If you didn’t know this about me, I’m a white woman. Most psychotherapists are white women. (See the demographics of psychologists as an example.) When I sat down to write about how families respond when a family member starts down the road to becoming a therapist, I knew that culture and family background would have a lot to do with it. So instead of just focusing on my own experience, I decided to also interview some of my colleagues, to see what it was like being the therapist in their families. The differences surprised me.
When potential or current clients or employers search your name, what will they find? What impression do you leave? There’s one easy and absolutely necessary way to find out: Cyber-stalk yourself.
Even if you are still in grad school and not seeing clients in the near future, it is never too early to start caring about your professional reputation. This is not as simple as switching your social media accounts to private. When you search your name on Google or any other search engine, things from your past may come up that you may have forgotten about. And if those results show up for you, they’re like to show up for others, too. Like prospective clients. And potential employers.
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!
We all remember the last semester of high school. A new life chapter was approaching. Our childhood was ending. We would soon experience the freedom of the college world.
It was scary to know that we would be on our own, but we were itching to leave. We knew the quality of our work did not reflect what we were capable of, we just wanted it out of the way. I even remember calculating how much I had to do to just barely pass my classes and coast through the rest of my school year. It did not matter that more difficult times and more responsibility were imminently ahead of us, we just wanted to be done with high school. We called it “senioritis.”
Nearing the end of your 3,000 hours towards licensure can be eerily similar.
In January we launched our #PostThePay campaign. Every California job applicant has a legal right to know the pay of the position they’re applying for. When employers post pay information in job announcements, they save themselves time and promote fair wages in the mental health field. But how can you help ensure fair wages if you’re already employed? What if you know the pay of a position, but aren’t quite satisfied about it? Here are some ways you can advocate for better pay in therapy and counseling jobs.
It is advised early on in our schooling to practice self-care as a means to prevent and combat burnout. Preventative self-care is usually along the lines of making sure you are staying healthy. This can mean eating right, working out, or finding something you enjoy in every day, like listening to music or reading before bed. Ideally when you are burned out, self-care would include taking a day or two off to recharge, maybe going on a weekend getaway, or getting a massage.
Realistically, for many therapists that isn’t possible. As Ben discussed here last week, far too much discussion of self-care ignores the practical and financial reality of being an early-career therapist. This recent Counseling Today cover story is a great example of talking about burnout in ways that put responsibility for it on counselors’ and therapists’ own shoulders, without mentioning several of the systemic reasons why mental health professionals early in their careers actually get burned out.
There is a huge gender gap in the field of psychotherapy. At least 80% of psychotherapists in the US are women. So when a man pursues therapy, unless he specifically seeks out a man, he will most likely get a woman therapist. The dynamic of a male client with a female therapist can be both beneficial and problematic to the therapy. It can spark discussion over issues the client did not realize were there until working with a woman. It can replicate his relationship with another woman in his life. It also can reveal sexist beliefs.
I am a young therapist. Along with that comes a young face. Several of my clients were taken aback when they first met me. Addressing my age and experience has become a norm, and I’ve used a handful of well-practiced professional responses when this occurs.
I was working in a residential treatment center for teens. It was a typical mid-week day, and I was supervising “school time,” a period where clients are able to work on their treatment assignments and homework from their schools back home. Often during this hour, the primary therapists would pull the clients for individual sessions. I happened to know that today was the day that Nicole* was going to be given her diagnosis of depression, and I was prepared to help her process her emotions should she need coaching after her return from session. Sure enough, Nicole returned from her therapist’s office with a solemn look on her face. When she sat down away from her peers, I walked over to her and asked, “How did it go?”
She let out a sigh, “Well, I found out my diagnosis.”
I nodded. “I see. What’s that like for you?”
“I guess it’s better to know what’s going on and have an explanation for everything. At least it’s not like I have cancer!”
That comment gave me pause. I thought: But I have cancer.
I’m a young therapist. I started my graduate program at 23 years old and finished at 25. When I first started seeing clients in a school setting, I was 24, and their parents were often in their 40s or 50s.
I also have a young face. When people guess my age, I get anywhere between 17 and 23. I’ve been told that this is a good attribute to have, yet I am not yet seeing the benefits in my career. Several of my clients were taken aback when they first met me. Addressing my age and experience has become a norm, and I’ve accumulated a handful of recited professional responses when this occurs.