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Roadmap for Post-Grad: Essential Points to Consider for New Therapists

If you're reading this, congratulations, soon-to-be graduate! This is a time to celebrate but also a time to answer the dreaded question: what next? From considering specializing to negotiating pay, new therapists are faced with so many questions when they first enter the workforce.


In this article, we'll cover the essential considerations for newly graduated therapists embarking on their job search journey. Whether you're pursuing opportunities in private practice, community mental health, or clinical settings, these insights will guide you in finding the perfect fit for your skills, passion, and professional aspirations.


As a reminder, I received my Master of Social Work degree in 2020, so I'm just sharing my knowledge and experience since then. As always, please do your research! I encourage you also to network and discuss options with peers!


You Probably Need to Get Registered with the BBS Right Away

The title is different in each state, but most likely you will have to become registered with the Board of Behavioral Sciences before starting a job. Each job has different requirements. Some are willing to hire you before you get your registration number, but you will have to ask. Regardless, it may be smart to register as soon as possible!


Is It Too Early To Niche?

You can go ahead and specialize right out of the gate if you are sure about the population you want to work with. For example, if you know you want to work with teens who have eating disorders, you can absolutely pursue jobs focused on that. My only suggestion would be to continue to read books and attend trainings that are outside your niche once in a while because your clients may have complex diagnoses and they deal with complex issues. Also, you may want to change your career path later and you will want to feel fairly prepared.


For most of you, your initial years post-grad are likely going to be about continuing to learn about a wide range of mental health issues. It's likely you won't niche down until after you are licensed. For example, I worked with ages 1-55 before I was licensed with diagnoses such as MDD, PTSD, GAD, Bipolar I, Adjustment disorders, ADHD, Borderline Personality Disorder and more. Now that I'm licensed I focus mainly on working with young adults (usually ages 21-35) who have experienced relationship trauma. I am grateful for my time working with many different diagnoses because it helped me really see where my strengths are.


Work Environment

Work environments vary so much. Here are some questions you might ask or consider:

  • How quickly will I be assigned clients?

  • What is the average caseload?

  • What are the billing requirements?

  • Is group supervision offered? Is clinical supervision (for licensure) offered?

  • What kinds of trainings and certifications are provided?

  • How much travel is required?


There is no right or wrong way to start your career. My first job was incredibly busy. The supervisors called it "social worker boot camp." It was a learn-as-you-go (with support and trainings), fast-paced, high-stress environment. It's not for everyone, but I learned a lot and very little scared me as I moved on to my next job. Any clinician I have spoken to who worked at a high-stress job was both grateful for the learning experiences they had and had stories of intense stress and burnout. Sooo... good and bad.


Others preferred slower-paced work environments. This meant they got to learn at a slower pace, so less stress. The downside was that developing their clinical skills took a little longer and they tended to feel less confident as a therapist.


Pick your poison. I hope you find a unicorn of a job and get everything you need!


How Much Training is Too Much Training?

You might be tempted to pay for as many books and trainings as you can after you graduate because you're feeling anxious. Been there. I feel you.


I am likely never going to tell you to stop learning. It's best practice for sure to keep learning. Also, I think a little bit of fear of getting things wrong can be helpful; it keeps us humble and willing to learn. I would love for you to continuously seek out learning opportunities for the sake of learning and helping your clients. That said, we also run the risk of stressing ourselves out too much by trying to have all the knowledge we can get. We have our whole careers ahead of us. Balance, folks.


Here are a few options:* 1) Ask potential employers what trainings they offer. 2) Subscribe to educational podcasts (ex. Clearly Clinical, Counselor Toolbox Podcast). Aim to only listen to them in the morning, so you can unwind with fun podcasts or music toward the end of the day. 3) Get a book or audiobook subscription service where you can get multiple books by different therapist authors. Again, aim to only listen to them in the morning, so you can unwind with fun podcasts or music toward the end of the day. 4) Aim to look for free trainings. This may take a little digging, but even places like NASW or PESI often offer free trainings. 5) Set aside a training fund and use it for any CEUs you need plus any trainings your heart is set on.


*Note: You do HAVE to complete Continuing Education Units (CEUs), so make sure you follow the requirements of your state licensing board.


Let's Talk Pay - Seriously

Right off the bat, pay for therapists and social workers can vary widely depending on your state, your experience, your city, etc. In general, the highest paying jobs include jobs at school districts, medical social work/therapist jobs, and private practice. Many therapists in private practice charge upwards of $150/session (out of pocket, no insurance). Some therapists do online trainings (to other therapists or the general public) that they sell as a side hustle. All this to say, there is money to be made in the field.


You will likely have higher-paying opportunities once you're licensed. Some job options are only available to licensed people, and some offer pay increases once you're licensed. Also, promotion to jobs like team lead, supervisor, and director tends to be easiest when licensed.


All that said, you can still make a ton of money unlicensed. When I first graduated and was job searching (in California during the height of the pandemic), the lowest paying job hiring new grads was about 30k and the highest was around 91k. I will also add that I have absolutely experienced and heard of other therapists successfully negotiating higher pay when interviewing.


One more point. Sometimes, the highest-paying jobs also work you the hardest. Golden handcuffs. Gold, but still handcuffs. So, really ask about the workload in interviews, talk to your peers, and consider your ability to handle pressure.


Conclusion

Sooo much goes into job searching. If you don't have to, try not to do it alone. Talk to a loved one, your peers, your current practicum/intern supervisor, and maybe even your own therapist. I hope the information here was helpful, and Good Luck!



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