In response to mass shootings and California’s recent wildfires, many therapists and counselors have sought to support impacted areas. One way they’re doing so is with free services. Marketing therapy after disasters can be difficult, though. Done well, it reinforces our roles as community caregivers. It shows off the best of who we are as professionals. With some common mistakes, it can instead come off as a tacky form of marketing, accidentally pushing people in need away from help. Here’s how to tastefully and effectively offer counseling and therapy services to those in need.
When the Public Service Loan Forgiveness program (PSLF) started in 2007, mental health professionals all over the country expressed optimism and relief. Student debt is crushing younger mental health professionals — hear two stories, in their own words, here. The PSLF program promised those working in nonprofit agencies and in public service that if they just stuck it out for 10 years, the remainder of their direct student loans would be forgiven.
Any kind of mental health work is challenging, but nonprofit clinics and public systems are notoriously difficult to work in. They offer low pay, low-functioning clients, a ton of paperwork, and often, little support. It’s no wonder that many counties struggle to fill those jobs at all.
For those clinicians who experience the work as a calling, though, the PSLF program offered a lifeline. It would be a reward for staying put in positions that most therapists understandably leave. For those who otherwise faced a possible lifetime of debt, PSLF suggested a way out.
It’s not going well so far.
If you weren’t able to attend the first-ever Therapy Reimagined Conference on October 5-6 in Culver City, CA, then I’m sorry to say you missed some incredible speakers. Their presentations covered a number of topics that are relevant to the modern therapist, including navigating the prelicensed years, engaging in advocacy, increasing efficacy with clients, becoming more business-saavy, avoiding burnout, practicing more authentically as a therapist, and so much more!
As I listened to the various speakers (and took my turn up on the stage at one point), I marveled at how each individual was unique yet similar in certain regards. It led me to wonder, “How did this speaker get to where they are professionally?” Although everyone’s story was different, I believe we can learn quite a bit from what they had in common.
A little more than two years ago now, I left my position as an Associate Professor at Alliant International University in Los Angeles. Many people have asked me since then why I left full time academic work. The position was relatively well-paid, with good job security. I had good colleagues, many of whom are friends to this day. I had the closest thing to tenure that the university offered: A five-year rolling contract. And I was teaching and doing research, both of which I love.
I’ve gotten used to providing a diplomatic answer to that question. My wife and I were starting a family, and the time had come for me to make a change. That’s true, it’s just purposefully incomplete. Here’s the full story.
“Shame” is now a verb in therapist circles. It’s usually one we use pejoratively. We scold others for shaming, apparently with no sense of irony. We shame people for shaming other people.
As a noun, shame refers to a sense of sadness and embarrassment upon recognizing (or being told) that you’ve done something wrong. Cultures around the world understand the concept. We can safely say that experiencing shame is part of being human.
If you’re a counselor or therapist, there’s a good chance you’ve had at least one client ask you for a letter that would designate their pet as an Emotional Support Animal (ESA). There’s also a good chance they didn’t really need it.
ESAs are allowed in airplane cabins and in housing situations that otherwise do not allow pets or charge extra fees. Beyond that, very few standards govern what an ESA is or does. ESAs are not service animals and do not need any training or certification. All someone needs to have their pet be an ESA is a letter from a qualified therapist. But there’s no law or standard to help a therapist determine whether to write that letter.
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?
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 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.