An Interview with Steven Cohen

“If you like working with people and dealing with various types of psychiatric issues, this may be a good field for you. Those who succeed in this profession are those who enjoy figuring out puzzles and testing solutions, and who can look at a problem from more than 1 perspective.”

Steven Cohen is a clinical psychologist who owns a small group practice in Fort Myers, Florida. Although he works primarily with children, he sees patients of all ages.

Dr. Cohen earned his Doctorate of Psychology and Master of Science in Psychology from the Georgia School of Professional Psychology in Atlanta, Georgia. He also holds a Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Vermont.

In your own words, what is a clinical psychologist?

A clinical psychologist is a health professional who works directly with individuals who have various psychological and psychiatric disorders. He or she chooses a tested treatment approach in hopes of helping patients ease or overcome their problems. Clinical psychologists may see a variety of patients or work with a specific group, such as couples, adults and children.

Clinical psychology is outcome-based, using traditional methods of therapy. The psychologist chooses how to apply a specific approach to the patient. I tend to use a cognitive behavorial approach, which means I help patients identify and understand their thoughts and perceptions, and teach them techniques to change their negative thoughts or behaviors. Since I work primarily with children, I commonly see patients with behavorial or social problems, or developmental issues such as autism.

If a student said to you, “I am interested in becoming a clinical psychologist,” what would your response be?

I would tell the student that clinical psychology is a rewarding profession. If you like working with people and dealing with various types of psychiatric issues, this may be a good field for you. Those who succeed in this profession are those who enjoy figuring out puzzles and testing solutions, and who can look at a problem from more than 1 perspective.

I would also tell the student that the process of becoming a clinical psychologist is long and involves a lot of work. Students must complete graduate school and a residency, and they must fulfill the requirements for licensing, all of which can take many years.

What level of education is necessary to become a clinical psychologist?

You must obtain a PhD or a PsyD, or doctor of psychology, degree to become a clinical psychologist. This involves 4 years of school, after which you will need to complete an internship or residency. After you complete the residency, you may also need to do a year of supervised experience to become fully licensed, depending on the requirements in your state.

Are there any licensing or certification requirements to become a clinical psychologist?

Yes, after you receive your doctorate and complete your residency, you will need to do post-doctoral work, which is a year of supervised experience. This can vary by state. After you complete your clinical experience, you will be fully licensed.

Depending on what state you practice in, you may need to fulfill certain requirements to renew your license, which usually happens every 2 years. This may require that you take additional classes on specific topics or complete additional training. These requirements also vary by state.

There are other advanced certifications you can earn if you are pursuing a specialty in clinical psychology. You can usually earn these by gaining a certain amount of experience and taking tests provided by the state board of psychology.

Why did you decide to become a clinical psychologist ?

I decided to become a clinical psychologist because I enjoy problem-solving. I like looking for patterns in behavior. Because each individual is unique, psychologists are challenged to constantly approach situations differently, which attracts me.

What do you enjoy most about being a clinical psychologist?

What I most enjoy about being a clinical psychologist is the fact that every day is different. The opportunity to work with a variety of individuals, and help them to overcome obstacles, is rewarding.

I also enjoy the benefits of working in a group clinic. I have a support staff who takes care of issues like billing and scheduling so that I can focus on my patients. And if I have a case that is difficult or is not within my specialty, I am able to consult with the other psychologists, and they can come to me as well.

What is a typical day like for you?

The majority of my day involves seeing patients. On a daily basis, I will see 8 patients. Each session lasts for approximately 50 minutes. After sessions are over, I finish my notes on each patient. I also administer psychological evaluations and provide written reports.

In addition, I take care of the business aspects of running the pratice. My support staff manages my scheduling and billing, but since I do run the business, I handle certain duties such as managing finances and networking.

Occasionally, I will also meet with the other psychologists who work at the practice. We all have different specialties, so we sit down with each other and share updates in our fields.

How do you balance your work and your personal life?

I balance my work and personal life by making a point to separate the 2. It can be easy to burn out if you are constantly thinking about the patients. When I leave the office, I leave my work there. This helps me to manage stress.

What personality traits do you think would help someone succeed as a clinical psychologist and what traits would hinder success?

To succeed as a clinical psychologist, you must be determined, confident and enjoy solving problems.

Helping people with psychological issues requires determination, because things will not often go how you expect. There is often more than 1 way to approach a problem. If you enjoy solving puzzles, you may be successful as a clinical psychologist.

You must also be confident, because you will need to be able to connect well with the patient. When people ask for help, they tend to respond more to someone who is outgoing. You will also need that same confidence to market yourself so that your name gets out there.

If you possess the opposite traits, you may not be successful as a clinical psychologist. For example, if you are naturally shy and reserved, you will have more trouble getting patients to open up and discuss their problems with you, and they will be less likely to come back for more sessions. And if you are not very patient or understanding, that will also hinder your ability to connect with them.

Are there any extra-curricular experiences that you think a student interested in becoming a clinical psychologist should pursue?

I recommend that students seize the opportunities available to them while they are in school, particularly practicums, which are supervised courses similar to internships. Pick practicums that will give you the fullest range of experience. You will want to narrow your scope down the road, but as a student, you will have plenty of time to explore the different specialties and take advantage of opportunities. Having this experience will also make you more marketable when you finish school and begin practicing.

What classes did you take during your schooling that you have found to be the most and least valuable for the work you do today?

The classes I took during school which have been most helpful are the courses about the various psychological disorders and their treatment approaches. The classes that will be most valuable to a student will depend on their chosen specialty. After completing the core requirements, students will have more options. What interests a student the most and what fits with their specialty will be most beneficial direction to take, so students should do their research before picking courses.

A significant part of your education will come from residency and post-doctoral work. These are important because you will learn the business aspects of clincal psychology, including how to get certified, the laws of confidentiality and proper documentation.

What words of advice or caution would you share with a student who is interested in becoming a clinical psychologist?

I would advise a student who is interested in this field to find an excellent academic advisor and listen carefully to him or her. This was very helpful to me, particularly in graduate school. Advisors can guide you to the right decisions, such as what specialty to pursue, how to research it, and the requirements for graduate school.

Once you have completed school, find a good post-doctoral program to earn your supervised hours. This will make it much easier to get licensed and find a job.

When you are looking for work, I recommend looking at what types of psychologists are in the area and what types are needed. You will be more marketable if you choose an area where your specialty is in demand.

In general, I would also advise you to attend conferences , particularly about fields or specialties that interest you. Doing this will make you more knowledgable and give you opportunities to network.

I would warn students, however, that you will not be paid very much when you are in your residency and post-doctoral programs. You will also work long hours. This can be an issue for students who have financial difficulties or time constraints.