Your First Job As A Therapist: 7 Steps For Success
Have you proudly completed your qualifications (congratulations!) and find yourself preparing to enter the workforce? Have you already begun consulting but feel a little lost when imagining the bigger picture or your future? Would you like guidance on how to successfully transition from the world of study into the world of therapy?
Then, welcome! I’m glad you’re here.
Starting your first job as a therapist is a big deal. One that can be exciting and daunting, energizing and overwhelming in unison. There is much to master. And there’s a good chance that you haven’t yet learned some of what you need to know …
Important information about niche, values, and goals, creating your therapy space, setting a structured schedule, ensuring you have the support you need, feeling like you belong in the consultation room, and staying well.
This information is crucial. And yes, this knowledge will help set you up for a long, flourishing career. But more than that, it will safeguard your health as well.
With research revealing that the average mental health professional experiences “high levels of emotional exhaustion,” you must proactively protect and secure your future. You deserve it, and so do future clients whose lives you will touch when you stay in practice and stay well.
With that in mind, let’s shift to a lighter focus. Here are the 7 things you need to safeguard a successful, impactful, fulfilling therapist career.
1. Define your therapy niche
Have you heard of a niche?
A niche is simply defined as a specialized market. In the therapy field, it’s the subset of the mental health market that a therapist specializes in. For example, marriage counseling, addiction recovery, eating disorders, trauma recovery, or learning difficulties.
At this point in your budding career, you might question the logic of choosing a niche. After all, why wouldn’t you see anyone and everyone? Because a niche acts as the springboard for a flourishing career.
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Choose a niche that you’re passionate about. One that you can happily dedicate your life to learning. And, as we say in our article, Find Your Mental Health Niche to Supercharge Practice Growth:
A niche that is sufficiently large and has motivated clients is full of opportunity. It contains an abundance of potential clients seeking expert therapy. Clients who are willing to pay for their care.
Choosing the right niche will help you gain an incredible depth of knowledge, provide premium, highly valued, and sought-after care, and enable you to market yourself as a thought leader and expert.
This single decision can make or break your ability to get off the ground as a therapist. It can also make or break your bottom line.
And remember, you can switch your niche so this isn’t a forever decision. But as your brand and reputation will be built upon your area of expertise, it’s wise to choose carefully. Too many switches could compromise your credibility.
2. Establish your core values and goals
Do you know what you stand for, specifically? Do you have a clear understanding of the values you wish to weave through your practice? Have you set near and distant goals that you want to achieve?
Starting your career as a therapist with these things in mind will elevate your practice’s success and set you apart from other beginning and established professionals.
See, determining your core values will drive the ship so to speak. When you’re unsure which way to turn — what decision to make — formalized core values will provide illumination and guidance. Sharing these values will provide potential and current clients with insight into who you are, what you stand for, and help to build rapport.
Then there are your goals…
Research shows that setting lofty and specific goals increases performance, persistence, and motivation. But goal setting is a considered process; it’s more than slapping down some ideas.
We share how — exactly — to set goals that move you forward to practice in our article, How To Set Goals To Supercharge Your Practice Success.
Remember: Core values and goal setting are important elements of building a successful practice, whether in private or group practice.
3. Build and develop your therapy space
The space you share with clients is crucial. It can provide comfort or breed disquiet. Sounds like an overreach? It’s not…
Imagine how you’d feel when entering a fluorescently lit room, with plastic chairs, sharp edges, and a cold temperature. Now imagine entering a space with cozy plush seats, calming artwork, a warm, soft color scheme, and a comfortable climate. You can feel the difference, right? So, too, will your clients.
Clients need to feel secure, protected and supported. A welcoming, approachable, and accommodating setting helps to do this.
4. Set a structured schedule
I understand the temptation to throw your books wide open when you first enter practice. To welcome every possible booked consultation. But, your schedule should work for you as well as your clients.
So, decide on your priorities first. Answer questions like:
- What do you want?
- What do you need?
- What time do you desire outside of practice?
- How many hours per day and days per week do you wish to work?
- How many weeks’ holiday do you fancy each year?
- What consultation length is best?
- How often will the average client see you?
- What non-client tasks do you need to complete?
Once you have the answers set a weekly, monthly, and yearly structured schedule. Barring emergencies, stick to it.
Tip: Once you have decided on your structure, you can set up an online booking system.
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5. Build a support system and community
While being a therapist is fulfilling and joyful, your profession can also be emotionally, mentally, and spiritually exhausting. Having a support system and community is a valuable asset that eases the path. Just as clients need support and community to flourish, so, too, do you.
See, your therapist career will come with ups and downs. Some of the ups may feel euphoric, some of the downs will likely be low …
But more experienced colleagues can help to buffer the dips. Reach out to them. Build bridges. Deepen relationships. Give and accept support.
Your fellow new grads are destined to face similar challenges, too. Stay connected; extend and receive support.
Your loved ones can also be a strong source of support. Allow them to provide a buttress against the worrisome times. Enjoy the blessings together.
And never neglect your extended community. When you yourself are supported, you can support others fully. Establish a name in your community by supporting others, in practice and outside of practice. Volunteering or teaching provides a wonderful opportunity to do this. Aim to build your community. This will benefit your neighborhood and in return, promote your therapy practice.
6. Overcome imposter syndrome
Do you ever feel like a fraud? Like you’re not really an expert? Do you chalk up your academic success to luck, or because your lecturers somehow fell for your charade? Do you worry that at any moment someone might discover that you’re less capable than they currently believe you to be?
These are signs of imposter syndrome, a phenomenon that particularly strikes high achievers, including those in positions of authority. Yes, people like therapists.
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Imposter syndrome undermines confidence and quality of life, even causing some people to sabotage their professional success and impact. If this experience sounds familiar, it’s best to nip it in the bud now. Before you establish your career.
To find out more, learn how to test yourself, and discover how to treat this phenomenon, read, Imposter Syndrome: A Common Reason Therapists Underachieve in Practice.
7. Prioritize time for yourself and for your mental health
Okay, so I hope I need not say this. However, I’ve met so many burned-out therapists I feel it’s important to stress …
Look after yourself physically and psychologically.
You cannot give from an empty well. Yet, many therapists continue to try. So, at the start of your career — before crazy hours or heavy burdens bear down — commit to yourself as a priority!
The above six steps will help you to do this. Plus, use the immense knowledge you’ve gained through years of study to place yourself first. Except for understandable temporary situations, never buckle under the pressure to give more than you’re able. You must maintain hearty reserves and a full well.
You deserve a wonderful career, wonderful health, and a wonderful life.
Again, congratulations on your monumental achievement! Completing your studies and starting out in practice is a big deal. The difference you will make will be a game-changer for many people. But this can be a double-edged sword. As you push to heal others, you must also support — and heal — yourself.
The 7 above steps will help to do this while transitioning into practice and achieving success. So…
Define your therapy niche, establish your core values and goals, build and develop your therapy space, set a structured schedule, build a support system and community, overcome imposter syndrome, if relevant, and prioritize time for yourself and for your mental health.
Go get ’em!
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