Post-Pomona: Careers in Psychology

This week in our series on life and careers after Pomona, we have the stories of alumni who pursued careers in psychology. These accounts and advice should prove helpful for current students who aspire to a career in mental health.

James Clark PO ’72 remembers wanting to be just like one of his professors when he was at Pomona.

“Roger Vogler, Ph.D., was a Professor of Psychology when I was at Pomona and, having no other direction in life, I figured I’d try to be just like him,” said James Clark PO ’72. Nearing the end of his Pomona career, he hit a small roadblock on the way to his goal: “Even with good grades and good GRE scores, I got rejected from ten different graduate programs.”

However, when his professor made a call, Clark’s situation turned around completely, and he got a free ride to the University of Arizona graduate school.

“After graduate school,” said Clark, “I served as a clinical psychologist in the U.S. Army. This was superb training. It’s most unfortunate that the powers that be at Pomona are so limited in their worldview and so bigoted about service to their country that ROTC is no longer available at Pomona… In my view of the world, serving your country in the military is a good thing to do… Nonetheless, I did my service and received a fabulous professional experience that set the stage for post-military life.”

Clark then went to Rochester, N.Y., began working for Monroe County, ran a “court clinic,” and later started his own private practice. Eventually, he switched to private practice entirely: “I was making more money in private practice (and having a much better time professionally) than I was with the county, and so I went full time in private practice in 2002 and I’ve found it to be personally, professionally, and financially rewarding.”

Clark, however, has some disheartening news for aspiring psychologists: “The market is flooded with psychologists, and there are multiple other professions that claim the same patient group. It is not unusual for young psychologists in this area to leave graduate school with $120,000 in debt, taking jobs paying $42,000 a year at community mental health centers. Unless you have a burning passion to be a psychologist, I would suggest you forget it…. Psychology worked for me because of the time I entered the field (there was a shortage of psychologists back then) and because I was able to establish a private practice when it was much easier to do than it is today.”

Monica Callahan PO ’69 transferred from Smith College as a sophomore: she felt that it was somewhat “isolated from the real world,” whereas Pomona “was a more open-minded kind of school.”

“Things were happening on campus that were related to the world as a whole… I learned a lot about myself, a lot about people, a lot about what mattered to me… There was a lot of excitement and a lot of learning that occurred outside of the classroom…. My world expanded, you might say.”

Callahan ended up majoring in psychology, switching from English, her planned major at Smith.

After college, Callahan served as an AmeriCorps VISTA volunteer for a year. After that, she “realized that I couldn’t really do very much without more education, so I decided to go to graduate school.” She was rejected by four schools, but got off the waiting list at George Peabody College, a program in community mental health. However, after three years she decided to take a two-year break to work in the projects of Nashville at a community health center. She then did a psychodrama internship in Washington, D.C., where she ended up working for seven years, eventually finishing her degree ten years after she began school. Now, Callahan has a private practice in which she does individual psychotherapy, while she is also learning and practicing psychoanalysis.

As for advice to students, “They should talk to people who are already in the field, because things have changed,” said Callahan. “It’s more difficult now to make a living, because of the changes in the health care system in our country, which is quite broken… You really need to consider a lot of options. There are more choices, now, in terms of the kinds of graduate schools you can go to… It’s still a wonderful field. I would highly recommend it… I just don’t think everyone has to be a clinical psychologist to do this kind of work.”

“Well, I started off pre-med,” remembers Mike Malmon-Berg PO ’83. “[But] I just decided there was no way I could cut being a science major…. The more psych classes I took the more interested I got, so by my senior year, I could really envision going into the field as a career.”

Malmon-Berg was rejected by all but one graduate school he applied to. “My grades were good, and my GRE scores were good,” he said, “and I knew the reason I didn’t get into these other places was because I really didn’t have any experience, so I decided to forego grad school…to work and get some experience in the field.” He returned to Minnesota, lived at home, and eventually found several jobs in the field: at an adolescent chemical dependence treatment facility, at the children’s ward of a psych hospital, and at a residential facility for people coming out of long-term hospitalization.

After these eye-opening experiences, Malmon-Berg had a much better idea of his educational aspirations: “I applied to grad school again—this time in a much more focused way. I knew I wanted to go to a program that was practitioner-oriented. I wasn’t interested in going to a big research university, where I would basically be taught how to teach.”

At the California School of Professional Psychology, Malmon-Berg really enjoyed his third-year internship at the Occidental College counseling center. “That was easily my favorite experience,” he said. “It absolutely fit me like a glove: I loved working with college students, I loved being in an environment where I could… go out on campus and do residence hall programs and trainings for the RA’s and stuff like that.”

While working on his dissertation, he was invited back to Occidental to work one day a week. In a stroke of luck, two positions at the counseling center opened up right as he received his doctoral degree, and he ended up working at Occidental for five years. Malmon-Berg has now relocated to College of Wooster in Ohio, and he has a similar position there.

Malmon-Berg advocated taking advantage of many different opportunities in college, including study abroad. He also advised, “I’m very biased toward taking time off between undergrad and grad school. Grad school is such an intense expenditure of time and energy and money; you really need to be sure of what you’re going into, that that’s what you want to do.”

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