What Is a Psychologist Worth

When I grow up, I want to be a Psychologist, because helping people change their lives for the better will be very rewarding. However, will personal fulfillment be enough? Sure, as with any job, I will get paid and likely have some pretty sweet benefits, but the cost of getting a Degree in Psychology is one I will spend many years paying for. So, is a little extra too much to ask for? Is there a way that I can work hard to improve and succeed with a monetary acknowledgment and recognition to look forward to and work toward?

Psychology is the study of human behavior and the thought process that leads to such behavior. It requires careful observation and good listening skills, with the ability to interpret many things going on at once; thoughts, feelings, behavior, actions, and overall mental state. It is not only the interpretation of these things, but also determining the how and why behind them. As a psychology student and a patient, I have learned from personal experience that there is much involved and though there is a lot to learn from books, studies, and research, each individual, psychologists and their patients, are so vastly different, that the learning really begins in real life treatment sessions.

I could go into a lengthy explanation using a lot of technical and clinical terms, but to really get a grasp of what goes on in an effective, therapeutic session, I will speak from my experience as a patient. My former Psychologist, Dr. Kerri Perisich, watched me as I spoke. She paid close attention to my hands and feet, my facial expressions, whether I sat still or squirmed around, and the tone and volume of my voice. She also listened to what I was saying, and then asked questions that drew out more of what I was trying to convey, in more depth. I was always impressed with how well she remembered every detail of what I said, and never once took notes while I was there. She was able to take it all in, and based on my words and my body language, know what I needed to explore further. She guided me with her simple questions, and led me to draw my own conclusions, which she would then concur and encourage me to continue to be aware and to observe how I behave in certain situations, making note of what I am feeling and thinking. The more I made attempts to do this, the more natural it would become, and in time I could learn how to control and choose my behaviors. Fortunately for me, I have a knack for analyzing my every action and thought, and Dr. Kerri is very good at what she does, so we accomplished a lot in one year. However, it is not always that easy.

Psychology is also the study of the brain, so there are certain signs that a Psychologist needs to be able to recognize and determine if an individual needs medication due to chemical imbalances in the brain. These imbalances can be hereditary or come about due to drug abuse, physical and/mental abuse, and sometimes even poor diet and overall bad health. Tragedies such as car accidents, the events of 9/11, or severe natural disasters such as Hurricane Katrina, can cause people to suppress, or block out, certain memories. A Psychologist must be able to be sensitive, non-judgmental, and leave personal opinions out of the equation, to gain complete trust of the patient in order to get to the root of what may be causing behaviors that are unusual, or understanding triggers and phobias that have no obvious cause on the surface.

Psychologists are not just counselors. There is more to their jobs than just treating their patients. They also have administrative duties, which include legal paperwork like releases to speak to medical doctors, insurance companies, and other family members, if the patient so chooses, keeping careful clinical notes for each patient, and documenting all that they do with and for the patient. It requires continuous education to keep up with new developments and practices in the psychology field, research, and collaboration on difficult cases, with other Psychologists, in order to be able to provide the best care possible for their patients. Psychologists can also teach or run group therapy.

So, what is the compensation to these professionals? The average, yearly salary for a Psychologist varies from state to state, but the national average, according to the indeed.com, a national job search and salary calculation website, is $74,000 annually. Of course, those just beginning, also referred to as entry-level, will most likely start at a lower starting pay, but then what? How and when do they get a raise? Or merit pay? Is a regular yearly raise and merit pay the same or different? They can be considered either, depending on the organization and their performance appraisal system. Merit pay can be a yearly raise, based on how well set criteria are met when the individual is evaluated on their performance. The criteria may also include duties that are outside of the normal expectations for a position, and if met satisfactorily, a onetime bonus can be awarded (Performance Management & Appraisal Help Center).

Criteria is a “statement of needs, rules, standards, or tests that must be used in evaluating a decision, idea, opportunity, program, project, etc. to form correct judgment regarding the intended goal” (businessdictionary.com). According to Human Resources at Miami Dade College, a standard set of criteria includes: quality of work, quantity of work, job knowledge, supervision, attitude, and attendance and punctuality. This was designed to be universal for most non-contractual, professional employees, so it is a good starting point. However, I believe that the criteria should be specifically tailored to the profession in question—especially one as complicated to perform and equally as complicated to review, as Psychology. Once the criteria is set and understood, the next step is to determine how to measure whether or not the criteria are met, and how well.

As discussed earlier, administrative duties are imperative for a Psychologist. They must keep careful records of each of their patients. These records may include the patient’s state of mind, their ability to cope, when they improve or when things get worse, or what medication they are taking. It can include insurance information, self evaluations, and goals set by the patient and therapist. So, how would one measure the completion and accuracy of these documents? A determination of how thorough the therapist is in their paperwork and were copies sent to all parties is one way. How accessible are the records in cases of emergency, and how confidential are they kept from anyone not authorized to see such sensitive information is important too. And finally, it should be verified that the Psychologist is filling out forms correctly, and that nothing is missing.

Availability to their patients is another criterion that is important. Is the therapist reachable by phone and when they are not available, do they return calls promptly? Is the therapist available one night a week for a patient that can’t get there during regular business hours? Does the therapist make themselves available to their co-workers for consults and collaboration? As a therapist offers and ensures a safe environment for the patient to open up and divulge what they cannot share with others, and the patient develops a trust in their therapist, it is imperative that the Psychologist is reachable in times of crisis, as the patient will likely reach out to them first before anyone else. If the Psychologist is only available for the scheduled appointments, and at no other time, trust may wane.

Continued education can be important and may be necessary, depending on the specific field the Psychologist practices. For example, gender identity and other sexual related therapy, is very early in its research and understanding, and as research continues to develop and studies come to conclusions, more education to keep up to date, should be required, or at least recommended. Has the Psychologist continued their schooling, or at least kept up on what comes available and deciding whether it is relative to their field?

Research is needed to help to determine what is going on with patients who have symptoms and circumstances that are unusual or ones the therapist is unfamiliar with. Research goals can also be set at the time of the evaluation, so that at the following performance review, the progress of these goals can be determined. New theories, publications, and networking within the research can also be used to measure the success or lack thereof, for this criterion.

Several levels of group work can be considered. Does the Psychologist participate in group therapy for patients going through common situations such as grief or addiction? Do they provide a group setting for interns within the organization to teach and support those seeking to work in the same field of practice? Does the Psychologist attend peer groups led by superiors to stay up to par on current and possible future changes in the company or in their profession overall?

A final criterion that can be included, and an example of one that could earn a onetime bonus, is community outreach. Does the Psychologist participate in community activities? Are they giving back? Do they do so once in a while, or do they have a regular, standing involvement? This can be more specifically measured by the function, by how many hours are given, or by leading a community service themselves. An example of this is taking a shift in a low-income, walk-in clinic.

These are just six of many ways to determine if a Psychologist is doing their job well or not and if they are worthy of a raise or a bonus. More specifics can be added to the appraisal of these criteria, such as the percentage of the raise based on the percentage of the accomplishments. I leave you with this question: Does your therapist deserve a raise?

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