Career Shift from K-12 Education to Serving Clients with Severe Mental Illness



Kristie is a Walden MS Psychology and PhD in Psychology – Clinical Psychology alumna who started her professional career as a science teacher in the public schools.   How did her journey lead to a post-doctoral psychologist position at a county mental health clinic?  As a K-12 educator, Kristie taught many students, including developmentally and emotionally challenged children in special education.  She cultivated a passion for helping children with Asperger’s, Turner Syndrome, and other developmental disorders learn and thrive in the classroom.  This experience prompted her to enroll in the MS Psychology program at Walden and take steps to transition into a clinical psychology career.

Kristie’s MS Psychology degree provided her the fundamental knowledge of psychological theory which led to the PhD in Psychology- Clinical Psychology program.  To meet her field experience requirements, Kristie sought a practicum at a medical treatment center where she worked under supervision with clients in treatment for opiate dependence.  Kristie shared that she was nervous about working with this challenging population at first; however, after gaining confidence in her abilities and skills in assessment, motivational interviewing, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, she found the experience to be tremendously rewarding. Seeing clients with addiction heal and overcome personal challenges inspired Kristie to remain at the treatment center after her practicum ended.  She later advanced into a Supervising Counselor role and completed her doctoral internship at the same facility.

In 2016, Kristie earned her PhD in Psychology and advanced into a post-doctoral position at a county hospital where she is serving outpatient clients with severe mental illness including schizophrenia, bi-polar disorder, and clinical depression.  Through her academic journey and career progression, she built knowledge and skills in risk assessment, crisis management, and therapeutic interventions to effectively treat a wide range of clients in multiple settings.  Her next step is to complete licensing requirements in the State of California and advance her career as a clinical psychologist.

What advice did Kristie offer Walden students who are considering social services careers?  She commented, “Do your research on what you’re going for.  Your career and education are not something you want to take lightly.”  Kristie suggested targeting entry-level positions such as “case manager” to gain experience working with children and adults in a variety of settings including housing programs, life skills training programs, and treatment centers.  She also recommended getting involved in a state psychological association and the American Psychological Association to meet psychologists, therapists, counselors, and other social services professionals; and attend professional development events.  Finally, she emphasized taking advantage of what Walden has to offer, including working with the Career Services department to learn how to market your professional skills and set attainable career goals.

We wish Kristie success as she continues to impact clients and improve county systems through her clinical expertise and commitment to mentally ill clients.

Interested in making a career transition into Psychology or a related field?

 Written by Dina Bergren, Associate Director of Career Services