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.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Heather, Goodness, so much work involved in your profession! Far more than just getting your degree. As important as all of the academic work involved is though, it's also that you've given up so much of yourself to it too. It takes a very strong, and very special, person to want to share the troubles of others in order to ease those troubles for them. I know I've said before Heather, but your clients are so, so lucky to have you in their corner. You're such a sweet, kind, wonderful person and I think your career must have been more of a calling than a choice. I hope you realise how very special you are, but I'll just bet you don't think that at all (you're far too sweet to think of yourself as special) so I'll just have to keep telling you until you believe me :) I hope others tell you too. You've worked so hard just to be able to help others I'm so proud of you Heather, keep being you because you're awesome. Huggles always dear wee friend xx