Advice for Psychology and Social Work Majors and Aspiring Professionals

Tips for Young ProfessionalsI’ll never forget my first year as an LPC-Intern. I knew only what the books taught me and nothing about real world application. I’m pretty sure I literally shivered with nerves through my first year of face-to-face counseling sessions, and I sought my supervisor’s validation constantly. However, where my counseling  skills and confidence lacked, my passion and thirst for experience made up for it.

No matter the industry you choose to start your career (or change your career), you are likely to experience similar feelings, but hopefully you also share the same level of passion and desire to reach your potential in your chosen field. My list below of tips for young professionals are points I find significant for a rich and successful professional journey.


1. Keep in touch with colleagues and classmates. You will make many friends in college and grad school, during internships, while volunteering, and at first jobs. I didn’t realize the value of maintaining these relationships until later on. While everyone may seem just as clueless as you in the early days, you eventually grow into your prospective fields and become more confident, influential, and connected in your industry. Staying connected with others not only enriches your personal life, but it also promotes you professionally, such as referring you for a job, becoming a business partner, and connecting you with other influential professionals.

2. Get out of your comfort zone. Growing in your new profession will require some form of discomfort. I’ll never forget how nervous I was for my first counseling session (OK maybe my first 50 sessions!). These experiences are essential for improving your confidence, skills, and provide excellent opportunities to discover your strengths and weaknesses. With that being said, be sure to stay connected with your supervisor/mentors to ensure you are providing sound and ethical services.

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3. Get creative. Post graduation, most people set out to find a job, usually the most common position in your field, and sometimes that may have to be the first job offered. For example, counseling interns volunteer at community outreach programs for clinical  hours, and a handful will try their hand at private practice. These are excellent roads to take, but if you find yourself wanting something different, if you find yourself feeling like there should be more to this career, then get creative!  You can build a website or YouTube channel, start up a non-profit, organize a networking group, or develop training for continuing education. The  ideas are endless when you keep an open, creative mindset!

4. Own your own “style”. No matter what profession you enter, individualism is refreshing. People gravitate towards others who inspire them, own their own personality or uniqueness, and develop his/her style and brand. You may have observed that successful mentors and seasoned professionals use their own approach and build upon their strengths. For example, in counseling, I notice some therapists are more directive while others are more client-centered and less directive. Some therapists enjoy speaking and large groups, while others prefer a quiet, encouraging  approach in individual sessions. No matter who you are and what you are doing, embrace your individualism and make it work for you.

5. Find a niche. A professor in grad school once told me that counseling is flooded with generalized therapists and suggested that I find a niche to realize success. I took this to heart and searched for many years to find a specialized area in which I could flourish. Not having many skills for therapy with children, I was drawn to play therapy. My professor was right…marketing myself as a play therapist has opened up many doors and enriched my clinical skills. Consider your own passion and focus on growing this area.

6. Appreciate the journey. It’s natural and healthy to look ahead to the future, especially when it promises a better job, more money, etc. But don’t forget to relish in the moment of your current experience. New therapists, for example, are often so eager to complete their internship and be done with supervision, that they overlook the value of the present and what that time means for their career and their life. This anticipation is normal, but I urge you to slow down and appreciate the experiences, skills, and knowledge you are gaining where you are… even the bad ones! Think about how this experience will make you a better professional and person.

7. Network in your community. Attend local continuing education opportunities, open houses, and even reach out to professionals related to your field. When starting out, you need to create a name for yourself and building relationships is the first step. These days, it’s even easier to stay connected through email, social media, and Linkedin.

8. Be a resource for others. There are a variety of ways you can be a resource to your colleagues and community. For example, send referrals to a fellow colleagues, share resources, support them at their open house and other professional social events, and be a part of discussions about client/patient issues, and other challenges of your practice.

9. Plan on learning forever. I constantly seek out more knowledge on subjects in my field and new techniques to apply in practice. There is no shortage of information from online websites, apps, and podcasts, in addition to continuing education courses, so access should be easy. When your schedule fills up, and the more experience you gain, you tend to assume that ongoing learning is no longer a priority. Not so! Make education a a part of your day now, so the habit remains far into the future. You will be glad you did!

10. Reach out to more seasoned professionals. I receive emails regularly from new therapists and I’m happy to offer guidance when possible. Most professionals want to give back and appreciate eager newbies showing a passion for their field. The mutual respect usually benefits both parties anyways. Not sure how to initiate? Get in touch with them by email, offer to buy them coffee, or request a few minutes on the phone.


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Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

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