Becoming a mental health therapist or counselor is a solid move for your career, as there is plenty of need for great therapists in America today. Employment for therapists and psychologists is slated to rise fast in the next decade.
The Bureau of Labor Statistics compiles comprehensive employment data for hundreds of occupations each year. It finds that jobs for mental health therapists and counselors will rise by 19% by 2024. This is a very rapid rate of growth, and is being caused by many more Americans getting health insurance since 2010.
Further, Americans are living longer today than they were decades ago. Many of us are living well into our 80s, and have more need to deal with mental health problems and family and personal problems. Great therapists can play a critical role in making people’s lives happier and more productive as they age.
But what does it really take to be a ‘great therapist?’ First and foremost, great therapists must make a lifelong commitment to learning and get better. One does not graduate with a master’s degree in mental health therapy or psychology and stop learning. It is an ongoing process to be a great therapist.
Here are four things you need to know to be a great therapist for your patients, and to enjoy a fruitful career.
#1 Learn Constantly
A great therapist must be fully committed to learning all of the time to develop into a better mental health therapist. If you do not learn regularly, you will stagnate as a therapist and possibly regress with time. You will not be able to practice as effectively with your therapy clients, and you may find over time that you have trouble getting new ones.
Mental health therapists who do not learn all the time are showing they are not fully committed to the profession. This is not a regular job that you can muddle through with so so commitment. You must be fully engaged and aggressively striving to get better all the time.
All great therapists need to regularly attend conferences, continuing education courses, workshops, and more. Read a lot of recent online journals about how to provide more effective therapy services.
#2 Understand Your Therapy Clients
Communicating effectively with therapy clients requires you to be responsive and flexible. Each therapy client will have a different state of mind and emotional state. Every therapy situation will usually need a different approach. A great therapist is able to adjust to an individual client’s needs; this usually will decide how well that therapy case will work out.
Note that some clients will be harder to work with than others. But the therapy relationship still can be productive and necessary. For example, some therapy clients may be convicted criminals and required to be there. But as a great therapist, you still need to work to communicate effectively with each client.
#3 Enhance Your Counseling Microskills
Counseling microskills consist of five qualities that all great therapists need to use well to improve how they talk to and interact overall with their therapy clients. These vital microskills assist the therapist to build good rapport with clients so that therapy sessions are productive and lead to real solutions. The five microskills are:
- Attending behavior: This is how a therapist builds a relationship and rapport with the therapy client. It is important for the therapist to show in words and actions that he is interested in helping to solve their personal and mental health problems. Good ways to do so include making regular (not excessive) eye contact and nonverbal cues that indicate interest. For example, the therapist might tilt his head to show interest in what the client is saying, or lean forward to indicate something important is being said.
- Questioning: It is important to ask good questions during a therapy session. Pertinent questioning can open new paths of discussion that can help to solve many personal problems. Therapists should have a very good knowledge of how to ask questions to elicit answers that lead to further discussion. Therapists can get very good results by asking questions with the words ‘how,’ ‘why,’ or ‘could.’
- Confrontation: In a therapy session, this means that the therapist makes a client aware of an issue that he may be avoiding or not seeing. For example, a therapist may point out that the client’s thoughts about how his wife is treating him (it hurts him) does not match his actions (he yells at her). Confronting clients with these contradictions in a tactful way is very important in solving problems.
- Focusing: There are several ways that therapists can use focusing to help the client to come to solutions. One of them is individual focus, where the therapist asks the client about himself, for example. Another is mutuality focus, where the therapist implies that he and the client are a team and can work on solving a problem together. Another in interviewer focus; this is where you the therapist reveal something about yourself that can be useful in helping the client work out a personal problem.
- Reflection of Meaning: This is the belief systems that each person has that are brought about by their various life experiences. A great therapist should be effective with reflection of meaning by by assisting clients to look for answers to their current personal problems by looking at previous life experiences.
#4 Take Good Care of You
There are many problems with therapists who burn out in the profession after a few years because they are not taking care of themselves. It is very important for great therapists to have good work and life balance so that you can be at your best when you are meeting with clients.
How do you know that you are burning out? Here are some signs:
- You repeat the same interpretations constantly
- You doze off during a session
- You feel happy when clients cancel
- You drag yourself to the office
- You offer advice as a shortcut instead of helping the client grow and learn
- You do not have as much empathy as last year
- You have not read anything about therapy in months
- You self disclose in a manner that does not help the client
Burnout intensity can vary from being bored with the work temporarily, all the way to a full blown meltdown where you can no longer work in therapy.
Here are ways to avoid therapist burnout:
- Hold the frame: This means the therapy environment consisting of the ethical, physical and professional boundaries of the work. You need to have a very clear boundary of your self, client and therapy.
- Get a therapist: Personal therapy for therapists helps them to relieve stress and to deal with a potentially stressful career.
- Charge a fair price: If you work all the time, 60 hours per week without vacations and feel underpaid, you will burn out with time. Charge a fair price, work normal hours and take vacations.
- Never take work home: Experts say that therapists who burn out the most take phone calls and answer emails on weekends and are available most hours of the day. Find ways to get your off time covered for emergencies, and let your home be your home, not an office.
- Find a therapy niche: If you like ballet, try to find a place to give group therapy in a theater? If you like sports, maybe you should try to find clients who are coaches and athletes.
By keeping these four things in mind, you will have a better chance of being a great therapist, and really helping your clients better themselves.
- 11 Ways to Become a Better Counselor. (n.d.). Retrieved from http://www.counsellingconnection.com/index.php/2009/09/02/11-ways-to-become-a-better-counsellor/
- Shallcross, L. The Recipe for Truly Great Counseling. (2012, Dec. 1.) Retrieved from https://ct.counseling.org/2012/12/the-recipe-for-truly-great-counseling/
- Howes, R. Therapist Burnout. (2008, Nov. 13). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/in-therapy/200811/therapist-burnout
- Five Counselling Microskills. (2009, Oct. 16). Retrieved from http://www.aipc.net.au/articles/five-counselling-microskills/
- Mental Health Counselors and Marriage and Family Therapists. (2015, Dec. 17). Retrieved from
- Enhancing Motivation for Change in Substance Abuse Treatment. (1991). Retrieved from https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK64964/