I want to be a therapist...what should I consider before getting started during a global pandemic?
Happy January my lovely followers! I hope you had a safe and healthy holiday season with those you love. The holidays looked and felt very different this year given COVID and the many changes that come our way as a result. This pandemic has shaken up our world in so many ways and I decided to take some time to reflect on that fact and write a blog post about it in relation to my career as a therapist.
Mental health needs have been on the rise since the pandemic began affecting our country in March 2020, and this has led to a massive (and by massive I truly mean massive!) influx in the need for mental health care. My practice has grown significantly as a result; however, I began reflecting on how I am caring for myself during this time. Being a therapist means that you naturally have a lot of empathy to give others, which means that your empathy tank runs out faster than you can keep up with at times. The pandemic and the intense need to access mental health supports has quickened the pace at which the empathy tank reaches empty, which has led many therapists struggling to make time for themselves. To make matters that much trickier, working from home has blurred our work-life boundaries and therapists have struggled to engage in the self-care they often advocate for. As a result, we are burning out faster, needing longer breaks, and not feeling as though we are ever fully re-charged.
I can speak for myself and my own schedule, that I often take 2 weeks off each year and travel with my family to get a bit of an environmental and mental health break for myself. This usually gives me the mid-year pick-me-up that is needed to be at the top of my therapist game. However, given the pandemic has locked down our borders and made travel a significant health risk, those breaks were not taken this year. Now, if you are considering pursuing a career as a therapist, I often tell my Mentorship & Consulting clients this first and very important eye-opening therapist moment...YOU need to take the time for yourself and be your own advocate for self-care. Mindfulness and self-awareness are key skills to build as you are growing as a therapist, so you can monitor your empathy tank and ensure you are not burning out in the process. It's only fair to be the best version of yourself for your clients, family, and most importantly, yourself.
Next, if you are considering a career as a therapist, you are most likely looking at education options to get you to your goal. To be a Registered Psychotherapist (such as myself), you will need a Bachelor's Degree from an accredited university, a Masters degree that meets the standards of the College of Registered Psychotherapists of Ontario (our licensing body), the completion of direct client hours and clinical supervision, and the successful passing of a licensing exam. Choosing a university is a little tricky during the pandemic, given most schools have been forced to go virtual. I completed my MA degree virtually and it made life way easier, to be honest! I was able to work 3 part-time jobs and graduate with significantly less student debt, which was a huge bonus! When considering a Graduate-level program, having a program that offers placement experiences are most ideal for the practical aspect of building your therapist skills. Being a therapist is more than just sitting and listening to someone's issues, it's about actively listening, putting your knowledge into practical support, supporting clients in reaching their goals, and turning to models of treatment that best suit each individual client.
Another aspect of inquiry that I explore with my Mentorship & Consulting clients is the question...are you passionate about mental health and being an advocate for others? Mental health care isn't a one-time visit where you solve a person's most complex problems. It's about supporting that client through relationship building, understanding them in ways they may not even understand themselves, and even pushing them to explore their boundaries and discuss issues that once brought on pain or suffering. Being someone's therapist is a huge responsibility and is recommended to those who truly have a passion for the field.
The final aspect that I will speak on today is a willingness to be adaptable. During this time of fluid changes and uncertain next steps in our world, therapists are looked to as being adaptable, flexible, and willing to accommodate their clients. One major lesson I have learned throughout the pandemic is that in order for me to best support my clients, I should be adaptable to their needs. I have had to switch appointments on a whim, understand late cancellations with a little bit more leniency, and schedule last minute sessions when my clients were struggling in a particular moment. As a therapist, it's important to acknowledge, for yourself and your clients, that you are also human. We can't possibly be at the top of our therapy game every-single-day! Give yourself breaks, remember that it's okay to say 'no', and practice what you preach! The title of therapist is not just a title, it's a way of life. I must practice my practice, I must honour myself, and I must acknowledge my humanity.
Are you interested in pursuing a career in mental health care? Reach out to me today or visit the Mentorship & Consulting page for more information on how I can help!