Bad Reasons To Study Psychology

Before you walk into a psychology degree program, you will naturally need to access your own reasons. For the next three, four, or likely even more years in the future, your life will be immersed in studying the human mind along with behaviors. You or your financier will be paying a sum fees to support that lifestyle. You have to know your reasons well because the right ones will push you all along the way and helping you to forge your own path, while the wrong ones will make you turn back, and turning back from any degree program that you have ventured some distance into, is going to be painful to an extent.

Which is why I felt that accessing your own reasons is important, and identifying the wrong ones are easier.

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“I often find myself listening to others’ problems, more of then not I get offer them good advice on various things. This allows me to be good friends with a lot of people. I hope to be a therapist or counselor so I can make this a career, and becoming a psychology major can achieve that.”

I hesitated for a second to call this a bad reason because the intentions are definitely noble and students are not likely to regret. It is pretty safe to say that this is probably the single most common reason for students to enroll in a psych program too and some successful graduates still think the reason is good enough. But that reason alone is definitely not strong enough.

Firstly, counseling isn’t giving advice. It comes in many forms and paradigms, but giving flat out personal advice isn’t one of them. If you imagine yourself as a professional friend of sorts and giving advice on family issues or telling other not to abort or divorce because you think it is wrong, you are in for a disappointment.Counseling helps people make decisions and helps them feel good about them, not making decisions for them.

Secondly, counseling isn’t exactly a psychology field. Shocking, no? Counseling is generally seen as an independent field itself and the licensing and requirements for psychologists and counselors are rather distinct. For instance, one does not need a psychology degree to join a counseling program and obtain the relevant licenses. Also, in the US, the American Counseling Association (ACA) and the American Psychological Association (APA) are two different entities, although their jurisdictions often have overlaps with each other.  There are a lot of other resources showing the difference between psychology and counseling, but the point is this: not every counselor is of a psychology background, and you can sign up for Masters in Counseling with any degree that doesn’t have to be psychology or social science oriented. The reason for this is that counseling is soft skill oriented rather than academic and practice takes priority over research. The act of intervention by the counselor is the key, not the validity and reliability of the research backing the method.  So if you have other interests and aspirations, you can always go for other degrees first and signing up to grad school to learn counseling.

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“I want to make big and easy money from talking to people in the office.”

The ones that make the biggest bucks as psychologists work in the industrial and organizational side. Counseling and clinical psychology doesn’t earn a lot on average until much later. Counseling and psychotherapy is a tedious process, and regardless of the fee you get chances are (until you develop more advanced compassion and empathy) you are likely to think yourself underpaid, while your clients find you overpaid. Every counseling and psychotherapy session can be very draining psychologically, and you are likely to find yourself having compassion fatigue.

Psychologists are definitely able to make great living, but not many I know of are close to being a millionaire. If getting there is a life-goal… you may want to reconsider.  At the very least, don’t look forward to retiring young.      

“I want to avoid math.”

If you are going around this line of reasoning, there is a good chances that you dread numbers. I did some explanations in PSYCH 002 before, general idea is that: you are in for a hard time if you hate mathematical stuff. To make things easier, try expecting half of your course to feel like advanced statistics. If you are sure you didn’t sign up for this, better not sign up at all. On the other hand if you are a good math student, there is a good chance that you will do rather well in a psychology program.

“Psychology seems rather relaxing to learn, how hard can it be to learn about human beings.”

I am certain that you will eat these words by your third week of any semester. 

Psychology programs requires a lot of reading, and if you ever find yourself with free time for a reason there is a warning sign something dreadful is going to happen. Either you going to compete for jobs in the future with friends who are committing the free time to something that builds them as a person and a employee, or you are going to rush and do badly in that lab report due four weeks from now. Your free time should go to activities that can stimulate your brain for research topics, or build skills and experiences that are useful to be in a CV.

As an undergrad there is only so much I can tell you, but you will definitely need to be able to cope with stress (the course itself teaches you how).

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“I have very good memorization skills which will definitely allow me to ace undergraduate psychology.”

You might have found out that psychology materials are rather like biology, therefore its mostly memory work. In many ways this isn’t exactly false: you will definitely barely pass your papers.

The top students are required to analyze the subject matter, learn about the pros and cons, learn to criticize, come out with original ideas of applications and apply these theories accurately in different cases. Memory work definitely can get you places, but only so far. You might ace your first year, hold your ground in second year, and barely passing papers by third year.

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Jia Yue Tan
JY is a counselling trainee at Monash University Malaysia under the Master of Professional Counselling program and writes psychology articles to procrastinate from his counselling paperwork and assignments. His interests are in individual differences, psychotherapy, and helping the public understand psychology(s) as a profession. Occasionally reviews books and promote person-centered psychotherapy.

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