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The Career of a Psychologist: Competence

The career of a psychologist unfolds through many phases.  How does the experience, including both the joys and the challenges of being a psychologist, change over time?  Borrowing Jeffrey Kottler’s (2012) depiction of the stages in the career of a psychologist, we asked MSP faculty to offer their perspectives.  Ann Smith, PsyD talks about Stage Four.

Stage Four – Competence: “I seem to know what I’m doing”

I remember as a graduate student being told that I would not feel truly competent until roughly 7 years after earning my doctorate.  At the time that struck me as odd, but it indeed was a wise truth.

There is a lot of information to consider when sitting with other humans and attempting to understand them accurately.  I recall having a distinct awareness, somewhere close to this magical 7 year window, in which I was writing notes from the day and recognized the wide range of narratives I had witnessed; none of which seemed outside of my scope or overwhelming to me.  When a new patient arrived, there was a distinct excitement versus a worry regarding my preparation.

The “training” noise in the back of my mind had quieted and I felt more present with my patients versus performing in a role.  Recognizing that I will always have much to learn, I sat more comfortably in my chair.


Kottler, J.A. (2012). The therapist’s workbook: Self-assessment, self-care, and self-improvement exercises for mental health professionals (second ed., pp. 10-16).  Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons, Inc.