Why I love being a scientist-practitioner…maybe you will too… [A blog post for those considering a PhD in Clinical Psychology]

Posted on Oct 12, 2016

By Serena Corsini-Munt

flickr-user-collegedegrees360

Image credit: flickr user CollegeDegrees360

So you’re thinking about applying for a PhD in Clinical Psychology? This might mean that you are pursuing a career as a practicing psychologist. You may want to be trained to provide psychotherapy to those in need. You are empathic and the idea of helping others seems like a rewarding path. Or maybe, you have found a professor you greatly admire and want to pursue a similar career path, or you always knew a life of academia was for you. You have the research bug, want to engage in knowledge dissemination and the idea of teaching appeals to you. All are good.

One of the things I like about having completed a PhD in Clinical Psychology? There are not too many PhDs like it. A PhD in Clinical Psychology, like those in Counselling Psychology and Neuropsychology, is a professional PhD. When complete, you will be able to apply for membership in a professional order or college, and hold the title of psychologist. You might pursue academic life, you might practice psychology, or both! All have the potential to be fulfilling and worthy pursuits. But to get there, you’re going to have to do some research. Reframed: you’re going to get to do some research.

Unfortunately, some people shy away from pursuing a PhD in Clinical Psychology because they do not find research exciting or because they want training that will get them to work with people in a clinical setting more quickly. I worry that they have foreclosed too soon. The reactions range from being intimidated by research, viewing research as a means to an end, or resentful, as though research is an obstacle to becoming a psychologist. Why do psychologists need to know how to conduct research? Because learning to conduct research during your PhD may make you a better clinician.

The scientist-practitioner model is often part of a program’s description. It is often thought of as an integral component of contributing to psychology’s reputation for being science-directed, but it represents something more. The scientist-practitioner model attempts to capture the two roles of the psychologist and speak to the importance of training in each domain. Tenets of the model include:

  • Education in clinical psychology should give equal billing to research training and clinical skills.
  • Assessment and treatment should follow empirically-based protocols and clinical decisions should be informed by empirical findings.
  • Just as the researcher contributes to practice with empirical evidence, the clinician is expected to contribute to research with practice-based evidence.

I’m of the opinion that there is a reciprocal and beneficial relationship between science and practice in which each gives the other purpose. We cannot practice responsibly without knowing the rationale behind our interventions, nor without appreciating their potential effect. Science contributes to better understanding clinical populations and helps us better understand those that enter our clinical practice. Knowing which treatments might benefit which patients plays a HUGELY important role in shaping how clinicians help people. And clinicians have direct access to the needs of their patients so that research might target clinically-relevant outcomes.

Are you preparing for PhD applications, or thinking about applying to a PhD program in Clinical Psychology?

Quick Check List

  • Are you pursuing an honours or a research project?
  • Are you participating in pre-clinical experiences, such as volunteering in clinical care settings, or working for talk- and crisis-lines?
  • Are you getting experience working with different areas to broaden your exposure to topics?
  • Are you working for different professors who will be able to provide letters of recommendation?
  • Are you working towards the best possible grades in your classes?
  • If applying to English-speaking universities, are you preparing for your General GREs and Psych GREs?
  • Have you taken note of the application requirements for programs of interest?
  • Are you talking to graduate students and professors about what grad school is like?
  • Have you reviewed the steps to licensure as a psychologist in your geographical area?

So, if you are considering a PhD in Clinical Psychology, I hope you’ll embrace research if practice is your main interest, and I hope you’ll draw from practice if research is your focus. Take your time to find an area of research that is personally motivating and ignites your passion for both research and practice.
Sources:

Baker, D. B., & Benjamin, L. T. (2000). The affirmation of the scientists-practitioner: A look back at Boulder. American Psychologist, 55, 241–247. doi:10.1037/0003-066X.55.2.241.

Jones, J., & Mehr, S. (2007). Foundations and assumptions of the scientist–practitioner model. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 766–771. doi:10.1177/0002764206296454.

Navab, A., Koegel, R., Dowdy, E., & Vernon, T. (2016). Ethical considerations in the application of the scientist-practitioner model for psychologists conducting intervention research. Journal of Contemporary Psychotherapy, 46, 79-87. DOI 10.1007/s10879-015-9314-3

Petersen, C. A. (2007). A historical look at psychology and the scientist–practitioner model. American Behavioral Scientist, 50, 758–765. doi:10.1177/0002764206296453.

Shapiro, D. S. (2002). Renewing the scientist–practitioner model. Psychologist, 55, 247–248.