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Does Non-Bilingual Mean Non-Employable?

Paid MFT Internships has assisted hundreds, if not thousands, of MFT registered interns in their search for a position that will allow them to get hours and get paid! Yet despite all the progress that has been made through the creation and maintenance of this valuable service, I continue to see and hear an ongoing concern from our many followers: “I’m not bilingual.”

It’s true that being bilingual offers applicants an advantage in this very competitive field… but does that mean non-bilingual MFT registered interns are “non-employable”? Put another way, do non-bilingual MFT registered interns have to settle for unpaid internships, while their bilingual counterparts obtain paid internships? This is a question I frequently asked myself while in graduate school, and depending on whom I consulted and shared my concerns with, the answer to this question varied. Some professors claimed that it would be an uphill battle for me to obtain a paid internship unless I took extraordinary measures to develop a specialty or niche prior to graduation. Other professors claimed it could be done, but that I would need to move to a region of the state where bilingualism wasn’t in as high of demand, and/or where MFT registered interns were scarce.

Fortunately, if you’re non-bilingual and feeling discouraged, then this article can help you challenge the cognitive biases that are holding you back from believing that IT IS POSSIBLE to obtain a paid internship (yes, even in California)!

Myth: All job listings require you to be bilingual.
Fact: A minority of job listings require you to be bilingual.

I want to address this myth right away, because its claim is a gross over-exaggeration (and frankly, one that frustrates me to no end whenever I see or hear it!). After performing a search of Paid MFT Internships’ 1175 posted job listings (as of March 20, 2016), I found that about 45% mentioned a requirement or preference for bilingual applicants. Let’s break that fact down further, as there are two important points I want to bring up.

First, about 45% mentioned being bilingual. It’s an important distinction to make, since it means 55% of all job listings I’ve found to date don’t even mention being bilingual. Of course, many employers would love to receive an application from someone who is bilingual… but this also means a majority of employers are more than willing to consider an applicant who ISN’T bilingual. And when you think about how many MFT registered interns are actually bilingual, this makes sense. If ALL employers insisted on having bilingual MFT registered interns, then we wouldn’t have enough mental health professionals available to provide services to clients!

Second, it’s important to note the difference between a requirement vs. preference in a job description. Of the job listings that mentioned being bilingual, about half required applicants to be bilingual. Many job listings stated they preferred bilingual applicants, and even some job listings with “bilingual” in the title only preferred bilingual applicants (can you imagine how many applicants may have passed up these job listings without reading the descriptions, based on the title alone?).

What does this mean for non-bilingual MFT registered interns? The good news is that only about 22.5% of job listings shared on Paid MFT Internships to date require applicants to be bilingual. While this is still a high percentage of job listings (nearly 1 in 4), it also means that the majority of job listings are, in fact, open to non-bilingual MFT registered interns!

Myth: If you live in my county, you have to be bilingual.
Fact: Not every therapist in your county is bilingual.

As mentioned earlier, some of my professors encouraged me to move to a region of the state where bilingualism wasn’t in as high of demand, and/or where MFT registered interns were scarce. I attended school in Los Angeles county, and upon graduation, I returned to San Diego county (where I have lived for most of my life). Employers in both of these counties serve a large number of Spanish-speaking individuals and value applicants who are bilingual in Spanish.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau 2010 American Community Survey, between 12.2% to 36.7% of individuals in California’s major metropolitan areas are Spanish-speakers (the percentage varies from county of county). However, it’s important to remember that “bilingual therapist” is not synonymous with “Spanish-speaking therapist,” as there is also a high demand for therapists who are bilingual in American Sign Language, Farsi, Korean, Tagalog, Vietnamese, and more. The 2014 American Community Survey 1-Year Estimate reports that 18.5% of individuals in California who are five years of age and older speak English “less than ‘very well’,” suggesting a need for bilingual therapists. It’s easy to look at these statistics and conclude that, based on your county’s demographics, you have to be bilingual. It’s a conclusion I reluctantly came to after moving back to San Diego county and accepting a part-time, unpaid internship after unsuccessfully applying to dozens of paid internships.

Something interesting happened while working at my first internship, though. I had an opportunity to network with other therapists on a daily basis. Not just professors whose careers revolved around teaching classes and conducting research. Not just MFT trainees who, like me, were feeling anxious about their job prospects upon graduating. I befriended MFT registered interns and connected with licensed MFTs. That’s when I was finally able to debunk this second myth. Over the course of a year, I watched as fellow MFT registered interns applied for and accepted paid internships. Not a single one was bilingual. I listened as licensed MFTs described how they struggled to even find bilingual therapists to refer clients to. It occurred to me that bilingual applicants, while desirable, weren’t always plentiful, even in counties like mine.

With a renewed sense of hope, I began applying to paid internships again… and within two months, I had accepted one! During the orientation/training process, I learned that our program didn’t have any bilingual therapists on staff. Instead, our company paid for a translation service, which we would utilize whenever a client requested services from our program. Although it wasn’t ideal, I found that it was possible to conduct assessments and sessions with clients who did not speak English, thanks to the assistance of an interpreter who had been called in advance by our bilingual administrative staff.

Myth: Employers will always hire the bilingual therapist over the non-bilingual therapist.
Fact: Employers will hire the therapist that is the most suitable candidate for the position.

This leads us to the third and final myth that I will be addressing in this article. Let’s assume you’ve bought into the idea that, contrary to popular belief, the majority of job listings for MFT registered interns do NOT require you to be bilingual. Let’s also assume you’ve bought into the idea that, despite your county’s demographics, most therapists are NOT bilingual and employers will make accommodations if you’re non-bilingual. There may still be one troubling thought going through your mind: the belief that if a bilingual MFT registered intern applies for the same position you’re vying for, the employer will always hire the bilingual candidate.

Employers take many factors into consideration when evaluating applicants, and bilingualism is just one of those factors. Alan Hall, a contributing writer to Forbes, does an excellent job of summarizing these factors by describing what he calls “The 7 C’s“:

  • Competent
  • Capable
  • Compatible
  • Commitment
  • Character
  • Culture
  • Compensation

Bilingual applicants may be competent in their mastery of a second language; however, there are other equally valuable skills that not all bilingual applicants may possess. Furthermore, bilingual applicants may not always be deemed capable by employers (e.g., having less clinical experience), compatible with existing staff or the company’s culture, or committed to the position. There’s also the question of whether a bilingual applicant may expect a pay differential over their non-bilingual counterpart, and whether an employer would be able or willing to offer a pay differential. The bottom line is that bilingual applicants are NOT inherently “better” than non-bilingual applicants, and vice versa. A wise employer will weigh the pros and cons for each applicant and carefully determine which applicant best meets the company’s needs.

Sometimes, as qualified and eager as you may be to work for a company, it’s simply not meant to be… and if you can accept that, then you can pick yourself back up and continue your job search with the belief that eventually, you’ll find the position you’re meant to have! In August 2015, I was met with the disappointment of not being offered the “job of my dreams.” I had worked with the company for over two years, and despite everything I had done to stand out, it wasn’t enough. Later that same month, two amazing things happened: 1) I was offered a different job (one that was an even better fit for me); 2) I became inspired to create something new – a service called Paid MFT Internships!

Have you faced this issue while seeking employment? Share your successes and struggles with us by leaving a comment below!

About the Author

Robin Andersen is the owner and creator of Paid MFT Internships. She is a Marriage and Family Therapist Registered Intern (IMF75184) who is passionate about giving back to fellow interns by maintaining this valuable resource. She is currently employed as a Juvenile Drug Court Therapist in San Diego County and hopes to see Paid MFT Internships’ followers become employed as well! More information about Robin can be found here.

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