15 Top Myths about a Career in Psychology

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The world outside of psychology has forever been intrigued with exactly what clinicians within the field do. Assumptions run amok regarding awesome powers of mind-reading and other science fictional techniques. If you’re a psychology student, you have no doubt already encountered regular and, sometimes, far-fetched guesswork others have about your career choice. Below are some of the top misconceptions people usually have about psychology careers and a response you can use to set the record straight.

#1 Seeing a therapist is just like having someone to listen to you. You can get that for free.

Contrary to popular belief, psychologists and mental health therapists’ jobs are not just about listening. True enough, listening is an important part of therapy, but therapists apply all sorts of techniques depending on their clients’ needs. Venting frustrations and negative emotions can be cathartic (which is a Greek word for “purge”) for those in therapy. However, in order to incite change therapists assist their clients with developing healthier coping strategies and other skills that good listening on its own simply can’t do.

#2 Psychology isn’t a legitimate science.

Psychology is, indeed, a science. Researchers within the field follow the scientific method to test specific hypotheses. Revolutionary experiments are conducted to help us better understand how our brains function, why we make the friends that we do, and how trauma affects us. In addition to research, psychologists use evidence-based approaches to diagnose and treat patients and standardized tests to assess clients’ personality and intelligence. 

#3 Psychologists claim that all of your problems are rooted in your childhood.

Both psychoanalytic and psychodynamic theory, popularized by Sigmund Freud, focus on unconscious drives that motivate behavior, typically established around age 5. Such therapists believe that how children are treated by their caretakers in the early years strongly influences adult problems.

On the contrary, not all schools of thought in psychology target childhood experiences. Many practitioners focus on the here and now rather than reflecting on past experiences.

Research has shown that many mental illnesses have a genetic component that is determined in the womb. Plus, environmental factors may influence the mother during pregnancy that lead to later mental disorders. In some cases, such as with depression or PTSD, childhood experiences like maltreatment are instrumental.

#4 Psychologists and psychiatrists do the same thing.

Both psychologists and psychiatrists treat mental illnesses. However, psychologists generally work with clients in therapy to change thought patterns, manage symptoms, and build better reactions to stress. Most psychologists have received a Ph.D. (or Psy.D.) and completed an approved internship program prior to licensing. Psychiatrists mainly treat chemical imbalances in the brain that manifest as mental illness. They write prescriptions and monitor a patient’s progress on certain medications. Psychiatrists have completed medical school, a residency in psychiatry usually in a psychiatric hospital before licensing.

#5 Graduate study is required to get a job in psychology.

Yes, licensed psychologists must have graduate-level training, typically earning a Ph.D. Nonetheless, there are various career options in psychology that do not require graduate study. Psychology majors can go on to become psychiatric aides, research assistants, teachers, and marketing analysts.

#6 Psychologists don’t make a difference in the world.

Counseling and clinical psychologists help people manage their mental illnesses, cope with stress and live more fulfilling lives through individual, group and family therapy formats. Clinical psychologists administer psychological assessments on children to diagnose disorders like Autism or ADHD, and ensure that they get appropriate accommodations in school. Experimental psychologists conduct major research studies that change what we know about everything from parenting to the way the brain works. They study different therapeutic techniques to determine which are most effective at treating certain disorders. Psychologists in academia train their students (i.e. future psychologists) on topics like abnormal behavior, crisis intervention, multiculturalism, and ethics. Industrial-organizational psychologists assist companies with boosting morale, employee engagement, and overall productivity so that people not only enjoy their jobs but work harder at them. The list can truly go on and on about psychology’s impact on the world.

#7 People who see therapists have to keep going forever.

This is true. There are certainly situations when a person may continue seeing their therapists for years. Nonetheless, this instance is more of an exception rather than the rule. In most cases when mental health treatment is being provided, individuals are able to see a provider with the help of their health insurance. Due to restrictions in managed care, most therapy is conducted in a format that delivers 3 to 6 sessions. Other forms of therapy may span anywhere from 3 months to 1 year. Overall, the amount of time needed for therapy depends on the individual and their specific needs.

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#8 If my psychologist isn’t like me, they can’t help me.

A psychologist does not need to be similar to a client in certain areas to help them. In fact, the individual traits of the therapist are irrelevant. Psychologists are trained from a multicultural perspective in which they learn to accept all people as they are, working with them in relation to the client’s marital status, religion, culture, or educational background. They do not need to have the exact same experiences as a client to feel empathy for them or help them overcome problems.

#9 Psychologists can “fix” people.

Mental health providers apply a variety of techniques specifically to their client’s individual needs or mental illnesses. Depending on the client’s readiness to deal with issues and their motivation, positive outcomes may occur from therapy. However, the therapist does not “fix” the client. The therapist acts as a guide, vehicle, or support system, but the client is most instrumental in inciting change.

#10 There are very few job opportunities in psychology.

The field of psychology offers a wealth of job opportunities, particularly if you think outside the box. Since psychology is the study of human behavior, there are numerous applications for that knowledge. Opportunities abound with careers like a life coach, behavioral technician, academic counselor and police officer. Here are 50 possible jobs for individuals studying psychology.

#11 Psychologists love to help random people with their problems.

One overwhelming aspect of studying psychology is the surplus of individuals looking to help you “train”. Immediately after you tell someone you are a graduate student in psychology, they begin expanding on a list of problems they’d like you to help them with. In the grocery store, at the hair salon, at the gym. You have been warned.

#12 All psychologists do the same thing.

This couldn’t be further from the truth. Psychologists jobs vary based on specialization, areas of interest, and specific client populations. Some conduct experiments, some help athletes train optimally, others work to help children in academic settings. Our site lists a host of specializations you can go into in the field of psychology.

#13 Mental illness eventually goes away without the help of a psychologist.

False! Even if the symptoms diminish for a period of time, they will undoubtedly return when an individual is exposed to significant life stress. A large number of individuals with psychiatric illnesses are actually untreated either due to denial of illness or lack of knowledge and resources. Untreated mental disorders can lead to terrible consequences such as homelessness, violence, incarceration, and suicide. Learn more here. If you know someone with an untreated mental disorder, urge them to get help today.

#14 You can be a therapist with a bachelor’s degree.

Unfortunately, a prerequisite to conducting mental health therapy is a graduate training either resulting in a master’s degree or doctorate. Individuals with bachelor’s degrees have not undergone enough training. This is why we urge you to at least consider earning your masters in psychology from one of our featured programs.

#15 Psychologists don’t play well with others.

Many people wrongly assume psychologists are at odds with other mental health providers. In reality, psychologists regularly work with interdisciplinary teams such as with psychiatrists, social workers, nutritionists, police officers, and lawyers. They may receive a great deal of referrals through working with practitioners from other disciplines.

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About the Author: Veranda Hillard Charleston

Veranda received her Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern State University of Louisiana. She has nearly five years of experience as a trained mental health professional. As a freelance writer, Veranda creates quality content for topics such as mental health, self-help, general health, fitness, and relationships. Off-line, Veranda conducts psychological assessments of children and adults in a private-practice setting.

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