Elizabeth DuPont Spencer, LCSW-C, is a licensed clinical social worker and Board-approved supervisor. Trained as a cognitive behavioral therapist using exposure and response prevention for anxiety disorders, OCD, and depression, she has been in private practice for 25 years, working with children, adolescents and adults. She is a Clinical Fellow of the ADAA, and was the recipient of the 2012 Clinician Outreach Award and the 2017 Clinician of Distinction Award. Elizabeth is co-owner of AnxietyTraining.com with a mission to train clinicians nationwide in evidence-based treatments.
Are you a newly trained CBT therapist, wondering how to start your first independent practice? Perhaps you want to join an existing group of therapists, or you dream of renting an office and having your own practice. When I talk to clinicians who are working towards having a practice -- from those who are still deciding what degree is best for them to those who have started a practice and want help marketing -- I start by saying that I love my job. I feel privileged every day to work with clients, and seeing them get well and go on to live successful lives free of the limitations of anxiety, OCD or depression is enormously satisfying.
That passion for this work is something I want to see in therapists going into practice. When you have an interview, or you talk to a potential client on the phone, be sure you bring energy and enthusiasm to the conversation. Tell why this work is important to you, and explain why your empathy and training make you a great candidate to do this often-tough work.
Being your genuine self is crucial to being a good therapist, and you want to show that to potential employers and clients. I have seen therapists who on paper have terrific training fail to make a genuine connection with clients, and no mater the technical skills they have it makes the work less effective. Conversely, therapists who have less traditional training can be fantastic when they collaborate and inspire their clients to work hard and get well quickly.
When applying for a job at a group practice, it can be tough to know if connecting personally would be helpful or frowned on. Cultures of group practices and hiring policies are variable. Your ADAA network may be helpful in making that choice – do you know anyone in the practice you could ask for guidance? If you don’t know anyone in that practice, how about other ADAA members in your community who may know the culture of the group? Make sure you look for possible mentors at the annual conference. All of us at ADAA are here because we are passionate about improving the lives of people with anxiety and related disorders. More senior ADAA members will be eager to help you start your practice or join a group – we all want you to succeed because there are simply not enough clinicians to fill the need for therapists. Even in an urban area like the DC metro area where I work, most of us in practice have wait lists. We need young therapists to start practices so one day we can retire!
Your journey to your dream job starts early in your education, and can begin as you gain experiences as an undergraduate – being a part of a peer counseling program, or crisis hotline, is a terrific early clinical experience. If you need paid work to support yourself, you could work at the front desk of a group practice. In graduate school, look for clinical internships, and even if the person supervising you or the population of clients isn’t the perfect fit for what you want to do, think about what you can learn that will serve you well in the career you are designing for yourself.
Thank you for your focus on treating anxiety, and I look forward to having you join me in telling younger clinicians how much you love your job.