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Clinical Psychologist

Margit Henderson

Tell us about your work---what do you do? I am a clinical psychologist . I direct a program for survivors of abuse who have serious mental illness . As a clinician , I do individual and group therapy . I support my clients in their journeys of healing. I offer support and guidance to help them stabilize emotionally and function more effectively in their lives. My other work duties include supervising therapists who are in training, serving on committees for my agency, writing grants to fund my program, doing research to evaluate the effectiveness of my interventions, and doing presentations in the community to raise awareness about trauma and the services available for victims of it. What skills are needed? As a therapist , it is important to be able to listen well and to be able to tolerate intense emotion. Patience and good personal boundaries are also essential. It can be frustrating sitting with people who are suffering and at times feel powerless to help them. Good observational skills and analytical thinking skills are also needed to successfully identify the relevant issues, provide appropriate interventions and objectively assess their impact. Also, good communication skills are needed with clients, as well as for grant writing and community presentations. What was your major? I was a psychology major as an undergraduate. I also found courses in sociology , anthropology , women's studies, and writing to be very relevant to the work I now do. How did you get started in your career? After college I went to graduate school, getting a Masters Degree and then a Doctorate in clinical psychology. My training experiences in graduate school included extensive course work and practice in conducting therapy, research, and teaching. The final year of my doctorate involved a one-year full-time internship, practicing as a therapist. I also had to complete a Master's thesis and a Doctoral dissertation , both independent research projects. After I finished my Ph.D., I had to complete another year of supervised post-doctoral clinical work and take several tests in order to get licensed as a clinical psychologist. Now I am able to practice independently. What experience do you need in this job? To be a competent therapist, it is important to practice working with clients in a supportive educational environment. Most psychology programs require several practicum experiences , and these are to help you build your confidence and skills while safely working with vulnerable people. You should work with a supervisor who can help you learn to diagnose mental illness and help you in finding your own style for intervening with clients. Psychologists are generally also trained in research methods. This is helpful in being able to apply analytic thinking to questions of human nature. Working as a research assistant is a useful training experience for psychologists. Describe your "typical" workday: My day usually starts at 8 a.m. I generally see several individual therapy clients in a row. Then I have a break mid-day, where I do my charting, return phone calls, work on my general to-do list and have lunch with my colleagues. Next, I might have a supervision session with a student or a committee meeting for my agency. I also have a group supervision meeting weekly for myself, where my colleagues and I consult each other about difficult cases. In the later afternoon, I generally start seeing clients again individually and once per week, I facilitate a women's therapy group . My day usually ends at about 6:30p.m. When I'm at work, my days are long, but I work part-time, so I also have about two days off each week. What is the hardest aspect of your job? The hardest part of my job is realizing that I can only do so much to help my clients. I have lots to offer them, but most of the necessary work will be done by the clients themselves. It is hard to be with someone who is suffering but not able/willing to do their part in the healing process. There is a certain sense of helplessness that comes with this for the therapist. I work to let go and recognize that I have done all I can and that as much as I might want to, I cannot rescue this person from their pain. What is the most rewarding aspect of your job? The most rewarding part of this work is seeing people blossom and celebrating their successes. Not a day goes by where I don't marvel at the resilience and resourcefulness of the human spirit. The people I work with are survivors and it is beautiful to watch them become thrivers, as they come to feel peace within and learn to value themselves and find success in their lives. What are your suggestions for someone considering this field? If you primarily want to work as a therapist, there are many avenues to consider. Becoming a psychologist involves getting a doctoral degree, which is a very long training program. Also, most doctoral programs have an extensive research component. For many people who primarily want to work as clinicians, the research requirements can become a stumbling block. Other educational options include Psy.D. programs ( Doctorate in Psychology instead of Doctorate in Philosophy -- Ph.D. -- in psychology). These generally highlight clinical training and de-emphasize the research aspect. Also, a Masters Degree in counseling or social work will be a shorter program and still enable you to work as a therapist. If you like statistics and research, and enjoy clinical work, as I do, then pursuing a Ph.D. in psychology will be a rewarding, intellectually stimulating, and exciting path for you.