Recent college grad seeking advice on becoming therapist
December 30, 2011 10:20 AM   Subscribe

What can I do now to prepare for career as therapist when I'm older?

22 years old, graduated from college this month with majors in English, Spanish and PR. I want to be a psychotherapist but need some more life experience first. What can I do to prepare myself for this eventual career? What personality traits could I work on strengthening? What books could I read? Where could I volunteer? I say I am not ready to be a therapist because I'm kind of.....immature, you could say. I've been through a lot of hardship and I need to work on myself for awhile.

In sum: what life experiences now would give me the background to one day become an excellent therapist? Or: what personal characteristics make a great therapist?
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (12 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Life experience? Start traveling. Learn to see life from other people's perspectives. Cultivate a sense of empathy. Remove your prejudices.

I am not a therapist. But my wife is. She graduated undergrad with a psychology BA, then went directly into a professional grad school and earned her Masters and PsyD, along with a boatload of clinical experience.

You are almost certainly going to need some undergrad credits in the basic foundations of psychology if you plan to pursue any kind of therapist certification.
posted by gnutron at 10:39 AM on December 30, 2011

Go into therapy.
posted by DarlingBri at 10:40 AM on December 30, 2011 [5 favorites]

Definitely get therapy of your own. Also volunteer for a crisis hotline if you haven't (rape crisis, domestic violence, suicide). The training is really valuable and you learn a lot about putting your own emotions and prejudices aside as much as possible.

(not a therapist, but have worked on a crisis hotline).
posted by sweetkid at 10:42 AM on December 30, 2011 [3 favorites]

I don't think you need to prepare yourself. You learn on the job, when you get into the room with your clients. If you want, you can read this -

If I were you and were preparing, I'd meditate. It enhances compassion and helps you get to know yourself better.

I love how people throw out 'therapy' like it's 'cheerios.' Go to therapy if you want to, but not because you want to prepare to be a therapist.
posted by namesarehard at 11:02 AM on December 30, 2011

I think the best thing you can do to become an excellent therapist is to take the time to ground yourself in the sciences which surround therapy--neurology, genetics, medicine/psychiatry, psychopharmacology, etc. I do not mean you need to be an expert but you should be conversant, keep updated and be able to thoughtfully challenge the dogmas/theories of therapy from a rigorous scientific perspective. This from a person who was a therapist for 30+ years. I do believe that fully, humbly and graciously understanding the complexities of human behavior, and the limitations of therapy is liberating to the therapist , and most important, beneficial to the clients/patients. I think two of the most dangerous things one can do as a therapist is to foolishly overestimate your own power and fail to appreciate what you do not know.
posted by rmhsinc at 11:05 AM on December 30, 2011 [7 favorites]

Do you know what kind of therapy you want to do, what kind of clients you want to help? Can you volunteer in a related field?
posted by maurreen at 11:11 AM on December 30, 2011

Speaking with absolutely no knowledge, I'd think that working with people in need would be the perfect background. There are lots of entry-level jobs working (or volunteering) with people with physical, mental, or emotional difficulties, such as group homes, rehab centers, schools for special-needs children, and nursing homes. Often such work is done under the supervision of therapists and psychologists, so you'd have not only experience but access to people who have the jobs that you'd like to get.
posted by Mr.Know-it-some at 11:35 AM on December 30, 2011

do volunteer work with "troubled populations"- orphans, refugees, inner-city youth... will give you raw exposure to deep issues helping you strengthen your stamina toward dealing with various life problems...because, I do think that a stamina is necessary and that this stamina can be developed. i'm not a therapist just found working with these populations gave me special skills in dealing with others' issues and emotions
posted by saraindc at 12:15 PM on December 30, 2011

I am not a therapist. But I have worked with in HR management at two mental health agencies. Currently, I work in research and work with psychologists (HR was not for me).

1) Addictions is tied with psychological issues more and more frequently in our society...or it is now recognized as such. While previously the addictions field had been separate, more and more therapists and psychologists are both needing to and expected to understand addictions field along with mental health, and vice versa. It isn't a bad place to start whether you are considering career-wise or volunteer-wise. Warning, addictions professionals (without the mental health education component) make little money. The reward of the job is not monetary.

2) Boundaries. In my HR experience less experienced/less grounded individuals in the mental health field sometimes struggled with boundaries. This means becoming too emotionally attached or becoming more "friends" than therapist/patient, among many other scenarios. It can mean not maintaining the line you have drawn, or being overly impacted personally when a patient isn't doing well. Individuals who know how to appropriately draw boundaries in their personal life will be better able to do it professionally IMHO. I have seen "green" therapists struggle with this, where jobs have been lost and also they have personally struggled and left the field because of it. If you can do well with boundaries, it will make it easier in the future as a therapist.

Good luck!
posted by Kitty Cornered at 12:24 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

If you want to be a psychologist, you have to go back to school and do your core psychology classes, which is different than getting your MSW to do therapy.
I do think it is important to experience therapy if you want to do therapy, both to know more about yourself and to know what the process is like from the other side.
I don't know why you want to be a psychotherapist and that is important information to suss out. There are lots of ways to help people, there are lots of ways to study psychology, which is a very broad field, most of which does not have to do with working with clients and doing therapy.
There are lots of things you can read and places to volunteer, but it really depends on why you want to do it.
If you still have access to databases through your university, start researching and looking things up. There's lots of types of psychotherapy and lots of very different client populations, so you really need to know what your focus and reasoning is in wanting to go into it.
There are also lots of crappy therapist out there, like crappy doctors and crappy [insert profession here]. Supportive therapy, various forms of counseling, these are very different and easier to get into.
What makes a good therapist depends on what you need from the therapist. It's all very individual, I think. Certain general things do apply, like doing what is in the best interest of the client, which is very different from giving them what they want most of the time.
posted by provoliminal at 1:02 PM on December 30, 2011

Seriously, I've been a consumer, and have the best results with therapists who are well-grounded in the science, and who keep up with the research on what really works. I've had some bad therapy, some of it marginally ethical. Be part of the professional community, and be very critical of fads, esp. non-science-related. The helping professions are full of people who are wounded, and armchair therapists. Tread cautiously. Work on your own issues; getting therapy will help you learn what works.
posted by theora55 at 4:26 PM on December 31, 2011 [2 favorites]

I love how people throw out 'therapy' like it's 'cheerios.' Go to therapy if you want to, but not because you want to prepare to be a therapist.

Not so. It's considered normal, even desirable, for prospective therapists to undergo therapy themselves. If it's psychoanalysis the OP wants to go into, s/he will in fact be expected to undergo analysis. One reason not mentioned above is that it's important for the therapist to be familiar enough with his or her own issues, whether they might ordinarily warrant therapy or not, to notice when and how they might be influencing the therapist's response to a patient.
posted by Adventurer at 7:49 PM on December 31, 2011 [3 favorites]

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