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Five tips for graduates entering the behavioral health workforce

Congratulations, grad! You’ve made it through several years of rigorous academic study, and you’re ready to apply your knowledge and skills and become a therapist. In behavioral health care, the possibilities are many, and the industry needs more bright, passionate people like you to bolster its ranks.

But you’re starting to encounter challenges that you never expected, and you don’t recall any specific instruction during your years at university to get you through them. Transitioning from a student to a practicing behavioral health professional can be difficult. The following is a list of five useful tips for staying on the path to success the first year out of school.

1. Earn your credentials quickly

Whether you want to get into family and marriage counseling, mental health counseling, or another specific discipline, getting the appropriate credentials is a great way to get noticed and convey your enthusiasm to potential employers and organizations. In the grand scheme of things, licenses and certifications are low hanging fruit, and are critical in your path to become a therapist.

2. Network, network, network

Becoming a therapist involves becoming familiar with industry professionals and the organizations they serve. This process can begin as early as school, though you will most likely continue to encounter those that inspire and guide you as your career progresses. Making connections is very important; they don’t have to be formal, but they should always be meaningful. Seek out people that are doing the things you eventually hope to do yourself. You may be surprised to see how tight knit this industry is.

3. Behave like a professional

Think of yourself as part of a larger community of professionals. The manner in which you conduct yourself reflects not only upon yourself, but the industry you serve as well. Upcoming professionals that demonstrate a willingness to set a good example and continually position the industry in a positive light will be highly coveted.

4. Be open to learning new things

Despite everything you picked up in your college years, in many ways your learning has only begun. Wherever your career takes you, be prepared to pick up additional knowledge. This might encompass specific nuances of your chosen specialty, compliance requirements unique to your state or county, practice-specific protocols for documentation, software and EHR solutions, or ongoing changes in regulation and technology in general. You don’t need to be perfect—least of all within your first year out of school—but a simple willingness to adapt and learn will go a very long way.

5. Stay enthusiastic

Your relative inexperience after graduation will be offset by eagerness and enthusiasm. A good organization will recognize the value in bringing in a fresh set of eyes (and ears), but don’t become discouraged if things don’t work out exactly as you hoped right away. Developing skills and experience is something that will take time, and, if you’re willing to persevere, the right opportunities will present themselves.

Transitioning from student to therapist is one of the toughest and most important steps of the overall journey into a rewarding career in behavioral health. Like most career paths, there is no secret formula for guaranteed success; nonetheless, given enough hard work and commitment, you too will become a valued resource in the behavioral health industry and the patient population it serves.