Intro: Would you like to help college students who may be depressed, having trouble in relationships, or who are simply homesick? If so, read on...
The Story: In a typical day at the university counseling service where I work as a clinical psychologist, I see four clients, spend an hour or so supervising a master's level or predoctoral trainee, attend an hour-long university or departmental meeting, prepare or give a lecture to a class, and do at least an hour of office work such as returning phone calls, writing case notes and reading e-mails.
I get at least a hundred e-mails a day, many from listservs on the psychology of women, counseling center training director concerns, and technology for people with disabilities. In addition, I spend at least an hour a day skimming newspapers either online or through the National Federation of the Blind's Newsline and reading professional literature. I find that this 40-hour a week job takes at least 50 to do it well, probably five hours a week more than for an average sighted person.
At the counseling service I work with university students with personal concerns ranging from homesickness to depression, family problems and relationship issues. There are six counselors for 10,000 students. I also work with staff members, whose job roles range from residence hall directors to campus police, academic advisers, and faculty members.
I've had a very satisfying 30-year career as a clinical psychologist, teaching, counseling, supervising and administering. I've worked at four universities, three public and one private. The last step in graduate training for clinical psychologists is a year's internship, and mine was at a mental hospital.
As I completed my internship, I sent out over 130 vitas and cover letters to job sites which advertised in a national psychology magazine. In the cover letter, I mentioned my blindness in terms of acknowledging my limitations (for example, I can't drive a car between job sites). This early disclosure, I believe, was partially responsible for my results—I only received three interviews. However, I got a job offer and got started on a great career.
Subsequent jobs have been much easier to get because I could point to my record at my previous job. However, each employer and each state where I have been licensed as a clinical psychologist has wanted answers to a multitude of questions about how I function as a blind person. I have needed to answer their questions in such a way that they felt comfortable enough to ask what they wanted to know and received enough information to offer me the job or grant me the license.
In my job, I use a talking computer for word processing, Internet surfing and reading e-mail. I also use a scanner attached to the computer to read documents or books that are not available on tape or in braille. I have a manual braille writer on my desk to take notes that I can read and a slate and stylus in my purse to take notes when I am away from my desk. I use a braille watch to time sessions. A student worker reads aloud to me five hours a week, skimming through the pounds of paperwork that pass through my mailbox and marking what I want to read later with my scanner. I also enjoy the services of a dog guide from The Seeing Eye school who leads me from place to place.
The best things about this career have been the opportunities to help people and to work in university surroundings with people who are excited about learning. Being a clinical psychologist requires listening skills that I honed in part thanks to my blindness. Clients often comment that they think I can empathize with their struggles because I've struggled to get where I am. The negatives of this career are that it is overcrowded and takes at least eight years of education beyond high school.
The bits of advice that I would venture to give visually impaired people considering this career are twofold: First, get lots of job experiences, internships, volunteer work, paid employment of any kind, early and often so you can talk realistically about job accommodations. Second, practice a one-paragraph summary of your disability-related needs that you can comfortably and confidently deliver to potential employers.
The Contact: Katherine Schneider, Ph.D.
University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire Counseling Services