Chef Jeff on Overcoming Adversity

Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

I’ll be honest…when I saw a keynote speaker at the 2019 AAMFT Leadership Symposium in Virginia this past weekend was some dude named “Chef Jeff”…I was skeptical. What could a chef have to tell therapists about leadership (and who booked this guy)??

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Chef Jeff Henderson

Well. I was in for a surprise.

A full ballroom gave Chef Jeff two standing ovations. I have never been to a conference where a speaker got a full-on STANDING OVATION, let alone TWO. And we were enthusiastic about it!! We wanted the guy to NEVER STOP SPEAKING.

So, what does a chef have to teach therapists about leadership?

Everything.

His talk was topically appropriate, for sure—he talked about how his family dynamics growing up influenced his life choices, and how he was able to recognize and break those intergenerational patterns that ended him up in prison. He spoke with great love and respect about his wife and family, and how critical their support was and continues to be for his success.

He also spoke at length about how he “decriminalized his gifts” after prison, directing the considerable business acumen he’d developed to turn himself into a millionaire drug dealer towards his new goal of becoming a chef. There were some interesting stories about how he had to change his appearance and demeanor to get access to the promotions he wanted; it was simultaneously inspiring, because the guy is a genius at figuring out how to get what he wants, but it was also unsettling how he had to “code-switch” in order to get there.

But the part that really got me going was all his talk about hustle. If you read my previous post about Sarah Epstein’s talk at the same conference, you’ll know that I have a real problem with how hustle seems to be stigmatized in the field of marriage and family therapy. At one point, he declared, “There’s no success without hustling! Who in here’s a hustler???” I was overjoyed that he was normalizing hustle, ambition, and drive for achievement in a room full of therapists. Granted, this particular room full of therapists had all signed up for a Leadership Symposium, so perhaps this group was more open to the idea of hustling as mental health professionals? But I was just so glad he said that!

My absolute favorite quote came during a story about hustling, in fact. He was talking about how he never went to culinary school—he learned how to cook by deliberately (obsessively?) watching other chefs cook in kitchens. He would get a job as a dishwasher, knock out his dishes as fast as possible, then just observe everyone around him, learning how they did their different cooking jobs. Then, when someone called in sick, he’d volunteer to jump on the station, and people would be impressed with how he already knew how to do everything! He said, “people would go on vacation and I would take over while they were gone. Then when they got back…they wouldn’t have a job no more!”

Here he paused for the laugh, which of course came—loud and uproarious. A sly grin spread over his face, and he bellowed with a lilting street cadence, “don’t go on vacation next to me!

I laughed so hard. But I also knew I wanted to have that printed on a mug or something, to remind myself that hustling isn’t something to be ashamed of, even if I am a therapist.

(This is not the exact talk Chef Jeff gave at the Symposium, but it’s similar and worth a listen! Nothing quite like hearing him live, thought!)

If you are planning an event, you should absolutely consider hiring Chef Jeff as a speaker! The man is electrifying, brilliant, engaging, funny, sharp as a tack and quick as a whip. And if you’re lucky, like we were, his wife will show up, also. She gamely took a question from our audience, and you can imagine how an entire room full of marriage and family therapists swooned hearing her talk about her husband.

Also, several therapists in the room mentioned that they had clients with whom Chef Jeff’s story would resonate, so they were really happy to have his books to recommend to those clients. If you have clients struggling with overcoming systemic oppression, the school-to-prison pipeline, or other social injustice, you may want to check out any of Chef Jeff’s books I’ve linked to on this page. Enjoy!

 

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Sarah Epstein on Starting Now

Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

I love seminars. Nerdy, I know. But I love focused lectures on very specific topics I don’t usually get the opportunity to learn about in school. That’s why I was excited to attend Sarah Epstein’s breakout session titled “Start Now: Harness Your Talents and Hustle to Expand Your Career" at the 2019 AAMFT Leadership Symposium in Virginia this past weekend. Career-planning seems to be neglected in most graduate programs, so I’m always eager to collect more insights on the different opportunities available to MFTs.

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Sarah Epstein, MFT

Sarah’s talk was packed with actionable information on how to expand your reach as an MFT beyond the therapy room. There were two different “paths” she explored throughout the talk—the path of the seasoned clinician who’s found their specialty but is looking for other ways to contribute to the field, and the path of the newer clinician who isn’t sure yet what they want to focus on but wants to get started now anyway (hey that’s me!).

She provided valuable advice on how to blog, write for others, and become a media contributor, including some really solid tips on how to find paying writing gigs and how to use Google to find your audience. She also gave us (for FREE, I might add) scripts she has successfully used to pitch herself as a writer to different outlets and an overview of how to build credibility based on her insights as a former resumé consultant. Seriously, if that’s all she’d covered in the talk, it STILL would have been one of the most valuable seminars of the conference!

But Sarah went a step further—and I think, for many, this was the most inspirational and impactful part of her talk. Sarah gave the MFTs present permission to be ambitious.

Here’s why I think this is important. There is this…thing I’ve noticed in the field. It might be a generational thing. Or a cultural thing? Or a marriage-and-family-therapist-specific thing?? But I have noticed that there is some serious shade directed at those who want to build a name for themselves in the field. I can’t think of another field where members are expected to WANT to labor anonymously. Many doctors, lawyers, certainly politicians, authors, even real estate agents are all constantly trying to stand out among their colleagues—whether by getting their name on a paper, getting quoted in a news article, hosting a television show, etc. But I’ve noticed most therapists think there is no daylight between anonymity and becoming Dr. Phil, and in fact one attendee announced during the session with vehemence, “I don’t want to be Dr. Phil!!!” (Dr. Phil, in case you don’t know, is regarded with significant derision by most therapists).

This has all been baffling to me. In my mind, the more name-recognition you have, the more power you have to help more people! Maybe it’s because I had a few different careers before coming to the mental health field, or maybe it’s because I’m technically a millennial (the oldest millennial, but still a millennial!), or maybe it’s because I live in Los Angeles (which is powered by publicity and klieg lights). But I don’t think I’m a bad person because I want my websites to rank higher in Google, and I don’t look down on Brené Brown because she has one of the most popular TED Talks of all time. Higher Google rankings and more hits on YouTube mean you’re reaching more of the very people you want to help. So why the shade?!

That’s why it was incredibly refreshing to see Sarah’s slide that declared the following:

“Ambition is not incongruent with being a therapist. It is the amplification and manifestation of your talents, your passion, your hustle, and your courage.”

WHAT. A. STATEMENT. I almost stood on my feet and cheered! And I could actually feel the therapists sitting around me getting excited. These attendees were excited to hear another therapist say it was OK to want to blog, or start a podcast, or whatever.

Above all, perhaps the most helpful point Sarah drove home was related to imposter syndrome and the voices in our heads that say, “who are YOU to talk about _______?? People have PhD’s in _________!!! You don’t have a right to talk about _______!!!” Countering that attitude, Sarah argued that, “you’re not UNqualified just because someone else is MORE qualified!”

Boom. RIGHT? I loved it.

If you are lucky enough to be able to attend one of Sarah’s lectures somewhere, I highly recommend you do so. Also, if you happen to be in a relationship where either of you are in the medical field (Sarah’s clinical specialty), you should check out her book on the subject! Finally, if you want to get in touch with Sarah, you can email her here.

I hope you’ve been encouraged to pursue your ambitions in this field without feeling bad about it, and I hope you don’t mind if I continue to share with you the things I’m up to as I explore what I can personally contribute!

 

Points of Interest:

How to Write an Application Essay or Personal Statement

Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

I have been doing a ton of essay editing and coaching lately, which I have really enjoyed. I love working with you guys as you reframe your life experiences into a narrative about how you’ve ended up at the decision to become a mental health professional!

While the process is VERY unique to every individual, I’ve noticed some themes that keep coming up. I thought it might be helpful to lay those out for those of you tackling the task of trying to answer these HUGE life-and-career questions in 2-4 double-spaced pages. 😂

Your Essay Is Only Part of the Picture

Whether you’re writing an essay as part of a school application, a job application, or a scholarship application, the essay is ONE piece of the application. All the parts should work together to create an entire picture of you as an applicant. That means a few things:

  • You don’t need to waste precious real estate in your essay listing out ALL your work and volunteer experience. Some things are definitely critical to expand upon! But let your resume/CV speak for itself.

  • Your essay is the place to explain some of the “problematic” parts of the rest of your application. Does the job description say you need to have three years of experience, and you only have two? The essay or statement is the place to explain why you think your two years of experience is the equivalent of someone else’s three. Are there some troubling grades on your transcript? In your essay, you can explain what happened there.

  • Remember that your letters of recommendation can be their own essays. If you get to read your letters of recommendation before submitting them, AWESOME. You know what other people have said about you! You don’t need to waste any essay time making the same exact points! But more likely, you WON’T get to read those letters—they’re usually sent directly to the school, or sealed in an envelope so you can’t read what’s been written about you. That’s ok though! The truth is, you’ve got SOME idea of what a recommender would say about you, otherwise you wouldn’t have asked them for a letter. Try to keep what you think they’ll say in mind as you write your essay, and make sure your own narrative reflects what they’re likely to say. You just want to make sure you don’t CONTRADICT what your recommenders have said!

Frame Yourself for the Specific Application

Everything you’re applying for is looking for something slightly different—even though they may all be looking for YOU! For example, say you’re applying to three different graduate programs. Each program has slightly different requirements of their applicants, and each program has a different personality. One program might emphasize research, while another emphasizes social justice, while still another emphasizes preparing you for private practice. If you’re applying to all three, there are aspects of each program that appeal to you! Your job as a an applicant is to highlight the parts of your story that fit the personality of each program. The same is true when you’re applying to jobs. If a job is customer-facing, you’ll want to highlight how much you love working with people. If a job is teamwork-oriented, you’ll want to emphasize your experience working successfully with others. The trick, of course, is trying to gauge what each program, organization, or scholarship committee is looking for!

Sound Like You, But Professional

Please, please, please—don’t try to sound erudite in your essays and personal statements! If you’ve got an expansive vocabulary, by all means use it, just make sure you don’t veer into the realm of the pretentious. It must sound natural. Especially when you’re being asked for a personal statement, they are looking for WHO YOU ARE. This goes double if you’re applying to MFT programs!! The whole point of being a therapist is bringing your authentic self to the work. You don’t need to impress admissions committees with an essay that sounds like Austen or Dickens. They are evaluating your essay to make sure you can write well, but more importantly that you can communicate well.

Be Mentally Healthy

There is a fine, fine line between being authentic and TMI (too much information). Especially if you’re applying for something in the field of psychotherapy, you need to share personal stuff without coming across like you’re the one who needs therapy!! It’s tough, and this is one of the areas that I work on the most in coaching, because it’s so different for every person.

  • Be honest about why you want to go into this field, but make sure you communicate that you’re not still in crisis. So many essays ask about formative experiences that have made you want to be a therapist. For many applicants, this may mean relaying experiences of trauma where a therapist really helped (or where a therapist could have helped…). Remember that you’re not trying to communicate the depths of your trauma—save that for your own therapist! You’re trying to communicate how your experiences have inspired you to want to help others.

  • When in doubt, use neutral everyday language. Try to stay away from diagnostic language unless your experience with mental health services specifically involved diagnoses. You’ll learn in graduate school not to talk about people as their diagnoses (“my sister has schizophrenia” instead of “my sister is a schizophrenic”) and you’ll also learn that diagnostic language can be kind of controversial. So instead of saying “I had a codependent relationship with my husband and seeing a couples counselor really helped,” you may want to say “our couples counselor helped my husband and I develop healthy boundaries that saved our marriage.”

  • Think about how you’re coming across from a total stranger’s point of view. This is where having an objective editor (like me!) really comes in handy. As you read your essay back, remember that this is your first introduction to someone who doesn’t know you at all—and the reason they are reading your essay is to determine your suitability to help others. There’s a middle ground between revealing all your personal struggles diary-style and revealing absolutely nothing, and sometimes that can be hard for you to gauge. If you grew up in a family where it was absolutely normal to talk about very personal things, a reader might find your essay over-share-y and lacking professionalism. If you grew up in a family where it was NOT ok to talk about personal things, however, a reader might find your essay cold and detached—not desirable qualities for a future therapist! So it’s really important to find that balance between honesty and…too much honesty.

How I Can Help You

I hope this has helped give you a better idea of what exactly you should be trying to accomplish with your essay or personal statement. If you need some more help, I’m available for editing and coaching. I enjoy helping applicants from the very beginning of the process all the way to the final polished product. I offer an Essay Coaching package (where I interview you and review application materials to help you decide what to write about), a Coaching + Editing package (where we work together through three revisions to craft your essay or statement), an Editing package (if you just need some feedback/proofreading on your essay but don’t need my advice on WHAT you should write about), and phone consultations on any part of the process. If you need something more specialized, I’m happy to work with you to put together a custom package!

I hope this post has taken some of the mystery out of the essay-writing process. I know when I wrote my application essay for my master’s program, it took me a solid two months of revising before I felt confident! I really hope the process is smoother for you!

Good luck!!

 

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Book Review: The Making of a Therapist, by Louis Cozolino

Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

The full title of this book is The Making of a Therapist: A Practical Guide for the Inner Journey, which should give you a pretty good idea about what's inside. The permission to "start off by not knowing a single thing about psychotherapy" (p. xxi) is given because this book is intended for beginning psychotherapists who...well...probably don't know a single thing about psychotherapy. And may be feeling boatloads of anxiety about it. Not that I know anything about that.

Cozolino articulates that "a basic goal of this book is to give beginning therapists permission to feel what they inevitably will feel--uncertainty, confusion, and fear--while also offering some strategies and advice for dealing with common situations that all therapists face" (p. xx). He's big on giving permission, which somewhat allays the fear that whispers, "if you're prepared to start seeing clients, why do you feel like you've got no idea what you're doing??"

He believes that graduate training for psychotherapists focuses on the what rather than the how of therapy, and there's not enough room for exploring and developing the inner world of the new therapist. So while we may be armed with theory and interventions and even some good idea of what questions we should be asking clients, we're not as well prepared for the interpersonal nature of therapy. To assist in nurturing this critical part of training, Cozolino has structured this book somewhat chronologically. He begins the journey with "Getting Through Your First Sessions" before moving on to "Getting to Know Your Clients" and finally guiding the reader to "Getting to Know Yourself." If you're not doing your own personal therapy as you begin seeing clients, you may find this last part especially helpful and supportive.

The Making of a Therapist a wonderful balance of Cozolino's anecdotal personal experiences as a beginning therapist, his observations of students and supervisees over the years, and advice that somehow manages to be both pragmatic and inspirational. It's an easy read, and something I'll imagine I'll find myself coming back to as I hit rough patches in fieldwork. But the lasting lesson of this book is to give yourself permission to be open to and aware of all you don't know--it seems it's in those moments where the real making happens.

 

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My Favorite Therapy Podcasts - UPDATED!

Caroline wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

I spend an unreasonable amount of time in my car, so podcasts have been my saving grace. There are several great therapy podcasts I have stumbled across that have really broadened my understanding of the mental health field and introduced me to the huge variety of different paths you can take as a practitioner. Most podcasts release new episodes regularly, so I feel like they help me stay current even though my studying for school has been more focused on theoretical foundations, but I also recommend diving into the archives!


The Modern Therapist's Survival Guide, Curt Widhalm and Katie Vernoy
Medium format (25-35 minutes). One of my very favorite podcasts, especially because there are frequently new episodes. Curt and Katie are very involved in the accompanying Facebook group, which is awesome for when you've got questions about episodes or anything in general! Recommended to add to your playlist!


Psychotherapy Notes Podcast, Ben Caldwell, PhD, LMFT
Very short format (under 10 minutes). Part of how I decided to become an MFT was by reading every single thing posted by Dr. Caldwell on his excellent blog, Psychotherapy Notes. Dr. Caldwell is a passionate advocate for the profession with a clear and engaging style that's both easy and invigorating to read--he really wants the reader to understand what he's saying. He just launched his podcast, and I'm really excited to see where it goes from here.


Caroline Wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

Psychology in Seattle (Premium)Dr. Kirk Honda
Long to extremely-long format (30 minutes - 2+ hours). I only recently became a patron at Patreon so I could access some of the full episodes that were interesting to me. Try the free podcast first and if you enjoy the format, I recommend upgrading. I have gotten my money's worth listening to the therapist development episodes--I would say this podcast has been the most relevant to my experience as a student/trainee.


Talking Therapy, RJ Thomas, MFT & John Webber, MFT
Long-format (each episode is around an hour). This is one of my favorite ones but it doesn't get updated frequently.The hosts' media/entertainment industry experience shows--it's not overly-scripted but the interviews always flow. They also aren't selling anything, so you just get a lot of great information. They cover a wide variety of topics and always have quality guests. I appreciate how the hosts are mindful of explaining terms that "future therapists of America" might not understand yet. My only complaint is that I wish there were more episodes!


Caroline Wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

Starting a Counseling Practice, Kelly Higdon LMFT & Miranda Palmer LMFT
Medium format (25-40 minutes). These ladies are a wellspring of great information about becoming a therapist and developing a private practice. They've got episodes going back to 2015 available on iTunes, and if you've got a question, chances are they've covered it!


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The Private Practice StartupDr. Kate Campbell & Katie Lemieux
Medium format (30-45 minutes). I really like the style and energy of these hosts. The pace of each episode really keeps up, so they cover a ton of information in a short amount of time. Covers a lot of great business building information.


Caroline Wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

The Abundant Practice Podcast, Allison Puryear
Medium format (20-30 minutes). Very focused on practice-building if you're looking for the nitty-gritty. Occasionally Allison does episodes where she coaches a clinician about their specific issues and the we get to listen in--I really enjoy these episodes! Episode #67, "All About GDPR" was especially helpful.


YouTube LecturesDr. Diane Gehart, LMFT
OK this is not actually a podcast, but still I think the sooner you check these out, the better off you'll be. Dr. Gehart has several lectures posted on YouTube that cover various orientations and also more nuts-and-bolts things like APA style and BBS hour logging (for California trainees/associates). They're very popular with people studying for the licensing exam, but I found them to be an invaluable adjunct to my introductory counseling theories course in my first semester of grad school.


Hidden Brain, Shankar Vedantam
Medium format (25-50 minutes). Not strictly about psychotherapy, but it is so fascinating! And really, really well done (it comes from NPR). I can't explain it any better than they do on their website: "Hidden Brain links research from psychology and neurobiology with findings from economics, anthropology, and sociology, among other fields. The goal of Hidden Brain isn't merely to entertain, but to give you insights to apply at work, at home and throughout your life."


Invisibilia, Alix Spiegel, Hanna Rosin, & Lulu Miller
Long format (1 hour). Another NPR/not-strictly-psychotherapy podcast, but a must-listen: "We weave incredible human stories with fascinating new psychological and brain science, in the hopes that after listening, you will come to see new possibilities for how to think, behave and live."


The Radical Therapist, Chris Hoff, PhD(c), LMFT
Long format (40-60+ minutes). Admittedly, I believe I personally am leaning towards a postmodern orientation, and this podcast has a heavy dose of that. As a new graduate student, I find the "Therapist Roundtable" episodes particularly helpful (I think I've listened to episodes 28 and 38 three times each). He's also had big-time guests like Scott Miller, Ph.D. and Harlene Anderson, Ph.D.


The Psychology Podcast, Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman
Medium format (30-50 minutes). Dr. Kaufman is an acquired taste, I think--though his enthusiasm is delightful, he can sometimes seem a little pushy. That being said, I always get so much out of his podcast. He gets great guests and engages them in deep, thoughtful, yet briskly-paced dialogue.


Where Should We Begin?, Esther Perel
Medium format (35-40 minutes). As someone who's nowhere near actually being in a room with a client yet, this podcast feels a little like field observation meets television drama. I'm absolutely obsessed with it, but at this point I find it more entertaining than instructional. The focus is definitely on the couples rather than on Perel's techniques.


Selling the Couch, Melvin Varghese, Ph.D.
Medium format (30-40 minutes). One of the biggest complaints I heard when I was researching graduate programs was that no school prepares you for the business aspects of running a private practice. There are several podcasts that seek to fill this void, and honestly they do a great job. If you listen to all of them, you will start to hear the same themes surface over and over, but for me I hope that's just helping me learn it better. Melvin seems like a genuinely nice person and I enjoy his honesty/vulnerability in discussing his own struggles.


Practice of the Practice, Joe Sanok
Usually medium format (30-40 minutes) but sometimes he does a short format series (15 minutes). Joe Sank is the private practice guru. He does consulting on starting and growing a private practice, so a lot of the guests are clients of his and he does frequently pitch his services. However, it's a TON of free useful information, and he's very encouraging of private pay services.


The Therapist Experience, Perry Rosenbloom
Medium format (20-40 minutes). This podcast is produced by Brighter Vision, a therapist website company, and the guests are generally clients who have had success with their website. A lot of great nuts and bolts info on running a private practice--another one that advocates private pay. Perry, the host, is kind of hilarious because he sticks to a very structured script every episode, but it's clear that sometimes his guests aren't familiar with the format, so they get blindsided by the questions even though regular listeners are waiting for them. Makes me giggle.


Caroline Wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate

The John ClarkcastJohn Clarke
Short to medium format (5-40 minutes). Another one on building and marketing a private practice. Lot of different approaches--interviews, series focused on particular aspects of marketing, more general business systems stuff, etc. A great one to add to the playlist!


Therapist Club House, Annie Schuessler, MFT
Medium format (30-40 minutes). The host is a business coach, so as with the two previous podcasts, many guests are clients. I like how in-depth she gets with her clients' experiences--I particularly enjoyed the 12/25/17 episode with Jennie Steinberg.


Businesses in Bloom, Juliet Austin
Medium format (40-45 minutes). A former therapist, the host is now a marketing consultant for private practitioners. There's a wide variety of guests so you can become acquainted with the different options in the field, and there is a focus on marketing.


Therapist Uncensored, Dr. Ann Kelley and Sue Marriott
Long format (40-60 minutes).  More content-oriented than focused on business aspects.


Therapy Chat, Laura Reagan, LCSW-C
Long format (40-60 minutes). Another more content-oriented podcast, but she does really get into what it's like to practice from different orientations and some early episodes focus on more practical issues (#39, Designing a Website with Empathy).


Shrink Rap Radio, David Van Nuys, Ph.D.
Long format (60-75 minutes). Content-oriented and with a VERY deep archive--episodes go back to 2005, so there's lots to browse through.


 

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3 Things You Can Do as a Pre-Licensee to Set Yourself Up for Success

Caroline Wiita Marriage and family therapy therapist psychotherapist graduate student masters degree doctorate phd MFT licensed prelicensed clinical social worker trainee intern associate
 

This post originally appeared in the AAMFT Emerging Professionals newsletter. Join the network and subscribe to the newsletter here!

As a first-year student in a master’s program, I’ve only just set out on the road to becoming a marriage and family therapist. When I stop and think about the distance I have yet to travel, I can get a little demoralized. However, I’ve found some things I can focus on now to make sure I’m ready to hit the ground running once I get that license. Focusing on each step makes me feel a little better about how far away that finish line is, and maybe it can do the same for you! 

#1 – Start Thinking About a Specialty

First, I’m using this time in graduate school to narrow down my future area of focus. There are a lot of papers to write, and I’m trying to use them for the greater purpose of determining what I may want my specialty to be. So when I’m given the chance to choose a topic, I tend to choose something that may help inform that decision rather than researching exotic diagnoses or very specific populations I’m unlikely to encounter in practice. I see these papers as great opportunities to learn about what I do (and do not) enjoy under the guidance of professors who can help me decide whether something might be a good fit for me. For example, I studied family-based treatments for adolescents with depression in my Clinical Research class; I enjoyed it and my professor gave me encouraging feedback, so when it came time to pick a paper topic in my Diagnosis class, I chose Major Depressive Disorder. I got to use some of the research I’d done for the first paper, and I discovered that I’m still not sick of studying it, so I think that’s a good sign! The same logic could work as you consider elective, fieldwork, and continuing education workshop options (especially if you’ve already graduated).

#2 – Build a Professional Network

It’s never too early to start making contacts! I’m cultivating relationships with professors and peers now to start building my professional network. I don’t mean this in a fake, shallow, or inauthentic way. I recognize that this network will be key to scaffolding my career in the future, so I want to set a good foundation. This means that in class, I try to be an active participant; not only is this good for participation points towards my final grade, but I’m able to demonstrate to the professors that I am an engaged and motivated future therapist. I want to make sure they are familiar with me and my work, because I will be needing letters of recommendation and I want to help them both remember me and feel confident vouching for me. I also reach out for guidance on assignments and attend office hours where necessary. Again, this isn’t about sucking up or making a nuisance out of myself—it’s about recognizing that professors are often so overwhelmed that it can be hard to form individual relationships with students. I want to make it as easy as possible.

This also goes for my classmates, who are my future colleagues in addition to being good friends. The relationship network we forge now will be a critical source of client referrals, word-of-mouth job opportunities, and much-needed emotional support as we enter the field. Which brings me to…

#3 – Join Groups and Organizations to Broaden Your Experiences

That professional network will also include colleagues I meet outside of school, which is why I feel it’s important to be active in groups and organizations. This kind of involvement can expand both your contacts and your experience in the field, and you can start at any stage of your career! I’ve found that informal groups—like those found on social media—can be a great place to get peer support as well as to ask questions in a low-pressure environment. Professional organizations like AAMFT foster both collaboration and advocacy, and membership demonstrates to potential employers that you’re serious about your profession. Personally, I’m really looking forward to getting involved with AAMFT’s Topical Interest Networks!

Ready, Set, Go!

I’ve found that focusing on these steps now keeps me engaged in the present moment and reminds me that I’m making progress towards my goal every day. I hope some of these ideas can help you, too, as you keep putting one foot in front of the other towards that finish line!

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