Psychotherapist, teacher, consultant
$120,000 - $140,000
Been in the field for 17 years.
There are lots of different routes to becoming licensed as a psychotherapist, because several very different professions practice psychotherapy in this country. If you want to practice psychotherapy you can, for example, go to graduate school to become a counselor. Or you can go to graduate school to become a psychologist. Or a social worker. Or a psychiatrist. Ar any of a few other related professions... All these professions have their own schooling and their own requirements before you complete their training. Once you fulfill the requirements of the profession you've chosen, you can begin practicing psychotherapy. So the first thing is to decide which of the professions that practice psychotherapy provides training that's in alignment with your needs and interests. All this is often very confusing for people who are entering the field. Maybe the easiest way to say it is that psychotherapy itself is less of a profession than a craft -- it's a complex set of skills that takes time to develop -- and several very different professions within our society are given the right to practice those skills and make a living from them. My own training included a master's degree in counseling psychology, and then I did years and years of post-graduate training in various approaches to psychotherapy. I basically sought out the most skilled teachers I could find. At this point in my career, I've become a teacher of psychotherapy myself, so I train members of my own profession (i.e. other counselors) as well as psychiatrists, social workers, psychologists, and other people who want to deepen their skill at practicing psychotherapy. And I still seek out skilled teachers to this day. So many people have valuable things to teach. And I want to keep learning and getting better and better at what I do. I love this craft.
I started out in the sciences at MIT. As a kid, I had no idea how to deal with my feelings, which seemed overwhelming. So I went up into my head and lived there for a while. Then I discovered theatre in college, and fell in love with it. Acting was a place where it felt safe to feel what I was feeling and express it. So after I graduated, I went down to New York to study acting and work as an actor (this is also known as bartending) I did some shows, some little day spots on soaps, and tended bar at a place in the West Village. It was a great time. A little too great. I ran around doing all the outrageously stupid and outrageously enjoyable things that bartending actors in NYC do in their early 20's. But something wasn't right. I knew I wasn't doing what I was on the planet to do, and in spite of all the supposed good times, I started to get depressed. Eventually one of my theatre directors convinced me to go into therapy. And it changed my life. Feeling and expressing my feelings on stage was one thing; it was another to do that in the real world. That particular trick I hadn't learned yet. And even more importantly, once I got into therapy, I knew almost right away that there was something about this craft that was important for me to learn, to understand as deeply as I could. Years later, I understood that this work is a calling. It's what I came here to do. And when you dedicate your life to a calling like this one, which basically consists of assisting fellow human beings who are suffering, when you really give yourself to it, you become part of a tradition that stretches back for millennia. Once you feel that, once you know that you're a link in that chain, you do everything in your power to honor your tradition. I was very lucky to be called to it.
On most work days, I go to my office and meet one-on-one with clients. I see individuals and couples, and I run psychotherapy groups, too. But my professional life is pretty diversified. I write for professional and lay audiences (happy to provide a few links there), and I teach in a graduate program in Newport, RI. I also went through a period where in addition to my clinical practice, I did a lot of high level leadership development in big corporations. That had me traveling all over the globe. A lot. Too much, actually. I got seduced by the limos and jets and ritzy hotels and basically found myself pretty much living on the road. I can remember on a few occasions waking up and being unable to remember which continent I was on. And of course, I'd strayed much too far from what I'm here to do, so my soul kind of rebelled and I stopped the traveling part. I still accept that wok locally, but on an occasional basis, and only for people & organizations I really care about and think I can help.
I find *everything* about being a therapist rewarding. Seriously. All day long I get to sit down and talk with people about the most important things in their lives. I mean, what's better than that? I get to be part of a process where they take these extraordinary emotional risks, and start to make these incredible changes in how they do things. It's amazing. If I won the lottery, I wouldn't change my schedule at the office. I want to be working until I'm so old and weak that I can't get out of bed. Then I want people to come to wherever I'm in bed. I find that doing the work itself is just intrinsically gratifying. And at this point in my life, what matters to me most is doing it as well as I can.
One myth is that a therapist's job is to give people insight, or new ideas, or new information. It's not. People can get insight and ideas and information from books. And if that helps them with their problem, terrific. They don't need therapy. A therapist's job isn't to give clients new information, it's to give them new EXPERIENCES. That's how people learn and change and grow, by having new experiences. Sometimes this leads to new ideas or insights, but insight and ideas aren't what make therapy work.
I work in an office in Providence. It's in an old Victorian home that was converted into an office building. There's a sofa, several comfy chairs, side tables, bookshelves, my cluttered desk, and a fireplace.
Do it. More seriously, explore therapy yourself before you decide. See if it's helpful for you. You don't need to be going through a crisis, if you're interested in the field, explore it firsthand. Experience what it's like from a client's perspective. But find a therapist you like and work really well with. That will give you a sense of whether you want to do the sort of work that he or she does.
There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique.
Martha Graham, choreographer
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