After much deliberation, I’ve decided to take a leave of absence from the Master of Arts in Counseling program I have been in for a little over a year. I have completed all of the “academic” portion of the program and would have entered into practicum and then internship starting next term. I turned down a decent internship placement near my apartment with very little supervision oversight from the on-site staff a couple of weeks ago, a placement that up until then I had been working independently to secure. This week I wrote a message to the designated person at the university in charge of student withdrawals, declaring my intent to take a leave of absence. At this point it is a done deal.
I’m curious to see what I can do on an unlicensed path. I had a thriving practice for three months before I entered into the program. I’ve kept my practice since then but the university program from here on out would have taken larger and larger bites out of my time: one full day a week starting in January, 20 hours a week starting fall of 2016 for the duration of roughly 9 months. It’s a big committment, one that I’m not sure I’m ready for yet. I thought I was ready but the curiosity about taking an unlicensed path gnawed and gnawed at me and has led me to my current course of action.
In some ways, I’ve felt the more I become involved in becoming a “bonafide” therapist, the more the chains of oversight and regulation have come into my field of view. At a week of intensives on campus last summer I mentioned to a classroom of peers that I was seeing clients online. The department chair there immediately grilled me on the details of my practice to determine whether or not I was within the confines of the law. That scared me. I piroutted like a courtroom lawyer.
Later this past summer I attended one of two sections of an Internal Family Systems Level 1 training. I met a lot of licensed therapists. I met a nice woman from the Midwest who nearly broke into tears when she heard of my practice and how I was currently working outside of the mental health system. She said that since she had become licensed, she had felt like she’d been in the maw of a horrible beast and had been struggling ever since. I could see the struggle in her between the comfort and security of being established in a licensed profession and the wilder side of her that wanted to do more radical, less peer-reviewed work.
I’ve had some more casual experiences of people working within the mental health industry. They ask me what my “credentials” are and when I tell them I haven’t any, they say,”Well, anyone can hang a shingle these days” in a condescending tone. There’s a bitterness I’ve experienced from nearly every person I’ve met that has gone through the educational and licensure process. That’s not to say I would end up that way but I certainly will if I don’t scratch this curious itch that’s been coming up for me in the past year. I could end up making bitter DSM jokes and watching myself so that I don’t cross any “counselor ethics”.
The internship market is really tight, for those not in-the-know. I know of a peer who contacted 15+ counseling centers in his metro area, several times each, to no avail despite a good resume. I faired well because I befriended a man who came into my part time job at a grocery store who happened to be the marketing director for a center here in Portland proper. The man put me in touch with the placement director and all systems were a ‘go’. The itch came back. I started really considering the placement. I would be seeing mostly Medicaid people with substance abuse problems. Very little oversight. An easy peasy setup…right nearby! I was itchy. I lost some sleep thinking things over.
I decided I’m not ready to do that yet. I’m too curious about the novels and music albums I have cooking up. I’m too curious about philosophy, saying things publicly that break from the norm and push the dialogue of civilization forward. I’m too curious about attempting to work with the brightest and the most healed by spending my working hours on my personal development rather than on courses and supervision meetings and continuing education hours and placements and paperwork and peer journals.
I may return to the counseling program and finish up. There are most certainly benefits to working within the system and some of the people I most look up to have done a lot of good within it. It’s just that there are some things I want to attend to NOW and don’t want to put off for the sake of official training. Up until now I have been able to “have it all” but I have my limits and this essay is a way of acknowledging them.
I don’t have a license and a degree in counseling and I’ve deliberately stepped off of that path for now. I can’t bill insurance clients. In most legal jurisdictions I can’t “hang a shingle” and have a physical office. I have no referral network and I can’t sign up for sites like Psychology Today. I likely shouldn’t term myself a “therapist” anymore as any person within the industry with a grudge could try to take me down and be legally supported in doing so.
For now, it’s worth it.
I am making myself more vulnerable here. I want to work with people who have studied themselves in self knowledge and philosophy. I am going to advertise my services. I’m going to ask for donations. If you have received value from my essays and videos, I ask that you refer someone to me or even drop me a line yourself and we can do good work together. More than a “thumbs up” or a “like”, that is what’s going to allow me to support myself and continue to do real work with people. I don’t want to move overseas again to drop my cost of living down. I want to live here in the USA and pay my bills doing what I love so dearly.
I’m taking a chance on a potential society where merits in regard to self knowledge and self therapy are recognized without State intervention and that the financial incentives follow that structure.
I could use your help.