Senioritis: The last stretch of hours before licensure

Brodie Vissers / Burst / Used under licenseWe 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. Your days as an associate (or whatever title your state uses) are ending. Licensure typically means you will be able to do treatment independently, without supervision. Passing that final clinical exam means unlocking the gates to the land of decent pay and, if you start your own private practice, not having to share client fees with anyone else.

You will no longer have to be closely watched, or commit time every week to watch videos of your therapy or role play alternative scenarios. You will be free. In a way, you may have your own senioritis. Maybe you will take on bigger caseloads or extra shifts to hammer out those last hours. In exchange, the quality of your work may suffer, even if it’s unnoticeable to anyone outside of yourself. It’s understandable if you just want to be done already.

It’s good to recall how the freedom from high school was not as promising as we had once hoped. There are many ways that licensure can be scary to finally obtain. There’s a feeling of “Now what do I do?” We don’t magically get our own thriving private practice. We have to market ourselves and build up to a sustainable caseload in order to drop our other jobs. We have to seek out our own consultation if we are unsure of our work. We are now completely liable for anything that happens, and not working under someone else’s license.

Back when 3,000 hours seemed a lifetime away to get, you may have made strategic decisions on the prelicensed jobs that you took on to complete your hours. Some chose to follow their true niche interests and utilize all the time they could take before licensure. Others took the jobs that promised the most hours (and the risk of burnout to go along with it) in order to be licensed in the least amount of time. It didn’t matter whether those hours were with a population that they were passionate about working with. The latter option tends to lead to the most uncertainty once you’re finally done with your hours. You spent all your time hustling to reach 3,000, and may not have had enough time to invest in planning where you wanted to go afterwards.

Your future is something that supervisors are not required to coach you through. In fact, supervisors and employers can actually benefit if you take longer to get licensed, because it means that they will have a seasoned employee for longer and will continue to get a portion of the fees your clients pay. Like in high school, it’s up to you to develop your plan for the next chapter. Senioritis or not, you probably did not wait until after graduation to start applying to colleges. Similarly, you should not wait until your hours are done to figure out what comes next.

Questions to consider, and other steps to take now

What kind of environment do you want to work in? Would you rather work independently or with a team? Report to a facility or travel to each client? What kind of population do you want to serve? These questions can help narrow down your job and location search terms.

Have you decided that you want to specialize in any theory or diagnosis? Next steps with this would be to attend trainings or continuing education.

It can’t be stressed enough how helpful networking can be in this field. Keep in touch with your cohort from grad school. Join the Facebook groups for psychotherapists in your area. Attend conferences, mixers, lectures, and other events that are relevant to what you want to do. Build your niche support system, and you may just meet the person who connects you to your dream job.

It’s understandable if you’ve been struggling with licensure senioritis. Thankfully, it’s curable. You are responsible for your own future. You can and should start planning the next stage of your career before you reach it.