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To the College Student Being Told Your Psychology Major Is a Waste

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When Jeb Bush put down psychology majors while arguing that college students should be taking their career paths more seriously, he upset a lot of people — you know, like, psychology majors.

Universities ought to have skin in the game,” the Republican presidential candidate said, according to the Washington Examiner. “When a student shows up, they ought to say ‘Hey, that psych major deal, that philosophy major thing, that’s great, it’s important to have liberal arts … but realize, you’re going to be working a Chick-fil-A.’”

He went on:

The number one degree program for students in this country…is psychology. I don’t think we should dictate majors. But I just don’t think people are getting jobs as psych majors. We have huge shortages of electricians, welders, plumbers, information technologists, teachers.”

He’s right about one thing. There are a lot of psychology majors.

But his argument goes astray not only when he claims psychology majors aren’t getting jobs (see: #ThisPsychMajor), but when he assumes that unlike electricians, welders and teachers, there are plenty of psychology professionals to spare — so many, that they’re left wrapping up chicken sandwiches with their diplomas and using Freudian theories to analyze their friends’ dreams.

In fact, the opposite it true.

According to an assessment by the Health Resources and Services Administration, 96.5 million Americans were living in areas with shortages of mental-health providers as of September 2014. Even our own Department of Veterans Affairs doesn’t have enough full-time psychiatrists. In 2013 when the VA vowed to add 1,600 additional mental health care professionals, experts said, “the pool of qualified candidates is too small,” and “the federal effort could jeopardize already-understaffed community health organizations,” according to Kaiser Health News.

So when it comes to employment, the issue doesn’t seem to be that too many psychology majors exist; it’s that we need more people to take their psychology degrees and then enter the mental health field.

Bush’s snub against psychology majors isn’t completely original. Where I went to college, psychology was sometimes viewed as a “cop-out” major — a topic you studied when you didn’t know what else to study. After all, a lot of people are interested in psychology. (Guilty as charged. I chose a psychology minor because it seemed interesting.)

But what if the track to become a psychologist or psychiatrist was taken just as seriously as pre-med or pre-law? What if a presidential candidate, politician, educator or anyone else with influence said, “Hey psychology majors! There’s a population of people who need your help! Keep at this! What you’re doing is important and impressive!” What if students realized their interest could fill an important void in our mental health system?

As cognitive behavioral therapist Dr. Ali Mattu said in a video response to Bush’s comments: “I agree we’ve got a problem in higher education. Academia does a poor job of informed consent. Colleges have to make sure students know how much education they need to get the career they want. Not every psychology major gets informed consent.”

People interested in psychology shouldn’t be discouraged from following their interests, but instead pushed to turn their interests into careers that could help a seriously underserved population.

So to psychology majors passionately working hard at what others may blow off as an “interest,” I want to say: Thank you.

Thank you to the school counselor who let me and my friends skip class and talk after a parent in our friend group died by suicide.

Thank you to the therapist who was there for me when I needed extra support in college.

Thank you to those who work at psychiatric hospitals, who gave my brother and others like him a safe space to go when life became too hard to bear.

If you’re a psychology major, wear your degree proudly. Know that we need you. Know that you have a lot of potential to make a difference.

Originally published: October 29, 2015
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