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.
The effects of sleep on a child's mental health can sometimes be underrated. Getting an adequate amount of sleep is an integral part of a healthy life, especially when it comes to our emotional and behavioral health. Now that the new school year is upon us, check out these handy charts to help set your child's bedtime!
Throughout my adult years I have developed fairly passionate political views. Yet, I refuse to be so presumptuous as to think that those views will never change. As a psychotherapist, I want to share a few words from my humble point of view that may be of help during this time of political unrest and frustration.
Empathy is defined as the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. We could all stand to hone our empathy skills right about now.
What can it hurt to step outside of your own personal (insert presidential candidate here) viewbox for a moment and delve into understanding the reasons why others may be supporting a candidate other than the one you do? One of the reasons I refrain from unfriending folks who share posts on Facebook/social media that I don't agree with right off the bat (even though it often makes me REALLY uncomfortable and even downright ANGRY to see these posts I disagree with so passionately), is because attempting to understand them will ultimately make us better, more educated, kind, loving, and joyful people.
Perhaps this personality trait to understand is one of the things that has propelled me toward my profession in psychology; I always held a strong desire to understand the hows and whys of what people around the world think and feel. And throughout all these years, what I've learned is simple: with all of our differences, we're all pretty much the same when you get down to it. You can learn this, too.
I get it-- it's scary to step outside of your comfort zone once you've made your mind up about something, to try and understand an opposing viewpoint can seem downright brutal. I know it feels like you're betraying yourself, your morals, ethics, and even your religion or family.
I want to tell you something we all need to be reminded of: IT'S NOT. Educating yourself about things you do not currently believe is one of the most healthy and positive things you can do for yourself. Notice I said for yourself. Don't do it for your friends, your family, your spouse. Do it for you. Because YOU are the one who will benefit from this newfound way of looking at the world. You will grow. You will become a more loving and happy person.
I know these things because, for one, when I do this, I am happier for it. When I don't, I'm not. I've spent most of my adult life studying the way people think in higher institutions, enveloped in the field of psychology by respected scholars, researchers, and clinical practitioners. Trust me on this for a moment-- it WILL help you grow and change into a better person. And if you don't believe me, do your own research. I encourage it.
Have you ever been faced with a truth about yourself from someone you love and it really ticks you off? After awhile you think about it and realize that perhaps there is some truth to it? One of the reasons we balk at opposing sides is because if we really open up and try to understand a different point of view, we are forced to take a good look at ourselves, too. Our believe system can be challenged, everything we've built our lives on. That can be pretty scary (an understatement!). But listen, in a nutshell, I'm here to tell you that it's okay to be scared. Don't fight against your fear; it is there for a purpose. You can, however, be curious about it. Where does this fear come from? What does it say about me? What would happen if this fear one day came to fruition? What are all the things I do and believe every day that keep me from feeling this fear?
We can't choose our feelings, but we can choose how we respond to them. One choice leads to a life of closed-mindedness, anger, frustration, sadness, and more fear. The other opens the door to a whole new world of possibilities, freedom, and joy. It may be painful at first, but the rewards are immense. The choice is yours.
"It is the mark of an educated mind to be able to entertain a thought without accepting it." -Aristotle
Build a bridge
from now to tomorrow.
Sink the piers
deep into the Earth.
Pour in concrete
day by day,
a little at a time,
and let it set.
It takes time to heal.
It may feel very awkward,
as if you're making empty promises,
as if you're simply spanning empty space.
But someday, somehow, somewhere,
you'll find yourself
upon a brand new shore,
glancing back at the bridge
which you alone have built.
It takes time to heal.
In marriage, losing is letting go of the need to fix everything for your partner, listening to their darkest parts with a heartache rather than a solution.
It’s being even more present in the painful moments than in the good times.
It’s finding ways to be humble and open, even when everything in you says that you’re right and they are wrong.
It’s doing what is right and good for your spouse, even when big things need to be sacrificed, like a job, or a relationship, or an ego.
It is forgiveness, quickly and voluntarily.
It is eliminating anything from your life—even the things you love—if they are keeping you from attending, caring, and serving.
It is seeking peace by accepting the healthy but crazy-making things about your partner because, you remember, those were the things you fell in love with in the first place.
It is knowing that your spouse will never fully understand you, will never truly love you unconditionally—because they are a broken creature, too—and loving them to the end anyway.
From "The Marriage Manifesto" by Kelly Flanagan, Ph.D.
Download the free e-book here (I highly recommend it!)
A few days ago a friend asked me what I would do if I won the 1.5 billon dollar Powerball lottery. After thinking about it awhile, I realized that I wouldn't change much.
I know what you're thinking: "Yeah right!" I get it. OK, so I sure would like to buy a huge jet, a fancy yacht, take some fabulous vacation and buy all my friends and family expensive gifts. Thinking about all that sounds ridiculously exciting and fun!
But to be completely honest, not much in my life would change.
I love my life. I'm not saying this because it sounds good; I'm saying it because it's true. I love my children, my husband. I love my home. I love my family and my friends.
My friend then asked, "Would you quit your job?"
And my answer was no. (Although, I might buy a larger office. Maybe even the whole building!?) The truth is, I love my job. I love being in private practice and being my own boss. I love having control over every single thing that goes into my business, right down to the color of the kleenex box. Hah!
What I really love most is having the opportunity to help others dive into themselves, find out who they really are, gain insight into their inner psyche and ultimately live happier lives. I love that I get to travel a unique journey with each client: sharing in pain, joy, frustration, excitement, grief, sorrow, fear, anger, everything. I am grateful to know these individuals who are brave enough to share the intimate details of their lives with me. I am blessed to see firsthand the strength and tenacity of the human spirit. I think, ultimately, I have learned far more from my clients than they have learned from me. I am always changing, a little bit better than the day before, every time I step into my office. And for all this, I could not be more grateful.
It is a privilege, this job.
But as you can imagine, it's not always easy. In fact, it is rarely easy. It is mentally and emotionally challenging work. The 12 hour work day I put in yesterday was exhausting, to be honest. I'll admit I complained about how tired I was when I got home last night.
But would I walk away if I won a billion dollars? Absolutely not.
Nothing good comes easy. Life is inherently difficult, no matter how much money you have. But with a purpose and a passion, we can find true joy.
We can find true joy.
What would you do if you won the lottery? How would your life change? If your immediate response is "everything," that your entire life would change if you won, then I ask you: why? What is wrong with your life now? Let's take a deeper look. What needs to change? Why are you waiting for a billion dollars that you most likely will never win?
Lack of personal fulfillment equals unhappiness. This begs the big questions: What is my purpose? What do I love about life? What makes me truly come alive? Right now, you can start making steps to living a life that aligns more congruently with your answers.
The old idiom is true: winning the lottery sure can buy a whole lot of things, but the best things in life it will never provide: self-love, fulfillment, and joy. And if you have found those, my friends, then you are winning BIG.
Please take a moment to read these five main points regarding the theory of child-centered play and what to expect before your child begins.
1. It's Not Just Play-Time
Your child may report that he or she just played and did artwork. This does NOT mean that the therapy session was simply “play-time.” While play therapy is fun for the child involved, it also involves “work.” However, the work isn’t like schoolwork. They use the toys to process and work through whatever it is they are struggling with utilizing symbolism, metaphors and analogies to express themselves accurately. A child might use an egg to represent feeling breakable, dragons may represent their anger (or an annoying sibling), and fences or barriers may be a child’s way of feeling trapped or contained. Toys give children the freedom to express themselves in a way that makes sense to them when words just don’t seem to fit right. Play Therapy uses this form of expression to facilitate such things as healing, growth, and development.
2. It's Not a Quick-Fix
Therapy with children does not work overnight. One of the most important aspects of play therapy is the relationship between the child and therapist. Like any therapeutic relationship, trust, safety and security are vital. According to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, a sense of safety and security is second only to food and shelter. Therefore, when children enter the play therapy room, they won’t find a counselor sitting in a grown up chair looking down at them asking questions, like most other adults they know. Instead, they will see their counselor on the floor with toys and objects that speak their language. Rather than being told what to do and given a lot of rules to follow, they will be given the freedom to explore and decide how they want to spend their time. The first few play sessions with a child center around building trust and safety rather than jumping straight to the problem at hand. Once the rapport is built however, a child feels safe enough to begin diving into what has brought him/her to therapy. Then the next phase of therapy begins.
3. Let Your Child Lead
Please do not ask your child what he did during a play therapy session. He will offer the information he wants you to know. Most of the therapeutic process is subconscious, and it may confuse your child by asking probing questions. The purpose of play therapy, especially with younger children, is not to expect the child to verbalize the therapeutic process, but instead for you to see decreased symptoms and improved functioning in significant areas of his or her life over time.
4. Refrain From Giving Updates
Your therapist will come to meet you and your child in the waiting room, then take the child into the therapy room. Please do not update your therapist about your child in the waiting room with your child present. It is important that your child feel like the therapy time is his or hers. However, it is appropriate for you to leave me a confidential voicemail, send an email, or hand me a brief note at the beginning of session describing concerns, improvements, etc. If you begin to tell me an update, I will kindly remind you that the therapy time is for your child and that we can schedule a time to meet individually. Depending on the case, I usually meet with parents individually and/or with the child around every 4th session or so. Please let me know if something has come up and we can schedule a session before that.
5. Trust the Power of Play
Children often come into play therapy defeated, confused, overwhelmed, and feeling as though their world is out of control. However, once a child enters play therapy and realizes that it is a world they can understand and communicate in, they often visibly relax. Allowing children this freedom to explore what is bothering them is healing in and of itself. Children heal from a nasty divorce, learn to calm themselves before they explode into a temper tantrum, and develop a high level of confidence to overcome struggles with anxiety, depression, or bullying. They move from self-loathing to self-acceptance and high self-esteem. That is the power of play.
We all know the scenario hilariously played out on last Saturday’s SNL skit: you’re sitting around the thanksgiving dinner table when Aunt Cathy inevitably starts spouting off her doggedly absurd political views (insert eye roll) and it takes all you can muster not to reach across the table and strangle her. Well take heart: it need not come to this. Here are some tips to help you handle the annual holiday dinner without it swiftly turning into Battle Royale.
1. Make a Plan
This isn’t your first rodeo. You know the deal: after a few glasses of wine Aunt Cathy won’t stop with her political rantings, which just so happen to entirely contradict your rational and wisely chosen political ideals. You feel your heart start beating fast and your face grow hot. What is she saying?! Take a deep breath and remember your plan.
Many of us run the worst-case scenarios in our mind and brace ourselves for a nasty encounter. This can do more harm more than good as it raises anxiety. Try to reframe the scenario in your mind. Say, “This might be stressful, but I can handle it. I’ve been through worse!”
Use “If-Then” statements. You know what to expect, so plan your response. “If Uncle Larry starts talking about the refugee issue I am going to calmly tell him ‘I understand you’re coming from but I have respectfully have an alternate viewpoint.’” Another example: “If Uncle Larry won’t let it go, I will excuse myself to the bathroom.”
2. Use Active Listening
We all want to be heard. These issues are important to us, and rightfully so. When a family member makes a statement that disagrees with the core of your beliefs, it’s only natural to have a strong desire to assert your opposing view. And you can.
But first, wait. Take a deep breath. And remember this:
When people truly feel heard, they are in a much better place to listen to what you have to say.
In other words, if you want Aunt Cathy to gain a shred of understanding toward your opposing viewpoint, you first must listen to her and make her feel heard. The next important thing to remember:
You can listen to and understand an opinion without subscribing to it.
It’s true. You can. And you should! The foundation for healthy communication is active listening. You won’t have time to teach a psychology class during Thanksgiving dinner but you can guide the table toward healthy communication by example.
Next, muster up your best empathy skills. In this situation it's going to be hard but you can do it! Of course, empathy is the ability to put yourself in someone else’s shoes and imagine what things are like from their perspective. You’ve got to really divorce yourself from your own personal views for a moment (not forever, just for a few minutes!) and see things through Aunt Cathy's eyes.
Convey this by summarizing what she’s just said, and authentically tell her how it is you understand what she’s saying. For example, you might say something like, “I can see how you feel that refugees shouldn’t be let into our country. It can be really scary to think that they might put our lives in direct danger. It sounds like you’re saying protection is really important to you. I can understand and appreciate that. I want to feel safe, too.”
Ask her to explain anything you might not completely understand. (Remember, you don’t have to believe it to understand it!) This also shows the speaker that you care about what they have to say and want to know more. You could say, “Tell me more about your thoughts on __________ and why you think _____________.” You don’t have to go on forever. A little of this will go a long way in making stubborn Aunt Cathy feel heard and ultimately hear YOUR point of view.
3. Change the Subject
You have a 0.01% chance of changing Aunt Cathy’s vote over turkey dinner by arguing with her. Studies have shown that it is rare for a person to change their political opinion through argument. So is it worth it?
Depending on your relationship and energy level, sometimes it’s just not. In which case, change the subject. This doesn’t mean you have to agree. Be authentic. Say, “I hear what you’re saying, Aunt Cathy; I respectfully have a different view. To tell you the truth I’ve had so many of these difficult political conversations lately I just don’t have energy for another one right now if you don’t mind. I would really like to hear about your new job though. How is that going?” Chances are, she'll really want to talk about it.
4. Be Kind
This goes without saying, but don’t belittle anyone for not agreeing with your views. Ultimately it does nothing more than solidify their view, hurt your relationship, and make you look bad. A little kindness can go a long way to help make the holidays positive. Remember, you don’t have to go home with this person, you just have to eat turkey with them for an hour. Be kind, and see number 5…
5. Give Thanks
It’s Thanksgiving, after all. When we are mindful of all we have to be thankful for, getting into arguments is less likely. So when you’re taking the trip to gather around the table with your loved ones this Thanksgiving, remember to be thankful, be kind, come prepared with a plan, use your active listening skills, and if necessary, deflect the conversation.
…And if none of these suggestions end up working, you can always just break out the Adele!
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