Friday, April 29, 2016

10 Things Everyone Needs To Know Before They Became A Marriage and Family Therapist*

This past year I have been interviewed a number of times on my MFT profession for various academic projects students are working on. I decided that it might be nice if I put together a condensed version of all my interviews so that if anyone is thinking about becoming or pursuing this career option, they can check out my list of 10 things to know or questions to ask before they enter the field!

I've been thinking about my career a lot as I am on the last couple legs of this "marathon". I have finished all 3,000 experiential hours and am currently studying for my first licensure exam. I am nervous and excited and am so beyond grateful for the friends and family I have who have supported me through this entire process. 

1. It’s a long process. Here is a timeline: 
  • Bachelors Degree (4 years).
  • Masters Degree (3-4 years depending on school requirements). 
  • Practicum (1-2 years depending on practicum site and how many experiential hours your school requires). 
  • Internship (3-6 years depending on how many experience hours your agency can offer. In the state of California you need 3,000 hours). 
  • Once hours are completed, you submit a thick application for licensure. Once approved, you can register for exams and begin studying. 
  • There are two licensing exams (the exam process can take up to 1 year from what I’ve been told). 
  • Waiting on results from exam can take anywhere between a couple weeks to a couple months. But once you receive notice of passing and receive licensure number you’ll an official LMFT. Hooray! 

2. It is costly. 

You are in school for many years so student loans are just a part of the deal. In addition to the cost of school, many internships are unpaid and usually the ones that are paid, don't pay well. Typically, this means little to no pay from the time you start school until the time you are licensed. The price you end up paying isn't just in the cost of the degree, but also in the loss of potential income you could have made in another career.

3. Are you a one-kind of career person? 

Being a Marriage and Family Therapist (especially in states where standards are really high) is a career for life. It’s not a hobby or a part-time gig or something to do if you get bored of your other career. It’s not a back-up plan. It is the plan. 

4. It takes passion. 

Like many careers, you need a heavy dose of passion and drive to pursue this as a career. For this specific field you need to have a passion for people and their stories. You need to have a passion for helping those who are in pain. 

5. Have others described you as empathetic? 

You’ll need some empathy. Of course there is the academic side to becoming a Marriage and Family Therapist but what about the practical side? Does empathy come natural for you? Empathy is a very large part of what therapists practice for their clients. The ability to access your own story and where you have felt similar feelings in life (such as deep loneliness, fierce anger or paralyzing anxiety) keeps us sharp and in tune with our clients own feelings. 

6. You'll want to be a naturally curious person. 

You’ll want to be a naturally curious person. Be inquisitive. Ask the hard questions. While we are not detectives, I often feel like one as a therapist as I seek to connect dots and find missing puzzle pieces while conceptualizing a case. Curiosity is so essential because it also causes us to be resourceful and creative. This keeps the wonder in the therapy room realizing that every client who walks in the door has something special or unique about them. No story or voice is just typical. Curiosity is about having a desire to learn or know something and in this case, you want to know your client. 

7. You gotta stay classy. 

What I mean is that you absolutely cannot go around sharing your client's story** and that includes their family of origin, their ethnicity, their presenting problem, their psychosocial history, their trauma, or specifics about their culture. I'm largely an external processor at heart so trust me when I say this hasn't been easy for me. I come to some of my greatest conclusions by talking through things, but just because you are an external processor does not mean you need to be a public processor. You know how if you go on a missions trip to ____, there are lots of pictures taken proving that you essentially did all this work and helped this group out? With therapy you don’t get to put your clients up as a profile picture.  Every day therapists advocate for social justice for their clients but due to confidentiality as well as ethical and legal guidelines, nothing can be shared especially on social media. Cases are best discussed in supervision or during consultations with fellow therapists. It can be very harmful to our clients to exploit their stories even when we have the best of intentions. In other words, dial back the do-gooder bragging and stay classy.  

8. You’re going to need a lot of courage.

You're going to have to face yourself. All the parts of yourself that you would just rather avoid or forget about have to be faced. This is no easy task. Depending on what you have gone through or experienced you’re going to need to do some deep soul work. If you don’t know yourself, it will be very hard to know your clients. If you haven’t faced your own trauma, addressing your client’s trauma will be very tricky and robotic at best. If you are courageous enough to face your most fragile and vulnerable self you will have a lot more to offer your clients. I can honestly say that all the work I have done on myself has made me a better therapist because I know what it's like to sit with my pain. 

9. How do you feel about paperwork?

There’s a lot more paperwork involved than you would think. When I started graduate school and envisioned being a therapist, it involved me talking with people about their pain, their stories and how they wanted to change. I didn't think that even after school I would still be doing SO much paperwork. It's a profession that demands a lot of organization regarding the records and files that you keep on clients. 

10. Are you comfortable with those that are different from you? 

You’ll need to be at ease talking with a wide range of people. Clients come from diverse racial, ethnic, socioeconomic and cultural backgrounds. They may not be like you at all. You’ll want to have good interpersonal skills so you can create a safe environment so those you work with can trust you.

*In the state of California specifically, other states have different requirements. 
**There are books that do discuss the profession of therapy where authors will discuss previous clients or cases. From what I understand,  this only happens when consent is given, the names are changed and the therapy has been terminated.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Why It's Okay To Love What You Love

Sometimes I get a little “buzzy” as I like to call it. I don’t mean the buzz from a glass of wine or even the buzz from a cup of coffee. I mean the brain buzz. And generally my buzzy buzzard self emerges when I’m feeling vulnerable, a little on edge and well…holding my breath. 

Scott left this past week for his grandfather’s memorial service in Colorado. Since I had never met his grandfather, I stayed back with Lenny our puppy. The first night I awoke around 1:30 am from horrible nightmares so the second night alone I had to do something before bed to calm myself. (other than the obvious: have Lenny sleep in the bed with me). 

I decided to read the next chapter in the book I’m currently reading right now called Brazen by Leeana Tankersley. I spoke briefly about it in my last blog  but it’s all about finding our true selves, living without shame, reclaiming our voice and living from a place of worthiness and becoming. She talked about how she has this desire to be creative and expressive but often is feels frivolous. This feeling stunts the creative process and rather than exploration emerging, one can end up feeling paralyzed. 

What stood out most to me was her list towards the end of the chapter of things she loves, “the frivolous things." This list was a privilege to read as it can be almost embarrassing to admit what we like. It feels silly or immature or superficial. Reading her list opened up this little crack of light inside of me, encouraging me to explore what it might be shining on. 

So that night before bed, with a police search helicopter above my apartment, all my doors locked and dead bolted and locked again, and with little Lenny curled up in a fuzzy ball next to me, I began my own list. The list of what I love. I wrote it in my journal and laid it by my nightstand and slept soundly. 

I woke up the next morning and felt a little silly because that worked. My nerves were calmed because I spent some time thinking about what I loved before I drifted off to sleep. It was such a free and un-filtered list. 

You know how lists can be rather rigid? Like if it’s a list about your hobbies, you need to have a couple of exercise hobbies or people will think you’re lazy and if you have a cooking list, you need some healthy choices or people will wonder about your nutrition, and if you have a list about favorite books, for heaven’s sake include some intellectual research based books! 

But this list was mine. I felt no pressure to include a fictitious love of dumb bells or Shakespeare or apples. Still I was a little weirded out that I kept coming back to the list the next few days, adding things here and there and smiling to myself when I thought of my frivolous list. 

My list became a place of exhale and I couldn’t even understand why. 

Why on earth would thoughts of fancy coffee, and pink nail polish, Washi tape and cucumber water help me sleep?! After all the definition of frivolous is not very dignified. It means silly, trifling, empty, worthless, of little weight or importance…” 

Leeana writes: “It’s our worst fear to be unworthy of serious attention. Until one day we realize how exhausting it is to strive so relentlessly. We hear God’s whisper: ‘Leeana, what if you stopped trying to be so worthy? What if you stopped focusing on your relevance? What if you stopped trying to secure your own meaningfulness?”

This really struck me as it feels like my entire decade of my 20’s was spent in some ways hustling to be taken seriously, to do something meaningful, to be worthy of serious attention. The 20’s can be a tumultuous decade in so many ways, graduating college, entering a career, figuring out relationships, wondering who is behind and who is ahead. I went straight from my bachelors into graduate school and I longed to be taken seriously. I wanted to be seen as academic but felt like my snide and humorous remarks were the best I had to offer. As a women, I felt like I was seen as just a "dumb blonde" who was fun but not intellectual. It felt like I couldn’t be frivolous and deep. I couldn’t do something meaningful and then do something entirely ridiculous. 

Of course this kind of black and white thinking would make anyone a little on edge and anxious having to perform so much. 

Leeana talks about “getting lost in the garden” God has given us. That we can “go to the studio of our soul” to create, explore, play, and be silly. This is a garden where I am loved as I am and don’t have to produce or create for an outcome. This garden of colors and resources and beauty that is mine to play with. 

In this garden you can, Run toward what you love with unapologetic abandon." 

I’m an oldest child so being taken seriously comes with the territory. I was responsible, conscientious and deep. But I was also creative but didn’t realize it. I was also witty but didn’t know that either. Growing up my family was thrifty and amazing at saving so going out to eat was novel and renting a movie and having popcorn was like the celebration of the century (okay I exaggerate but you underestimate my love of popcorn). 

Naturally I grew up to be a very good saver but unfortunately had a nasty guilt complex every time I bought something I didn’t necessarily need, but just wanted. But here’s the thing I can be both a good saver and also buy something I like, something frivolous. I can be both witty and watch silly sitcoms and be a deep thinker. I can be creative and still love browsing Target for things that are already created. Enjoying things doesn’t make me a superficial person. It makes me a human who is alive with a vibrant heart beat. 

 We get to love what we love you guys. We don’t have to justify or downplay our stunning souls. Our souls are deep and wide. It has plenty of room for ALL the good stuff. The deep serious stuff and the frivolous fun stuff.

Maybe there's something you love but have inwardly rejected because it feels too meaningless and trivial. Maybe you can relate to wanting to be taken seriously and so have pretended part of your soul isn't there. But what's the worst that could happen if you risked making this list? Maybe you'll even sleep better. 

So here is my list of the frivolous things that I actually and unashamedly very much enjoy. You know I want to know what's on yours!

Heather's Frivolous List:

Essie nail polish
Gilmore Girls
Fancy wrapping paper
A novel with a cheesy happy ending
The smell of lavender
Sharpie fine point pens
Mud masks
Dusk in the summer
Fancy matches
Buying more than one bottle of wine at a time
Soft blankets
Hair ties and headbands*
Cucumber Water
Washi tape
The smell of new clothes
Scott’s homemade macaroni and cheese 
Cold brew lattes

* It’s the weirdest thing but buying hair stuff induces a weird sense of guilt in me like I should wrap my hair in braids with the yarn lying around my house (there is no yarn) Yesterday I bought headbands and all I could think was “this is so naughty, I am so bad, I am buying a pack of headbands for 5.99 to keep my bangs out of my face…how could you?!! How dare you?! Hence my need to write this blog.  

Thursday, April 7, 2016

My Dirty Little Secret

I’m currently reading a fabulous book all about coming out of hiding. It’s about shame and freedom and what keeps our nose to the ground and what helps us breathe deeper. The book is Brazen by Leeana Tankersley and it came out this week! Go and order it right now! I’ll be here when you get back!

There are so many ways we come out of hiding and so many others ways to stay quiet and small and invisible. But today I want to let you in on my personal dirty little secret:

I like being married.

There I said it.

Some people think marriage is going to be all unicorns and rainbows and then once they are married are scared to admit that's it hard. And then there are others who thought marriage was going to be all hard, all transition, all change and are now scared to admit they actually like being married. 

Isn’t it weird how certain things are just scary to admit?  I feel sheepish and nervous admitting that I like my marriage with Scott in the kind of way that one might be embarassed to admit that they…

…really like the color pink.

…don’t like going out.

…like their sweatpants.

…like shopping at Walmart.

…like the satisfaction of digging out ingrown hairs.

…sometimes eat McDonalds (and like it).

…love reading non-intellectual books.

…actually like being single.

…like box macaroni and cheese.

…like to stay in on New Years Eve.

…like the smell of gasoline.

We are so embarrassed to talk about what we like. We act as if enjoying our marriage is as shameful as the joy we get from picking out ingrown hairs on our face. Whether we are single or married, it feels like there is a certain unspoken pressure that we are to dislike these states. 

It’s easy to talk about what we hate right? We live in a culture that feeds off of negativity and toxic energy. Honestly most of the time it feels more natural to complain. More acceptable, even more likeable.

I am no stranger to this. After I married Scott, I started to notice this non-verbal rule everyone seemed to follow. Remember when you talked incessantly about your crush or when you had your first date or re-told your engagement story a thousand times? Well subtly that kind of talk decreases and the criticizing and spouse bashing increases. I began to wonder if the person you are supposed to love the most is also the person you will end up complaining about the most. And the worst part is I began to wonder if this was actually socially acceptable. Even desirable? I wondered if people no longer wanted to hear my mushy gushy details anymore or how in love I was. I began to ask myself, “Do they just want the dirt on my marriage? Do I just want the dirt on theirs? “*

But why?! Why do we CHOOSE someone and fall in love and then suddenly decide we have to talk about them like they are the punch line to a funny joke or a little side character in our story? Oh that little dud? Yeah I married them.

I have wondered if I need to be more into spouse bashing. I’ve got to be honest. There have been times where I have caught myself trying to think of something Scott did that annoyed me just to feel like I fit in. Is it true that once you are married everyone is so over the happily- ever-after nonsense that they just want to hear what’s wrong with your spouse?

Will the people who actually like being married please stand up? Please speak up and stand up! We neeeeeeeeeddddd you. Well actually I need you. I need to know it’s okay to like my marriage.

And I don’t mean the fake “everything is perfect, I swoon daily and have sex hourly”  types. There are those, the ones with the vacant looks in their eyes with the tight smile, who feel like they have to keep pretending because vulnerablity is terrifying. I want to hear from people who LIKE their relationships even those they have experienced hard.  They are the gutsy people who are brave enough to love vulnerably within their marriage.

It takes courage to live out of a place of abundance and not out of a place of scarcity. Sometimes celebrating and loving what you have is terrifying because it means you are really exposed and really vulnerable. Sometimes being happy in your marriage is a dirty little secret that you feel like has to stay hidden.

There are a number of reasons we do this of course:

We don’t want to make single people feel sad.
We don’t want people who have horrible marriages to feel sad.
We want to be sensitive so we act like we think our marriage is lame.

And so you know what we ultimately do? We push mute on our stories, our actual lives with our real spouses. We tone it down. We make it dull, rather than colorful and bright because we don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. We insist this is the polite and respectful thing to do. We sacrifice our spouse’s feelings at the expense of a cheap joke because the story is a crowd pleasing one.

But is it?

Are we really doing the world a favor by hiding?  

I think part of living life abundantly is by celebrating big and grieving big. We can’t numb our feelings, even the good ones if we truly want to live a wholehearted life.

Let’s not make spousal bashing the norm or even popular. When we bash we are being critical and that says more about us than the person we are criticizing. It says, don’t get too close to me; look how I talk about the person I am closest to. All too often we hot wire connection through having a common enemy (aka the spouses). This isn’t real intimacy or a real way to gain trust. This may make us feel close to someone but is far too superficial to build a lasting relationship on.

And let’s not hide anymore. Instead let’s own our stories and work to embrace others, even our dirty little secrets.

Hello my name is Heather and I like being married.

I also like eating whole cans of black olives in one sitting.

*SIDE NOTE: I am not talking about sharing your soul and your deep wounds and desires to your safe people and friends. This kind of relational processing is necessary and healthy. I do not believe this is considered "spouse bashing" I believe close friends will know about the HARD stuff in marriage as well as the good stuff. They will encourage, sustain and challenge you. They will tell you when to stay in and when to get out. Also they know when you are faking it.