Updated: Sep 1, 2021
Written by Kiley Zheng
On August 21, we were very honored to have had Dr. Ashley Major, a clinical psychologist who helps children and parents seeking support for their mental health and well-being, speak for this month’s virtual event on psychology. Dr. Major shared a motivational story about her personal journey, as well as clinical psychology as a career, what it’s like to work as a clinical psychologist, and how to become a clinical psychologist.
Dr. Major is a clinical psychologist who received her registration in Ontario and currently works in private practice in The Clinic on Dupont in Toronto. She specializes in working with children and adolescents as it was always her passion to work with youth. She completed her bachelor degree in Western Ontario, followed by a master and doctorate degree in the University of Toronto.
Dr. Major conducts assessment and treatment (including therapy) for youth who present challenges related anywhere from anxiety, OCD, Autism Spectrum Disorder, depression, emotion regulation, to academics and social skills.
Dr. Major continued, and shared the most common path of necessary education in Canada to become a clinical psychologist. She explained in detail the difference between a PsyD and PhD, which was very helpful for our audience interested in pursuing psychology in school. Dr. Major also provided insightful advice and lessons she learned during her path to a clinical psychologist.
Are you thinking of choosing psychology as your career path? Dr. Major lastly shared some example traits you should consider have when choosing this path; She personally wrote: your desire to help others, your interest in health and well-being, your interest in research and statistics, your interpersonal, communication (oral and written), and critical thinking skills, and your motivation to be in school (for a while...).
To wrap things up, we held a live Q&A session with Dr. Major and the audience were able to ask her any questions they had regarding psychology.
Q&A dialog written by Vivian Song
Q: “What made you interested in a career in psychology?”
A: “I would say that I was always someone who was very interested in working with children. From as young as I can remember, I was babysitting and every job I ever had, I think I was a camp counsellor for a little bit which involved working with children. So I knew that, that was something that I absolutely wanted to do but I wasn’t sure exactly what sort of profession in children I wanted to work with. So I would say that I… it wasn’t until my third year undergrad that I decided I wanted to be a clinical psychologist so a lot of people really worry about sort of knowing what they want to do right before they get into undergraduate. I know there’s a lot of pressure on youth and students to sort of make up your mind about your career choice. Ultimately I didn’t decide until I was in my third year, so that did mean spending another year in undergrad but I was happy to do that knowing that I was sort of on the right path. So I knew I wanted to work with kids, I knew that I wanted to do something that involved helping other people. I had worked for a while with children with autism and I worked under this revision of a clinical psychologist and I was very fascinated in what she did. I thought it was really fascinating that you can, you know, really help parents and kids in a really sort of meaningful way and so I did, you knowing, doing the assessment work and really trying to figure people out and figure things out for people I think was something that was really of interest to me so that’s what got me into the career.”
Q: “Do you have any tips for future psychology students?”
A: “Yeah so I’d say a lot of my tips involve thinking, I would say really thinking about, you know, what you want to do and why you want to do it and your reasons for becoming a clinical psychologist. It is a really long road and if people are really interested in just therapy for example and they only see themselves doing just therapy then there are many ways to get there without necessarily having to go through doing a PhD. So, like school, it’s expensive, it can take a while to get through. There are other routes, so with people who are just interested in, for example, just doing therapy, then you might stop at the Master’s level and think about doing social work or you can become a counsellor. So there’s other ways to do, sort of therapy work. A lot of people are interested in doing therapy and feel like the way to get there is through clinical psychology but there’s other routes. So really thinking about, kind of, the investments that’s required.
And, I’d say, if you are interested in clinical psychology specifically, then some of the tips I have, a lot of them are kind of on that slide where I talked a little bit about getting some research experience when you’re in your undergraduate degree. So, really connecting with professors , I would say, that’s a really big piece of advice when you’re looking at getting into graduate school. The graduate schools for clinical psychology can be competitive. The more you get to know your professors in undergrad, the more they’ll be able to give you, sort of, good reference letters, the more involved you are in their labs, the better. That’s a big tip that I have.
The other thing is, you know, if you can get some clinical experiences as well, that’s also really helpful. So, you know, being able to work with the psychologist, even if you’re just organizing their files or answering their phones. Those kinds of things can go a long way when you’re applying for graduate school because you can speak to, observing the day to day tasks of the clinical psychologist, so those would be some recommendations that I have.”
Q: “Is being a therapist different or the same as being a psychologist?”
A: “Yeah so, ‘therapist,’ think of that as a broad term, so the word therapist is applied to people with many different credentials. So you can be a psychologist who does therapy, so sometimes you are referred to as a therapist. You can be a registered psychotherapist, so that’s a totally different field but still gets you to therapy and be called a therapist. You can be a social worker and be called a therapist. So ‘therapist’ is the umbrella team and then there are, sort of, different professions, underneath that, that do therapy and therefore those individuals can also be referred to as therapists. So yeah, psychologists can be referred to as therapists, but they are different in terms of, ‘therapist is a broader term and psychology is a specific type of therapist.’”
Q: “Can you give the future psychology students a heads up of what they will go through (unmentioned obstacles)?”
A: “I think that some of the biggest obstacles are, I would say, the training can be very vigorous. A lot of the time when you’re doing therapy, you’re being observed or supervised by a higher-level psychologist and that can certainly be really tricky and really tough. I would say the research component can also be pretty tricky and graduate school can be pretty rigorous. They have, I would say, pretty high standards for a clinical psychologist. And I would say that the self care part is also really important, I think sometimes, part of me sort of wishes I had thought a little bit more of what that would’ve been like for me, so, when I say self care, I mean a huge part of our job is caring for other people and supporting other people that are really suffering or really struggling with their mental health and the important part about caring for yourself is really critical when you become a psychologist. So, really being able to set good boundaries and being able to care for yourself is, I would say, one of kind of the unexpected things that came up. I think most people who get into helping other people feel like, you know, okay, this is something I can do, but when you’re seeing case after case of people who are really struggling, you know, it can take a toll on us. We’re humans too so I would say that’s something to definitely prepare for. So the research part as well as just the self care is important to think about.”
Q: “How was your work-life balance right now as a clinical psychologist?” (53:11)
A: “As a clinical psychologist who works in private practice, my work-life balance is kind of up to me which is one of the advantages of working in a private practice. So because I am not overseen by any organization, I essentially set my own schedule and I can allow myself to have as many breaks as I need, or to see as many people as I feel comfortable seeing or feel like I’m capable of seeing a day. So as a result of that, right now I’ve decided to just work part-time so that’s a personal thing, sort of where I’m at right now. When you work for a hospital or a mental health organization, it’s a little different because, obviously there’s requirements from the organization in terms of how many hours you might need to work or how many patients you might need to see. So those are the advantages of working in private practice as a psychologist.
The disadvantages of working in a private practice are that you do not get the team, like the multidisciplinary team that you might get if you were working in community mental health. So that means, oftentimes, you’re kind of working on your own and you can go in and come out of the office and not see anybody in that day. The other disadvantage is often you don’t have things like benefits and because you’re sort of paid, it’s kind of like a contra, you’re self-employed essentially.
So, you know, if you’re working in an organization, work-life balance is really important but it’s probably a little more dictated from the organization itself, right, so, that’s something to think about as well as you kind of think about if you want to be a psychology, like, what kind of setting do you see yourself working in. Do you want the fast-paced setting that a hospital provides? Do you want something a little bit slower and more in your control and private practice is sort of the place for that. Or do you want something where you’re working in a school setting and you can get a little more of that work-life balance in that environment.”
Q: “As a clinical psychologist who also provides therapy for children, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the challenges they face because of your drive to empathize with others?”
A: “Yeah, this kind of goes with, I guess our conversation on work-life balance and self care. I think one of things that are important to consider when you’re thinking about a career in clinical psychology is that you’re in a position where children and teenagers or adults who you decide to work with are discussing with you, some of the most challenging aspects of their lives, some of the most challenging things they’ve had to deal with and the weight of that can be pretty heavy like for a psychologist. And when you’re seeing, you know person after person who might be struggling or suffering with a mental health issue it can be really hard so one of the parts of, sort of, training that we get is actually how to use, what we call, ‘boundaries’ so that’s sort of being able to say no or being able to recognize when you’ve reached your limit. There’s a lot of self assessment and self reflection that we’re trained to do as psychologists so that we know when we’re reaching our limits. Naturally, people who go into psychology naturally are more empathetic, they tend to sort of feel what other people feel and want to make changes in other people’s lives and that can add, certainly, a level of emotion and a level of difficulty to the job. But as I said, as part of becoming a psychologist you do get some training in self care and setting boundaries so that you’re prepared to deal with those things as they happen for sure. And I would be lying if I said there were times where I was never overwhelmed. There’s definitely times where I’m overwhelmed. There’s definitely times where I finish a session and I’m quite emotional myself but I know kind of how, I know when I’ve reached my limit and I know how to ensure that that’s never affecting my ability to do my job and that’s something that you kind of learn in graduate school in your training as a psychologist.”
Q: “What is your favourite part about your job in psychology as a career?”
A: “I would say that meeting different kids in different families is definitely what I love most about the job. You know, in a year I might see, like, so many different people and I love hearing their stories. I love learning about their life experiences. I love understanding how people work, like, what is it that makes them feel a certain way or act a certain way or think a certain way, how does that all relate? And I love that I can, you know, everyday, do a job that I feel like is giving back to people in some way by helping them. Therapy for some people works so beautifully, for other people it’s a little bit harder, right, it’s a little bit harder work. That’s also part of the job and you know, when you become a psychologist, you learn that it’s part of the process and it’s also part of the challenge of what we do but it’s also really interesting because it’s a point in which you might pause your work and say, what is it that’s working, what am I doing well, what am I not doing well. There’s a lot of self reflection in the job, all in service of being able to kind of support people with their mental health and their well-being. I would say one of the things I really love to do is work with parents because I feel like if I can support parents, then I can support children better because they don’t really know how to deal with different emotions or behaviours, and you know, right from the beginning when kids come into the world, their parents are equipped with the skills that they need in order to support their child’s emotional development so that’s something that I find particularly rewarding and that I’m passionate about.”