I am a Marriage and Family Therapist and I work in the field of Counseling Psychology. I have been doing this work for ten years now. I help people resolve personal, marital and family problems so that they can live happier, more productive lives. My three years training in Graduate school covered all personality, mood disorders, and mental health issues that are mentioned in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, (MSM). This comprehensive book lists all identified psychological issues preventing people from functioning optimally in the world.
The DSM is a book used for identifying commonly recognized mental health issues. It offers a diagnosis for simple everyday issues, known as neurosis, to complex mental health issues, what are known as psychosis. An example of neurosis is Depression and an example of psychosis is Schizophrenia.
While I can identify both groups of mental health issues, I can only treat neurosis. The treatment of psychosis involves drug treatment, which I am not qualified to prescribe. Consequently, if I identify a case of psychosis, I have to refer the client to a psychiatrist, who is a medical doctor who has been trained in the discipline of Psychology.
I should make it clear that the DSM does not help me with any psychological treatment modalities or even suggestions. It does not offer solutions or therapies, just a way to diagnose symptoms. For treatment modalities, we need to rely on a variety of different theories or approaches on how to help clients. While there is no reason why a therapist cannot use several treatment methods, we usually end up specializing in one. This makes it easier to handle the diverse case work. In addition, each modality has increasing levels of depth and sophistication. Here’s an analogy: One can study one form of martial arts or several. Usually, to become very good, it is advisable to just focus on one and spend years making distinctions and refining skills. For instance, a psychologist could focus on Fritz Perls work called Gestalt Therapy, which works on healing the clients suppressed emotions or Dr Albert Ellis’ Rational Emotive Therapy, which makes the psychologist into a coach who helps clients have a realistic and practical view of their life problems.
My own modality is the one used by Carl Rogers, and it is called Unconditional Positive Regard. We treat clients with genuineness, acceptance, and empathy. This results in them opening up about their lives and having insights into the causes that underlie their neurosis. Through openness and self-disclosure, through regarding the client with unconditional positive regard, and through listening and understanding, the therapist wins trust. When there is enough trust, a space is opened up in the client’s worldview that allows them to discover why they do what they do and how it is disrupting their own lives and that of other people, as well.
One common misunderstanding about therapists is that they can change the client. In truth, all they do is persuade the client to see what is not working in their lives and give them ideas on how to make the change. The therapist is a catalyst, not a causative agent. People will only change when they have enough insight about how important it is for them to change. In essence, then, what a psychologist does is listen, encourage people to open up with probing questions, and let the mind reorganize itself to a higher level of functioning. In movies, psychologists say one or two profound words that create an immediate shift in the client. In real life, change is much slower and much more accidental.
On a scale of 1 to 10, I am a 9. I am about as enthusiastic about my work as I can be. The only reason that I am not a 10 is because there is always a higher level of competency, excitement, and efficacy possible. 10 is a ceiling, a perfect state, which does not exist when it comes to assessing human potential.
This job moves my heart. I get up and go to work each day in the hope that I can say something or do something that will make people happier and lead more fulfilling lives. It has helped me acquire the skills of love, caring, and compassion, which I never had before I became a psychologist, or if I had them, they were in a very crude, almost difficult to recognize state. In “healing” others, I am also improving myself, moving beyond my own insecurities, discomforts, and immature states.
I got started in this line of work by accident. I was an international business journalist, traveling around the world writing breaking stories about business people. Then, one day, I saw a movie about a psychologist affecting the life of a young man from a dysfunctional family and turning it around completely. I don’t even remember the name of the movie! It really touched my heart and I decided to get more involved in healing humanity than in writing sensationalist stories about successful businessmen, management philosophy, and innovative corporations.
If I could go back and do it all differently, I would have focused on doing more seminars, and becoming more of a psychological coach like Anthony Robbins. I could have used my writing and speaking skills, instead of simply putting them aside. In other words, I would have blended my previous work and life skills into my therapeutic practice.
The hard lessons I learned is that there are always deeper levels of patience necessary to affect positive change in a client. I learned this lesson when I started telling people how to change and they did not change. I learned that change only happens when the client is ready and you cannot force them to be insightful. The job is very stressful because you hear about human suffering through all your working hours. Sometimes, you just feel like crying for no reason at all.
Outside school, I learned that most people are much more neurotic and dysfunctional than they even admit to themselves. This entire job is strange; you discover sides to people that defy logic or explanation as the human personality is very complex.
The challenges I handle that makes me want to pull my hair out is that the insurance companies try to pay as little as possible and are not in the least bit interested in paying for enough sessions to make a difference for their clients.
The average salary for the position is about $30,000, I believe. At least that is what it was when I started out. Today, I earn $100 an hour and I work a good 50 hours a week. The reason I had to keep increasing my rates was to slow down the number of people who wanted to see me each week. My partners and I are now talking about increasing our fees to an additional $25 to $50 because our client load is increasing even more.
You need Bachelors degree, then a Masters degree to become an MFT. You can, of course, become a counselor with less education. You can also do a doctorate, but the pay increase is not really worth the time and expense, in my opinion. The only reason you may want to get a doctorate is if you want to develop your own unique treatment modalities and do some solid research.
If a friend asked me if they should become a therapist, I would tell them to really see how much of a stomach they have to listen to tragic stories of unbelievable hurt, pain, and trauma almost every day.
If I could write my own ticket, I would like to be like Dr. Scott Peck and write books about personal psychological growth that would make people wake up and take responsibility for their lives.
This is a true story as told to LatPro.com, the worldwide leader in providing online employment resources for Hispanic and bilingual professionals. LatPro is the largest diversity employment site in the U.S. and the most complete personal career advancement service for Latino and bilingual professionals. Read the following interview with a Psychologist and get started on your job search today.