Last year, I was one of the many individuals who made the leap from the classroom to the workplace. If you are like me, you typically embrace these types of changes with open arms and optimistic excitement. However, my transition from being a student to becoming a therapist presented some challenges that, retrospectively, could have been better navigated had I fully grasped the magnitude of the shift that was about to occur. Isn’t the process of growing into our professional selves going to be unique for each one of us? Most definitely! Yet, there are some common experiences along the way that upon enough reflection, might lead you down a healthier growth trajectory as a budding therapist.
1. Thinking about transitions – Reflect on how transitions have previously impacted you, as you bring to full awareness the resources that have helped you cope in the past. In the same way, begin targeting the areas of struggle that you have previously faced. Make space to think about whether your sense of confidence is more likely to experience a boost or become challenged once the safety net of your training program is no longer present. If possible, work on maintaining contact with those colleagues that have seen you develop and are most likely to provide encouragement as you figure out the way.
2. Understanding your developmental stage – Even though you have put a great deal of effort into learning about human interactions and the therapeutic process, there is so much left to learn and explore. It is common to face fears of incompetence early on and throughout one’s career. Remember how far you have come from those first theory and human development courses! Becoming a functional and well-integrated therapist demands that we go through a steep academic and personal learning curve. Accept feedback as you learn the trade, but also humbly trust the knowledge you have. There is a unique contribution to the field that only you can make.
3. Building a client base – For many beginning therapists, developing a full case load will take time. Diligent work, along with strategizing and a great measure of patience, are necessary as you grow your client base. Creatively make yourself visible by networking, serving the community, and reaching out to potential referral sources. Your effort will pay off! However, be aware that you might have to supplement your income in the meantime.
4. Embracing a niche and expanding competency – There is so much to learn in the mental health field that it can be overwhelming. If you have a specific group or area of interest, invest in becoming as knowledgeable and experienced as you possibly can in that area. The sooner that others trust your competency and reliability, the faster they will find the confidence to refer people to you.
5. Caring for and about yourself – Everyone talks about the importance of self-care, yet, so many beginning therapists burn out quickly. In my experience, finding an outlet to express my growing pains has been the best thing I’ve done for myself. Transitions are often ambiguous, and you might encounter some professional disillusionments along your path. Surround yourself with people that will nurture you by helping you see your worth through this process. This truly makes all the difference in the world!
Karla Torres MA