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Assortment of questions
by yasdnil723 (yasdnil723)
at August 29th, 2012 (08:17 pm)

Hi everyone! I'm going into my last semester as an undergrad and am strongly considering applying to MSW programs this fall.  I'm a psychology major interested in doing therapy with my future degree. I have some questions I've been mulling over and would like any input from current students :)

1. Will getting an MSW degree allow me to specialize in treating certain disorders if I wish to do so, or are skills learned more general? Or does it depend on the classes/field experiences offered at a particular school? Sort of related: to anyone who has considered getting a phD in psychology or PsyD, how do you think the level of training you get with an MSW compares (as far as doing clinical work)?

2. I have a pretty strong research background and would like to keep my options open if I find I don't like doing therapy or can't find a job. What kinds of jobs options are available in research for MSW degree holders?

3. What's the final word on putting experiences involving overcoming personal hardships/mental health issues into application essays? I've been told different things by grad students/advisors: it's fine as long as you spin it in a positive light, JUST SAY NO, and limit it to one sentence. I know it's a bad thing to make your essay be "poor me" and I don't want to do that, but I feel so strongly about the people that helped me during rough years in my life that it is one of the main reasons I am passionate about helping others, especially those with mental health issues.

I appreciate very much any and all input on any of the above questions!


Posted by: formyed (formyed)
Posted at: August 30th, 2012 03:05 am (UTC)

Hi there! I hope these can help:

1) Occasionally programs will give you some specialized experience, though it's limited and by no means guaranteed. Mostly, I've only seen programs that do some specialized courses in substance abuse/addiction treatment and occasionally developmental disabilities. In general, because an MSW is only two years, as opposed to 5-7 for Ph.D.'s in psychology, you are more likely to do specialized training once you are in the field post-degree.

I'm currently in an internship that has a mix of MSW, Ph.D. psych, and counseling interns, and I'd be happy to share some of the difference that I see, if you'd like!

2) If you want to do research, a doctorate makes more sense. You can do some research at the MSW level, but if you really want that to be your primary job, a Ph.D. might be better. With an MSW you can also do administrative work, advocacy, community/grassroots work, and case management.

3) It really depends on what they're asking for the in statement, I think. I did put some about my own mental health issues into my application, and spun it in a positive light, made it clear that the issues are not impairing me now, etc. I did not put them in my internship applications, though part of that was the level of stigma/misunderstanding in terms of eating disorders. I've actually consulted with my therapist when making these decisions.

Posted by: Happy Again (viktorcello)
Posted at: August 30th, 2012 12:37 pm (UTC)

I want to agree with the other commenter regarding #1 that you can definitely specialize, but it will probably happen once you are out in the field. I think it is absolutely possible and probable that you will specialize in some way or another anyway (for instance, I particularly understand and know geriatrics, end of life, and oncology social work practice). You may need to start with a more general practice and do continuing ed workshops, classes, and credits in the particular area you're interested in, but you should be able to start that work while in grad school by focusing your papers, reading, and classwork on the topic you're interested in specializing in. If you're really lucky, you might be able to get an internship in the specialty you want. Make it clear to your field instructor what your goals and dreams are.

2. You can totally get a job in research, but likely the kinds of jobs BS/BA holders can get unless you focus some of your graduate education on becoming a researcher. That might be hard to do if you are also trying to become a clinician. There are really always jobs in some agency or another for clinicians, so I'd pick either the clinical or research or macro route and stick to it, to be honest. What kind of work do you WANT to do? Get a great foundation in that and believe me, you will find something. Every job after your first is easier to secure, especially if you make good, positive connections in your community and don't burn bridges.

3. I agree with you that it would be fine to discuss your own hardships, but explain how you have overcome them, spin them positively, show how they have made you stronger and fueled your passion.

Good luck!

Posted by: bleeder of hands, dancer of churches (sunsetscreamer)
Posted at: August 30th, 2012 10:42 pm (UTC)

1. Its more population based-- learning to specialize in treating adults vs. children, young children vs. older children, elders, etc. Every program is different, take a look at the classes offered-- in my program I was lucky enough to take a CBT class and the program also trained people in DBT and Interpersonal Psychotherapy. I also, while doing research for papers, realized that in the paper they explain in detail how to do the interventions. Also, at your internships they will teach you how to do everything anyway.

2. This one is harder. I would say work for a university as the study coordinator or assessor and that job will train you how to do research. Really to do your own, a Psy D or PHd in social work is needed. I've even seen people with PHds in anthropology doing social work research.

3. I would be more in the "limit it to one sentence" camp. You can briefly describe it, but keep the focus on the social worker/therapist who helped you and why you want to be like them.

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