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.
1. Set clear boundaries
To avoid self-imploding while studying for my last ethics exam, I remember creating a list of career goals I would want to pursue once I had my license. Once I passed (thank goodness), I returned to this list, my eyes wide with all the possibilities, from private practice to research, teaching to supervising.
You are now “free” to pursue different career paths, research projects, business ventures, etc., without the constraint of needing supervisor feedback or working within the confines of a training contract. Just as you were building healthy boundaries while you were training, it is important that you identify and understand your own limitations now as well. Knowing where to draw the line in what and how much you can do will keep you from overcommitting yourself. Remember, you have the rest of your life to pursue your goals and build your career.
Now is a great opportunity to pursue projects about which you are passionate. Saying yes to everything can feel like it will help you grow and develop, but it can be overwhelming and deplete your attention and energy just as quickly.
Block out time in your schedule to work on individual projects, and dedicate this time to focusing on just one task. Check in with yourself regularly, asking, “Do I have the energy, passion, or time to take this new project on?”
2. Build your support network
Being a licensed clinician can quickly become lonely, as you are no longer obligated to be part of a training cohort or to participate in weekly group supervision.
When I first started out, I was the only licensed psychologist on staff where I worked. One of my past supervisors reached out to me to see if I was interested in a supervising experience. This position would not only give me the opportunity to gain experience as a supervisor, but she had also developed a consultation group with other newly minted supervisors. In this group, we would all be able to discuss the cases we were supervising and to process the newness of having a license. As much as I am a self-proclaimed introvert, I appreciated having a shared experience with others and having a space to process it.
Transitioning from being a trainee to a supervisor comes with aches and pains just as learning how to be a clinician working with clients has its hurdles. As you transition into your role as a supervisor, remember that just because you are fully licensed doesn’t mean you have to figure everything out on your own. Even while training, we are taught that the ethical thing to do when we lack knowledge is to ask those who are knowledgeable.
To build your support network, join associations, ones where you can connect with clinicians in your area or ones that offer an opportunity to connect with other clinicians who share your interests. The APA offers divisions that address more specific interest groups. You could also consider being part of a group practice, or reaching out to past supervisors, colleagues, and professors for support as well.
3. Develop discipline
According to the Bureau of Labor Statistics, about one-third of psychologists are self-employed, and many own and run their own practices. The self-employed path is fantastic for those who have the desire to be their own boss. If you choose this route, you’ll have complete control over your working schedule and the power to choose the way you spend your time.
On the flipside, you’re the one who is responsible for billing, paperwork, and charting if you are on your own. No one supervises you, watches your back, tracks your hours or signs off on your paperwork. To set yourself up for success, start developing your own routine early so that you’re in the habit of completing your tasks on time. This may be easier than it has been in the past since you are not juggling class assignments, studying for exams, and planning for your next training site anymore and are able to focus. Remember, this is how the bills get paid!
Also focus on self-reflecting when you feel overwhelmed. Don’t hesitate to cut down on responsibilities, and purposefully blocking out time for administrative work. Reach out for help when necessary. You might even want to consider hiring outside help to handle paperwork and scheduling clients.
4. Pursue new interests and increase mastery
Now that your time isn’t taken up with studying, planning where your next training site will be, or figuring out the next step to licensure, take time to explore passion projects or increase the knowledge that you have been cultivating for the past couple of years. Ethically, continuing education and being up to date on the latest and greatest developments in psychology is part of the deal of licensure, but that doesn’t mean you can’t start putting your eggs in other baskets.
Psychology is both diverse and challenging, so no matter which field you choose to pursue, you probably won’t find yourself bored very often. Think about pursuing other specialty areas, such as sports psychology or forensic psychology, since these areas face their own unique demands and obstacles. Being a psychologist might be stressful at times, but the profession presents intellectual challenges that keep the job interesting.
Personally, I have always wanted to create a blog as a space to share my own personal opinions, thoughts, and ideas of mental health. Throughout my educational career, I avoided adding another thing to research and write about to my list! However, now it feels like I am searching for more things to write. Having more control of where you invest your mental energy and making more of your own decisions are two very big pluses of achieving licensure, so enjoy being in this position!
5. Continue to be self-reflective
Yes, there are still constraints and tasks necessary to maintain your license, and you’ll need to put in work to grow as a newly license psychologist. But reaching this professional level means that many more doors and windows of opportunity are opening for you! Becoming a licensed therapist is exciting, so take the time to appreciate the rewards of your long hours of school and training.
What are other practices that have helped you as a newly licensed clinician? Leave a comment below to share your thoughts!
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- Five Habits to Practice as a Newly Licensed Psychologist - September 12, 2018