11 Things No One Tells You About Becoming a Therapist
By Haneen Ahmad
There have been some seriously rewarding moments in my career as a therapist over the past decade. I have supported individuals and families through trauma, anxiety, births, deaths, and every type of transition and adjustment in between. It hasn’t always been pretty, but I have learned a lot along the way and grown so much as a therapist. I have come to know that there are plenty of things my graduate program did not prepare me for in my career as a therapist. Here’s my compiled list of things no one tells you about before becoming a therapist…
1. Insurance companies can be a pain – this one is obvious. But wow is it emphasized when you go into private practice. It feels like getting paid takes forevvver. (However, it can also be harder when you are not paneled with insurance companies and are just private pay. Especially if you do not have a specific niche because it takes time to build up your clientele. )
2. You can be subpoenaed, or a client will threaten legal action against you. Get legal support. Consult with a lawyer for sure if you are getting subpoenaed, are asking to provide documents to the court, or need legal advice about court-related proceedings.
3. Being a therapist in private practice can be extremely isolating if you are not intentional about connecting with other professionals. Go to networking events and meet up groups. Plan lunches with other therapists, walk during lunch with a friend, etc. Balance work and social time. Take the time to build community for yourself (professional and not) so you don’t solely rely on your clients for social interaction.
Will you be my friend?
4. You’re going to meet some really cool people. They are going to want to be your friend. You’re going to want to be friends with them. And you are going to be sad that you can’t be. Sigh. Bottom line, respect and abide by the laws of ethics and boundaries.
5. Self-care. Okay okay so your graduate program might have mentioned something about self-care. I just here to drive this one home. Balance and self-care are of the utmost importance. I mean people tell you about it. But it cannot be emphasized enough! Some things to consider that aren’t bubble baths and face masks: be selective of the severity of clients you take on, don’t schedule too many clients in one day, get consultation, make sure all of your basic needs are met, sleep, nutrition, exercise etc. Listening and talking all day is exhausting so take good care of yourself.
Working through your own issues
6. Your own issues are going to surface at some point. You may get several reminders of what you yourself need to work on with your own therapist. The silver lining is that you also get an opportunity to see how much of your own personal growth is possible, and working on yourself will make you and even better therapist
Playing therapist outside the office
7. Non-therapists will often expect you to wear your therapist hat all the time. Family and friends will ask for pointers and even maybe free therapy. That my friends, is a hard no. To add to it all, people will think you have it all together simply because you are a therapist. Aaaand everyone assumes you are analyzing them once they find out you are a therapist. (and maybe you are, just kidding, sort of)
8. OH the pain. The physical pain of sitting all day. And then sitting some more to do notes and return calls. Get up and move around in between clients, use a yoga ball. Invest in a comfortable chair.
The learning never ends
9. Graduate school was just the very beginning. As a therapist, you never stop learning. Continuing education is always continuing! You may even change your focus of the type of clients you work with over the years. Thus aiding in your growth.
You will run into clients
10. Gym, locker room, market, park, birthday parties etc. Discuss this ahead of time with your clients, at their first session. That they are free to acknowledge you in public but assure them you won’t acknowledge them if they do not want that.
You are a business owner and need to act like one
11. Graduate school spends zero time preparing you with the knowledge needed to run a business. You are going to wear several hats. You are running a business when you are in private practice, act accordingly. We all want to help people, but we can’t do it for free. Charging for things like no shows or when you are asked to write a letter of support are a must!
No matter how much you think you have seen it all and heard it all, you actually haven’t. Of course, there are plenty of other things, like phone scams targeting therapists, imposter syndrome, and figuring out how to maximize your chances of staying in this field for several years to come, but we will leave all that for another post. If you are a therapist or considering becoming a therapist hats off to you sweet one, the world needs you.