I am occasionally approached by college students interested in learning more about what it takes to become a licensed psychotherapist. Here is a recent interview; I really enjoyed answering the questions. I thought I would post it in hopes that perhaps it might inspire others thinking of pursuing this career!
1) Why did you choose this career?
It's possible that my childhood had something to do with it. As a kid, I suffered from anxiety (which in my early adult life transformed into depression). At one point I was diagnosed with asthma attacks, even though what I was really having was panic attacks due to anxiety. I was 8 when my parents divorced and engaged in a lengthy and difficult custody battle. I was put into counseling with a court-appointed therapist to help determine the custody ruling and visitation schedule. I hated it. I felt misunderstood and unsupported. I think that was the first seed planted in my mind. I thought, "What if I could do this when I'm older? For kids like me, and actually help them?" I remember thinking that since I had been through it, then I'd know what they'd need. When I graduated college, I became an elementary school teacher. It was fulfilling, but not quite in the way I had hoped. I wanted to be able to dig deeper into a person's life; to learn how our brains work and gain skills to help people emotionally and behaviorally.
2) Describe what you do in a typical work day?
I try to arrive at least 30 mins to 1hr early to get settled in and review the treatment plan and the patients' notes from previous sessions. One thing I feel is important in this career is the ability to leave your own personal "stuff" at the door. I usually say a small prayer of thanks for having the opportunity to do this sacred important work. I light a candle and set my intentions for the day, which includes freeing my mind from any of my own personal baggage that I may have going on at the time.
3) What kind of schedule do you typically have?
Since I own a solo private practice, I get to make my own schedule (which is pretty great, especially since I have kids)! I work two days per week, from about 9am to 8pm. It sounds like a long day, but I have a few breaks midday. Each session is 45-50 minutes long. I typically have about 6-8 clients per day. I see a wide range of folks: children, teens, college-aged students, adults, couples, and families. My niche is in children and families, but I truly enjoy the variety.
4) At this company, what are a few of the entry-level and/or advanced positions?
I currently own a solo practice, but in the future (maybe when my kids are all in school!) I would like to expand to hire other therapists, a receptionist/scheduler, and insurance biller.
5) What do you wish you had known about your career before your started working here?
I didn't realize how long it would take to actually become a licensed therapist able to open a private practice. It took me 9 years from the start of graduate school in psychology, to opening the doors of my private practice. I also didn't realize how difficult this job is. The burn-out rate is high. You have to practice consistent self-care.
6) How well did your education prepare you for this career?
It prepared me fairly well, although most of what it takes to be a good therapist cannot be found in a book, or be taught by a professor. It takes a lot of hands-on practice. I was probably not such a great therapist when I started. I look back at some of the things I said to clients when I first started and I'm embarrassed! It takes a lot of practice, mistakes, good supervision, and mentoring. One thing my schooling did NOT prepare me for is how to open and run my own business. I think counseling psychology programs should require at least one course in business management. I had to figure it all out on my own. I'm still learning!
7) What work–related values are most important for this field?
Support from other therapists in the field is important. Most therapists I know (no matter how long they've been practicing) regularly touch base with a therapist who has been practicing longer than they have for consultation. In this job, making ethical decisions can be tough. It's important to have other therapists on speed-dial that you trust.
8) What are the most challenging aspects of your job?
As a therapist, being emotionally present with a client and going into the dark and difficult places with them is extremely challenging and painful. It's important to do your own work personally, as in, having your own therapist to work through your own inner conflicts and past traumas. No therapist can be effective without doing this. A mentor once told me "you can only take your clients as far as you've been." I've done a lot of work on myself in the past decade, but it's a lifetime process. I see my own therapist every other week!
9) What advice do you have for someone who wants to begin working in your career field?
Make sure you have a fantastic ethics professor and supervisor/mentor (as well as malpractice insurance)! Legal and ethical issues come up all the time. Also, it's important to have someone mentoring you who can help you with boundaries. Keeping appropriate boundaries as a therapist is difficult, and it's tested frequently. In the first several years, you're going to need a lot of good supervision around boundary issues.
10) Can you please include a brief description of your educational path, as well as employment leading up to owning your own business?
My first career was an elementary school teacher, which I did for a few years out of college. I went to graduate school at the University of San Francisco and graduated in 2008 with an M.A. in Counseling Psychology. I completed my 2 year internship as a school counselor. After that, I got a job in a wilderness therapy program counseling teen girls in West Virginia. From there, I worked at an agency providing case management and therapy in Intensive In-Home Services program (a Medicaid-funded program where a team of therapists provide individual and family therapy inside a child's home, most times when the child is at risk for being removed due to violence, substance abuse issues, etc.) From there, I moved and took a job providing counseling services in several schools, as well as a local pediatric office.
Chantal D. Hayes