A New Professional’s Survival Guide by Morgan Taylor

As anyone who has gone through the arduous process of becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor knows, the long journey does not end when graduate school is complete. In fact, the end of graduate school marks the beginning of an even longer journey through the tedious process of attaining the coveted and legally official status of Licensed Professional Counselor and working to gain respect as a professional in the therapy community.

The path of the new professional is fraught with thorns and hurdles that I think of as silent initiations into the world of the mental health profession. Thorns and hurdles you say? Let me count the ways….

Let’s start with the term “intern” for one: The title “intern” itself is a condescending term that creates unnecessary obstacles for the new professional. This term is not only stigmatizing, it is also misleading. This term indicates an unpaid student volunteering their time in order to gain the experience required to graduate. I cannot count how many times I have had to explain to potential clients what “intern” actually means in this context. (LMFT’s have it a bit better, the term “associate”, though no more informative, at least does not tend to conjure up the same associations with images of “inexperienced college student”.)

In the struggle to build a practice or find a job that pays a decent wage as an intern, many new professionals like myself struggle to make ends meet. Few agencies or private practices offer paid positions for an intern-level licensee, and the ones that do often offer relatively low pay for the amount of education and experience required for the position. I must say that I don’t know of many other professions besides counseling that require a master’s degree and yet offer the new professional such a low pay range.

In the world of the new professional there is also much demand for free labor, as interns must pay supervisors for the right to practice. This process helps new professionals gain the required experience and clinical hours, but it is difficult to juggle full-time, low-pay work with the financial demands of living before full licensure! Couple this with the fact that insurance companies typically will not reimburse a provider or her client for services provided by an intern-level licensee, and you have the odds stacked against you!

Tips for Creating Psychoeducational Groups

  1. Drop the “pay per class” model and instead charge one lump sum for the whole experience.  For example, rather than charge $40 per class, make it one lump sum of $240 for a six week session.
  2. Break the class down into 5-7 modules. Each module or class should have a theme, and ideally each one will build on the information provided in the previous class.
  3. Keep it simple. Share no more than 2-3 concepts in each class and give members lots of time to process and integrate what they are learning.
  4. Make it experiential. Research has shown that people learn best when they are actively engaged in the learning process.
  5. Have a course workbook.
  6. Have a theme and learn how to properly title your course. A good title will speak to your ideal participants’ wants and needs.
  7. You should always be improving your class—it is a living growing evolving thing and should not remain stagnant—as you shift and grow so will your class, AND you will likely be inspired to create new classes too!
  8. Promote individual and group follow-up possibilities at the end of the course.
  9. Have a web page dedicated to the course. To see what I’m currently up to, visit www.pathwaytopleasure.com.

As an LPC-Intern, I currently face all of these challenges. Upon graduating with my master’s degree in hand a few years ago, the future looked daunting. How would I be able to pay a supervisor if I had no income? How could I go full-time into counseling if I could not make enough money to pay my basic expenses but still had to quit my massage therapy job in order to free up hours and energy to pursue this new career path?

As a divorced single mother of two, the whole path seemed uncertain, unpromising, and altogether overwhelming. I did not have the financial support of a spouse to cover the slim times. I did not have the freedom and flexibility to take up a night or weekend job as a single mom with two school aged kids at home. If I was going to pursue this path, I needed to think fast and get creative. The solution I found? Groups.

Luckily, I had a lot of experience leading and teaching groups prior to entering the counseling world. I had  already been running my own healing arts business for several years, working with clients both individually and in psychoeducational groups.

I have learned the value of groups purely from an entrepreneurial/business perspective. It takes just as much if not more work to sell one individual session as it does to sell seats in a group. I realized that if I could fill a group with eight people at $50 a seat, I could earn $400 per week in the same amount of time as with a $100 individual session!

From a purely financial perspective, groups just made sense! Through my healing arts work I had gained valuable experience writing my own curriculum, marketing groups, and screening and enrolling participants. Now that I had entered the counseling world, I wasn’t afraid of leading psychoeducational groups. I knew I could develop and create a unique curriculum.  

If I was going to pursue this path, I needed to think fast and get creative. The solution I found? Groups.

A psychoeducational group is one of the easiest types of groups to manifest. There is less left up to chance and therefore less opportunity for potential chaos to erupt. Countertransference and transference, though present, are not necessarily directly encountered. This format can take some of the anxiety and pressure off the new professional, who may feel ill-equipped to manage these dynamics effectively. Similarly, the less intensive format can be reassuring for group members and requires a less rigorous screening process. Psychoeducational groups require a different skill set, one that most new professionals already possess due to many years spent creating all those “presentations” and writing all those papers in graduate school!

However, psychoeducational groups do have their own set of challenges. The biggest challenge for me is that, as the leader, I have the sole responsibility of preparing all the content and curriculum. It’s totally on my shoulders to be able to present that content in a way that is engaging and fun. I know that nobody wants to sit through a boring “class” of any kind! In psychoeducational groups, the new professional is responsible for effectively leading and teaching the material so that the participants actually learn, an outcome that takes creativity and flexibility to manifest.

I have found that the quickest way to fill a psychoeducational group is to focus on one specific topic of interest and to really home in on what problem a particular group will be solving for the participants. Couple this with a killer title and filling the group becomes much easier than you might think!

When I began putting together psychoeducational groups, I figured out what to teach by identifying my own areas of interest and passion. I made a list of my hobbies, interest, special skills, talents and special experiences. From doing this I realized that I had read A LOT of books and taken numerous trainings on various topics related to science, spirituality, sexuality and alternative healing. I realized that I was passionate about these topics and that other people were also interested in learning about them but had not necessarily taken the time to do all the studying, practicing and reading that I had. So my very first groups were more like helping to teach and propagate information that was already “out there” and of interest to myself and others.

Over time, as I grew and deepened my skills at leading groups, I developed more confidence to create my own content and material. I now teach and lead workshops and retreats on the topics of women’s sexuality, spirituality, alternative healing, intimacy and relationships. The whole process is quite creative and fun for me and it’s something I truly love doing!

I have been leading psychoeducational groups for nearly 10 years now, and these are the questions I ask myself when I come up with an idea for a group: .

  1. Is there a real need for the information in the community? In other words, will people actually sign up for this? The content has to solve a real and relevant problem for the population I am trying to serve.
  2. Am I passionate about the topic? If I’m not passionate about it, forget it!
  3. Am I knowledgeable about the topic? A mentor of mine once said that the minimum requirement to teach something to another is to be more knowledgeable about the topic than they are. In other words, we don’t have to be experts on the subject! We don’t have to be all-knowing gurus or psychic oracles! You only need to know enough to be able to share and teach the topic effectively to others. Works for me!
  4. Is my population easily accessible and will I be able to effectively reach them with my marketing efforts? For example, I tried to run a group for sex workers only to find that they were in fact a very difficult population to actually reach, despite there being a real and genuine need for my group offering.

Through the journey toward a successful practice, I have learned that the most valuable lesson is to just be myself. I have learned to value the experience I have, and to know that regardless of the letters after my name or lack thereof, I have something unique and useful to offer the world. My contribution does not need to be earth-shattering in order to change lives, and I’ve come to terms with the fact that I do not have to change the whole world or everyone in it for my contribution to be valid. I feel that if I can positively impact the life of just one person then my time here on this earth has made a difference.  

I believe I am qualified to share my gift. I no longer buy into the myth that I have to spend more time taking this class or doing that training before I can lead groups. Sure, I’ll take more classes and do more trainings, but I’ll do them because I want to; because I love learning; and because I’m always wanting to develop my skills and get better at what I do, but not because I need to be or become more than what I already am right now.

If I can impart anything to other new professionals from describing my experience, I hope that it is exactly this: that you are enough right now. You know enough, you have enough, you are skilled enough to lead your very own group with exactly the education, skills and experience you have in this moment—today.  

Morgan Susan Taylor is an LPC- Intern (supervised by Claudia Thompson LPC-S) and specialist in women’s sexuality. She’s the founder of the Feminine Wisdom Academy (www.femininewisdomacademy.com) and the creator of the Womb Loss therapeutic support groups for women experiencing loss from infertility, miscarriage and abortion (www.WombLoss.com)

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