I’m currently a graduate student at Smith College School for Social Work training to be a Psychotherapist. I chose this program because it’s clinically focused and I’m able to get a lot of clinical experience and of course the scholarships that I received. Unlike other social work schools, Smith College’s curriculum is quite different. The academic year is from June-August, so for these 10 weeks you take 9 classes… YES you read that right… 9 classes in 10 weeks!! It’s very intense. And from September-April you are doing your practicum and attending monthly seminars, writing papers and doing weekly reflections. I liked this model because it gives me a lot of hands-on experience and an opportunity to really develop myself as a therapist. My practicum this year is at a high school and it’s been quite the experience. I’m three months into my practicum and I wanted to share some of the things I’ve learned training as a psychotherapist.
6 THINGS I’VE LEARNED TRAINING AS A THERAPIST
- Being a Therapists Requires you to Work on Your Own Stuff. Being a therapist is not for the faint of heart because you are dealing with people’s real issues and their emotions. Working with clients and helping them work through their issues might cause countertransference meaning the issues that the client is bringing are causing an intense emotional reaction because you have probably been through the same things. As a therapist countertransference can be overt in terms of getting angry at the client, judging them, or excessively praising the client. But, it can also be covert in terms of refusing to address the issues that the client is bringing up because it makes you feel uncomfortable. Being able to identify and work through the countertransference is important to be able to remain neutral.
- Therapists Need a Therapist. As a therapist you are absorbing your clients personal problems and helping them work through these issues while also dealing with your own personal life. At times this can be really draining and can take an emotional toll on you. Having a therapist is vital in helping you work through the countertransference that you may experience during therapy. Getting a therapist is not only beneficial to you but it helps for your clients to have someone show up for them and be fully present.
- Join a Network of other Therapists. Unlike other jobs where you can share with your friends or family what went on at work, due to the confidentiality oath that therapist take, we are not allowed to share client information with others. This can be really difficult if a client just shared with you a traumatic event that they have experienced and now you are also feeling overwhelmed. Most organizations have a mental health group that meet bi-weekly or monthly and in these meetings you are able to share some of the things that are coming up in your sessions. Also, these meeting are beneficial because they give you a chance to get advice on the different treatment plans that you can take for a specific client that you might be stuck on.
- Healing is a Process and The Client Has To Do The Work for it to Work. This is one thing that I have struggled with in my practicum. At the beginning of my training I felt the need to offer solutions to my clients because I thought that was my role as a clinician and I wanted to alleviate their problems. But, I learned that offering solutions is not helping the client learn the skills that they need to get through the situation on their own. If you have a therapist you’ve probably heard the famous line “my job is not to tell you what to do but to help you process your thoughts and feelings” and that’s because we want you to do the work and do it at a pace that is most comfortable to you. Healing is a long process and does not happen on a continuum, it takes work on both the therapist and the client.
- Location of Self. Being able to map out your identities (race, gender, sexual orientation, religion, socioeconomic status) in relation to your client is helpful in developing and cultivating a therapeutic attachment . By doing so it opens dialogue with the client on how your intersecting identities might affect the therapeutic process and as a therapist you lay groundwork for these issues to be raised throughout therapy. I have found this to be useful in my training because it allows me to provide culturally competent therapy in helping address how the issues that are coming up in therapy are tied to the identities that they hold.
- Self Care is the Best Care. As I mentioned earlier being a therapist is not for the faint of heart especially when you have a caseload of 5 clients. I spend roughly 20 hours a week doing direct client work and I can’t lie it’s very exhausting and it’s easy to get overwhelmed. To best cope with feeling overwhelmed and potential burnout I created a self care plan. After each session that I have, I take 20-30 minutes to partake in self care and this varies from watching funny videos or just doing a grounding activity. This has been really helpful in allowing me to not carry all of my clients burden in with me.
Wrapping it Up
This post could quadruple in length because, quite honestly, I have learned so much in the 3 months that I have been training as a therapist. But, I will leave that for future articles. For now, I’d love to hear what are some of the things you have learned as a therapist and if you’re in therapy, what would you share with someone who is considering starting therapy?