Completing a degree in higher education in a clinical field like mental health is just the beginning of a journey that continues long after graduation. It’s a transformation of new therapists. Taking the leap into the professional world equipped with new credentials can bring freedom, but also apprehension.
It can feel like a rocky road trying to navigate the application of theoretical frameworks to real-life circumstances, learning how to foster genuine relationships with clients, managing all the newness of clinical documentation, and handling your own personal life and mental health. It is not uncommon for therapists to experience thoughts of inadequacy combined with feeling anxious, stressed, vulnerable, and overwhelmed. This slippery slope of emotions can make new (and seasoned) therapists question themselves and their ability to make an impact on clients.
The final stage of transformation
I am currently a clinical intern. This means that I am in the final stages of learning before launching out of graduate school and into my path toward licensure. Working at Perspectives Therapy Services, a group private practice, I am surrounded by therapists along the entire developmental continuum– some new, like me, while others have been practicing this craft for decades. One of the many perks to working at a therapy clinic is that your colleagues are supportive, relatable, and empathetic to what you are going through.
This writing is intended to be a reflection, my reflection as I capture this stage in my professional development as a new therapist. Additionally, it ended up being a way to capture the sentiments of my coworkers. I posed a question to my fellow PTS clinicians, asking for advice on how new therapists can acclimate into their transformation of new therapists.
Here are their voices:
- “Collaborate and ask questions, even if you feel it may be silly. Everyone here is supportive and willing to help.”
- “Remember: any new endeavor requires a learning curve, which can be long and arduous. Please accept your humanness.”
- “Your presence is enough! Very rarely do people experience someone’s undivided focus and curiosity for an hour each week. If you ever feel uncertain that you are making a difference, trust that the therapeutic relationship is enough.”
- “Remember to do what you can while you can and with what you have. It’s important to remember we’re normally coming into a person’s life at a time of crisis, and sometimes, just listening can be the biggest form of help we can give.”
- “It is okay to not know what you are doing; you will not know how to do everything. And give yourself a break! It takes time to get used to everything.”
- “Seek out a colleague you work with that has a lot of experience—a mentor—and stick with them like glue! Ask questions, and learn from their experiences. Find someone you feel you can share your feelings with regarding your clients, and never be afraid of ‘not knowing’. Give yourself permission to not know everything in our field and have all the answers. This will foster the excitement of being a lifelong learner. Good luck; you will do just fine!”
- “Don’t let your young age intimidate you. You are qualified to work with clients older than you. Prove them wrong if they question your ‘inexperience.’”
- “Keep in mind your own mental health and patterns, such as ‘I don’t feel good enough’ or ‘I really need people to like me, or I’ll struggle.’ These can be especially tough when first starting out. It helps to notice these thoughts when they present themselves and explore why they are causing a reaction within you. Talking out these personal reactions with a supervisor or other trusted peers is essential to strengthening your professional self while also validating your personal life story.”
- “It’s okay to be yourself as a clinician! Clients appreciate authenticity and will love your personality!”
- “It is so normal to feel burnt out and like you don’t have the mental energy for family and friends the way you do for your clients. It takes time to learn how to hold all of these things that your clients bring to you while also being able to let them go when you return home. That is not easy, especially in grad school, where you are expected to navigate this brand new space while also learning, doing homework, making a living, and trying to remain sane. My advice would be to just know that this is normal and that it takes some time to adjust. It won’t always be this way, and you have so many colleagues and classmates that have been/are going through the same thing as you and are always willing to share experiences. I hope this helps. <3”
- “Read The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom! This book is a true gem and was formative in my early days as a therapist. Better yet, read it with a peer, and carve out time once a week to discuss the (very short!) chapters. I’m beyond glad I did!”
- “Don’t rush to fill the silence.”
- “First of all, it is a scary time of adjustment– from imposter syndrome, to creating new relationships within the agency, to working with clients. I think the biggest thing that has helped me thus far on my journey is self-compassion and allowing myself grace. It’s important to know it is okay to not have all the answers, but the capacity to continue to grow through readings, interactions with coworkers, trainings, etc. If nothing else, always resort back to building and strengthening the relationship. You will do great and have already made great contributions!”
- “Be still when the anxiety kicks in. Remember that you are human and can only do so much. Give yourself grace when mistakes happen. Even the most seasoned therapists still feel overwhelmed at times.”
- “Be gentle with yourself! Imposter syndrome is pretty normal. You wouldn’t be here if you weren’t a great clinician, and there are lots of us at PTS rooting for you!”
- “Never underestimate the value/power of giving clients your full presence.”
- “Give yourself a routine/ritual for entering and exiting your work. Maybe practice a mantra about what grounds your work (‘My presence is enough’), a mindfulness exercise where you set aside all the worries/weights from home and pick up the peace of the office, or some other special-to-you practice. If you have a particularly overwhelming or difficult encounter, maybe offer yourself that practice again. Keep something to ground you as you enter the newness over and over again!”
My takeaway from these messages is that what I’m experiencing as a new therapist is completely normal and to be expected. I found myself being soothed by the words of my colleagues (ah, the power of validation!). Seeking the support you need is essential for growing as a professional and, even more importantly, as a person.
The therapeutic process with clients is imperfect, and that’s the beauty of it. As beginning therapists, we sometimes try to portray that we have everything under control, even when we feel completely different on the inside. It can be exhausting to try to fight these feelings alone. I am grateful to be at this place in life. My continued personal and professional goal is to be mindful and soak up where I am each day, forgiving myself for what I don’t yet know, and giving myself credit for victories along the way.
We are therapists.
We are real and genuine humans.
We are works in progress, just like our clients.
Perspectives Therapy Services is a multi-site mental and relationship health practice with clinic locations in Brighton, Lansing, Highland, Fenton and New Hudson, Michigan. Our clinical teams include experienced, compassionate and creative therapists with backgrounds in psychology, marriage and family therapy, professional counseling, and social work. Additionally, we offer psychiatric care in the form of evaluations and medication management. Our practice prides itself on providing extraordinary care. We offer a customized matching process to prospective clients whereby an intake specialist carefully assesses which of our providers would be the very best fit for the incoming client. We treat a wide range of concerns that impact a person's mental health including depression, anxiety, relationship problems, grief, low self-worth, life transitions, and childhood and adolescent difficulties.