An Open Letter to Graduating Students in Mental Health Fields

Dear graduate, 

First of all, let’s do what all good therapists do and address the elephant in the room. This is not a normal graduation year. There won’t be any gatherings in stadiums across the world where your heels will sink into the turf. You won’t take an awkward photo with the university president that you’ve spoken with exactly 0 times. You won’t melt in the May heat and you won’t freeze in the air conditioned gyms. That graduation experience is lost for the time being. In addition to the lost graduation, some of you are still working through the real losses of family, teachers, coworkers, jobs, homes, etc.

Then there are the losses of the future, the loss of “what could’ve been”. You had been banking on working in this field or maybe had chosen a particular agency or clinic that is no longer hiring. Maybe you are immune compromised or have a family member who is immunosuppressed and you don’t have the option to even be an essential worker in the field or in a hospital. Maybe you recently got hired but your supervisors are keeping you in training until they find a clear direction from insurance providers. Maybe you’re a school counselor and you’re waiting to see exactly where this all lands.

Where will you work? Will you make enough to pay your bills? What is going to happen to those who applied to grad school or those who applied for licensure? As part of the class of 2020, you are probably experiencing multiple forms of grief as well as the fear associated with an uncertain future. 

The truth is we need you out here. We need you in the agencies, in the field, in the hospitals, in the clinics, in the prisons, in the schools, through teletherapy, and in the system.  We need you to listen to those who are hurting from violence, poverty, chronic illness, addiction, mental illness, grief, trauma, and homelessness. We need you to heal by giving those patients and clients and participants a space to process and grow. We need you to continue to learn and develop because we need competent, ethical practitioners.

Most importantly, we need you to care for yourself. Some of us have been doing this for a while and we know the question isn’t if you’ll burn out but when. You need to care for yourself because there is a client or student out there right now who needs you to be fully present. They’ve been having a tough time and they need someone with your training and compassion. Your clients are out there waiting for you whenever you are ready.

You should that you won’t be alone in this. Your future coworkers and supervisors are waiting for a clinician just like you. Confused about paperwork? Overwhelmed with client needs? Don’t be afraid to reach out, we are ready to help you the best that we can. We were all beginners once, and I promise you we all had someone in this field who helped us along the way. Allow us to pay it forward and support you because there is a space for you here.

This is hard, but you’ve done hard things before, like finishing your degree.

If you are looking for support as you transition out of school, don’t forget to check out the Facebook group My Car Is My Office. If you are preparing for an interview in a mental health field, you might find some helpful tips in the article Interview Questions for a Job in Community Mental Health.

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