Minding Your Way Through Psychology

Jacie Tan picks Dr Joel Low’s brains on what exactly a clinical psychologist does and how to become one.
Jacie Tan
Writer at GTI Media Sdn Bhd

Dr Joel is both a clinical psychologist and clinical director at The Mind and cites the time he spends actively helping his clients and making a change as the best part of his job. 

If you’re thinking of becoming a clinical psychologist, there’s a lot to consider beforehand. I enlist the help of Dr Joel Low, Director and Clinical Psychologist at The Mind, to answer some queries common amongst prospective psychology students. Dr Joel tackles each question with an approachable, easy manner and a genuine willingness to help that makes it clear why his clients would find it easy to open up to him about their problems.

Tell us about what you do

As a clinical psychologist, I see individuals across the board, specialising in the use of cognitive behavioural therapy. This is the part of my job that I love the most - it’s not work to me because helping clients is something I really enjoy doing. Everyone that comes in here has got their own stories; it’s fantastic when you see the connections between their problems and what’s going on.

As Clinical Director here at The Mind, I also handle the day-to-day running of the company, dealing with the case load, client list and practice hours. 

How did you decide you wanted to be a clinical psychologist?

When I was 14, I went through an emo phase until my friends dragged me into a room and gave me a good talking-to. It helped me to see that I could change certain things about my behaviour and I did, but I also realised that while I was lucky enough to have friends who cared, not everyone was as fortunate as I. That was what got me started on the journey of being a psychologist. Since then I never wanted to do anything else, and here I am today. 

About the profession

What is the difference between a counsellor, psychologist and psychiatrist? 

  • Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialise in psychology. They dispense medication to their patients and rarely deal with talk therapy.

  • Psychologists use talk therapy to work with clients with clinical disorders like depression, anxiety, etc. 

  • Counsellors use talk therapy to work with clients with day-to-day problems such as work stress, family issues, etc. 

Take us through the pathway to becoming a clinical psychologist

I think a huge misconception is that once you have a psychology degree, you’re ready to become a psychologist. That’s incorrect. In order to practise, you’ll need your Master’s degree; without it, there’s not much you can do in terms of clinical practice. 

Another misconception is that because a Master’s is necessary to become a clinical psychologist, it must be easily accessible. It’s not very easy to get into a Master’s programme; spaces are quite limited and of course the nature and duration of a postgraduate degree can be a deterrent to some.

What other career options do you have with a psychology degree?

Besides being a clinical psychologist, you can also aim to become an industrial, social, neuropsychological or criminal psychologist, although these are much less common lines of work in Malaysia.

Many psychology graduates who don’t pursue their Master’s end up working in human resources or marketing. The statistical, analytical and behavioural training you get from a psychology degree transfers well to these two fields. 

What traits do you think make a good clinical psychologist? 

  • Empathy. This is absolutely key to have or chances are you’re in the wrong profession. You need to be naturally able to put yourself in someone else’s shoes to understand what they’re going through.

  • Passion. Clinical psychology isn’t a very forgiving profession. At the end of the day, if you’re only in it for the money and prestige, you can burn out very quickly.

  • Resilience. Your job is to listen to the hardships people go through, so if you’re not resilient and take on too much of your clients tell you it can get quite burdensome.

  • Independence. Being a clinical psychologist in Malaysia can be quite lonely, especially outside the city. If you want to go back to your hometown to practise, you won’t have much peer support to draw on.