There is minimal support out there for pre-licensed clinicians which made me want to help. According to the Board of Behavioral Sciences in California, nearly half of MFT interns do not get licensed and numbers are close to that for Professional Clinical Counselors. It goes to show how easy it is to lose focus and motivation, let alone all the other issues contributing to challenges along the way. So, I’m going to give you some tips on how to stay motivated so you can reach your goals.
“Nothing is impossible, the word itself says “I’m possible”! —Audrey Hepburn. “We must hold on to the fact that many before us have done it and many after us will do it. Whatever it is.”
Something for us as therapists and clinicians to remember: “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel. —Maya Angelou
Meeting goals is not always easy. We have an end goal in mind, but the steps to get there can seem insurmountable. We lose our focus, feel undermined or can’t figure out what to do next. It may show up in the form of difficulty with mustering the motivation to finish grad school, finding an internship or continuing the trek with earning hours and making less income than is needed. It may be fighting that feeling of wanting to give up. Or it could be consulting on a challenging case, so you can continue working with that difficult client.
All of this—and many other reasons—is why we need to know how to stay motivated to get what we want long term. We have to figure out what it takes for us, individually, to create short term goals that get us closer to our long-term goals. Knowing what those are is also part of the battle, because we are all motivated in unique ways.
What lights you up may be different from your colleague, even though you’re both in the same position. It also may require you to figure out what achieving that particular goal would mean to you, not necessarily the goal itself. Some achievements mean you will feel more purposeful with your life, or have more freedom and control over your schedule, which would enable you to have more time with your family or self care. Other goals mean you will feel more confident and capable, having reached a point where you are doing what you are called to do. I figured this out early on while on my road to licensure and it helped me maintain motivation.
But, I’ve also struggled staying motivated at different times, and while it has not always been detrimental because I figured out how to get back on track, at times it would concern me because I felt myself dragging or simply not being my same upbeat, positive self. I’m also someone who doesn’t want to regret things I didn’t do to reach something I really wanted. I also don’t want to feel like I failed at achieving what is important to me, all because I had a hard time persevering when it really counted.
Because we all need motivation while being a pre-licensed clinician, I am sharing what I have found are the absolute best ways to stay motivated.
1 – Figure out what you want and need. Determining what you want long term can help you see what you need to do in the short-term.
Do you want to ensure you get licensed? Do you need to have a paid internship, or do you have another job or situation where you can afford to take an unpaid position? How much do you need to make? It is important to become an increasingly more effective therapist or counselor? Is your priority to get your hours quickly, or would you rather take more time so you can focus on learning as much as possible during this training time? What do you want to do once you are licensed?
Ask yourself these questions determining, of all the things you want , which one’s are most important. Once you have them in mind or on paper, list them in order of importance. Some things you’ll have to muster up the motivation to do because they are smaller steps to your most important goal. For instance, resume creation and interviewing are small steps in the job hunting process in order to attain the larger goal of landing a paid job that fits with the kind of experience you want. Other things you can let go of because they are not as pertinent.
2 – Visualize your end-goal. It’s important to visualize the end result and what it will be like once you’ve accomplished your goal, down to the most minute detail. The sounds, smells, sights. What will you feel? What will you experience? What’s the ideal situation? Top athletes picture how they’ll perform before they begin, so we can take some tips from them by picturing every step of the way that will lead us to what we want.
For instance, visualize the relief and utter excitement when you:
-land that position you’ve been wishing you could get
-finish your hours
-witness a client break through an area of their life they’ve been stuck in
-pass your exams
This is what will sustain you when you don’t feel like doing what you need to do. Knowing that your current efforts are part of reaching your end goal can help you think to yourself, “This too shall pass and I’ll be in a better place later on.”
If you’re struggling with self-confidence, picture the confident version of you. What does he or she look like? What thoughts does a confident person have? Or if you’re having problems with a co-worker or boss, what kind of interactions would you like to have with them? Pleasant and drama-free? Picture what that would look like and what you would do on your end to foster that result.
Some people like to do a vision board where you either draw or cut out pictures that reflect your end goal. Do you picture yourself sitting on a warm, tropical beach taking a long vacation once you complete all your hours with enough money saved? Do you see yourself sitting in a cozy, well-decorated office running your private practice? Whatever it is, draw it out in your mind or paper so you can see what you are aiming for.
3 – Write down or talk to someone about why you want to accomplish your goals. If it is to successfully get your hours done and become licensed, it’s important to hold in mind the reason for this. Keeping yourself accountable to others who are helping you or in the same boat can help you stay the course. When we feel connected to other people on a similar journey it helps us feel more capable of carrying on. We can easily get de-railed by stress and problematic circumstances, which is why staying grounded in your purpose can help you stay on track. We all got into this field for one reason or another, so holding that in mind, along with a vision of your end result, can help you trudge through the difficult steps to get there.
4 – Break your goal down into smaller ones with a subset of goals to achieve, along with rewards for accomplishing the smaller goals. Doing this will give you a handle on your goals and what you need to keep going.
Once you’ve figured out what your main goals and priorities are, then determine what it will take to get there–what must you do today, tomorrow and each week. What needs to be done first, second, and so on? You need to make all your goals concrete, clear and achievable. For goal A, what needs to be done? Make a list of the tasks to get goal A done. Then organize that list based on what needs to be done in order of importance. Break those items down into the smallest, realistic steps and then only do one at a time.
Once you meet those smaller goals or tasks, consider them milestones and reward yourself because you are a step closer to your bigger goal. This will help you feel like you are accomplishing things which can fuel your motivation to keep going. When we reward ourselves, it activates the part in the brain that releases the feel good endorphin hormones, which helps to reinforce that behavior.
It sets in motion a reward process for dong the next indicated step. A major source of stress comes from feeling like we have an impossible number of things to do and the inability to get it all done. By breaking things down into smaller, achievable pieces and rewarding ourselves for doing those tasks, we will feel more competent and capable of doing more, which creates a positive snowball effect.
5 – Course correct but don’t give up on your bigger goal. At times we need to have the flexibility to change directions and take a risk in order to get out of unhealthy situations and move in a healthier direction. This requires us to course correct, meaning we make a change with the road we are on to try out another road that can lead us to the same end goal.
Sometimes, quitting a job to find a better one, or pursue private practice, can be the best decision for your overall well-being. But do not give up on your bigger goal of getting licensed and making a good income. There are many roads that can lead you there. Sometimes making a course correction will generate a feeling of relief and excitement, fueling your motivation to keep going.
6 – Surround yourself with positive thinkers who radiate the qualities you want to have, or possess the traits you like about yourself. Being around someone who is farther along than you in their journey, who is successful and encouraging, can do wonders for boosting your morale. We can easily get down, feel stressed or inadequate, so joining forces with or being around a person who can uplift you, provide pointers, or serve as a good role model can help you breakthrough that fog. Do you have people in your life who can engage in stimulating conversation about being a clinician or help you in specific ways, or other things you’re passionate about? We receive energy and inspiration from others as much as we give it. Make sure you are receiving as much positive stimulation and support as possible. Being in grad school and the pre-licensure trek is fraught with stress and can be grueling, so it’s key to have people in your life who can serve as mentors, coaches and friends.
As a Licensed Clinician myself who successfully navigated the internship route and started a private practice as an intern, I specialize in coaching pre-licensed clinicians. Until January 15th in honor of the Holidays and New Year, I am offering 25% off any coaching or freelance writing service. Visit www.earlycareerclinician.com.
Sign up for my newsletter by providing your email address, and you’ll receive weekly blogs full of tips, resources and discounts.
I also offer consultation services for any client cases you may be having difficulty with and want another clinician’s perspective and advice.
Tyra Butler, LMFT, Early Career Clinician Coach