6 Things Every New Therapist Needs to Know

If you’re a therapist who has recently graduated and is still in the very early stages of your career, it can be tough to carve out a professional path that’s all your own. 

Your academic experiences are still so fresh in your mind. So it’s natural for your work to be heavily influenced by the experiences you’ve had with professors, supervisors, and colleagues. However, it’s important to establish your own values as a therapist and recognize what you bring to the profession as an individual. 

How to Develop Your Voice as an Early-Career Therapist

There’ll be a lot of challenges and triumphs during your first few years as a therapist. You can develop an authentic voice that helps you connect with your clients and reflects your personal experiences. Use these tried-and-true methods to find your voice as an early-career therapist.

1. Use challenging moments to grow.

Many therapists experience difficult moments in their training process. It’s important to find a way to work through these challenges, so that you can continue to learn, grow, and evolve. 

Holding onto setbacks can be detrimental to the development of your own voice. You may experience a microaggression from a supervisor, a peer, or even a client. You might get negative feedback from a client online or rough feedback from a mentor. These moments can cause you to experience some self-doubt. 

Diminishing comments—intentional or not—can make you feel silenced, ashamed, or uncertain. Rather than internalizing this, ask more questions to foster your growth. Avoid silencing yourself or going against your instincts. Use these moments as catalysts for your own positive change, and leave the shame and doubt behind.

2. Overcome imposter syndrome.

Depending on your upbringing and cultural background, it may feel uncomfortable to assert yourself as a professional. Early-career therapists emerge from years of academic and clinical training where it was the norm to defer to a professor or supervisor. Even if you’ve established yourself as an authority and are handling your own clients, it can be challenging to assert yourself and rely on your own instincts. 

This feeling—often known as imposter syndrome—can be a barrier to finding your voice in these early stages of your career. This may lead to moments of doubt, especially when you don’t feel qualified to be a therapist or you question your accomplishments and abilities. 

In order to move past imposter syndrome, find a trusted mentor who supports your growth and champions you as a professional. Try looking for someone with a similar background or cultural identity. It also helps to remind yourself why you were called to this profession in the first place. 

3. Explore critical consciousness.

The field of therapy has been built with the best of intentions, but it still suffers from issues of inequality found in other industries. By exploring critical consciousness, you can start to develop an awareness and understanding of the structures and systems around us that reinforce those inequalities—and then take action to amend them.

Think about how your own experience is influenced by a number of factors, including:

  • Racial identity
  • Gender identity
  • Social class and education
  • Religious background
  • Physical ability

Your voice as a therapist should incorporate all aspects of your whole, contextual self. And that includes your multifaceted identity as well as your lived experiences.

Think about how you may be privileged and/or marginalized in certain areas and how that affects your work. This’ll give you a better understanding of your own voice and what you bring to the table as a therapist. 

This type of self-exploration can also help you to better understand others and recognize how their unique experiences inform their behavior. Create an atmosphere where these issues can be openly discussed—whether it’s with a client, your colleagues, or your supervisors—so you can learn from one another and grow together.

4. Identify your core values and hopes.

Think about what you want to bring forth from your own experience, background, and identity in your work. What pathway do you want to carve out for yourself that’ll empower you as a therapist? You can begin to define your voice by identifying your core values and hopes as a professional.

Try reflecting on questions like: 

  • What are your reasons for entering the field?
  • What did you envision, anticipate, hope for in your work?
  • How are your reasons and hopes for your work connected to your core values about life?
  • How have your personal experiences and understanding of who you are influenced your desire to work in the field?
  • Who do you hope to serve? How?

5. Establish a support system.

Aside from working on a deeper understanding of yourself, it’s important to strengthen your relationships with others as well. When you’re in an academic program or your first job, it’s easy to focus solely on your individual progress, experiences, and career development. But reaching out to others and establishing a support network can be a great way to develop your voice as a therapist.

Look to communities and spaces for support during the early stages of your career, like: 

  • Peers with shared experiences
  • Work colleagues
  • Professional organizations, networks, and events
  • Online forums

Choose support systems that nurture and affirm one or more aspects of your identity—such as spirituality, race/ethnicity, gender/sexual orientation, professional focus, scholarly interests, and so on. These supporters can provide a depth of connection that allows you to gain a better understanding of yourself. 

6. Work through personal transitions.

The transition from an academic setting to a professional setting comes with unique challenges. Perhaps you miss the sense of community you felt in your academic program. Maybe you’re experiencing a decline in clinical self-confidence when you start to work on your own. It’s important to remember that relationships with past colleagues and supervisors may shift, especially as you integrate yourself into a new workplace.

While this can be difficult, it can be an opportunity to find your place in the professional world. Try to view these personal transitions as opportunities for solidifying your identity as a therapist. Focus on finding a job where the values of the organization and the attitude of your colleagues align with your professional values and goals.

Prioritize Your Personal Development 

While these tips can help you find your voice as a therapist, this isn’t a one-time thing. The more you’re exposed to and learn from experiences of your clients, the more your understanding of self and others will deepen. Prioritize your individual growth early in your career and commit to making it an ongoing journey.

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