What I’ve learned in my first year as a therapist

Back in August was the one year anniversary of the completion of my Masters in Counselling Psychology. I’ve been a fully fledged therapist for well over a year now, and I thought this would be a good chance to reflect on what I have learned.

It has been an exciting ride, to say the least. I landed what I thought was my dream job almost right out of school, but realized it actually was taking a huge toll on my mental health and relationship. So, I quit. I had no back up plan and almost no income only a few months out of my Masters. I had nothing to lose so I decided to start my private practice.

Here’s what I’ve learned over the course of that journey over the past year:

There is no perfect time to do anything. So why wait to start? We are never reallyready. I certainly wasn’t “ready” when I started my practice. I was confident in my skills and my ability to work with clients. But in terms of going it on my own, and the whole running my own business thing, I was flying by the seat of my pants. I could have waited until I was “ready” and stayed in a job that was draining me for a year or two, trying to slowly build a practice on the side. But I wouldn’t have been happy. It would have deeply impacted my mental health and in turn so many other aspects of my life, including my relationship. Was the timing perfect? No. Was it hard? No. Was I ready? No. But I did it anyway, and I’m so glad I did.

What’s that thing you’re waiting to start until the time is right? Perhaps its a new hobby or looking for a new job or writing that book or moving to a new city. What if I told you the perfect time is now? You’re ready when you decide you are. 

What matters most to me comes first, always. What I really value, above all else, when it comes down to it is my mental health and wellness and my relationship. There are times when, in order to prioritize these two aspects of my life, I need to make sacrifices. I could have stayed and worked in a secure job where I made more money than I currently do (because yes, financial security and saving are also important to me). But it would have come at a cost. This became so abundantly clear to me this past year. I’ve had to make some difficult choices, but when I put my own wellness and the health of my relationship first, I make choices that are truly in line with my values.

What is the absolutely most important thing to you? Get really clear on this so you can apply it as a filter to the decisions you need to make in your life. 

My worth and value are not defined by society’s metrics of success. In starting my own business, I’ve been building from the ground up. I have a multitude of different components to my work – seeing private practice clients, developing and facilitating training programs for frontline workers, and providing content online. I don’t show up and clock in and out to a 9-5 job. I could be working all the time if I didn’t set boundaries around how I want to work. I feel a lot of pressure to work a 40-hour week, but I’m slowly learning that I’m actually far more productive and fulfilled when I put in a solid 20-25 hours a week between clients and other projects. But making this switch feels so counter culture and anxiety provoking.

I’ve had to learn that the traditional work week can’t be placed on a pedestal and that I am allowed to find a way of working that actually works for me. It’s still a challenge, but trying to stop valuing myself based on how many hours I’m working or how much money I’m making has been a huge shift. Instead, now I try to focus on how well I’m feeling, how much quality time I spend with my partner, how much we are collectively working toward achieving our dreams (financially and otherwise), and how much joy and happiness I have.

If I kept measuring my worth by how much I was working or how much I was earning, I’d constantly be beating myself up about the fact that I could work in a standard job and earn more. But if I focus on measuring my worth based on the above factors – wellness, quality time, love, and happiness – in many ways I’m the most rich I’ve ever been in my life. I still need to take finances seriously and work hard, don’t get me wrong. And I’m still committed to a plan to save and pay off debt, but my self-worth cannot be defined by that.

What is one way you are holding yourself to unfair standards because of how society told you it “should” be done? Think about whether this is actually how you want to live your life or just something you’re doing because it’s how our culture operates. It can be difficult and scary to break through these patterns, but once you start seeing how we’re programmed to operate in certain ways you might also notice small ways to remind yourself it’s okay to do things differently. 

Of course, I have learned so much more in the past year than what I have shared here. But these three lessons have been at the core of this journey so far for me, and are really central to the learning I am continuing to do about myself. I’m not an expert at any of these, but I’m committed to practicing them in an ongoing way and I’m so grateful for the opportunities this past year has given me to learn and grow in these ways.