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my journey to become a psychotherapist

Updated: Jan 24

I like to say that I took the long-way around or the scenic route to get to where I am today. To fully share my journey we need to go back to grade 8. When I was in grade 8, our teacher asked us to complete an online quiz which would spit out the top 25 careers that aligned with the answers I provided. One of the careers it popped out was "Child and Youth Worker." When I read more in depth and found it was a career focused on working with people, youth in particular, I didn't need to be good at math or science and it was a 3-year diploma, well.. I was sold! At that point, I remember feeling like I knew what I wanted to do and tailored my classes towards this potential career. Now, I should share that this didn't mean I did well in school or was motivated to do the work. I just knew that I didn't need a high average (compared to other programs) and somehow, some way I would get into college.


However, this didn't happen right away. When grade 12 started, I remember thinking about how I needed to do the work and get good grades, but I also knew I wasn't sure if I was going to go to school right after sooo... I didn't try T H A T hard. When college applications were due my parents and I spoke about what the best decision would be on whether to apply or not, and because I didn't prove to be a stellar student it was discussed that I would finish grade 12, take a year off and work and apply the following year.


I applied to a four different colleges for Child and Youth Work. I received acceptances from three and offered a delayed start from Fanshawe. I was hoping to attend Fanshawe but because of the delayed start, I started at Lambton College in Sarnia.


My gap year I spent working at Subway and Gap which really encouraged me to want to do well. I was also paying for school which was a very large motivator. The first few months I was shocked at how well I was doing... and I mean like 90s well! Even my parents were shocked, "where was this in high school?" but it was because I enjoyed what I was learning and I had investment into it. I completed a placement in a grade 3 classroom as an Educational Assistant, it was an eye-opener for sure. When I think back while writing this, it's funny to think how green I was... just bright eyed and bushy tail, ready to go! Half way through my second term, I made the decision to apply for a transfer to Fanshawe College to continue the program there. I got a very quick acceptance and was able to complete the following two years at Fanshawe.


My Fanshawe experience was great! All the professors were amazing...expect the one that had tests where she would give us 10 pages of blank paper and ask us to write out "what we know" from the chapter we just covered. To be honest, I walked out of one because I was so unprepared and we could rewrite one without penalty... that was my one. Anyway, moving on... my second placement is what really gets the ball rolling. I was placed at a youth residential treatment facility (also known as, a group home) which also had a female youth justice facility associated with the organization and on the same grounds. Within the first week of my placement, I witnessed a restraint in which my supervisor tore his bicep. It was wild. I ended up completely falling in love with the job and was actually offered a relief part-time position after completing my placement. I went on to work here for 3-4 years throughout the rest of my college diploma and undergraduate degree.


In my third and final year at Fanshawe, I completed a placement working with at-risk homeless individuals seeking and maintaining housing who were often struggling with significant mental health issues and engaged in extremely dangerous behaviours and activities. It was a very eye-opening placement as well. What was interesting for me, was seeing how the youth I was working with in residential treatment had similar backgrounds and experiences as the adults I was meeting and working with on the streets and in shelters. It was a moment where I began to think about how I wanted to do more, I wanted to help prevent kids from coming into residential care in the first place. I decided I wanted to work for Children's Aid Society and to do so, I needed a Bachelors of Social Work (BSW).


I remember so vividly being in the car and asking my parents what they thought about me applying to university. They were of course very supportive but also shocked because remember I never liked school until college but even then I had always talked about just doing my three years and working. I applied to a few different universities and received acceptances from all of them with a decision to attend Wilfrid Laurier University for my BSW. A benefit that Laurier provided that other schools didn't is that they had a Child and Youth Work stream, meaning that because I had my diploma I was on a reduced course load and my degree took three years instead of four!


My time at Laurier was great but I truly learned more about myself then I expected. The BSW program was held in Brantford which has a very difficult history with residential schools and the sixties scoop. Laurier's BSW program encouraged us to continually think about our privilege, where we come from, how it influences our perspective, and being mindful of the privilege we hold. I found beliefs and ideas that were taught to me growing up were challenged which helped me grow both professionally and personally. In your BSW, you are required to complete two placements, one in our second year and one in our third year. In my second year I was placed at a Children's Aid Society as a Child Protection Worker. It was a very unique experience because I didn't like it as much as I thought I would considering this is why I applied to get my BSW. I was saddened by how little we could actually help. In my third year, I was placed at the ministry looking at the macro side of social work which included policy work, complaints towards different services the ministry oversaw, and data analysis. I really liked it as it helped me understand the systems aspect and the layers within.


I graduated my social work degree in April of 2020. Due to the pandemic, there were not a lot of options for jobs or good paying ones. I ended up applying to a few children's aid societies and received an offer of employment for a one year contract in June 2020. I was too green for CAS... it was exactly the same experience as my placement in regards to feeling absolute defeat by the system and my ability to support others. Mind you, this was also in the hight of the pandemic so services were inconsistent, unpredictable, and when a lot of your job is about getting families support it became very discouraging. By November 2020, I knew I wasn't cut out for this job. It is hands down the hardest job I've ever done.


In November, I was exhausted.. I was working for an agency out of town and I was driving three + hours a day, in addition to my 8 - 12 hour workday. I was so green, I didn't know how to have boundaries and completely burnt out. I started to look at what the options are and realized there were none... at least at the same pay grade. I started to notice that any job that was of equal in pay required a masters degree. So what do I do? Begin looking at masters programs. This was also during the second lockdown and talks of COVID were still that it was going to last for several years...which I guess it did but that much of it was still very much unknown. My partner and I weren't going to travel anytime soon so I thought what better time to go back to school.


When looking at masters programs I had to find one that would basically be solely online so that I could still work full-time. A friend of mine, who is now my colleague as well; told me about the masters program she did, what she is doing with it and her experience of working full-time while completing it. After that it didn't take long and I ended up applying to Yorkville University for a Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology and received an admission offer in December 2020 with a start date of January 2021.


So I started my third and final degree while working out of town full-time. Looking back I still don't know how I did it. Around April 2021, I came to terms with accepting the fact that this job and I were not going to work... it was time for me to part ways. Between then and May, I applied to many many jobs and ended up getting one as a therapist in a community mental health agency focused on youth.


I loved this job! I meant amazing people, challenged myself in many ways, and I learned so much! However, after a year I was put in a position to leave as I was refused work accommodations (5 days to 4 days) to complete my practicum. It was a very hard moment because I felt like I was just starting to get comfortable, build relationships with my colleagues, etc. but at the same time, I couldn't not complete my degree. So here we go again... but this time I had to find a job that would hire a student with limited availability but would pay enough that I could pay my tuition and bills. It was a very emotional time.


After lots of time on Indeed, I found a group practice looking for social workers with either a BSW or MSW to be independent contractors, which meant I could create my own schedule, work with a population I was comfortable with and make more... how could I say no? However let me clarify, I was going from a salary job with benefits, vacation, RRSP contribution to working hourly with no benefits, vacations or RRSPs, and starting with 5 clients a week. It was terrifying but sadly, it was my only option. At the same time, I thought well maybe I'll start my own practice and start seeing adults virtually because at the time I didn't have money for an office. So I started this on the side with most of my focus on the kids practice because they provided the client referrals, took care of the administration and all the marketing.


This is when it gets busy... September 2022 I started my practicum which required 15 sessions a week, at a group practice with a focus on adults while working 25 hours between my practice and the kids practice while finishing the last few courses...my planner at this time was wild.


You know that joke when it's like

me: *thinks it's going to be a good day*

the universe: "hahahaha not for long"

MY VERSION WOULD HAVE BEEN

me: *thinks I'm self-aware*

my practicum: "that's cute... just you wait"


Completing your practicum as a student therapist is a very odd experience. In most internships, practicums, etc. you shadow someone or work with people so that if you have a question you can ask, you can learn how to do the job. Not ours. We are thrown into doing sessions by ourselves with clients right off the bat. In school we have a few classes to teach us skills but it's nothing like reality. This is also part of the reason why I tried to find a job as a therapist to gain experience prior to my practicum. It really is a teach yourself profession and it'll get better with experience. I listened to podcasts, watched youtube videos, talked to other therapists, completed trainings, readings, everything to try and learn as much as possible. It wasn't easy and at one point I cried to my supervisor saying I couldn't do it and I should just quit now and become a real estate agent (I may have been watching Selling Sunset at the time). Obviously I wasn't going to quit but it was hard somedays, the imposter syndrome was real.


April 21st I walked out of my practicum and after 8.5 years...multiple different paths, experiences, people, I was done. I was finally done.


From then to present day, I've continued to focus and invest in myself in building my practice. I've continued to read, listen, learn, and think about how I can be a better therapist, help more people, and build a brand that I'm proud of.


If you're still here, thank you for reading my journey... I did tell you it was the scenic tour. I hope it normalizes that we all have different paths and it's okay to change your mind. It isn't easy... you'll probably struggle, but it will work out. If it's something you're passionate about and want to do well in, you will. We always figure it out.


Thank you for reading!


Ali


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