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!

(Insert elevated heart rate here)

Does that sound familiar? Ever had any of these thoughts run through your mind? If you’re new to the professional world as an early career psychologist, then it’s likely you’ve felt this way before.

It is no secret that the transition from school into a career can be extremely intimidating. In graduate school and doctoral programs, there is a peculiar comfort that comes from the routine of going to classes weekly, and having a significant portion of your life planned out in the form of program sheets, adviser meetings, and various course syllabi.

After a while, it becomes easy to develop a dependency on professors and advisors essentially structuring your work life for you. Once school is over, however, you’re then expected to dive head first into the professional world, and structure every facet of your life all on your own.

(Insert rising elevated heart rate here)

Speaking from first-hand experience, I know the feeling of not knowing what to do next once school is over. I know all too well what it feels like to be handed a degree, and then given the charge to “go forth and conquer.”  

After coming down from the high of graduating with various letters after my name, I had to face venturing out into real life! It was time to get a job doing what I’d been trained to do. I keenly remember the nervousness I felt having to go out and identify myself as part of a distinguished team of mental health professionals who have extensive experience and knowledge.

Given the mindset that I had at the time, I felt very unequipped, unprepared, and altogether unworthy of my new title. I did not feel like a psychologist, if that were ever a feeling. Being new in the professional world, I felt as though no one would take me seriously, and even worse, that I would look like I didn’t know what I was doing.

(Insert rapidly rising heart rate here)

Being brand new to the field as a psychologist, I knew that if I did not change the way I thought about my new journey into the profession, I would end up having a very disheartening experience.

Embrace That “New” Feeling

For me, the first thing that helped me get adjusted to the professional world as a new psychologist was simply accepting the fact that I was new. Time and time again, I would stop myself when I would feel anxiousness arising, and literally announce, I’m new to this!”

As menial as it sounds, reminding myself that I was a new psychologist helped to take an immense amount of pressure off. Think about it: when you’re new to any profession, you to want to prove that you have what it takes to be effective in the position. However, in the field of psychology, things work a bit differently. The only way to demonstrate what you’ve learned in school is as situations arise.

Having come to understand that, I decided to stop putting pressure on myself to behave or present in certain ways, and trust that over time, who I am and what I’ve learned will be evident to those around me.

Here’s the thing about being new: you are not going to know everything. But guess what? It is absolutely okay! I think back to when I started in my first official position as a psychologist for a local school district. One of the first things that a fellow psychologist shared with me was the following:

“Give yourself time to learn. It’s going to take you three years and one day to figure all of it out anyway…”

Naturally, all I heard was THREE YEARS AND A DAY, immediately became anxious, and completely missed the point of the advice.

In hindsight, I realized the value in what she shared with me. As a new psychologist, it was important that I gave myself time and allowed for the chance to learn, to make mistakes, and to become adjusted to the new experience.

(Insert lowering heart rate here)

Take Advantage of Your Unique Position

Believe it or not, being new to the professional world as a psychologist also has many advantages. For one, memberships to professional associations related to psychology tend to have more affordable membership fees for first and second year professionals, in contrast to the fees for those who have been in the field for many years.

Secondly, for the most part, whenever seasoned professionals discover that you’re new to the field, many of them are willing to lend you their knowledge and expertise in order to help you become adjusted to your new role. In fact, there are even those who offer to serve as a mentor or supervisor in the event that you have questions or dilemmas to work through as you become acclimated. If you are in a healthy work environment, you won’t be left to fend for yourself.

(Insert resting heart rate here)

So, there you have it! Being a new psychologist out in the professional world can definitely be a shock to the system, especially coming from the structured comforts of school, where what is to come is already planned out.

However, take equal comfort in knowing that there is so much to look forward to once you step out and assume the position as a psychologist. Remember that it’s okay to admit that you’re new to this; it’s going to take you three years and a day to figure it all out anyway.

Ready? Set? Let’s Go!

Dr. Giselle Farrell
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