Prelicensed therapists and counselors face a difficult road. Getting to licensure is a long and expensive process, so much so that even many well-qualified people drop out.
All of us here at Psychotherapy Notes want to make your path to licensure a little easier. So we’ve collected resources here that can help you along the way. You may already be familiar with some, but hopefully some are new and useful to you. Here are some essential resources for prelicensed therapists.
1. Join your professional association
In Saving Psychotherapy, I made a strong argument that professional associations have lost their way. Rather than being a vehicle for members of a profession to collectively serve the public, they have become heavily focused on sustaining membership by focusing on members’ wallets. I think a better approach is more public-facing. Show newer professionals that, by joining an association, they can contribute to a critical public service mission, and they will join. Try to convince them that their membership fee is a “good deal” and they will turn away.
I still feel that way. But the associations will not change without your help — from within.
The associations are well worth saving. They do critical advocacy work for both the profession and the public that no other group can do. You should be involved in saving yours. You can do that through your voice and your leadership, regardless of your career stage.
2. Consider an alternative professional organization
While the major professional associations have great value, so too do a number of alternative organizations that work to give connection and collective voice to mental health professionals with shared interests. They may do so from a critical perspective, like Modern Psychologist, which covers issues in psychology that receive little coverage elsewhere. They may focus on a particular population, like the San Francisco-based group Gaylesta, which serves LGBT clients. And there are a number of professional organizations dedicated to specific problems or therapy modalities, like the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. These groups are excellent for connecting with counselors and therapists whose specific interests match your own.
3. Get a job
Your professional association may have a job board worth looking at, but in many cases jobs for prelicensed therapists are not widely advertised. If you want to get a job, broader searches are often necessary.
The web site Prelicensed features a steady stream of paid jobs for prelicensed therapists. While the job listings are mostly in California, their blog can be useful to you wherever you are. I recently wrote a guest article there on standing out when applying for jobs as a prelicensed therapist. Other good places to look include Indeed for private jobs, usajobs.gov for federally-funded jobs, and HigherEdJobs for academic positions.
In each case, search beyond your license or registration title, bearing in mind that you may be qualified for positions under a variety of job titles. Also note that many employers of prelicensed therapists (such as county and state mental health systems) do not advertise their positions beyond their own web sites. So it can be very effective to keep a list of desired employers close to you and check on those employers’ sites on a regular basis.
4. Protect your legal rights
If you’re considering unpaid jobs, please read this article first. Some unpaid therapy jobs are perfectly legal, but many are not. It’s important to understand the applicable laws where you are.
I’ve you’ve done unpaid work in the past as a prelicensed therapist and think you might be entitled to back wages, check this out.
Whether paid or not, every worker in the US is entitled to various forms of legal protection. While one big union of therapists isn’t currently an option, unionizing your specific workplace can have major benefits. Even early-career professionals are fighting for that right — and winning.
Any kind of fight over workplace rights does come with some risk. I understand the desire to simply keep your head down and move toward licensure. But when you stand up for your legal rights, you are not just helping yourself. Your fight can impact all those who follow you.
5. Use your liability insurance
Your professional association may offer free legal or ethical consultation. But a couple of concerns come up when calling on their help. First of all, your association will not represent you in court or in disciplinary proceedings. Secondly, if you admit during the consult that you have already violated an ethical standard — the kind of thing some people do without even realizing it — they may start a disciplinary process against you.
Neither of these concerns arise when you call your other likely source of free consultation: your professional liability insurance carrier. CPH offers clients two hours of free legal consult each year. Other insurers offer similar resources. If a difficult legal or ethical situation arises, they would much rather hear from you before something has gone wrong than after.
6. Use social media for good
I’ve given up on the cesspool of harassment that is Twitter. But I’m still on Facebook, and you probably are too. I do think Facebook and other social sites can be professionally useful. One of the best uses of social media is when it can help you connect with like-minded people.
Be careful out there, of course. It’s a slippery slope to client confidentiality problems, or to subverting a license exam. But Facebook groups and other social media resources can also be a valuable lifeline, especially if you don’t have a lot of colleagues close by.
7. Continue your training
In the time between graduation and licensure, your development as a professional becomes much more self-directed. It is easy to let your focus shift fully to the singular goal of licensure. But this time should be about more than getting done. It should also be about getting better. You are now unconstrained by the required readings of academia, so read the things that light your professional fire.
Here are a few of the books I valued most in my own professional development, separate from those I had to read for graduate school:
One book I hope will be quite valuable to you is my own, Saving Psychotherapy. It addresses some of the big-picture struggles we have right now in the world of mental health care. It will be relevant to you at any career stage.
I would welcome additional suggestions for this list — what books have you most valued in your professional development, separate from the ones you had to read for graduate school? And if you listen to podcasts, check these out.
8. Follow Ben Caldwell Labs
Finally, if you’ve been following this blog for a while, you might have noticed some small recent changes. We are now the official blog of Ben Caldwell Labs, a corporation formed earlier this year to… well, we don’t want to spoil the big announcement. But there will be a lot of stuff available through our site that you will likely be interested in, and much of it will be free. So get on our mailing list.