If you’re working your way down the long road to licensure, the holidays can offer some welcome relief. It’s a rough process, getting licensed. It’s certainly longer than it needs to be, and it helps if you’re independently wealthy to begin with. Sometimes staying optimistic is a challenge.
But going into the holidays with family and friends, we thought it would be a good time to remember all the good that comes with this work. And there is a lot!
It’s probably true that not all of these apply to any one prelicensed therapist (if they do, and it’s you, count yourself lucky). But if any of these apply to you, this can be a good time to express gratitude, and to reflect on why we all got into this work to begin with.
Sure, there are some supervisors who simply clock in and clock out. But they’re in the minority. Supervision just isn’t lucrative enough for people to do it for the paycheck. Instead, supervisors generally take their complex gatekeeping role seriously. And their work shows that they care deeply about ushering in the next generation of mental health professionals. I was lucky to work for and with some fantastic supervisors as I was going through training. If you are too, thank them. And maybe have that bigger philosophical conversation that’s easy to forget to have, about why we’re all here.
No matter how stressful your client load or your workplace, if you can share the burden with people who are genuinely supportive and trying their best, you’ll make it through the lows and back to the highs much faster. Does someone you work with make it a little easier to show up at the office each day? Tell them.
It’s wonderful to have good supervisors and good colleagues, but they generally aren’t your friends. Your friends are your social support, your lifeline to the world outside of spreading yourself too thin. Hopefully you have at least one or two good friends you can go to in order to escape for a while, and talk about anything other than mental health.
I wrote this poem a few years ago, of what I wish I had said to incoming grad students on their first day of class. It includes this piece:
This work will be your window
Into how the mere act of being in someone’s company in the right way
Can change their life
And their children’s lives
And their great-great-great-grandchildren’s lives.
Every single day, ordinary therapists like you and me have the privilege of working with clients in their darkest hours, and helping them back onto their feet. No doubt you have a few stories of your own, of transformative moments that happened right there in front of you. The impact of those moments truly can stretch across generations.
There’s a ton of data showing that therapy works, but we often don’t talk about what that really means. We aren’t building widgets here. We’re rebuilding and restoring people’s lives. That is no small task, and can be exhausting even in the best of conditions. But that makes it even more of an honor.
Speaking of exhaustion: You’ve probably been there. And if you made it through, it was probably at least in part due to the help of someone who saw what you needed, when you needed it, and acted accordingly. That someone might have been a friend, supervisor, or colleague. It also might have been a stranger, a client, or someone else who you didn’t expect would notice your struggle.
Compassion fatigue is well-known and well-researched. But what do we call it when someone helps us out of it, creating the opposite of fatigue? Compassion coffee? If someone, in whatever way, provided you with some compassion coffee, pay it back. Or better yet, pay it forward.
There are so many rules in our field that make little to no sense. And it takes a crazy long time to actually get licensed. But while wheels of change turn slowly, they do turn. The American Psychological Association has been successful in eliminating the requirement for postdoctoral experience in many states. California streamlined the process of licensure for LMFTs and LPCCs, and is changing the “Intern” title to “Associate.” Each of the professions is working on better standards for telehealth, so that we can more easily practice across state lines without freaking out about practicing without a license. And even non-profits, at least in some situations, have to pay you when what you’re doing is a job under the law.
As someone who has been involved in a handful of advocacy issues over the years, I can attest that it sometimes feels like yelling into the ether — we hope that our work makes a real and meaningful difference for newer therapists, but it’s hard to tell sometimes. So if you know someone who rolls up their sleeves and gets involved in this kind of thing, it’s always a good time to say thanks. (Not to me, that would be awkward now. But perhaps to folks like Richard Yep at the American Counseling Association, who made a difficult-and-expensive — but absolutely correct — call. Or anyone else who you know is working to make your life as a therapist a little easier.)
Perhaps next year is the year you complete the process and get licensed. Or, perhaps you have a longer journey ahead of you. Either way, keep your head up. It does get easier. Being licensed is a lot better than not: The pay is usually better, the work schedules are usually more sane, and you finally gain real control over your professional life.
In the meantime, exercising gratitude can be as helpful as receiving it. I’m certainly grateful to have you as a colleague.