Recently a lot of people have spoken to me about becoming therapists. Some of these people are just starting in the world of work and some are looking at second or even third careers. It occurred to me that it might be helpful to list some of the things I talk about with people who are considering therapy as a career path.
1. Being a therapist can be really rewarding, stimulating and challenging. It isn't for everybody but if you are curious about people's inner workings, if you are reasonably compassionate, if you have a good mix of humility and confidence, it is a great way to spend your work days.
2. Find out early what the licensing requirements are for where you are going to practice. I live and work in Quebec and it is highly regulated and the rules for practicing have been overhauled in the last ten years. A surprising number of people still spend several years in school with the idea that, "I'll figure that stuff out when I graduate." A school may be very happy to take your money and hand you a diploma that does not allow you to enter private practice as a therapist. It is on you to be clear about how to enter the profession. It can feel daunting but call the local licensing bodies and find out what EXACTLY is involved.
3. Being a good therapist means running a small business. People will sometimes say, "I trained to be a therapist not a business owner," but when you are dealing with people's mental health, you need to respond to calls in a timely way, manage your time and your calendar, bill people appropriately and have a safe and secure way of keeping records. This stuff isn't rocket science, it is part of the job, so start learning how to do it.
4. It is important to be able to leave work at work. It takes some time and some practice and for myself I can say that it has been easier at different points in my life than others. Not sleeping at night because your clients are going through something is exactly zero help to them and it is bad for you. Wash your hands at the end of the day, take a walk, say a little prayer when you turn off the lights in your office. Do something that tells your head or your heart that work is over.
5. Whether you went to social work school, did a PhD in psychology or got a masters in counselling, you did not learn enough in school to be in private practice on your own. People will come in with serious psychopathology including problems that they will not describe clearly such as psychosis or mania. If you can, spend some time in inpatient psychiatry; it is really worthwhile to know what psychosis, mania, hypomania ad severe depression look like.