Quote from RomaniGypsy
My first question is - how old are you?
People have suggested that I get a job as a CNA in order to get hands-on experience, as you did... maybe the problem is that I don't know where CNAs can work beyond nursing homes.
CNAs can work in nursing homes, assisted living facilities, memory care units, psychiatric facilities, and hospitals. I was a CNA for ~3 years and I think being a CNA for me was a good experience, It helped me learn more about nursing as a profession, and gave me a bit of boost confidence wise that I was 1) in a field I would not quickly burn out on, and 2) made nursing school a little bit easier as I knew how to do some things and was already acculturated to working in healthcare.
That being said, I do not think it is a requirement to work as a CNA before or during nursing school. While some will strongly advocate for it, I think that one can go through nursing school without the experience and still come out the other side a competent new graduate nurse. For me it made sense as I'd quit my prior profession to care for an ill family member and knew I wasn't going back to my prior profession as even before I quit I was starting to look at changing careers. My sister was a CNA at the time and so I knew it was a cheap/quick pathway into a different career area and there were lots of jobs in my area, so it was initially a way to have an income and buy time while I figure out what I really wanted to do. Pay is not great - I was in a big city with a relatively high cost of living and my intial pay was $11/hr, after switching to the hospital and getting a pay raise my highest pay was just over $16/hr. If you have a job that pays more than CNA wages and have no interest in becoming one - I think you can make it through without the experience. (Though I would recommend getting healthcare exposure of some kind, even if it is volunteering a few hours a week at a hospital or nursing home).
In the same vein, I think that I wouldn't learn much of value if I studied psychology... it'd be just a means to an end, where the end would be getting that degree and license to practice.
It depends on how you personally determine value. In many ways, nursing school is also a means to an end - in the form of degree and ability to obtain a license. The real learning starts once you finish nursing school and start working in the field, and that learning curve can be steep. I suspect psychology is similar - there's the theory you learn in school and then there is the real world application, and the real world application takes time to learn.
It's like, what's the point of learning the old theory if it's no longer considered valid in the field?
I'm guessing some of what you are running into here is introductory courses. Coursework (particularly in psychology but also in nursing) starts by building a foundation for the body of knowledge, and so it is important to know where we come from in terms of knowledge to understand where we are at today. There is some of this in nursing, but compared to the few psychology courses I've taken there is less.
I need to make a lot more money in order to finance my long-term goals. If I didn't need the money, I wouldn't change careers at all.
Check the rates for nurses in your area (unions usually post contracts online including wages) as how much nurses make can vary widely across the country, and pay isn't always relative to cost of living, so make sure if you are doing it for the money that the money is actually the "enough more" to reach your goals. Additionally entry level psychology and counseling jobs pay less than nursing, but with experience, and particularly if you open a private practice there is potential for very solid income down the line. One of my friends is a social worker - she started her career making relatively little however 5 years in she has a private practice and a couple contract positions (county jail, and court investigator for county mental health court) and is doing very well for herself. So the gap between the two in terms of pay may not be a big over the life-time of a career.
Maybe I can be a counselor / psychologist and a nurse.
It is possible. I know a few individuals who were counselors and later went to school for nursing and at least one nurse who became a social worker and an APRN who became a psychologist, so you aren't locked in stone even if you go down one path.
There is an aspect of counseling to being a nurse - though it is therapeutic communication as opposed to true therapy - and some areas of nursing allow for more space to do this kind of work. I think sorting between the two will take some reflection on the jobs - do you see yourself administering neuropsych testing or really wanting to engage in hour long talk therapy sessions? Or are you someone who thrives on variety of work throughout the day and would find sitting still and intently focusing on one person for an hour at a time difficult? Work schedule is also a think to consider as most counselors and psychologists works M-F daytime jobs and RNs work round the clock - with new grads frequently paying their dues on night shift and 12 hour days.
Hopefully this helps you think through your options, and be forgiving of yourself if it takes time to sort through both your emotions and the logistics for each career path; making a career change and taking a risk in going back to school isn't easy. If you really can't decide - take pre-reqs for both educational pathways, apply to both nursing and counseling programs and see who accepts you with the best financial aid package.