It’s time for the next installment of Dear me, future psychologist, a gradPSYCH Blog exclusive in which a prominent psychologist writes a letter to his/her 16-year-old self. We hope you enjoy these letters and glean some invaluable wisdom and guidance as you decide whether to enter graduate school in psychology, as you navigate the challenges of graduate school, and as you make decisions about your career and life.
This letter is from John C. Norcross, PhD, ABPP, an internationally recognized authority on clinical psychology and psychotherapy. Dr. Norcross is Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the University of Scranton, Clinical Professor at The Commonwealth Medical College, and a board-certified clinical psychologist. He has published more than 400 scholarly publications and 20 books, including the 5-volume APA Handbook of Clinical Psychology, Psychotherapy Relationships that Work, Insider’s Guide to Graduate Programs in Clinical & Counseling Psychology, and Systems of Psychotherapy: A Transtheoretical Analysis, now in its 8th edition. He served as president of several APA divisions and international organizations, receiving multiple professional awards, such as APA’s Distinguished Career Contributions to Education & Training Award, Pennsylvania Professor of the Year from the Carnegie Foundation, and election to the National Academies of Practice. For more info, please visit Dr. Norcross’s website.
FROM THE DESK OF JOHN C. NORCROSS:
For starters, don’t be alarmed that you cannot decide among psychology, law, philosophy, and writing as a career. Cast a broad net and chase your numerous passions. You will wind up a clinical psychologist merging all of those interests and mixing teaching, research, and practice. Their diversity and synergy will afford a wonderful career.
Likewise, politely ignore your teachers who insist that you must pursue a single research program. How boring and trite! Embrace and follow several research interests. Specialize in a psychology subfield, to be sure, but don’t stifle yourself with a solitary area of scholarship. You’ll love the intellectual vibrancy and interpersonal collaboration of pursuing multiple areas, as long as you publish regularly.
Think integration. It’s the inevitable path of any mature science and profession. Integrate psychotherapy schools, integrate self-change with professional treatment, integrate disparate research methods. It may sound novel and challenging now, but integration proves the inexorable future.
Here’s a surprise: You will enjoy working in and advocating for professional organizations. Go figure, as you were never much of a joiner. But you contribute to important professional projects and lobby fellow psychologists and – believe it or not – politicians. You advocate for mental health and social justice, so prepare accordingly and keep your idealism intact.
Several of your mentors will astutely advise you that a mid-sized, primarily undergraduate institution offers you the perfect employment setting. Listen to them, not to those who insist that the “better” psychologists work at large, research-intensive universities. Different strokes for different folks.
Finally, two quick suggestions. First, Jackson Browne will not rule the music scene forever, so broaden your musical (and reading) tastes. Second, your nickname of “Ace” sounds witty at age 16 around the competitive tennis courts, but you will want to lose it before you hit college. Just saying…
Best future wishes,
Editor’s Note: Dear Me, Future Psychologist is inspired by the Dear Me book series by Joseph Galliano. Special thanks to David A. Meyerson, Ph.D. for creating this series for the gradPSYCH Blog. Please check out other letters in this series: