Becoming A Better Therapist: Getting More Experience

I’ve mentioned several times about my experience towards becoming a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist (LMFT). I’m not going to go into the full process about how that happens today, but I want to talk about why I decided to take a second job in the mental health field. I spent a lot of time thinking about my decision and here’s the list of things that I took into consideration when making my decision:


Let me start by saying, while I do talk a lot about ways to pay off debt and how to increase your savings, the idea of getting a second paycheck did not have a significant impact on my decision. My primary drive for finding a second job is a different kind of compensation: experience. Or rather I should say growth. And even better, I get one step closer to my ultimate goal of becoming a licensed therapist.

Getting Licensed

I’m not going to go into a great deal of detail about how to get licensed, however here’s a general overview of the requirements in Virginia:

  • First, you send all of your paperwork to the Board of Counseling and they determine if you’re license-eligible

If they say yes, you actually begin the process of counting your hours (you cannot count any hours of service prior to their approval).

  • You must get no less than 2 years of experience working with clients
  • You must get at least 2,000 hours of direct contact (i.e. face-to-face therapy)
    • At least 1,000 of these hours must be with couples and families
  • You must get at least 2,000 hours of indirect contact (i.e. phone calls and paperwork)
  • You then get to take the National Licensure exam

While the actual path to get licensed is relatively straightforward, it is a long process if you’re not in an intensive therapy position. I currently get about 2 hours of direct contact a week (and an ungodly amount of indirect contact). In case you’re not great at mental math, that set-up is not going to get me licensed in this decade.

Current Position

At my full-time job, I work out of an office with a program that mostly sees clients in their homes and communities. Currently, I assess clients to determine if they meet criteria for our services. Because of the size of our office, I often only see 1-4 people a week. While I genuinely enjoy my job and the clients I work with, it is straining to think about how slowly I am creeping towards obtaining my license.

Starting the Journey

I initially set out to find a part-time job that could help supplement my clinical hours while accommodating my full-time position, as well as be located within 30 minutes of my home (my full-time job is about an hour away).
The more I thought about it, though, the more I realized I wanted to get more experience; different experience. Right now, my only experience is with adults with substance abuse in an outpatient group setting and adults with serious mental illness.
I wanted the opportunity to work with children. A large chunk of my education, believe it or not, is in family therapy. And in most families, there are children. Because of this logic, I knew I needed to broaden my experience base.

The Value of Experience

No one in mental health is an expert without years of training, and more importantly, experience. I can tell you all day long what a good parent should do, but having no children of my own makes me a pretty bad person to take parenting advice from. The same goes for therapists (to some extent).
I find it most important to present myself to situations that allow me to grow both personally and professionally. My new role will be working part-time in a residential crisis program for children. I have been given the opportunity to face my fears and keep on growing!
I should probably let you know now that when I started my undergraduate degree, I was vehemently against the idea of working with children. I had heard too many horror stories on the news and couldn’t possibly bear to think about a child telling me a secret about their home life. I’ve since gotten to a better place with that fear.


In addition, I have never worked in a residential setting. This is a huge difference from the places I have worked before. For those of you that have never set foot in a residential mental health facility, I can guarantee that it is nothing like an outpatient office.
I’ll be working for a state agency. While I said earlier that the financial piece didn’t play a part in the decision, I still consider the additional perks a bit of a bonus.
The facility is down the street from my house. I’m talking a 15-minute walk, 5-minute bike ride, 2-minute drive, down the street! My original goal was within 30 minutes so this is a significant benefit.
The interview with the leading staff went incredibly well. I could tell from that interaction that the people I would mesh well with the people I’d be working alongside.
This is a brand new program. I’m going to be helping develop a brand new program. I’m so happy about this because many times a program starts out with an idea in mind and 6 months down the road the idea is completely forgotten. I get to be there for the purest form of the program and I’m excited.
Finally, what I believe to be the most important thing I am doing for myself in taking a second job is becoming a better therapist. I will have worked in a variety of settings, with a variety of people, making me better able to work with a wider range of people in the future. In the end, all I want is to be a better therapist and do good work. I think I’m taking the right steps.
Becoming A Better Therapist by Getting More Experience

Your Turn

Have you had a job where you were able to grow personally and/or professional? Tell me about it!

4 thoughts on “Becoming A Better Therapist: Getting More Experience

  1. Wow! This was such an interesting post. I never knew how much work it took to become a therapist. I thought school, maybe an internship and that’s it. Your hard work and dedication will pay off.

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