eustaciavye77: (...heaving breaths...)
[personal profile] eustaciavye77

The most common way for a person to become a therapist is to get a masters degree in a relevant field. I got mine in clinical mental health counseling, some people get them in social work, some in counseling psychology, some in community psychology, some in other things that I can't remember right now. The point is that we go to school for a few years to learn about how people work and how to help them.

A big piece of education in this field is ethics. This is the area where people who are not legit are the most dangerous. Its not so much that there are strict rules about what is and is not okay for a therapist to do. In ethics class we learned to think about the potential implications of our actions for the therapeutic relationship. For example, clients often offer gifts to their clinicians. Often it is not okay to accept a gift. Sometimes it is okay to accept the gift. Sometimes accepting the gift helps the client achieve their therapeutic goals. Sometimes it hinders them. All told, I've spent probably 20 hours in discussions about gifting from clients. At this point I feel pretty confident that I know how to make these distinctions but I had NO CLUE on my first day of grad school. I won't even get into the complicated ethics around confidentiality rules with adults vs with minors, the exceptions to confidentiality rules and the tension between respecting a clients rights as a human being and following the law (they rarely line up). Ethics is its own course that lasts a full semester, and every course thereafter includes ethics discussions. If you honestly feel like you can navigate the ethical quagmire that is being a therapist without mentoring from experienced practitioners, I'm kind of worried about YOUR sanity.

Another big piece of the education in my field is theory. For the past 100-150 years people have been studying humanity in different ways and developed various theories on why we do what we do and why we have the problems we have. All of them are right about some stuff. Every therapist learns ALL THE THEORIES and then develops an individualized approach based on them. Every legitimate therapist will be able to tell you something about their theoretical approach. (My personal approach for the record is a mix of existential-psychoanaltyic theory and feminist/multicultural theories. I also use cognitive-behavioral and dialectical behavioral techniques. If you want to know what I mean feel free to ask.)

Next bit of education: learning about the human brain and biology of behavior. We study basic neurology so we have an understanding of what happens physically when a client experiences a symptom. We learn the basics of how psychotropic medications work. This is waaaay more important than most people realize because when your client is debating about taking meds or trying to understand why they feel physically sick when mom comes over, they are going to ask you and you need to be able to give a real answer.

Next we get to take elective courses in areas of particular interest and learn specific techniques for working with different types of issues. I took classes in treating adolescents, trauma, family issues and psychoanalytic therapy. Other options were substance abuse, play therapy with children, holistic counseling and expressive therapies. And some others.

Finally there's the supervised practical experience. Everyone who is in school to become a therapist does at least one internship. We get a small number of clients or groups to work with and a LOT of supervision and support from both the clinic and our graduate school. I did two internships - one as an outreach clinician with kids and the other in a clinic with adults. I had 5-10 clients each year and got about 5 hours a week of supervision. When you've never done this before, that's about right.

In my third and hopefully final entry which I will post later cause damn do my fingers hurt from all this typing, I will talk about HOW TO CHOOSE YOUR THERAPIST!!!!


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