Why People Become Psychologists

A few years ago, I came up with a theory about why people choose to enter doctoral programs in psychology. I’ve floated this theory past many psychologists that I’ve met at school and work, and so far nobody has disagreed with me or been able to add to it. If you’re a psychologist, know a psychologist, or are studying to become a psychologist, I bet you can look around at your cohort and come up with a few people that fit into each of these categories:

Group 1 (approximately 40% of psychology grad students): “I want to be called doctor.”

Sadly, this seems to be far and away the majority of people that I’ve encountered. These are the people who are confused about why professors don’t just give them an A in every course and start calling them “doctor” already. They’re the ones who look like they’re playing the role of psychologist versus actually trying to learn how to be one. It’s not unusual for them to get very well versed in one type of treatment modality and become “experts” even before they graduate. Oftentimes, they move up the ladder quickly and either go into private practice soon after graduation and/or obtain positions where they are in charge of other people.

Group 2 (approximately 30% of psychology grad students): “I had (have) issues and now I want to help other people with theirs.”

Well-intentioned, but sometimes misguided, these are the people who aren’t afraid to share their story and how they got through it. Some have truly worked through their issues and can be very awe-inspiring; others only think they’ve worked through everything. They’re probably the ones who ask a lot of questions in class, much to the dismay of everyone else.

Group 3 (approximately 20% of psychology grad students): “I’m really interested in people – how they think, what drives them, etc. I may or may not actually like them, but I’m very interested in people on an intellectual level.”

More often than not, these are your researchers. They’re probably also the best students in school, or the ones who always have a good professional book to recommend once they’re out of school (because they actually bother to keep learning, unlike many of us).

Group 4 (the remaining 10% of psychology grad students): “I believe I’m called to be a healer.”

These are the ones that may come across looking like slackers. They can often care more about doing well at practicum than at school. More heart than head, they’re probably the ones who try to coordinate social events (happy hour, anyone?) with classmates and coworkers. They’re likely to be the ones in the office who seem happy to be “staff” and, if they happen to be in a leadership position, may have gotten there accidentally rather than purposefully.

I think it’s possible to fit into more than one category simultaneously, and move between categories as time goes on. I also think that people in each of these categories have the capacity to do really good work and help a lot of clients/patients, though it may come more easily to some than others.

Regardless of which category you fall into, there is one thing that we all have in common – we don’t get paid enough. Am I right?

One thought on “Why People Become Psychologists

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s