“Use a psychology degree to teach overseas.”
My degree opened a lot of doors for me. In many areas of the world where the people are not open to the gospel, they are open to teaching of many life skills that psychology can provide. You probably already know that many countries require you to get a visa in order to enter into their country. A visa is basically an invitation from the country for you to enter, so you must have something they want in order to get the invitation. Many countries do not know that they want/need to hear the gospel. In fact, many just plain outlaw such behavior. I’ve been able to minister in several countries that invited me to teach behavioral medicine. Had not completed my education in psychology, I would have been hindered in my ministry.
Any education you can get that helps you understand people better can only help on the mission field also. Thriving in multicultural settings is much more challenging than many missionaries anticipate, which leads to many missionaries not being able to sustain long-term missions, so a significant percentage of people who anticipated being long-term missionaries end up returning much sooner than they had planned.
I encourage you to get as much education you can in preparing for the mission field and develop skills you could use back home as well. Ultimately, we are responding to a calling God has put in our hearts, so we must listen to and follow his directions. He may have you follow a path that none of us could anticipate. That’s part of the excitement of serving an incredibly gracious and creative God!
Answer from Joel, who served as a full-time missionary to the West Indies for fourteen years. He now travels all over the world once or twice a year ministering and teaching Behavioral Medicine. Joel has a master’s degree in clinical psychology.
“Yes, you are needed.”
We are running a children’s home. This is a huge need for a child counselor or psychologist. These children all come from varied backgrounds, all with bad things that have happened to them. This would not be a short-term mission by all means. Children with these backgrounds would have to know you for a good length of time, and learn to trust you. The language barrier would be huge, but there are plenty of countries that speak English as well.
Answer from Micky, who has served in South Africa for seven years.
“Opportunities to use what you learned may be more abundant than opportunities to use your counseling degree “professionally.””
A degree in psychology (and the skills and principles you learn in pursuing it) may be very helpful, though opportunities to use your degree “professionally” may be limited. Providing effective counseling is quite difficult without a high level of cultural and linguistic fluency. Psychological insights and training may help you develop relationships of compassion and understanding even if they don’t help you get a job.
Many who are interested in psychology and counseling (as well as missions) hope to use those skills to care for and counsel missionaries, and language and cultural barriers may be lower in that kind of ministry. But you should know that missionaries have some specialized needs and, well, prejudices too. They seem to be most responsive to mental-health providers who also have significant cross-cultural experience themselves. So it is unusual for someone to be effective at “missionary care” who has not served overseas themselves. Counseling missionaries, like teaching missionaries or future missionaries, is more often the “second career” of a former missionary rather than a starting place.
Answer from Marti, who has served in mission for more than twenty years, most recently with Pioneers.