Hey everybody. I get called about my career path all the time. And that’s why today I desire to discuss about my journey to becoming a therapist as well as things I wish I knew when I first started. Now, this is gonna be honest, real. And if you’re considering the mental health field it will hopefully help you decide if it’s the right career choice for you. Now, first off, I feel that I have to mention in order to be a good mental health professional you have to get into it to help others not to find out what’s wrong with you or to understand what happened in your family. Too often I hear from patients and bystanders that their therapist uses much of their sessions to talk about their own problems. or reacts to things they say in the non-therapeutic way like getting angry or referring them out when it’s not really necessary.
I know this may be hard to figure out right away but a great way to ensure that you aren’t bringing your own personal stuff into your work is to get into your own therapy. As I mentioned before, I believe it should be mandatory for all mental health professionals, but since it isn’t I will just strongly encourage you to work in your own problems, before entering the field yourself. It is good for you and your future patients.. And I’d like to take a minute to thank our sponsor. The University of West Alabama online. UWA offers their programs on ground and online and their MS and family counseling is a great fit for those hoping to gain knowledge and skills to better support families. You can earn your degree completely online at one of the most affordable institutions in the State.
And we all know how important that is because, I only recently paid off my student loans. Their program features smaller class sizes and more personalized attention which is also super important in my experience. Faculty members are experienced scholars and practitioners interested in a broad range of topics including, emotion, cognition, human development, intergroup relations, prejudice, neuroscience, and environmental psychology.The first portion of my career path started in undergrad since I majored in psychology.
I took courses like introduction to psychology, or psych 101, physiological psychology, learning statistics, social deviance, and many others. Now the truth about undergrad psych courses is that they lay a good foundation for graduate school, but they don’t really ready you for clinical work at all. And the term clinical work really just means working with patients like in person.
You’re simply learning about psychology as a whole, the ways it can be applied. And in my case, it helped me see the different career paths that were available to me. I could dig into the science and the research and the medical model and change to pre-med, become a psychiatrist. Or, I could stay away from clinical work completely and focus on research and become a research psychologist. Or, prefer not to use my psychology degree fully and get a job in something like human resources. But what I chose to do was to focus solely on clinical work and look into the ways that I could become a licensed therapist.
And to be completely honest after undergrad I wasn’t entirely sure that I wanted to become a therapist because it meant two more years of school and school is really expensive. And because I hadn’t ever counseled anyone, I wasn’t sure if I could do it or if I would enjoy it. So I applied for some counselor jobs at free clinics and treatment centers in the area. And I ended up at a place called St. Ann’s, and it’s a foster home for parenting or pregnant teen girls. Now, this job allowed me to use some of my psychology knowledge to support the girls.
And it helped me see if I was actually interested in the therapy field. Now, that job was crazily exhausting. I would have taken nap after every shift, but at the same time it was also incredibly rewarding. And after about six months there, I decided that I would go on and take my GRE which is the graduate school admissions test. It’s kind of like the SATs, but for graduate school. And I would go to get my master’s degree in clinical psychology. But even then I wasn’t sure which route was best. So, I looked into different programs, their cost, and how much money I could make in that career path. At the time, becoming a psychologist meaning four more years after undergrad instead of two didn’t seem necessary to do the clinical work that I really wanted, not to mention that the pay was pretty much the same. And I’ve never been one to care if people call me doctor or not. So, I let that go. And I decided that I would get my master’s in clinical psychology with an emphasis on marriage and family therapy.
It seemed like the best fit for me after looking into the other options that were available. During graduate school which I loved by the way I learned different therapeutic techniques, the law, and ethics associated with the field of psychology, how to give assessments, read, research, and apply it and how to put into words what I was learning so that I could use it in session with my patients. And while all of that was really helpful and important applying it in an actual session with a patient wasn’t something I was able to practice until I entered my practicum in the middle of my master’s program. Now, practicum is just another word for internship. I don’t know why they use that word, but they do. And I will be honest that the first few sessions they were scary.
I was worried I was gonna say I said something wrong or not know what to do. But after a few weeks of my internship and having amazing supervision by a licensed therapist you have to be supervised until you’re licensed yourself. I started to get more comfortable with it. And just like anything that we learn and do we slowly with practice get better and better at it. Now, in the State of California where I live you have to gather 3,000 clinical hours within a six year period in order to qualify for your license and take the exams. And every State and country are gonna have different rules. So, you’re gonna wanna look and see what applies to you where you live. But what they don’t prepare you for is just how financially stressful this time can be. It’s common to not get paid for any of these hours. My first therapy job if you can even call it that I wasn’t paid at all. In fact, I had to pay for my supervision.
So, every month I was losing money while working to gain hours. The second therapy job I got was at an eating disorder treatment center and I got paid. It paid me $14 an hour which I was super stoked at the time but it didn’t come with health insurance or anything else. And I remember venting to Sean after awhile because, I had made more as a waitress. Then when I was working as a therapist intern and I’m not gonna lie, it was super frustrating. Although the money you can make while gaining these hours is definitely not ideal.
It’s a great time to try out different options and see what, if any specialty speak to you. For me, it was the job at the eating disorder clinic. It felt right. It was so fulfilling. And I really enjoyed my work there. But, that didn’t stop me from working other types of clinics. I worked in the psych ward of various hospitals and tried out different types of therapy. And while I enjoyed my other internships I returned to the eating disorder realm because it was still the one that fit me best.
So, if this field is something you’re interested in please don’t let yourself become pigeonholed and only try out one type of therapy or one type of care. You may be surprised what you enjoy. Because when I got into graduate school I planned on working with children. I wanted to work in the school system, be like a school psychologist. But I quickly learned that that was not the right path for me. Being open to other options helped me find the right fit and ultimately be fulfilled by my work.
And finally, after five years of working multiple jobs so that I could pay my bills I reached the 3000 hour threshold, hallelujah. So I filed all my paperwork proving my education, and my supervised hours. I took the Gerry Grossman test prep course cannot recommend it enough. I did that every weekend for four weeks and I took my first exam. Now, California you have to take the written exam which if my memory serves me is over 250 multiple choice questions. And you have to pass that to move on to the second and final exam.
And you can only book that second exam after you’ve passed the first. And if you don’t pass any of these, you have to wait six months before you’re able to take it again. But luckily I passed on my first go and moved on to the second portion which is called the clinical vignette test where you have to read through patient profiles and decide which thing you should do first or what’s your legal obligation. And you have to go through a bunch of these. Now, once you pass your second exam, you’re good to go.
You pay your fee, you get your license and you can practice without supervision. Hooray, so exciting. But as upkeep for your license you do have to complete 36 hours of CEUs or continuing education units every two years. These are courses or conferences you pay for and attend on various subjects applicable to your work. Like, just last week I took one online about ADHD so that I could learn more because I feel like there’s still space in there for me to learn from other clinicians. And it’s really honestly a great part of what I do.
While becoming a therapist definitely has its downsides and difficulties. In the end I think it was completely worth it. It’s such a privilege to get to be a part of someone’s path to becoming who they want to be. I feel honored to support and challenge my patients as they work to break unhealthy patterns or to overcome the urges to harm themselves. It’s hard work, but I cannot imagine doing anything else. And thank you to all of you who’ve allowed me to be some small part of your journey. I love what I do and I’m grateful for it each day.