How to Survive the Licensure Process

If you knew, would you still do it?

Recently in clinical group supervision, my supervisor posed a question to us: If you knew what the licensure process would be like to become a therapist, would you have chosen this career?

To answer this, I need to take you through my personal licensure journey. This process has (so far) taken me three years, four therapy jobs and around $10,000. I experienced some heavy life changes, like losing a friend to suicide, getting fired for the first time (ever), and learning barista skills to support myself for eight months.

I heavily questioned my career choice due to the requirements of licensure, yet I also found myself growing in unexpected ways. In addition to the myriad clinical skills I learned, I learned the importance of extreme self care. The hobbies I picked up along the way have become extra sources of income, as well as ways to hone my creativity.

Overcoming the challenges of getting licensed

Being a pre-licensed therapist was a weird stage in my career: work options were limited to what met licensure requirements, and this meant some difficult jobs.

The majority of my peers were split into two categories: community mental health or private practice. I did them both: community mental health full time and private practice on the weekends.

In private practice, I wished I had more clients. In community mental health, I wished I had less.

Community mental health provided a variety of client types and exposed me to issues I’d only read about in textbooks and journals. While it provided great experience, it was not sustainable. Often the client’s needs would far outweigh the support I was able to provide. This is a common problem in CMH and leads to high turnover and burnout rates.

I often felt torn between the needs of my CMH clients and the comfort of my private practice.

In addition to job stress, I needed to pay for most of my supervision and that was expensive.

It’s a universally tough and overwhelming process. Even as I reflect on this time, my heart rate speeds up. So how did I survive?

The best parts of the licensure journey

A huge reward of the licensure journey is getting to experiment with different types of work and populations. How many times have you been asked, “Who do you want to work with?” or “What is your niche?” These questions used to send me into existential crisis. Now I realize I could only have narrowed this down by experiencing so much.

I still have some difficulty with this question, but my pre-licensure experience allowed me the time to find the modality that I love.

Finding an incredible supervisor was life-changing. I wouldn’t be who I am professionally or personally without my supervisor, whom I also consider a mentor.

None of my friends in other professions have a career mentor so readily available to them because it’s not built into their career development.

So while supervision is a bizarre process (and could definitely use some fine-tuning), the ultimate goal of it is to support the new therapist and help them form their professional practices. I miss supervision.

How to survive the licensure process

Here are the biggest lessons I’ve learned:

Get organized. 

Leaving grad school, I did not understand the licensure requirements for my state. When I started practicing that became easier instantaneously. I became a meticulous spreadsheet keeper. Create an Excel spreadsheet of every minute you spend with a client. You become very meticulous when you realize how fast these add up. Also, keep a binder or USB with all notes from supervision-this is invaluable advice.

Find both an individual supervisor and group supervision that gives you life.

Both are incredibly helpful and serve different purposes. In individual you get focused, specific clinical direction and in group you get camaraderie and the opportunity to learn from peers.

Know your “why” going into difficult jobs.

If you are taking a job because it meets licensure requirements and is getting you to where you need to be, always keep this in mind. This is the journey, not the destination: it will form you and help you create your unique career path.

Revel in the perks of being a beginner.

Ask all the “dumb” questions, take advantage of trainings and workshops, get coffee with other practitioners, banish comparison and jealousy in order to learn from your co-workers

Network network network!

Just network. 

Keep an open mind.

Your “niche” is the way you do counseling that makes you feel most alive and makes you most effective. This can include your intended population, presenting problem, modality, etc. Open yourself up to many possibilities and learn what you’d like to say “no” and “yes” to in the future.

So…would I do it again?

Absolutely.

This process has taught me many things: how handle my own stress while being present for someone else’s, how to take myself seriously as a therapist, and how to endure difficult times while clinging to hope and joy.

Ever heard the expression “trial by fire”? What is nonessential to your therapeutic practice and personal growth goes out the window. For me, this included the need to be perfect, people-pleasing, and disorganization. You learn what is important in a therapist: to be present, to take care of yourself, to love what you do.

In the meantime, Motivo is right there with you, providing the access to amazing clinical supervision and the community you need.

Katie Woodruff, MAMFT

Katie Woodruff, MAMFT

Katie Woodruff has a Masters in Marriage and Family Therapy with a specialization in trauma-informed care. She has worked in community mental health, female prison, and in private practice. A Louisiana native and Tennessee transplant, she is currently living in post-graduate/pre-licensure purgatory and understands the need for Motivo all too well. She enjoys unpredictable weather, her misunderstood pit bull and most of all, a good sense of humor.

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