Tag Archives: Doctor of Psychology

Financial questions about becoming a Christian psychologist


Recently, I received a  blog comment to an post I wrote a year ago about the decision process for those thinking about pursuing doctoral programs in psychology. You can read that old post here. In response, Emily asked,

I’m really wondering what you’re thoughts are on places like Rosemead and Fuller. They appear to be wonderful institutions but I have heard that students come out with $100,000+ worth of debt. Is that really worth it, or would it be just as well to get two separate degrees – one in psychology and one in theology. Doing my own research, I’ve discovered that to get a PsyD at Rosemead would cost me over $200,000 for 5 years. That includes tuition, miscellaneous fees, books, and the cost of housing in SoCal. I just can’t decide whether it’s worth it or not and I would love to know the thoughts of a Christian Psychologist on this.

Emily’s question is very important. Much of the time, we answer questions about doctoral training by discussing career goals, philosophy of education, and theological training. However, it is a huge oversight to ignore the high cost of a doctorate in clinical psychology. So, I want to respond to the issue of economics by raising a few questions for the person considering doctoral education.

What is your desired career outcome? Is it necessary to have a doctorate?

Wait, this doesn’t sound like an economics question, right? Well, if you are thinking about taking on a sizable debt then you ought to consider whether or not you absolutely need to do it. If you want to be a professor in a University, then you’d better be looking for a PhD (probably over a PsyD which tends to cost more). If you want to counsel people, you might not need a PhD or PsyD. You might be fine with a Masters’ degree and really good supervision by a doctoral level psychologist. If you really want the extra years of training and the possiblity of supervising others, then maybe the doctorate is right for you. If you don’t know if you need a doctorate for what you want to do, then find out first before you take on the debt load.

Can I find a cheaper PhD/PsyD program?

Some of the Christian programs tend to be longer and therefore more costly. The reason is that these programs believe (rightly so) that theological training is essential. While I am a proponent of an integrated (theological and psychological training), you may be able to find cheaper theological training and mentoring in another format while completing a secular (and shorter) degree program in clinical psychology. It is possible that a seminary degree or certificate in theological or biblical studies will provide you want you need. Or, you may be able to befriend a well-trained pastor or counselor who will mentor you for free or for a meal and and coffee. The question you need to evaluate is whether you want theological competency or a degree to show up on your vita? Do you need to get the official “blessing” of a degree to get a job?  Are you prepared to complete a secular based psychology degree and confident that your value system will remain intact? If not, you could undertake some graduate training in theology first and then complete your doctoral training elsewhere.

What is the likelihood you can pay off your school debt quickly?

Will you be able to secure a job that pays well enough to pay off your debt, pay your living expenses and/or purchase a house at the same time? Are you wanting to be a missionary psychologist with a 200K debt? Do you know what the going salary is for individuals working in the field you want to enter? You should check out www.apa.org for some very helpful data (search their site for “salary” and check out the information) such as this link or this one on the current debt load and salaries of the field.  Some psychology grads have been able to land jobs that enable them to pay off federal loans in an abbreviated fashion in return for their years of service in an underserved population.

One way that students reduce their debt is by (a) marrying someone rich (just kidding…though I was married to someone able to command a great salary), (b) working full-time while going to school full-time, (c) reducing expenses by living in a communal setting, or (d) getting work study for tuition reduction. Options A and D may be limited. Option B is possible but may drive you insane as you do it.

Finally, do you have family/friends who want to give to your educational needs?

I know of a student who held a dinner for important friends/family/church members in the church basement. After the meal, he made a presentation to all about his educational dreams and desire for training. He asked them to give…and they did. I imagine there might be some creative ways for people to give and get a tax credit for it. If what you want to do is important and will fill a void…someone might be willing to help fund you. Friends? Family? Church? Employer?

I was blessed by being able to get through a 5 year (4 years of coursework and 1 year postdoc year) program with no debt at all. We lived very frugally. My wife had a great job. We received some inheritance. I worked a couple of different part-time jobs. Somehow, we survived for a year of postdoc life with a newborn (adopted even! Thank goodness for adoption tax credits) on about 11,000 dollars of salary. The Lord provided. The degree was absolutely essential for what I wanted to do.

If you are thinking about this kind of major decision. Pray. Ask for those you trust to offer their advice and to pray with you for an open door.

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