Being a therapist is an interesting profession. I've had good experiences, bad experiences and some truly amazing things happen to me as a result of what I do for a living. Here are some things that are common for a therapist to deal with:
1. Helping people- ok, this is a very general statement. But it is rewarding to go to work knowing that someone, somewhere could benefit and change based on something you say to them. You feel like you can make a difference in the world, even if it's small. And the people that come to you and say you've really helped them, there is just no feeling like that in the world.
2. Co-workers- I've worked with some pretty terrific people who I could talk to about anything and were just fun to be with and I've also worked with people that I was sure should be in a institution somewhere. People become therapists for very different reasons, and not all of them good.
3. Having a private practice is hard- while I was in school, I dreamed of having my own thriving practice. When I finally did have my own practice, I found out it's more about filling out paperwork and advertising for clients than it is helping anyone.
4. The pay sucks- I was quite unprepared for how bad the salaries in my field really are. Put it this way, most professions have starting salaries twice what I was making with two degrees and 15 years experience. You really do become a therapist out of the goodness of your heart.
5. The benefits are very good- vacation time, sick time and medical benefits were always better than in the business world. It made up for the bad pay, somewhat anyway.
6. You have to keep up with your education- I am no longer in the field but I still have to have 100 credits to keep my license. And the cost comes out of my own pocket.
7. Social Workers get all the credit- in most states, social workers and nurses get most of the jobs out there, particularly in hospitals. Those are the better paying jobs too. Though social workers study mostly social systems and not counseling, they still score the majority of counseling jobs. And I can't tell you how many jobs I've tried to apply for that require a nursing degree. Yet, nurses often have fewer than three classes in psychology. The same goes for regular doctors. It's a very weird system.
8. Lots and lots of education- in order to get at least a decent job, I had to get a Master's degree in my field. Plus I have a national certification and a state license. Does that mean more pay? Are you kidding?! What it does mean is that I can get a better job in my field and I know what the heck I'm doing when I help a client, which is the most important thing.
9. It's often very lonely- I think most counselors and therapists struggle with self doubt and loneliness about their profession. It is hard to go into a room, sit with someone who is suicidal, depressed and/or has been abused and not feel overwhelmed at times by all that pain. Other therapists can help you, but since you have to keep everything confidential, you can only share so much. And it's a major no-no to go home and talk with family or friends about what you hear.
10. Stress- Most people out there walk around with so much held inside that when it comes out in a therapy session, it can be very intense. Hearing all the pain and suffering of clients all day can make you start to feel that the whole world is doomed and nothing good ever happens. That is when you know you need an outlet. And as a group, we are not good at being selfish and taking time to repair ourselves. It's a constant struggle to remember to take care of your own needs too.
11. Can you read my mind?- that is one of the funniest responses I get when some people learn that I'm a therapist. I can't help but laugh. No, I can't read minds. I slept through that course in school.
12. But I can read body language- maybe this is what people mean when they ask about reading minds. Some therapists are good at this and some aren't. I do it because it comes natural to me. In public, I usually register the information in my brain then don't give it much attention. Otherwise, I'd be responding to everything everyone does around me and that would get old very quick.
13. Being a therapist is a 24 hour a day job- I feel like I have a scanner in my brain sometimes, but it's hard for me to not tune into people's feelings. I don't analyze everything going on around me, but I do pay attention more than most people. I guess it's like a cop would feel, always being aware of people breaking laws. But it does become tough when I can see certain behaviors that other people don't catch. I try not to read into what I see, but it's like turning off hunger or the need to sleep, I just can't ignore it. It is a blessing and a curse at the same time.