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Career Story: Psychotherapist Specializing In Substance Abuse Problems

Psychotherapist Specializing In Substance Abuse Problems

Job Title: Psychotherapist

Type of Company: In-patient treatment for substance abusers, out-patient treatment for substance use and mental health.

Education: BA, Philosophy, Cornell University •• Masters in Social Work, Hunter College (CUNY)

Previous Experience: I have been in the field since l967 and have worked as a therapist, supervisor and occasionally an administrator in many types of agencies: child therapy clinics, residential treatment centers, hospital units, community clinics, and private practice.

Job Tasks: My basic task is to talk to adults, 18 years old or older, about their problems, helping them to grow and change. I do this for a maximum of 50 minutes a week. These are people with a mental health diagnosis and/or a substance abuse problem, which means, basically, that they have some serious troubles getting on in the world. One way of looking at it is that I help them understand and work to change how they contribute to their problems. They could have serious mental illnesses and a poor understanding of reality, be so depressed that they can hardly get up in the morning, or have an extremely unhappy marriage. These are just some examples; the varieties are endless. I've done other things in the field, but this is my basic work at this time.

Best and Worst Parts of the Job: It's great to help people but I also really enjoy the immense variety of human behavior I encounter while doing it. The main work is seldom dull. But it's work too where you have to be extremely honest with people, and I enjoy that kind of blunt communication. The ideas are intellectually stimulating.

But there's a lot of record keeping involved and that I dislike. Also, progress can be slow, with, often, limited results. Nor is the pay especially good. Private practice is more lucrative, but that is not for a beginner. You won't like every client you see and may even occasionally come in contact with people who disgust or scare you.

Job Tips: Do some beginning work in the field (camp counselor, welfare worker, etc.) to see how you like working with people. Hands-on work in whatever educational path you choose is more important that the course work in judging your interests and talents. Look hard for the best supervisor; that is vital. Watch out for burn-out and switch if you feel a particular specialty you've gotten into is not for you.

Additional Thoughts: You have to be comfortable with the fact that this is not an exact science, and that progress can often be hard to see. It's a very special kind of talking and listening, with a lifetime search for an intricate knowledge of the human mind. You need to have a large amount of patience and acceptance. You're not exactly a friend to a client, although it's important to feel the potential in the vast majority of people you work with. And it helps to have a sense of humor.

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