Cristal’s guide to getting a degree in psychology.

Have you ever entertained the thought, “OH, I SHOULD GET A DEGREE IN PSYCHOLOGY”?  Psychology is one of the fastest growing college majors, yet some fail to see how much skill, tenacity, and patience it takes to really make your psyc degree count.

It may seem easy in the beginning:

Step 1:  Get your bachelors degree in Psychology.  Here you should learn about experimental psyc, counseling psyc, and clinical psyc, then decide which one you like best.  Get a good GPA, then apply to grad school.

Step 2: Get your MA, MS, PhD, or PsyD in counseling psychology, experimental psychology, or clinical psychology.

Step 3:  Get to work.

As for me, I was not told about step 2 until I was a sophomore (third year) student in undergrad.  Once you get into the nitty gritty of it, you may want to re-think that psychology degree.

The following has been MY experience:

Step 1:  Start going to school and get your basics done.

Step 2:  Meet with an academic advisor who fails to include important details about the classes you should take.  Be ready to become your OWN advisor and keep up with your academic progress (i.e. track all the classes you’ve taken on paper, save syllabi, etc).

Step 3:  Choose psychology as a major with the intent of becoming a counselor/therapist.

Step 4: Start taking psychology courses.

Step 5:  In those psychology courses, discover that you need a masters degree to become a therapist.  (Holy crap, what?!)  If you want to get a Masters degree, you can increase those chances by getting some “research experience” under your belt.

Step 6:  Look for and join a laboratory where you can be an experimental assistant for some (awesome) people who are in grad school already.

Step 7:  Eat, write about, drink, read, and breathe psychology.  In that laboratory, discover that A-you need to take something called the GRE, B- paid summer internships exist, C-there’s a Psychology honor’s society, and D-there’s something called a “Senior Honor’s thesis”…all of the above look good on paper and increase your chances of moving on to higher education, yet have little to do with counseling skills.

Step 8:  While on internship, discover the few yet different possible careers in psychology.  Realize that you could get a PhD or an MA in an area of Counseling Psychology.  Understand that the school you choose for grad school should be CACREP accredited because this helps the licensure process.  What?  Licensure?  Oh yeah, you have to become licensed to do therapy.  AND licensing rules vary by state.  Nobody really mentions this until you are in grad school, or maybe after.

Step 9: Prepare to have no life for a while.  Study for and take the GRE, prepare a personal statement and Curriculum Vitae (yeah, when I first heard this term I was like, WTH?), keep up that GPA, and get letters of recommendation.

Step 10:  Apply to graduate schools and be prepared to spend a lot of money on the applications.

Step 11:  Prepare for rejection.  Interview requests will be sent out to you from some schools and some will not write back.

Step 12:  Prepare for some disenchantment or loneliness.  Go to the interviews and meet other people who are “like you”.  Um….no.  I’m not vindictive, overly competitive, or insane.

Step 13:  Accept or reject admission offers.

NOTE:  Steps 10-13 are all co-occuring with other processes in your final semester of undergrad completing your senior honor’s thesis and preparing for graduation.

Step 14:  Graduate with honors in the college of liberal arts by getting a high GPA and get honors in psychology by completing a senior honor’s thesis (or by being a suck up to the prof that runs the awards thing).

Step 15:  Wait for a reply from a grad program.  Accept the invitation for the best fitting program that chose you.

Step 16:  Yay!  You’ve completed your BA or BS in psychology and you’re ready to go on to get your MA.  Know that if you stop your journey here, you may need to: A- Become a teacher, where you still have to study for and take a certification exam(by the way). B- Become an overworked and underpaid case manager.  C-Continue to work at the place you’ve been working (e.g. a school) and possibly get promoted in pay or position (if you worked at the school, they may consider promoting you to a counselor which is totally UNETHICAL).  D-  Continue to work, then realize, “Sh**, I need a masters degree”.

Step 17:  Prepare to move or commute to your grad school of choice.  Make a choice about which “track” you’d like to be on.  For me, it was either, full, part, or 3/4 time.  I chose the full time track so I could finish in two years.

Step 18:  Get a part time job to help pay for living expenses and tuition.

Step 19:  Get your stuff done.  Do what you need to do in class.  Make friends, make connections, and complete your internship.

Note: I’m making step 19 sound sooooo much easier than it really is.

Step 20:  Graduate and look for a job in what you now realize is a “broken system” of mental health.  Oh, and if you’re looking for lots of money, go back to step one and choose a different major like nursing, engineering, or computer science.

Step 21:  Good luck with the job hunt in Texas….well at least in my town, because it seems as if many of the counseling jobs are taken by people who graduated with 40 hour MA degrees from online universities that seem to have no rigor (so that CACREP thing kinda didn’t matter) and realize it really is “who you know”.

Step 22:  Take the National Counselor Exam, which BTW has a 60% first time failure rate.  Thank God I passed the 1st time!

Step 23:  Fill out licensure paperwork, take jurisprudence exam, save $200, find a supervisor who can claim they supervised your counseling work for 18months (3,000 hours), and send it all in to the Texas State Board of Professional Counselors.

Step 24: Receive your “driver’s permit” of counseling.  It’s called the LPCI (Licensed Professional Counselor Intern license).  Oh and be ready to present yourself as an LPCI and get responses like, “Oh, you’re an intern?  Where do you go to school?”  Respond with, “NO, sir/ma’am, I already have my Masters degree and I’m pursuing licensure”.  With an LPCI, you mostly need to get a job at the “bachelor’s level” and get paid that way too at a starting salary of 25-40 thousand dollars a year.

Step 25: Still trying to figure that out.


Published by ThroughTheEyesOfaTherapist

Mental health clinician, advocate, boxer, drummer, healer. Podcaster, blogger and creative spirit. Cristal Martinez Acosta has been working as a therapist within the border community of El Paso, Texas since 2011. Cristal is a Licensed Professional Counselor Board Approved Supervisor (LPC-S) in the state of Texas and a Nationally Certified Counselor (NCC) through the National Board of Certified Counselors (NBCC). She graduated with honors from the University of Texas at El Paso (UTEP) with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology. Then she attended New Mexico State University (CACREP accredited), where she received a Master of Arts in Counseling and Guidance with a 4.0 GPA. She has experience working with youth and adults who have been affected by traumatic events. Her areas of interest are childhood abuse, domestic violence, anxiety, high-risk youth, depression, Reality Therapy, and immigration issues. She is certified in both Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Parent Child Interaction Therapy and trained in EMDR, EFT, Motivational Interviewing, and ITCT-A.

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