The Flexibility of a Degree in Psychology
One of the great things about pursuing a degree in psychology is that once you graduate with your degree(s) there are a plethora of fields and professions from which you can choose to specialize. While many academic disciplines limit the graduate to participation in closely related fields, a psychology degree can be utilized for a seemingly infinite number of career options.
A common misconception of a career in psychology is the notion that the resulting day-to-day job consists of seeing clients and employing traditional therapeutic techniques. The reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Two of our profiled experts are living proof that a student can pursue clinical or research specialties in the field of psychology and yet transform the resulting career into one that suits their individual interests and passions.
Dr. Ben G. Adams grew up in St. George, Utah; the son of the small town’s only practicing psychologist. While the spectrum and intensity of his father’s solo practice impressed upon him the transformative aspects of the profession; he wasn’t immediately drawn to the field. Although he was fascinated by psychology and how it helped people, he was significantly drawn to the arts.
Growing up, Adams had been highly influenced by his Mormon roots and the artistic expression therein. Due to the powerful work ethic in which he was steeped, however, Adams did not perceive art as a viable career option which he could explore. Over time though, Adams discovered that he could take his passion for artistic methodology and marry it to the more scientific principles of psychology. It wasn’t long before Adams was officially a student of psychology.
After he earned his PhD in clinical psychology at Columbia University, Adams stayed on at the university for three years as a post-doc in the Psychiatric Epidemiolology Training (PET) Program. “I’ve never been so spoiled in my life,” says Ben about his time in the PET program. “I got to do tons of reading and learning and writing. They really gave me the time and space to figure out my own niche.”
During this time period, Adams conducted his first major study; a body of work characterizing the nature and scope of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder in Viet Nam veterans. Together with Bruce Dohrenwend, PhD, their groundbreaking research revealed that 18.7 percent of Viet Nam veterans had developed war-related PTSD and that over a decade later, 9.1 percent were still acutely affected.
Interestingly enough, Adams found that, for him, the study of PTSD was in fact an artistic endeavor.
I love studying PTSD as a person interested in art. I believe it’s the most interesting thing in psychology. It’s the one disorder that is based around a story and a cause; there are symptoms related to trauma. In my heart of hearts most studies don’t interest me as much as art, except PTSD. Dohrenwend was writing on his own trauma, which gave me the idea to weave together some of my more artistic theories as applied to PTSD.
Adams is a perfect example of how a student's passion can be a driving force in their career and be significantly present in their life’s work. He lives in New York City, New York, and is the author of The Creative Process Diet a revolutionary book which blends art theory, concepts of mastery, spirituality and the possibilities inherent in one’s relationship to food.
Another expert, Lisa Bahar MA, CCJP, LMFT, LPCC, also has a unique approach to her practice due to her life’s beginnings. Her father came from Persia (Iran) to study Architecture at Cal Poly San Louis Obispo and was a licensed architect; he valued education and was very adamant regarding her getting an education. Bahar’s mother worked in the school system for most of her career; both parents were respectful of education and considered it essential to being in the world. They were, however, open to Bahar exploring other ways of making a living; specifically by being an actress.
In her words;
I had initially been in the cinema television field and wanted to be a film producer and actress. With that experience, I was introduced to the opportunity of understanding ‘people’ and ‘characters’ which are people in a fictional sense. My curiosity of how people act and behave and relate the way they do has always intrigued me. When my film career did not take the turns I would have preferred, I decided it may be time to reconsider my career work and began to do my own self-evaluation and through that process became more and more intrigued with psychology and the opportunities to actually be in the profession as a career choice.
Bahar attended the University of Southern California and studied Cinema Television production and received a Bachelor’s Degree. She then worked with independent producers right out of college and was in development and story editing for most of her career. She worked primarily with writers, development executives and producers to pitch thought provoking and healing stories for the field of cinema. At this point, Bahar began to consider entering the field of psychology.
After some setbacks and a broken heart in my career, my desire to enter a new field led me to psychology; I followed my intuitive sense and applied to master’s programs, and was accepted by Pepperdine University where I received my Master’s Degree in Clinical Psychology with an emphasis in marriage and family therapy. I then did my clinical internships, studied for licensure and am now a licensed marriage and family therapist and a licensed professional clinic counselor as well as a certified drug and alcohol counselor.
Due to her passionate beginnings as an actress, today Bahar can offer her clients one of the newest forms of therapy available--Cinema Therapy; a therapy which utilizes the evocative medium of film to explore and examine feelings and emotions. She sees clients at 2 California offices; one in Laguna Niguel at Southern California Psychiatric Associates and also Newport Beach.
One of the greatest aspects of the psychology degree is also one of its most significant challenges. While it seems that a pre-disposition or affinity for a niche will come either by nature or nurture; the ultimate responsibility for establishing that niche will be in the hands of the individual practitioner.