So you’ve completed your training and licensing procedure, you have logged in your hours and now you’re all set to practice psychotherapy. Congratulations! It’s an exciting threshold isn’t it? And you are raring to go! That’s a wonderful thing. Passion is always essential in a profession like this. But there’s another quality that is even more important and that is therapeutic skill and knowledge.

You might wonder that isn’t that what you completed your degree for? But let me tell you as a practicing psychotherapist, when you step into the therapy chamber as a therapist, it’s a different ballgame altogether. That said, based on my experience, and the feedback from my clients, I have compiled a list of thumb rules you can follow to make sure that you’re always moving towards being a BETTER therapist – not just better than your peers (because that’s hard to compare) but better than your own successive versions.

  • Pick Your Niche. When you train to be a psychotherapist at postgraduate or doctorate level, you are mostly taught a little bit of everything because there’s a curriculum to cover. But if you really want to make your mark as a psychotherapist, it will not be made by having a long list of conditions you treat on a board outside your clinic. It will be made by being a SPECIALIST in a couple of areas and making sure that you excel in those. Just think about it, if you had watering eyes, would you rather go to a general physician? Or Ophthalmologist? I am sure, you would prefer a ophthalmologist for eye problems. So imagine when a patient has anxiety or depression, whom would they go to? One that lists anxiety/depression as one of the ten things they treat or one who is the specialist in treating anxiety/depression? You get the drift? There is no Best General Physician. You don’t want to be a General Psychologist.  You want to be the Best _(Your Speciality Here)_ therapist.
  • Open Your Mind. When I say open your mind, I mean two things. One, never think that you know enough. Treat each patient like a new chapter and hit the books and resources and references every single time. Each patient will have at least one new point that will be different from the rest that you have seen of the same condition and that will be your clue to his wellness. Secondly, never stop learning. Subscribe to APA updates, Scientific American MIND magazine, read good psychology blogs, buy new books on psychotherapy – these are investments that will always pay off in the long run. Psychotherapy is a field that is always evolving and you HAVE to stay current. Not only will it put you at the top of your game, it will help you experience the joy of being a part of something so life changing. Remember, there will never be a time when you will know it all.
  • Don’t Fall Prey to “Fads”. The mental health professional community has major mood swings. Sometimes there’s a “diagnosis” revolution; sometimes there’s a “no labelling, free thinking” wave. Make sure that you don’t get swayed every time something new comes up. Your first fidelity is towards the client and you will do what’s best for the CLIENT. If making a diagnosis at the outset is the best way to understand a client, then so be it. You’re not being cruel by “labelling” him. You’re merely setting up a starting point for a contained exploration for the best therapeutic plan. If you think that you’d like to take some time to really get into the history of a client and lay off making a diagnosis, take your time. You’re not “wasting time” – you’re covering all the bases. Whatever you do just make sure that you have a clear goal in mind and you’re contained within a general working framework. You’ll very soon realise that clients themselves will give you direction, and that’s really the only thing you need to listen to, to be a better therapist.
  • Network, Network, Network. Never ever withdraw into your shell. Reach out to as many professionals as you can, nationally and internationally. Use this wonderful platform called LinkedIn that is teeming with professionals who are sheer pleasure to learn from. Join relevant groups on LinkedIn.  You can also make use of groups to network and keep abreast of developments in the field. Participate in discussions, put up your cases, read what others are saying, question as much as you’d like – never be embarrassed – there are no silly questions. You’ll never know unless you ask.
  • Always Follow an Ethical Practice. As psychotherapists we have standard APA guidelines and ethics. Never let go of them. I know you want to say “But, how many follow them in this country?” IT DOESN’T MATTER. You WILL follow them and that’s what will set you apart. When your ethics are in order, your patients will appreciate your value, your strength as a therapist; they will feel safe with you, and that goes a long way in building your credibility.

The points I have listed for you are not rocket science but a lot of times we lose sight of them in the race of gaining more clients, or being the most popular therapists in professional circles. You must never forget that you are a specialised professional and the way you conduct yourself in your practice will set the stage for your growth.

Over to you.  Say something.