Since starting a private practice almost 6 years ago, I’ve been asked to attend multiple career fairs and to host visits with middle and high school students interested in mental health professions. It’s exciting to see young people interested in the field and I hope I can inspire their professional ambitions and offer perspective on the realities of mental health as a career.
First, I share that becoming a therapist will require a bachelor’s and a master’s degree. There isn’t a specific bachelor’s degree, but therapists often start in a field like social work, psychology, sociology, or family studies. I started out as an undergrad thinking I wanted to become a physician but quickly I found I don’t like chemistry. Looking ahead I saw a whole lot more chemistry and realized that path wasn’t for me. I spent a couple semesters discerning my major until I took a course called Introduction to Human Development and it changed the trajectory of my career. I loved studying for that class and I felt inspired to learn more, so much that I made it my bachelor’s degree major.
After earning a bachelor’s degree, therapists need a master’s and there are several paths to get there, including social work, marriage and family therapy, counseling and psychology. Each has its own particular flavor and I’m happy to talk through those with students interested in becoming therapists. I took the social work path and it was a great decision for me.
Next I share with students the Bureau of Labor Statistics (bls.gov) information about six important skills needed in this work. The first three I summarize as the direct client work, including communication, empathy, and interpersonal skills. If you generally don’t like people, this is not the field for you. The second three are the indirect work, including problem-solving, time management and organizational skills. Having supervised at least a dozen bachelor’s and master’s-level students, I can attest that these skills are key. I believe they can be improved, but a baseline in those six areas is necessary to be successful in the field.
In the last section, I highlight the pros and cons of practicing in an outpatient private practice clinic in a rural area. Positives include the rewarding nature of the work, a growing field due to a high demand for therapy, and flexibility in setting your own schedule. Some negative aspects are combating burnout, difficulties with insurance reimbursement, and the potential for dual relationships in a small town.
I’m hopeful as I see young people prioritizing their mental health and de-stigmatizing seeking therapy. I love my work and I love sharing that passion with others, hopefully inspiring the next generation of helping professionals.