Quandary: I’m ready for a new challenge, a new context in which to put my clinical skills to work. I’ve been a marriage and family therapist for over 15 years. What kinds of roles or projects have other therapists taken on that allowed them to do something new and make an impact?
1) Bring People Together
I’d suggest that this therapist try using their knowledge and skills to work to decrease political polarization, a force that’s paralyzing the country right now. Four years ago, I founded a national nonprofit, Braver Angels. Since then, I’ve had the chance to apply what I know as a couples therapist to reduce political polarization.
Consider statements like the other person (or group) is alien to me—an othering statement; I dislike and distrust them—an aversion statement; They’re not just wrong, they’re bad people—a moralization statement. Do any of these toxic statements sound like what we hear in therapy when partners or family members are at odds?
Like in couples therapy, successful work with people on different sides of the political aisle requires connecting with each side from the get-go. Each participant has to feel like I’m on their side. And here’s the trick: they also need to feel like I’m not against the other side. The Braver Angels workshops I designed take this approach, bringing together ordinary citizens who tend to resort to political stereotypes. In the workshops, I help them get past these stereotypes and find common ground, much in the way that I might help an embittered couple understand each other more fully.
Of course, connecting with both partners is only the start. Like couples therapy, this work really takes off when both groups recognize how they’ve contributed to the patterns keeping them stuck. In the workshops, we invite Reds (conservatives) and Blues (liberals) to express not only what their ideologies can offer the country for the better, but also humility and an understanding of their own side’s blind spots and shortcomings. People might not leave these workshops with their views on political issues changed, but they’ll leave with changed views of one another.
Unlike in couples therapy, where I’m related to neither partner, in this situation, I’m a citizen of our divided nation. This presents challenges: I have my own political views and I vote for a specific candidate, not the other. So how do I serve as therapist here? I call on my sense of a higher partisanship, an allegiance to American democracy that will remain in peril unless we learn to work together across differences.
If you want to get started doing this kind of depolarization work, you can get trained as a Braver Angels moderator. The essential qualifications are some experience with group facilitation and the ability to engage your sense of higher partisanship. The training is free and online, and moderators conduct workshops for free. I’d encourage this therapist—and anyone else interested in this work—to learn more at braverangels.org. It’s been the most rewarding part of a very gratifying 40-plus-year career.
William Doherty, PhD
Saint Paul, MN
2) Get on the Airwaves
I’ve been a therapist for over thirty years and know what it feels like to want to take on new projects to shake things up. I’ve been a speaker, a workshop presenter, and a supervisor. I’ve also written blogs as well as popular columns, and trained hundreds of therapists during this time. I’m also the author of five books. My sixth is coming out early next year.
My latest project, however, is reaching more people and making a bigger difference than I ever could’ve expected. Like many people these days, I have a conversational-style podcast—The Trouble with Sex—where I interview experts, authors, speakers, researchers, and regular folks. For the latest generation of listeners, a podcast is a great way to connect with and receive wisdom from people in our field. Previously, if people wanted advice on their sex or relationship issues, they had to buy a book or download a TED talk. But now, many thousands of people looking for advice and entertainment tune in to podcasts daily. Personally, I’ve learned so much and have had a lot of fun interviewing people in the fields of psychotherapy, sex therapy, and science.
If you’re anxious to try something new, this is my advice: Find a podcast you like. Contact the host. Tell them what you’re good at, what you excel at, and what you’re an expert at providing for your clients. Tell them you’re a big fan and would love to be on their podcast as a guest. Most hosts keep a list of potential guests and would be thrilled to have you on their show.
When you do get an interview, keep it light, keep your answers to questions short and breezy, and get personal, if possible. Remember, a podcast is informational but it’s also entertainment for the listener, who has over 850,000 active podcasts and 30 million episodes to choose from.
Today, more than half of all people in the U.S. over the age of 12 listen to podcasts. If you want to build your practice, think about how to connect with shows you like that are popular with people you’re hoping to reach. After you’ve been on a few, you might decide to start your own.
Tammy Nelson, PhD
New Haven, CT
3) Share Your Stories
I wonder if this clinician would consider writing a book. After fifteen years of clinical experience, I’m sure there are a lot of interesting insights and adapted stories to share that could be beneficial to others, whether they’re other clinicians or ordinary readers looking for entertainment. Lori Gottlieb’s Maybe You Should Talk To Someone is a good example of a book that does both.
I recently wrote a self-help book/memoir, Fear Less, Love More: What to Do When the Unexpected Happens. It’s based on my experience of losing my mom, dad, and brother to pancreatic cancer, my sister to breast cancer, and my own experience with lymphoma with three children at home, all under the age of three. To help make it through these losses and other life challenges, I explored spirituality, researched the greatest minds, and concluded that there are five choices that can help us live a peaceful and fulfilled life. I illustrate these choices by leveraging my experience working as a clinical and organizational psychologist and using personal and professional vignettes—some funny, some painful, and all (hopefully) inspirational.
I learned a great deal through my losses and other challenges and wanted to share what I learned with others to perhaps help them with their own life challenges, whatever they may be. I felt a calling to try to help others on a larger scale.
Sharing insights and knowledge through the written word can help many people, and it’s often a cathartic experience for the writer. I know it certainly was for me. If penning a manuscript isn’t their thing, perhaps contributing to online or print publications could be a possibility. Or writing a weekly or monthly blog to share insights and help others. Or, if public speaking is more appealing, perhaps being on a podcast, or facilitating podcasts with other clinicians or thought leaders would be exciting and impactful. Brené Brown and Esther Perel are both therapists who’ve done that.
Kathryn Haber, PsyD
4) Take a Leap of Faith
It can be tough to do the same thing for so many years, even if you absolutely love your work. Adding something fresh and different to your week can be rejuvenating and help expand your impact on the community. My best suggestion would be to push yourself just a bit out of your comfort zone and spend some time doing something you’ve watched others do but never thought you had the skills or ability to take on yourself. It will take lots of courage, but if you jump in, you’ll never look back!
First, I might recommend starting a podcast. After 15 years in the field, don’t you think it’s time to share your work with the world? You can choose to tailor your broadcasts to clinicians, couples, or both. Or you could consider writing a book. After all, there’s nothing cooler than seeing your name on the cover!
Offering a training is another fun way to share what you’ve learned. To get started, spend some time thinking about what you’d like to share with newer clinicians to help them succeed. Similarly, you could consider teaching a college class for clinical psychology students. You could spend as little as a few hours a week doing this, which would also give you the opportunity to help the next generation of therapists.
Last, if you’re feeling like you could use more of a clinical community in your life, I’d recommend checking out different therapist groups on LinkedIn. It’s a great place to share your thoughts and experiences in short, easy-to-write posts. You’ll likely find a whole new network of like-minded professionals here—also a great professional opportunity.
Dovid Becker, LCSW
5) Look for the Helpers
Exploring new professional development opportunities has helped me sharpen my marriage and family therapy skills to make a difference in my clients’ lives. Some, like those offered by the Networker, are altogether extremely helpful, user-friendly, and most importantly, make me a better, more effective clinician.
The therapy profession demands that we consult with other psychologists when we’re uncertain or facing a dilemma about how to proceed with challenging clients. In my own personal experience, I’ve had to check in with colleagues on multiple occasions to get their two cents on a certain aspect of practice or a curve ball a client has thrown my way. Every time I check in with a colleague, I’m glad I did. The benefits are exponential. While I learned the basics on how to be a psychologist during my graduate education, it’s the gems I’ve picked up from other therapists around me that I treasure the most.
Seeking out professional development opportunities and feeling comfortable enough to reach out to colleagues to find support and bounce ideas off them has helped me grow personally and professionally. It’s helped me sharpen my interventions with clients and their families. These experiences make for debts I try to repay every day in my therapy practice. My best advice? Remain open, flexible, and on the lookout for growth opportunities so you can continue to do what you love to the best of your ability.
David Mensink, PhD, RPsych
Victoria, BC, Canada
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