5 Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Mental Health Therapist

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Dec. 26 2023, Published 8:00 a.m. ET

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Working as a mental health therapist is a rewarding career path, however, it definitely comes with its challenges. No matter how many years you have been working in the mental health field, there is always so much to learn and room to grow. Therefore, if you are thinking of becoming a therapist, come with a student-like mentality, ready to use what ever is thrown at you as a learning opportunity, because in working as a Mental Health Therapist, a lot is thrown at you.

As a recent MSW graduate who has been working as a therapist in an acute psychiatric setting, there are several lessons I had to learn first hand that I wish I learned before entering into my position. Here are Five Things I Wish I Knew Before Becoming A Mental Health Therapist

1. It’s not your job to “fix” people.

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Woman lying on therapists couch looking happy as therapist is writing

One of the main lessons I had to learn pretty quickly in the mental health field is that my job is to guide each client into a healthier mental and emotional way of living. My job is  NOT to fix my clients. Entering into your first job as a therapist with the intention of “saving your client’s world” or “fixing your client” creates unrealistic standards for yourself and can affect the work you do in a negative way. Just like we hear countless times that we can not control people is the same wisdom that should be brought into every session with a client. Come into this career field with the intention of planting a seed into each of your client’s life, providing them healthier ways of thinking and processing life events.

2. Get therapy for yourself.

I truly believe every therapist needs a therapist of their own. We all go through peaks and valleys in our life, it is the human experience. However, it is important to be able to identify and be aware of our mental and emotional health in order for us to show up effectively for our clients. An Antioch University of Seattle Study found that  43 percent of psychologist struggled to see the mental illness or psychological distress in themselves. Being open to confronting our own issues and accept feedback from our own personal therapist can help decrease the possibility of Countertransference. This is when a therapist projects their own unresolved conflict onto the client, making the sessions unproductive and damaging for both the therapist and the client.

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3. Building trust with your client can take a while.

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It is easy to want to jump head first with the client into the work, but one of the most important parts of our job as a therapist is creating trust and a healthy therapist and client relationship from the beginning. Building that firm trust and foundation from the beginning will help through out your time with the client. During times where you have to show some tough love and tell the client truths they may not want to hear, they will receive it better coming from someone they have that rapport with. However, this will all come with time, just like it takes all of us time before we start fully embracing someone as a friend or companion, is the same way it will take time before the client starts to trust you. Be Patient with the process. 

4. Your client must have the desire to do the work.

You may have heard the saying “You get out of therapy what you put into it”. As a therapist you do not want to start feeling like you are putting in all the work into your client’s treatment. Yes, show up for your client, be prepared for your sessions, engage in active listening and do your part as a therapist, but only YOUR part. Your client needs to have the desire within themselves to want to see progress and improvement in their lives. 

5. You will learn so much about yourself.

Our role as a therapist is to guide people into healthier ways of managing their emotional and mental health, however through this process, you will find some loopholes in the way you handle your own personal triggers. Just like in my second point, connect with your own therapist sooner than later because within the career field there will be so many opportunities for growth not only in your professional life but personal life as well. 

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By: Nikki Opara

Nikki is a Mental Health Therapist by day and Freelance Writer by night. She earned her bachelors degree in Psychology and her Masters in Social Work. Nikki's main goal in every piece she writes is to empower and educate her community. When she is not leading a group therapy session or writing a new article you can find her in a hot yoga class or her local bookstore.

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