Diverting from my usual audience, I want to speak to my fellow blooming therapists out there.
Deciding to become a therapist means deciding to be selfless more hours out of the day than not. This is a daunting task and takes a special kind of person to take it on. So kudos to you for choosing to walk down that career path!
However passionate you are about this path, I would like to send the reminder that being a therapist is a lot more than just being an empathetic person to those that choose to sit in front of you…it’s a full blown job. A job that is both physically and mentally draining. Preparing yourself for what you are about to take on and preparing yourself for where this career path will take you in the future is important!
Making an informed decision about how being a therapist will affect your overall life will help you grow into your career with ease. That is why I want to pose to you 5 questions to ask yourself before accepting that first job…
What are you doing for self-care?
As much as we preach “self-care is important!”, are you taking care of yourself? Can you think of one thing you do on a regular basis that is purely for yourself? If you can’t think of something, you better assign yourself some self-care ASAP. We tell our clients all the time that self-care is important, but we often forget that as “helpers” we are often the ones that need some self-care the most. Knowing your hobbies, happy place, or support systems can be life saving when working in this field. Also, think about how you will incorporate this self care when you begin your career. Establishing these self care activities into your routine NOW, will make it much easier when things start to get even more hectic.
What are your priorities?
Are you single, and hoping to still have time for finding love? Or do you have a family where being present for all the big moments is important? Or do you really love taking trips and participating in events and get togethers with friends? No matter what your priorities are, make sure to take these into account BEFORE signing on to a new job or side project. Knowing what comes first on your priority list enables you to choose what will be a good fit for you. Also, take into account that these priorities may shift. Working two jobs and 60 hour weeks may seem fine when you are pre-licensed, but once you become licensed you may want to reduce some of these hours to fit in other more important activities.
What do you want your schedule to look like?
There is no typical therapist schedule, so don’t try to match what you see someone else doing. In grad school you may have been handed a class schedule that you had to work around, but it may have seemed easy to just fill in the space before or after classes each week. After graduation however, you have to figure out your entire 24 hours each day to really maximize your time. If you are considering agency work vs. private practice, choose wisely. You may expect a typical 9-5pm, but crisis happens at all times of the day, so therapy jobs often mean working nights and weekends. Something they don’t tell you in grad school.
Look at your schedule and decide what line of work fits into your lifestyle. Outpatient programs offer the most typical schedule, as they are mostly office-based (M-F, 9am-5pm). School-based jobs often give more flexibility due to school year schedules (expect working anywhere between 7am and 3pm, M-F, with all the typical school breaks). A community-based job will often involve more evening hours (think hours between 9am and 7pm, M-Sat., with minimal holidays). Though some add the flexibility of working a 4×10 (4 days a week, 10 hours a day). Private practice work can seem to be the most flexible, but at times it can be the most restricting, as you are catering to when your clients will most likely be available (think M-Th.+Sat., 4pm-9pm or 9am-12pm). With most clients working a typical 9-5, you’re often offering the off hours. Each job you apply for will come with a different set of requirements, so do not be afraid to ask what a normal work day/week looks like for their therapists.
How do you set boundaries?
You may have been taught about legal & ethical boundaries, but personal boundaries can be just as important to establish in your career. Being a pre-licensed therapist, you often forget just how much you have to offer, which can be detrimental to your sanity. Pre-licensed therapists are often taken advantage of in the work place due to our natural desire to help. Be firm with your boundaries when it comes to working extra hours, taking home work, carrying your client’s baggage, and all the other ways in which you may be asked to go above & beyond your job description. Decide what will be hurtful to your well-being and what will be helpful to your goals. If it feels like too much, it most likely is WAY too much!
What are your career goals?
This is a major question, and arguably the most important. Some people go into the mental health field because they love the one-on-one contact with people, and doing anything other than direct therapy doesn’t interest them. Some people want to be the director of an entire non-profit because they want to see agencies run differently. Some people really want the ability to work for themselves, part-time, and have more time for their family. While others really love the educating aspect of therapy, and see themselves eventually teaching. And still others may have completely different goals tied into their mental health related degree. Figuring this goal out now however, allows you to line up and prioritize what is most important to you.
Think about where you see yourself in 10 years…what are you doing? Where do you live? How hard are you working? These questions will allow you to seek out a position that will help you reach your end goal. Finding a position that gives you room for growth and professional trainings can be game changing when you finally become licensed. Additional items on a resume or just additional knowledge in your head, can make all the difference in that professional transition. Start by making a vision board or writing a letter to your future self, then hold yourself accountable to accomplish the dreams you have.
It will all be worth it in the end.