The Mission Society is hosting a virtual Career Fair this October to highlight the variety of opportunities available to students after high school and college graduation - connecting young people with professionals and sharing their invaluable advice for the future. In this article, two clinical psychologists tell us what drew them to this important profession and share advice for those looking to enter the field.
Neela Karikehalli was set on helping people for a living. At first, medicine seemed like a natural career choice. She entered college as a nursing major, but struggled with the science coursework and began looking for a change. After falling in love with her psychology classes, she realized there were other ways she could help people which harnessed her own strengths.
“I felt passionate about decreasing the stigma around mental health, and emphasizing how it is just as important as physical health.”
Neela, now a clinical psychologist, is one of many professionals who turned their desire to help people understand themselves – as well as a curiosity for the human mind – into their life’s work.
Julia Brillante also started her career in clinical psychology hoping to create change. She wanted to open the door to important conversations that she felt were missing when she was growing up, provide practical tools and skills around supporting the mental health of young people, and be a guide for families approaching these often difficult topics.
In order to best support their clients, Neela and Julia emphasized that they needed to learn and develop their own toolbox of skills. They both completed five-year doctorate programs in psychology, during which they learned about how to provide different types of therapy practices and gained practical experience working with kids and teens. Other graduate programs may be completed in 2-3 years – it all depends on what kind of training and practice you are interested in, Julia said.
And while there’s a lot you can learn about psychology in textbooks or in a clinical setting, there are other soft skills that you need that are crucial to succeed in this role. Chief among them are “flexibility, the ability to sit and listen, the ability to validate and to empathize, and a big, endless appetite for emotions,” according to Neela. One of her favorite parts of the job is connecting with the teens, feeling like she understands them, and in turn, helping them understand themselves.
Those looking to enter the field should make sure they get research and real world experience under their belt in college. “This will give you an edge when you apply to graduate school,” Neela said. Such experiences include volunteering at a local preschool or elementary school, working at a suicide prevention hotline, and talking to current psychology graduate students to get a feel for the programs.
The work can be very difficult at times. Neela warned that having a large caseload and not a lot of time in the day can result in burnout. This is why it’s incredibly important for therapists to take care of themselves, so they can best show up for their clients. Simply zoning out after work with a TV show, baking, or spending time with her puppy, Mango, helps Neela reset after a particularly tough day.
However, the payoff of seeing a client making positive strides, finding connection, and the satisfaction of helping someone – even if it’s just one person – outshines the bad days, Julia said.
“Sometimes we might feel dragged down by the system or things we can't change, but we can still make a difference. Even if it's one person you're helping at a time or you make a difference in a small way – that does matter.”
Thank you to Neela Karikehalli and Julia Brillante for taking the time to speak with us for the Mission Society Career Fair! To join us for more job highlights, advice, and interviews throughout the month, check out our blog or follow us on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook.