you depends on your role and employment setting. If you work for yourself, you have to handle the brunt of this headache on your own. At larger agencies, your involvement in billing and insurance interactions might be minimal, because there might be a dedicated billing employee or department.
Nearly one in four psychologists are self-employed, making private practices the second-largest employing industry in the field.