Congratulations! You have completed your degree, finished your training hours, passed your exam(s), and paid your fees. Now, you have a fancy new license number and more control over your professional future.
Becoming a newly licensed therapist is not a magical process — you will not all of a sudden become a mindful, articulate clinician like many of your supervisors. Rather, it requires deliberate actions.
You have proven yourself to your state board and now it’s time to prove yourself to the rest of world, or at least to the psychological community.
The following are practices to consider when stepping into the big, shiny shoes of a licensed clinician.
When I entered graduate school, I knew one thing: I would never become a clinical psychologist. I had no idea what I wanted to do with my life, but I knew psychology wasn’t it, and I figured that spending a few years in a doctoral program was a good way to pass the time while my interests worked themselves out. (Side note: It isn’t. There are much easier ways to spend six years.)
Now I am the one thing I thought I would never be: a clinical psychologist. How in the world did that happen?
The truth is that I began graduate school with a narrow sense of what it means to be a psychologist. Over the course of my training, I learned that there are many ways to match your interests, passions, and values to a career in behavioral health and many opportunities to fall in love with this work.
Whether you have well-defined professional goals or are utterly confused about the path ahead, here are a few questions to consider as you work toward developing your professional identity and choosing a meaningful career.
As a therapist, I value working with clients of all different backgrounds. In fact, it is one of the best parts of my job as I meet someone and learn something new every day. The philosophy I find most helpful in working with clients is cultural humility. This is defined as the ability to have an accurate perception of our own cultural values as well as maintaining a client-oriented perspective that involves respect, lack of superiority, and attunement . This stance takes away the pressure that “cultural competence” places on us as therapists to know everything (which of course is impossible).
Cultural humility is also a perfect starting point for working with Muslim clients for several reasons. Muslims have been in the news a lot lately. Unfortunately, the coverage is usually negatively skewed, which has influenced perceptions of Muslims in the United States . This may also impact how therapists view Muslim clients who walk into their offices. Given that all of us are affected by implicit bias, it is critical for us to examine our biases, including how Islamophobia impacts the way we treat Muslim clients.
With a culturally humble stance, we as therapists are open to learning more about each Muslim client’s unique experiences as we monitor and challenge our stereotypes.
Clinical psychology comprises the fastest growing subfield in the study of psychology, and it accounts for approximately half of all doctoral degrees earned within the field . There are two primary degrees awarded for doctoral study within psychology: the PhD and the PsyD. Briefly, the PhD holds a primary research focus in addition to clinical practice, while the PsyD is focused primarily on provision of clinical services. The PsyD, or the Doctor of Psychology degree, emerged in the 1970s and has since grown rapidly as a primary model of training for clinical psychology.
Most PsyD programs follow the scholar-practitioner model, also known as the Vail model. This type of training is characterized by emphasis on practical clinical training. In the course of this training, students also learn how to analyze and evaluate existing scientific research, and they may carry out their own original research, as well.
The PhD, or the Doctor of Philosophy, takes a balanced approach to research and clinical work. In addition to learning the practice of clinical psychology, the PhD emphasizes conducting research. This is the scientist-practitioner model, or the Boulder model. Students in PhD programs gain extensive training in the development, execution, and dissemination of research.
After what seemed like a lifetime of being in school, I was finally done! I could finally call myself a psychologist. I remembered breathing a huge sigh of relief after I realized that I would not have to worry about writing papers, participating in weekly discussions, or giving presentations anymore; I was finally free and ready to do what I loved, and get paid for it!
But wait…what was I supposed to do next? So, you mean I just go and start working? Who is going to walk me through the career world now? I was so used to always having a directive and a professor to guide me that I did not even think about the fact that one day, the training wheels would be removed and I would be launched out on my own!
The Examination for Professional Practice in Psychology (EPPP) is something every psychology graduate student dreads. After spending years in school, hours reading, writing, applying for internship and fellowship, and collecting clinical hours, the day has finally come for that very last step.
Of course, it’s normal to feel anxious about the EPPP. Many have said, “You feel like you’re failing it the whole time you’re taking it, but it will be fine.” Or there’s an optimistic tone of, “You’re going to be fine, you’ll do great! You just need a score of 500 to pass.”
Then there are the aftermath celebrations and Facebook updates: “I passed the EPPP!” Or, “Another step closer to being licensed!”
I found it so rare and uncommon for my peers to speak about the other possibility: What happens if you don’t pass?
While a lot of people my age are slowing down and retiring as they hit the half-century mark, I decided to make a career change and go back to school to earn my master’s degree in mental health counseling. Now, at the age of 54, I am proud to say that I am a Licensed Professional Counselor Intern in the state of Texas, currently completing my postgraduate internship hours.
If you are wondering how I decided to become a psychotherapist at this point in my life, I can assure you that it was not an idea that simply plummeted out of the sky and bopped me on the head one day.
Quite the contrary – I have been a therapist-in-training ever since I was a little girl, although I never really knew what that meant at the time. I always knew that I had a caring and compassionate heart and a special gift for helping others, but I did not know how to translate that into a career when I was younger.
Sometimes the hardest job can have the most amazing rewards.
Living and working in the New Orleans metro area has been an eye-opening experience, especially working as a mental health counseling intern in one of the area’s elementary schools.
New Orleans has a vibrant culture that is woven together with tragedy and music that just draws you in. Coming here as a visitor, you are usually not aware of the negatives such as the long-term effects of Hurricane Katrina and the communities that have been locked in poverty (and the effects that has had on its residents). As a visitor, your focus is usually on the excellent music, the delicious food, and the eccentric characters that make visiting New Orleans so great.
This article is part of the series, Careers in Behavioral Health, where we interview professionals in the field about their educational and job experiences.
Madeline E. B. Wesh, PsyD is an adjunct psychology professor, field researcher for psych test revisions, and clinical psychology post-doc. Here are the questions we asked Dr. Wesh.
As a psychologist, a profession that brings both routine and unpredictability, I try to hold onto – and maybe even control – what I can.
For me, that means starting each day with my cup of coffee (which I often leave on the Keurig until reminded by someone that I made it) and looking at my schedule to plan for my next few days.
There is comfort in the routine and also excitement in the possibilities of the unknown. Together, this dialectic keeps me passionate for what I do with my patients in consultation, therapy, and assessment.
And yet, one possibility, a mostly unspoken fear during my education and at training sites, was the chance that I would lose a patient to suicide.
Throughout my many practica and on internship, I completed numerous risk assessments and hospitalized patients voluntarily and, in a few cases, involuntarily. The focus of those interventions was the preservation of safety and the illusion that I would be able to keep each of those individuals alive.