Knowing Your Limits as a New Therapist

Emily Bushell

If you are a recent grad or just starting out as a therapist, chances are you’ve been asked, “Who do you work with?” And you’ve probably been tempted to respond with, “Everyone.” Although many of us get into the helping field to support as many people as we can, it is imperative that we know where our limits are, what clientele we are equipped to work with, and what it is, exactly, that we’re doing in our sessions.

Understanding and responsibly expanding our scope of practice is an important part of the work we do, but it’s also important to know our limits. It can help us both increase our professionalism and avoid burnout. Here are four ways you can define the scope of your counselling practice:

1) Start with what you know.

More likely than not, you started with some specific clinical experience at your practicum site during your graduate studies. Supervised practicum placements are often the most valuable learning experiences that we get as budding therapists.

Even if your practice seemed general, you’ve likely worked with a defined group of clients based on your supervisor’s expertise. The age groups or presenting concerns that you have gained supervised experience with can help you define your own clinical scope in your early career. As a new therapist, getting comfortable with the gaps in your experience is just as important as asserting your confidence where you feel capable.

As a new therapist, getting comfortable with the gaps in your experience is just as important as asserting your confidence where you feel capable.

2) Think about deepening your scope rather than broadening it.

We often feel like we need to be able to work with anyone. But what if we decided to only work with the populations that we are genuinely interested in? I have noticed that many of us feel pressure to broaden our scope of practice, taking on more professional development to include wider age groups and more presenting concerns. Instead of trying to be the therapist that can see any client, become the therapist that clients will seek out for your clinical interest and expertise.

If we choose to deepen what we already know, we can set ourselves up to grow into experts in our niche area. If more of us follow this path, we can increase our confidence in our particular area of interest. And, when appropriate, we can refer clients on to colleagues who have done the same.

3) Learn about what interests you, more than what you think is needed.

Too often do we put the needs of our community above where our genuine clinical interest lies. But trying to treat everyone who needs therapy is a recipe for burnout.

We can show up more genuinely for our clients when we follow what interests and fulfills us. Our clients deserve to have our full attention and compassionate care. Following our true interests prevents us from working with age groups or presenting concerns that simply don’t suit us.

Understanding and responsibly expanding our scope of practice is an important part of counselling, but it’s also important to know our limits.

4) Remember that defining your scope of practice is a journey.

Start your career by working with what you know, and commit to deepening your practice by following your authentic interest. This will naturally define your scope of practice.

As a therapist, if you are repeatedly bumping up against similar obstacles, it’s likely a signal that there’s a clinical area you could strengthen. Fortunately, there are many continuing education platforms and educators in our field. There is no shortage of information to gather and knowledge to integrate into our practices. By maintaining a healthy, steady perspective, you can deepen your practice one step, and one therapeutic obstacle at a time.

 

As you begin your career as a new therapist, it is normal to feel pressure to work with a broad range of clients. However, it’s just not possible to be a good therapeutic fit for every client who wants to work with you. By starting with what you know, following your genuine clinical interests, and becoming a lifelong learner, you will set yourself up for a long and healthy career.


For more FREE RESOURCES on this topic and others, visit our free resources page.

Author: Emily Bushell (MA, RCT, CCC)
Trainer, Crisis & Trauma Resource Institute

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