Getting through a master’s program in marriage and family therapy, counseling, clinical psychology or social work is such an accomplishment and relief. You dedicate yourself to a couple years of reading, studying, test-taking, seeing clients for the first time and completing your master’s project. You meet all the requirements and finally get the green light to move on. High five!
Then, that blissful graduation day comes and goes, and you find yourself saying, “Okay, now what?” Armed with a degree in one hand and visions of a successful career in the other, you may think, “I just need to land any kind of internship (or associateship, the new title for MFTs in California for 2018), paid or not.” And, some of your classmates may already have one lined up.
Entering the post-graduation period without one brings on many different feelings. Because much of your future and current life is riding on that, the anxiety may rise. It really is difficult to figure out where to go and what to do, because there is no one helping you navigate through that gap from the time you graduate to becoming licensed. You know it happens, because there are licensed people out there. There are just so many pieces to put together to get there.
The reality is that unfortunately a good portion of pre-licensed clinicians do not earn their licensure hours within the required timeframe. According to the Board of Behavioral Sciences in California, nearly half of all Marriage and Family Therapist registered interns have not gotten licensed in the past 10 years. That’s thousands of interns not successfully earning their hours or passing exams. And, for the past four years in California, 40% of Professional Clinical Counselors have not made it to licensure. Yet, for both MFTs and PCCs, the number of students and interns entering the field has been consistently on the rise. Many want to enter and pursue this field, but many have trouble getting all the way through.
These trends reflect how difficult it is after graduation to get into a good paid position where you earn licensure hours. Many also realize after grad school that there is much more to learn about how to succeed in this newfound profession. Our professors and school staff can do wonders at giving us a foundation from which to launch from, but then we are on our own to figure out the rest. And of course, some programs are better than others.
Various Obstacles Graduates Encounter
Some graduates do not find adequately-paid internships, or they work for free to accumulate the required hours to become licensed. Some find it impossible to earn enough hours in the required timeframe. And, some take jobs in unrelated fields, which can lead them off the path of becoming licensed. Some pre-licensed clinicians simply quit altogether because of the combined stressors they are under, juggling a job where they’re paid but not earning hours, or working for free and struggling to make ends meet—let alone all the other stressors, like poor quality supervision, piles of paperwork, enforced theoretical approaches, adjusting to being a therapist and the toll on our mental and emotional well-being.
We are at the mercy of the job market and the limited connections we have in the community. The competition in this field also makes it challenging to find a job you want, but not impossible. Many internships, even entry-level ones, require specialized types of experiences, training or to be bi-lingual. And if you did not get that experience as a trainee, what can you do? There are sometimes 50 people applying for one internship position, so how do you make yourself stand out amongst the competition?
The Potential Growth Opportunities
As a pre-licensed clinician, this time is ripe with potential to transition from the academic setting to professional practice. It’s can give you an opportunity to implement the various clinical approaches you’ve learned, build upon the experience you got as a trainee and help you develop your personal approach to therapy.
You are Valuable Right Now
Something important you must remember while you’re transitioning from school to seeking a job is you have many attributes that make you employable and valuable right now. Your life experiences, natural abilities and simply who you are as a person impact who you are as a clinician. The fact you made it through grad school is a huge achievement and exemplifies your scholastic and interpersonal abilities. Sure, there is room for improvement and a lot to still learn. And you will if you apply yourself and find the right resources and utilize those to the best of your abilities.
What You Can Do Now to Boost Your Chances for Success
There are ways to put your best foot forward and find the best situation for you, whether you are aware of opportunities or not. Finding a worthwhile intern job also entails tackling the job-seeking, resume creation and interviewing process, which can be a job in itself. But there are ways to stand out and make your job hunting fruitful. Because your positions as an intern/associate will play a part in shaping who you are as a clinician, it’s vitally important to figure out what you want and set yourself up for success. You’ve invested so much of yourself in your education up to this point, so now is the time to ensure you get off to a good start with your internship/associateship.
There are many roads you can take as an intern to accomplish your career goals. As a licensed clinician who successfully navigated internship and the licensure process, I can help you find paid work as a pre-licensed clinician and earn your hours. Click here to grab your free mini-guide on how to find paid work as pre-licensed clinician. Or here to learn about getting help with the pre-licensure process, or here for help with your resume, online presence or other aspects of getting your internship off to the right start. For pre-licensed clinicians seeking consultation, click here.
I hope this article sheds some light on the journey and provides you with resources and support to help you along the way!
Tyra Butler, LMFT, Early Career Clinician Coach