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.
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5 Ways Motherhood Has Changed Me As A Therapist

How Motherhood Has Made Me a Better Therapist.Kim's Counseling Corner

My son turns 2 years old today. It has gone by so fast and and I haven’t been a mom for all that long, but I know I have definitely changed. Thinking about all the joys and challenges over the last two years, I can’t help but also think about how motherhood has changed me professionally and made me into a better therapist.

1. I am more empathetic to parents. In counseling, we like to believe that we can empathize with just about everyone. After all, pain is pain, joy is joy, etc… no matter what the circumstance. I still think this is true to an extent. But now, when a parent sits across from me and says they are devastated because they don’t know why their child feels so sad, or they want to know where their little angel has gone, I think of my own children. How will I feel if my happy little guy is one day an adolescent who rages in my living room, or if my sweet girl one day talks about hating herself because she is not accepted at school. The pain for me is so unbearable. I channel this empathy towards my clients to help them see better days ahead.

2. I give limited “homework” assignments to parents now. Pre-motherhood, I had all kinds of homework for parents, such as charting 5 different aspects of a behavior during the week (when, where, why, your response, their response…sigh), completing daily exercises with their children, taking personal time out for an hour a day… can you imagine? I am much more cognizant of the daily demands of parenthood. Now, I still recommend personal time for parents, but aim for one hour a week, and my homework assignments are given with more realistic requirements. I get much more follow through now!

3. I am more confident. This increased confidence is not completely due to being a mother, but also due to just having more experience under my belt. However, I do feel that since I am a mom, I can connect better with parents and kids. I also feel more secure in setting personal boundaries for my time and commitments. As a professional who aims to teach healthy boundaries to my clients, being able to set them for my own life is important.

4. My priorities have changed. Now that my family life is set, I can begin working towards long term professional goals that sink with the demands of my family. For example, I hope to establish a successful private practice over the next several years that will allow me to schedule appointments during the time my kids are in school.

5. I have more life experience. No matter what field you work, life experience always give you a leg up. The more I live and the more life phases I enter and travel through, the more I can relate and offer help to others!

Check out these posts too!

Why I Became a Licensed Professional Counselor

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No Longer a Supermom Wannabe!

 

 

Why I Became A Licensed Professional Counselor

“Why did you decide to become a Professional Counselor?”

I get this question fairly often. Mostly from new counseling graduates or clients who have been seeing me for long enough. For me, being a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) is an honor and a challenge. To fully answer this quesiton, I would have to start by talking briefly about what I do as an LPC.

My “Job” as an LPC

I put the word “job” in parenthesis because I often don’t feel as if this is a job lately. I am in the profession of helping people through a wide variety of problems.

Here are a few things I get to do on the “job.”

  • Listen: I listen to what my clients have to say. Many times, people feel they talk but they are not heard. They feel as if they share their feelings, but the underlying meaning of why they are feeling that way is not brought to light. So, I listen for what is being said, but also to whay is not being said.
  • Recognize: I am training to recognize many things as an LPC. Some of these include signs of unhealthy boundaries, indications of a mental illness, patterns of behavior, and structural patterns in relationships.
  • Validate: This cannot be underestimated in my role. People often need validation and empathy in order to fully heal.
  • Plan: I establish a plan to help my clients with the issues they bring to me. This includes coming up with goals and ways to reach those goals.
  • Encourage: I encourage my clients in reaching their goals, making progress in their life, and reaching healthy milestones.
  • Advise: I advise clients in handling certain situations, such as handling a child’s visitation after divorce, talking with doctor’s and teachers about what is going on.
  • Play!: As a play therapist, engaging children during therapeutic play is one of my roles, and definitely one of my favorites.

The Reason I Chose Counseling (A Rare Moment of Personal Disclosure)

I am an only child and grew up in a 2 parent home. I can say confidently and thankfully that I am loved by both parents and a small extended family of aunts, uncles, and cousins. I had a happy childhood. However, starting around middle school, I began to experience the challenges that I believe most adolescents experience. I started a new school as well, which added to some of the social challenges of the time. Making friends was difficult for me and I found myself being bullied pretty regularly. This was more of the relational aggression bullying that we see among girls. I remember feeling confused and lonely. I did not have siblings or friends to talk to and I don’t remember my school having a school counselor either. I began surrounding myself with anyone who would be my friend, no matter whether they were a good influence or not.

I finally made my way to high school. My grades were good and I was making a few more friends. But then I got the dreaded boyfriend. You know the one that every mother and father despises and wants to keep far from their daughters. I will skip the details of this time in my life, but I’m sure you can fill in the blanks with your own experience, or one of someone you know. The bottom line is that I again felt lonely and confused. I actually wanted OUT of the relationship with this boy, but I felt trapped and scared. If only I had someone to talk to and help me sort it all out in a healthy and safe way.

Why didn’t I talk to my parents? This is where my career choice will begin to make sense for you. I didn’t tell my parents how scared and lonely I felt for many reasons (that I can only now finally to put into words):

  • Embarrassment. I was embarrassed to admit I made mistakes and needed help.
  • Fear. I was afraid what would happen if they intervened.
  • Disappointment. I didn’t want to disappoint my parents, especially being an only child and all.
  • Pride. As a teenager, you are trying to prove yourself as an adult and admitting mistakes doesn’t help your case.

Putting It All Together

So that’s my personal story of some difficult times when I really needed a counselor as an adolescent. I’m confident the outcome could have been different, as well as saving myself and my family some grief. However, like most challenges and triumphs in our life, those experiences made me who I am today! I am in the business of helping people who are lonely, need answers, feel depressed, or don’t know the healthiest way to handle their circumstance.

I have mentioned in other posts, the importance of finding a mentor for your teenager and it’s for the reasons I stated above that I believe this is so important. With the rise of depression in teens, divorce, autism, and so much more, I don’t ever want a teenager, child, adult, or parent to feel they are alone and don’t have someone to talk to and help.

There are many professionals in the helping profession who follow this blog. I would love to hear how you decided this was the career for you!

Finding the Right Type of Mental Health Professional

When it comes time to choosing a professional to help with a personal or family issue, sifting through all the different options can be confusing. Before entering graduate school to become a Licensed Professional Counselor, I had no idea the profession even existed, much less the difference between that license and any other.

For Medication, you want to find a Psychiatrist, who is a Medical Doctor with specialized training in menal health diagnoses and medication.

For Psychological Testing, you will generally seek services from a Clinical Psychologist. These professionals have a doctoral degree and more training than other mental health professionals in psychological testing.

For Individual, Couples, or Family Counseling, you will do well with a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT), or Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW). Most Clinical Psychologists also offer counseling services. Each of these licensed professionals are trained in counseling a wide range of issues, with a slight difference in their educational and licensure requirements. If you have a choice among an LPC, LMFT, or LCSW, I recommend reviewing the backgrounds and any specializations of each individual to help sort through who may best fit your needs.

You may also look at specializations or additional certifications for each professional that may fit your needs. For example, I have a certification as a Registered Play Therapist from the Association for Play Therapy. This just means I have completed the coursework and clinical experience requirements to implement the skills of play therapy into my practice with children. There are endless specializations that clinicians can obtain. If you see letters behind someone’s name that you don’t recognize, they are likely because they have a certification. Do your research to find out more about that training.

PsychCentral.com has more detailed descriptions that may be helpful:

Psychiatrist – A psychiatrist is a medical doctor and the only professional that specializes in mental health care and can prescribe medications.

Psychologist – A psychologist is a professional who does psychotherapy and has a doctorate degree (such as a Ph.D. or Psy.D.). Psy.D. programs tend to focus on clinical practice and result in the professional having thousands of hours of clinical experience before they enter practice. Ph.D. programs can focus on either clinical or research work, and the amount of clinical experience a professional will gain varies from program to program. Psychologists receive specific training in diagnosis, psychological assessment, a wide variety of psychotherapies, research and more.

Clinical Social Workers – Typically a clinical social worker will have completed a Master’s degree in social work (M.S.W.) and carry the LCSW designation if they are doing psychotherapy (Licensed Counselor of Social Work). Most programs require the professional to go through thousands of hours of direct clinical experience, and the program focuses on teaching principles of psychotherapy and social work.

Marriage & Family Therapist – These therapists tend to have a Master’s degree (but can have as little as a Bachelor’s degree or less in some states) and typically have between hundreds to thousands of hours of direct clinical experience. Because this designation varies from state to state, the quality of the professional may also vary significantly from person to person.

Licensed Professional Counselor – The requirements for this designation, which can be in addition to the professional’s educational degrees, vary from state to state. Most are Master’s level professionals who have had thousands of hours of direct clinical experience.

Other – There are a wealth of other professional designations and initials that follow professionals’ names. Most of these designate a specialty certification or the like, not an educational degree.

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