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Clinical Psychology


May 05 2021


8:00 am

Psychology Career Workshop: Clinical Psychology

Psychology Career Workshop: Clinical Psychology

In this meeting of the psychology career workshop, we had the chance to hear from Seyma Saritoprak, a postdoctoral fellow. She spoke in great detail about what the field of clinical psychology is, what working in it entails, and so much more. It was extremely informative to hear this from someone currently working in it and what their personal experience was like. Before we delve into the contents of the talk, we want to provide you all with a short synopsis of this subdivision of psychology to aid your understanding.

The field of clinical psychology according to the American Psychological Association (APA) is the “psychological specialty that provides continuing and comprehensive mental and behavioral health care for individuals and families; consultation to agencies and communities; training, education and supervision; and research-based practice”. In other words, clinical psychology is the field that provides diagnosis and treatment for those with specific conditions or disorders. Within the field of clinical psychology, there are a couple of different career paths. The most prominent one is a clinical psychologist. These are people who do the assessments, come up with and implement interventions, and provide treatment to those who have a disorder or condition, those who could potentially have or develop one, or anyone that just needs general psychological treatment. They typically are not authorized to prescribe you medicine, so they use psychological techniques to treat you.

We hope that that description gives you a general understanding of what this field is all about. It is highly recommended that you conduct external research on this subject area before reading on if the following information was not sufficient. Otherwise, the speech will be extremely unclear to you. Now here are some of the key points from the speech on Clinical Psychology.

What is your job?

I am currently a postdoctoral fellow, and am going to begin soon at the Cleveland Clinic as a health psychology fellow.

What led you to your current career/job?

I will start out with my background because that is ultimately what led me to where I am currently. I went to John Carroll university which is a small liberal arts university here in Cleveland, Ohio. I went there for my undergrad, and finished my undergrad in psychology. Throughout my undergraduate school years I did some internships, to try to boost my resume to get into a PhD program. But I needed a little bit more to be accepted, so I applied to a master’s program. I did a 3 year master’s in counseling, but I knew I ultimately always wanted to do a PhD in psychology. So after I completed my master’s in counseling, I then applied for my final year again and got accepted in Case Western where I completed my PhD. In a PhD program in psychology your last year you do a

residency. So last year I was in California completing my residency. Once you complete your residency and defend your dissertation, you are officially done with your PhD. After your PhD you apply for a fellowship, those can vary from 1 to 3 years. Basically from your fellowship you gain extra clinical hours, towards your licensure. Right now, I am in my final year of training to hopefully have enough hours to take my licensure exam for psychology. So that is kind of my education background to how I got to my fellowship today.

What type of education/training, technical knowledge, or experience is necessary for this kind of work?

Education: It definitely takes some time to get to where I am now. A PhD in clinical psychology is about 6 years. Some places it could be 8 years, depending on how long it takes you to complete your final dissertation project. I completed mine in 6 years, but before that because PhD programs are competitive, oftentimes people will take a break after undergraduate. And maybe go into a lab working with a professor or advisor to help boost their resume, so they can be accepted into a PhD program. Or like myself they may do a masters’ program and get more clinical hours and experience and research experience and boost their resume that way. This helps them prepare better for the PhD program. My master’s for example was 3 years and my PhD program was 6 years, so that is a total of 9 years after undergraduate. So it’s a long time if you put undergraduate into it too, it’s about 14 years that I have been studying after high school.

Education (undergraduate): During my undergraduate I studied psychology. Initially I was thinking of possibly becoming an ESL teacher. I really wanted to travel and work with diverse populations. But then I took a psychology course and really loved it. After that Psych 101 course, I just knew that’s what I really wanted to do. I think it was a little later on than usual that I switched my major I think actually during my junior year. A lot of people already knew their major sophomore year, but I switched junior year so I was a little bit behind. But I was able to find summer internships and take all my classes and be able to graduate on time while still getting some good experience. But yes I did do it in psychology. It kind of depends on whether you have to do psychology or not during undergrad to go into this profession. I think they would prefer psychology. If you want to go into a PhD in clinical psychology, you need to have specific undergraduate courses in psychology completed. So if you didn’t finish psychology, they most likely will want you to take extra undergraduate courses to get to a place where you are able to apply to a PhD program. But I believe all the programs I had applied to required some psychology majors so maybe it was family, relationships, or something that is within the field of psychology. I mean they prefer psychology, but second to that if it is not specific psychology then something at least related to development, family, learning, etc. So learning within that realm and if you don’t have enough coursework then they want you to take some extra courses.

What is a typical workday like?

Right now since I haven’t started my fellowship, I can tell you what my residency looked like. It is really different. When you are a student in a PhD program, your everyday looks different because you are going to practicum for clinical hours, classes for course work, you might be doing research with an advisor. So everyday kind of looks different while you are a student. But your final year of your program during your residency looks like 8 to 5 work. So for me I went to the hospital, worked with patients in the hospitals, and ended my day. My speciality in psychology is health psychology. I am kind of an umbrella of clinical psychology. I can work with a variety of populations, but I really enjoy and want to specialize more in health psychology, which is working with individuals with chronic medical conditions and helping them. I work in the hospitals with patients who are sick physically, but also addressing their psychological issues. So that could be a patient with cancer, chronic pain, about to receive a heart transplant, etc. My field is more within that realm and why my days could look so different.

What do you like best/least about your job? Why?

Best: I think for me I really enjoy it because this may sound cliche, but we really do help people with what we do. Being able to teach people skills, listen to their stories, and help them in a variety of ways I think that is what really brings meaning to my job. That is what I enjoy, I really love listening to people’s struggles and journeys and also helping them get to a better place than when they first started. For me it’s helping people get through difficult times and also just listening to their stories.

Least: Well it is difficult in itself, the tasks that you are juggling. For my particular profession, as a working individual I would say we have a lot of notes to write because we are seeing a lot of patients. So finishing up notes, that can sometimes be kind of like the negative side of things. But the other thing can be, you listen to hard stories and really work with people who are struggling in a variety of ways and there can be an emotional burden to that sometimes. It is important to be able to leave that in the room, and not necessarily take that home with you. Be able to live your own personal life, but still help others. Sometimes it could be that emotional burden that you carry around when you are just listening to your patients stories which is also really difficult..

What type of interests, abilities, and skills would help a person to be successful in your occupation?

I would say if you want to be able to pursue a career in clinical psychology, the qualities that are very important would be persistence and determination because as you can see it does take a long time to complete a program and a lot of your years are gone to free labor. You are working as a practicum student, you’re gaining clinical hours, but these are not necessarily paid. You are just working and doing a lot of work for a long period of time before you are actually employed or working and getting benefits. So persistence and determination are really important, you just have to continue doing it until you reach your end goal. Then aside from that, one thing that is really important is if you are in the clinical field and working with people, an ability to connect with others. If you want to be able to sit down and do therapy with somebody, a skill that is really important is to be

able to listen to them and understand them, but also to connect and build a relationship with somebody. Those are some skills that are really important in order to build a relationship with somebody and help them reach their own goals in therapy.

What advice would you give a student interested in this career?

I would say really consider if this is what you want. Like I said it takes dedication and a lot of passion. This would be advice to anyone going into a PhD program, but specifically for one that is long and takes a lot out of your daily life. Really think about, is this what I want to do with my career? Do I really love it and have a passion for it? Because if you do have that passion then that is going to help you get through and make this process meaningful and that is what is going to bring you joy going to work. I love going to the hospital and working with my patients, so even though I have long hours or I have been doing this for years, I still to this day enjoy going to work and working with my patients. I think if you have that passion then you can get through it and you can do it. If you do have those skills that I mentioned then it can be really helpful and beneficial as you are in the program.

What type of starting position and salary would someone entering this field be most likely to find?

It kind of differs in regards to the setting that you are in. For example, if you are in a VA or veteran’s affairs hospital then generally psychologists start off with $75,000. If you are in a more academic medical center they tend to go anywhere between $90,000 to $150,000 depending on where it is. It’s a large range, but it really depends on the institution and location. If you are in private practice that can really vary as well. If you have your own private practice as a clinical psychologist you can make up to $300,000 a year in Los Angeles or sometimes even more than that, for example. There is a lot of potential in private practices. There are positives and negatives in each setting, but definitely the salary differs based on the setting you are in as a psychologist.

Do you have to depend on others in order to accomplish your job? Do you work in teams?

Because I work in a hospital setting, I work with doctors, nurses, physical therapists, occupational therapists, psychiatrists, which is a variety of professions. That just comes with being in a hospital setting, we all work together to help a patient. I address more of the psychological needs, while the doctor does more of the medical needs. We all collaborate and come together to talk about the patient and how we address the patient as a whole. So we do a lot of collaborative work in teams. For instance, if you are in a private practice that is basically your own private practice not necessarily a group one, you might not have that much interaction with others. It might just be you seeing your patients then going home. It kind of does differ based on setting, but generally within a hospital you are working with other professions and collaborating with other teams.

Are certain times of the month or year busier than others times?

Since I have been a student for so long, it has been very busy throughout the semester and then the summer months tend to be a little slower because either my clinicals have ended or I am starting a new clinical so I am in a transition mode. For example, I finished my residency and my fellowship is beginning September 1st so I had a 2 month break in between. Again the summers tend to be a little more relaxed. But when you are in a full time position, it might not necessarily change too much because you are working full time around the year.

Are there other industries or positions where you could work with your skills/expertise?

I think that psychology can be used in pretty much any domain, because it has to do with people. You can pretty much use some of the psychological theories, techniques, or concepts in any kind of domain that involves people which is pretty much most specialites. I think that there is a role in psychology for a variety of professions, but specifically in businesses a lot of psychologists work in this field as consultants and in the public health sector psychologists are there to work within that profession. I think there are a variety of ways that psychologists could get involved in different specialties and professions.

What are the opportunities for advancement in this occupation?

For me for example, I was a student then I was a resident and now I am going to be a fellow. Then in this field you end up being a staff psychologist. If you work for an academic medical center you could be a faculty, so you get to teach at a university as well as work at a hospital and would get the benefits for working at a university. You can kind of advance your way up that way. In academia if you are teaching, you can publish as well as teach and end up getting tenure. With different publications and more advanced journals that can help build your reputation. It really depends what track you end up specializing in, but I would say that my work within a hospital setting is how I would advance.

What changes do you see in the future?

For sure there is going to be a need for more psychologists. I think in general this is for all mental health professions. People are realizing the importance of it. Also even though there is some stigma around it, it is becoming more normalized to seek help for mental health issues through things such as social media and our friends. Especially if you are in different parts of the United States, the idea of going to therapy is more popular. There are also other issues that may come up, so there is a need for it as well, not only just because it is now normalized. I think the change that is going to happen more in the future is that people are going to recognize the importance of mental health professionals and are going to be more in need of hiring more of them. I think that psychologists are kind of different in that they are the only professionals within the clinical field that have a PhD in a clinical field. Other mental health professionals their clinical experience is master’s degree experience, so that is what distinguishes a master’s level clinician from a clinical psychologist. Psychologists

have more doctoral level experience and so in higher positions sometimes people want to hire psychologists with that level experience. Though that can also depend on resources because then they might not want to pay a psychologist more so they may end up hiring a mental health professional with a master’s. Regardless, in the future there is going to be more hiring of mental health professionals and there is going to be a big need.

Did this change occur because of the pandemic: I think that this change probably started before the pandemic. I think that there was always kind of a trajectory towards the need, but with the pandemic we saw that there was even more of a need since people are at home and alone so depression and anxiety have boosted in terms of levels and prevalence. We definitely noticed significantly more health related concerns and people during the pandemic are really, in my clinical experience, not being no shows. People came to their appointments, they really wanted the services, and there really was a need for them. I think during the pandemic we really saw the importance of mental health, but before that the trend was already there. Otherways the pandemic has changed it is that telehealth has become so normal now. Before the pandemic a lot of therapy sessions were in person, so people would have to drive to see their therapist. Now it has become so normalized that some people choose telehealth over in person because it is very convenient especially if they do not have the resources to come to an office then it helps bring services to them. The accessibility of mental health services have brought in people because of the move to telehealth which is one positive outcome.

Shreya Sekar

Psychology Department

Whitetulip Health Foundation

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