If you’re starting out as a therapist, you’re probably finding that your job is exhilarating, rewarding, and…maybe even a bit daunting. The demands new therapists face can weigh heavily on them — both mentally and physically. Trust that it’s normal to struggle as you try to find your place in the world as a mental healthcare provider, and the following advice for new therapists can help you be successful and as effective as possible for your clients in each and every counseling session. After all, that’s why you chose this profession.
Read on to learn our top 11 tips for new therapists. Whether you’ve been practicing for one week or a year in a private practice or agency environment, we offer the guidance and support you need when facing uncertainties or challenges in your newfound career.
1. Choose a Niche to Establish Yourself
When you’re starting out as a therapist, think about finding a niche to specialize in to establish yourself as a thought leader and expert in a specific field of psychology. If you’re wondering how to get more therapy clients, this can help set you apart from other therapists. Additionally, if you focus on one particular area of care, it can make it easier for clients to find you.
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Not sure which niche you want to specialize in? Think about the following:
- Your educational background: While you were in school, were there areas of study you excelled in or enjoyed more than others?
- Personal experiences: Do you have any past life experiences that shaped your perspective or passion for the profession?
- Demographics and populations: Are there any demographics or populations of potential clients you’re particularly drawn to?
- Preferred therapeutic approach and modality: Are there specific evidence-based treatments that you’re more comfortable with or feel can be more successful?
2. Take Time to Debrief After Each Session
Taking the time to process your thoughts and debrief after each session or client is essential for new therapists, especially if you’re working on a challenging case. You’ll probably find you don’t need to debrief quite as intensely after each session as time goes on and you become more experienced. Initially, though, the process can help you identify growth areas and opportunities to prevent burnout.
Use the following steps to debrief after each client session:
- Reflect on the session: Spending just a few minutes jotting down notes can help you process a session and offer valuable insight.
- Analyze your reaction: Becoming aware of your emotional responses will be key as you identify and manage triggers.
- Evaluate progress: It’s crucial to regularly assess clients’ progress toward their goals, especially in the beginning.
- Determine next steps: Use the above reflections to decide on future care — for example, should you introduce new interventions or modify existing ones during future sessions?
3. Seek Out Mentorship
Mentorship is critical for even experienced practitioners. Seek the advice of someone you trust, and don’t hesitate to open up, especially when facing ethical issues or challenging cases. A strong mentor can provide you with valuable insight for your therapy practice, and the connection you’ll establish will also help build your confidence in your abilities as a therapist.
To find the right mentor, you should:
- Look for potential mentors: You can seek out a mentor through your networks, at conferences or workshops, through professional organizations, or even by asking a former professor.
- Evaluate your compatibility: Think about communication style, values alignment, and any expertise in your niche.
- Set clear expectations: Go into the relationship with clearly defined goals and objectives so a potential mentor is on the same page with what you need and hope to get out of the relationship.
4. Practice Self-Compassion
Just as you would advise a patient, remember you’re human and will make mistakes. When starting out as a therapist, feeling pressure to be perfect or have all the answers is common. Maybe you’re still unsure how many clients a therapist should have or how much a therapist makes. Remember that no one is perfect, and you don’t need to have all of the answers. Reminding yourself that you’re not perfect can help you build resilience, especially when you experience a setback or have a difficult case.
“As a new therapist, it’s important to have a consistent self care system. It’s easy to get absorbed in helping our clients and neglect ourselves.”– Talkspace therapist Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC
5. Build a Support Network
Create a support system to bolster your confidence and allow you to learn from others. Support is essential for any experienced therapist, regardless of their years of practice. A strong support system can provide emotional assistance in addition to practical advice.
You can build a support network by:
- Connecting with other therapists: Join local or online therapy groups like the American Psychological Association. Professional associations offer support regarding practices, resources, and connections that will enhance your skills.
- Staying in contact with former school peers: Your former classmates might face similar challenges as they begin their careers — sharing your successes and commiserating your struggles can foster even more camaraderie.
- Joining a therapy platform or group: Online therapy platforms like Talkspace can be an excellent source of support. With ongoing support and opportunities for professional development, you can take advantage of a community of therapists for networking, collaboration, and open communication.
“It’s important that as a mental health provider, a therapist has a person who advocates for them so they have an outlet for self-expression and centering.”– Talkspace therapist Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC
6. Prioritize Balance in Your Personal & Professional Life
As a licensed therapist just starting out, you must create a work-life balance that strikes harmony in your world and allows you to care for your own mental health. Not establishing a balance between your personal and professional lives will increase your chance of burnout, which can be incredibly common in the field.
Focus on the following to ensure you take a healthy approach to practice:
- Time management: Managing your time effectively is paramount to being a great therapist. Set aside specific hours that you’ll use for work-related tasks like client sessions or administrative duties, and don’t forget to allocate time for personal activities — like family time or hobbies.
- Self-care: Prioritizing your mental health is as important as the care you give to your therapy clients. Incorporate daily activities that promote relaxation and rejuvenation, like meditation, yoga, socializing with friends, or doing anything else you enjoy.
- Set boundaries: Setting boundaries between your professional role and personal life is crucial to establishing a work-life balance. Don’t bring work home with you; get support when needed.
“It’s important to clearly state goals and objectives in the initial stages of counseling. In addition to goals and objectives, it is crucial that clear boundaries are established.”– Talkspace therapist Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC
7. Take Advantage of the Power of Networking
Networking is a critical aspect of career development and building a successful career as a therapist. Attend workshops, conferences, and other professional development events to continue growing in your field. These events will help you gain essential experience and grow as a care provider while allowing you to build relationships with other professionals.
Make the most out of networking by:
- Creating an elevator pitch: Have a brief and compelling description of who you are, what you do, and why you’re a unique and effective therapist.
- Being genuinely interested in others: When you talk to people at networking events, be genuinely interested in them and their work.
- Following up: If you spend the time establishing valuable connections, don’t let them fade away just because the event is over. Send a follow-up text, connect on LinkedIn, or shoot a quick email to ensure you stay in touch.
- Nurturing your online presence: We live in a digital age, and having an active online presence is essential for any mental health care provider who wants to network.
8. Embrace Feedback
While feedback can be difficult for some people, embracing input from others can help you identify areas to grow and improve as a therapist. Try not to see feedback as criticism or a sign that you’re not great at your work. Rather, look at it as an opportunity to learn and grow.
Get the most out of your feedback by:
- Being open to constructive criticism: We always have room to improve, so approach feedback with curiosity and a willingness to learn.
- Showing gratitude: Thank anyone who offers you genuine feedback. This will encourage them to continue sharing with you and foster positive relationships that are authentic and honest.
- Creating actionable steps: Upon reflecting on the feedback you get, figure out what changes might be most beneficial to enhance your role as a therapist.
9. Be Open-Minded and Flexible
Therapists operate under the assumption that open-mindedness and flexibility are cornerstones of our growth opportunities. Make sure you’re aware of how you approach people with diverse backgrounds so you can build a solid therapeutic relationship that offers the most effective treatment.
Part of being open-minded can include:
- Understanding cultural differences: Being culturally sensitive is critical to becoming the best mental healthcare provider you can be. Culturally sensitive care that respects diverse perspectives can make you a stand-out care provider.
- Staying up-to-date on evidence-based practices: The mental health field constantly evolves as new research emerges about how to best approach and treat conditions. Stay informed and up-to-date on new developments to offer cutting-edge, evidence-based treatment that’s explicitly tailored to every client’s needs.
- Collaborating with others: If you need help, collaborate with other professionals who might have more experience or are able to offer a new insight or perspective. Seeking advice and support from other psychiatrists, therapists, social workers, or experts can help you and your clients grow.
“As a new therapist, it’s important to be genuine and authentic as you build rapport with your clients. This will help the client to feel secure and safe.”– Talkspace therapist Famous Erwin, LMHC, LPC
10. Never Stop Learning
You’ve chosen a job in a field that’s forever changing. Never stop learning or seeking to further your experience and expertise. Learn about new and successful therapy modalities, the latest research, updates on drugs, and more so you can be on top of your game, every session, with every patient.
Continue your education by:
- Taking classes and seminars: Seek out classes and workshops on topics you’re passionate about to increase your knowledge and awareness.
- Joining professional associations: Professional associations can offer you educational resources and materials to further your knowledge.
11. Lean into Your Passions
Doing what you love and are passionate about will enhance your ability to help others. Lean into your passions and use them to further your experience and grow as a provider. You can use your passions as a guide by:
- Aligning your work with things you deeply care about: If you’re passionate about a specific population, volunteer or take classes to help them in any capacity.
- Identifying your core values: Once you identify your core values, you can create a work environment around them that reflects what you care most about.
Jumpstart Your Career with Talkspace
Diving into any new career can be scary, especially when you’re just starting out as a therapist. If you’re seeking advice for new therapists, use the 11 tips above to help establish yourself and grow your practice. If you’re looking for more expert guidance and support, consider becoming a Talkspace therapist. Our platform offers:
- A flexible work-life balance
- Diverse clientele
- Competitive pay
- Cutting-edge technology and tools
- Ongoing support and professional development opportunities
- Earn free continuing education (CE) credits
- Benefits of a teletherapy practice
Start with Talkspace today to get unparalleled resources and support for your career
- American Psychological Association (APA). American Psychological Association. https://www.apa.org/. Accessed April 20, 2023.
- Vivolo M, Owen J, Fisher P. Psychological therapists’ experiences of Burnout: A qualitative systematic review and meta-synthesis. Mental Health & Prevention. 2022:200253. doi:10.1016/j.mhp.2022.200253. https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S2212657022000253?v=s5#. Accessed April 20, 2023.