Very often when people ask what I study, and I tell them I am studying to be a clinical psychologist they have a lot of questions. Of course, this is after they ask me not to read their mind as they back away from me. Any psychologist reading this will understand.

So below I will be answering some of the most asked questions people have asked me. what are the career options in psychology and why the study of psychology and understanding mental health has become more and more important?

What is Psychology?

Psychology is the study of human behaviour and cognition. It was a subject that stemmed from philosophy when they began to ask the question “how does the human mind work?”. Soon after they realised there was a requirement for a separate field to understand this complex question.

Over the years there have been many schools that have developed to understand psychology- Functionalism, structuralism, psychoanalysis, behaviourism, gestalt and humanistic. Each school looked at psychology from different perspectives. These schools laid the foundation for the development of the more modern perspectives like cognitive and psychodynamic perspective which make up the psychology we study today.

Structuralism and functionalism were two of the earliest thoughts that held the views that the mind needed to be studied by their components and the causation behind behaviour needs to be understood, respectively.

Psychoanalysis looked at studying the unconscious mind and was founded by the infamous Freud. The humanistic perspective looked at what drove and motivated individuals while focusing on the potential of people. Behaviourism is the school that focused only on the study of behaviour alone. Finally, The Gestalt perspective believed that humans should be studied as a ‘whole’ rather components of behaviour and mental processes.

What are the Career Options in Psychology?

Currently, psychology has a wide range of options in terms of research and practice. In terms of clinical practice, psychologists play a role of counsellors or clinical psychologists. Counsellors provide long-term rehabilitation of individuals through various forms of therapies. These can include talk therapy, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), psychotherapy, etc. Clinical psychologists on the other hand have the main role of diagnosis and conducting tests to determine illnesses and course of treatment. Clinical psychologists are also trained in short term treatments like CBT and psychotherapy. Thus, their role also entails the rehabilitation of individuals who suffer from illnesses which are treatable using these forms of therapy.

Two other forms of psychologies are health psychologists and forensic psychologists. Health psychologists study behaviours relating to health, illness, and healthcare. This is a relatively new, field that has gained importance to bridge the communication gap between medical professionals’ patients and their families. Forensic psychology on the other hand is the field of psychology that plays a role in law. Applying psychological principles to the legal system and courts.

There is of course a great scope for research in psychology, let it be animal psychology, practical application of theories, criminology, or development of new and more reliable therapies.

Difference between Psychiatry and Psychology?

This is probably the most asked question, not just me, but all other psychologists get. The main difference between the two is that psychiatry involves studying medicine followed by a specialisation in psychiatry. Psychology on the other hand is studying the subject of psychology followed by training in either counselling techniques or studying clinical diagnoses of disorders.

While psychiatrists can prescribe medicine psychologists cannot, however, psychiatrists and psychologists are required to depend on one another to carry out treatment and rehabilitation of their patients/clients. In a hospital setting the psychiatrist is often first approached and based on their preliminary assessment they are sent to psychologists for assessment and diagnoses. From then on both the psychiatrist and psychologist work on a treatment plan that may include medication and therapy to rehabilitate the individual.

Clinical psychologists come the closest to being like psychiatrists. While both can provide treatment and diagnoses only psychiatrists can prescribe medicines. If you are someone who wants to get into the mental health field but not has to study medicine, psychology is the perfect field for you.

Education Required to Be a Psychologist

This probably the most confusing part of psychology…. How to become a psychologist? And how do you know what kind of psychologist you want to be?

It is always suggested to start psychology from undergrad but luckily in our country individuals can pursue a career in psychology even after doing an undergrad in an unrelated field. The period and time of education differ based on specialisation.

Most fields of psychology require a minimum of the master, these include- health psychology, counselling and forensic among others

Clinical psychology on the other hand requires the most amount of training. To be certified as a practising clinical psychologist, one must finish a minimum of an M.Phil. in clinical psychology which is a clinic-based two-year training. There are alternate streams to be a certified in clinical psychologist in India but to be able to be a licenced clinical psychologist who can set up a practice requires a minimum of an M.Phil. in clinical psychology.

One thing to keep in mind when wanting to practice as a counselling psychologist it extremely important for one to go through a two-year training in counselling either as part of a different psychology masters or specialisation in counselling. There may be multiple trainings that are provided for counselling in India that span only for a couple of weeks, however, this is not ethical.

One of the downfalls in the psychology field is that there are hundreds, maybe even thousands, of people practising without proper training or certification as counsellors in India. Unfortunately, there is not a set requirement for counsellors which is why people are getting away with it. The rehabilitation council of India (RCI) are currently working on setting down rules in India.

One must understand that when counselling we are faced with multiple individuals with deteriorating mental health or even suffering from suicidal thoughts. It is extremely important how these individuals are handles or treated because one wrong move can cause serious harm to the mental health of the individual that may push them to do something detrimental. As an individual who might be even visiting a counsellor please make sure to go to reliable centres like Asha or Roshni counselling (in Hyderabad) or make sure to do your research on what training the counsellor you are being treated by has gone through. If you are someone interested in being a counsellor, one must undergo the two-year training of master’s in counselling. This is the training one requires to be able to help their clients to the best of their abilities.

Why Is There a Need for Psychologists?

According to WHO a 2020 prediction suggests that 20% of India, which is approximately 26 crore people will suffer from mental health illnesses with only 4000 mental health professionals who are certified or registered to treat them. There is a huge disparity in the number of patients to mental health professionals. With changing times and the mounting stress, we find ourselves in a position where we are ignoring the impact that mental health has on us.

If not anything else the pandemic has taught us how fragile our mental health can be if we do not acknowledge its importance. Counsellors, psychologists, and counsellors alike have dedicated their lives to making sure that mental illnesses do not go untreated. Over the course of the last 7 months alone, a number of psychologists volunteered their free time to tele-counselling helplines and shifted to virtual/video therapy so that their clients are not deprived of the care they need even during the pandemic.

If you are someone who wants to get into the profession do not be afraid to do some reading. There are multiple great articles on this website alone along wit so many introductory psychology textbooks out there that do the job well. As someone who loves the subject, I would suggest that you read Freud’s theories, Jung’s theories (Neo-Freudian), The humanistic perspective (Maslow and Carl Rogers) and finally the behaviouristic perspective (Pavlov and Skinner). All of them, of course, have their own Wikipedia pages and these are the theories I feel one must read to understand just how diverse the field of psychology is and how despite being so diverse in their approaches all of have some merit when it comes to understanding the human mind.

“Life doesn’t make any sense without interdependence. We need each other, and the sooner we learn that, the better for us all.”

Erik Erikson

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