I’ll never forget the speech given to me at my graduate school orientation as I was starting the journey to become a marriage and family therapist. “Get ready to say goodbye to your full-time job, goodbye to your social life, and goodbye to your boyfriend or girlfriend.” I was taken aback by the last part. Would grad school end my relationship? Turns out, yup!
It sometimes seems like labor abuses are a rite of passage for prelicensed therapists. Recent graduates are often appalled by the unpaid or underpaid positions their colleagues (and sometimes they) willingly take simply to get their hours done. Many wonder whether they will be able to support their families as they progress to licensure.
Therapists also often talk about inadequate supervision, dangerous working conditions, unrealistic and inappropriate demands, and a variety of other serious labor concerns on the road to licensure. Some drop out of the field altogether.
If so many therapists experience labor abuses, then why do the problems persist?
Once you register as an Associate MFT, CSW, or PCC with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, you have a year to attempt the California Law and Ethics Exam for your profession. There are basically two schools of thought about when you should take that exam. One of them is wrong.
If you’re in your first year as an associate, you should take the exam right now.
The website STAT, which focuses on news in health care, published an editorial last month under the headline, “Physicians aren’t burning out. They’re suffering from moral injury.” Almost all of its conclusions appear fully applicable to psychotherapists as well. Could it be that we’ve been talking about therapist burnout from the wrong framework?
The first licensing board meeting that I attended was in Sacramento. I did not live locally, so I had to travel to attend the meeting. I can remember well that trip and all of the expectations that I had. Basically all I knew about the California Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) was what I had heard from professors while in my master’s program, which was that the BBS was some ultimate authority that was to be revered and respected.
Because of what I had been told, I had honestly expected the meeting to be at some lavish location with lots of amenities. I expected the board members to be sitting on a platform, similar to a judge in a court, to highlight their authority. I had expected there to be structured, pre-arranged seating for those in advocacy positions. (I was attending as part of my advocacy role within the California Division of AAMFT.) Arriving early seemed critical, as I had expected there to be a relatively large crowd of attendees present.
None of those expectations came to pass.
If you are planning to become a counselor, it is important to give thought to the time and money it will take to work your way to licensure. The timing of steps along the way could impact your choices for when to get married, have children, or maintain employment in another field.
Presented here are the typical steps to a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) license and some common timeframes. [Note: Specific license titles vary by state. LPCC and LCPC are also common, with the first “C” in each standing for “Clinical.”]
The mental health professions have long recognized that with our positions and our expertise comes a great deal of responsibility. In exchange for our professional status and the trust we are given to work with vulnerable people in private, we agree to act not just on behalf of our clients, but also on behalf of the larger communities who grant us that very trust. This means maintaining awareness of the laws and policies that impact our clients and communities, and working to change those policies that are not in the community’s best interest.
While each professional organization phrases this obligation differently, they agree that it is part of being a counselor or therapist. Simply put, you are expected to use your specialized knowledge and training to benefit the larger community. It is part of holding the title of a mental health professional.
In the world of private education, it isn’t uncommon for universities to be bought and sold. But recent years have seen a spike in the acquisition of private universities offering graduate degrees in mental health fields. Many students may not even be aware that their universities are now parts of larger corporations.
Three specific companies serve as case examples.
Ben recently published an article on the shortage of therapists in California. He discussed the “supply-demand disconnect” and why it’s so difficult to meet the needs of clients across the state. Toward the end of the article, he remarked that due to this shortage, “more of our functions will be turned over to substance abuse counselors, peer counselors, and other professionals and para-professionals.”
What did he mean by that? How can therapists possibly be replaced by individuals who haven’t earned a master’s degree, aren’t registered with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, and aren’t supervised by a qualified mental health professional? Unfortunately, I can cite examples from my own personal experiences in the workforce that support Ben’s claim.
If you’re a therapist in private practice, you’re probably listed on Psychology Today. For better or worse, it’s the 800-pound gorilla of therapist directories: It gets a ton of traffic, which means its pages show up high in search results, which generate even more traffic.
Despite owning the market, the Psychology Today directory is not necessarily well-liked. Its user experience looks and feels dated. While advanced searches are possible, the main search page only allows searches by name and location. Therapists and clients alike sometimes grumble that the information therapists can share on their profiles is limited.
For a new generation of online therapist directories, the failure of Psychology Today to improve its product represents a tremendous opportunity.