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21 May

How I Made a Career Pivot to Being a Couple and Family Therapist

This very complicated time has many of us thinking about what matters most in our lives, and how to be intentional about where we put our energy. I’ve recently had conversations with several people, who share a wish to change their career paths in a variety of ways. These discussions brought me back to memories from 35 years ago when I was an unhappy family law lawyer and the mother of a young child. My career goal had long been to become a lawyer who helped families in distress but I was learning that I was not temperamentally suited to the role and that I was not finding ways to be helpful to families in the manner that I had envisioned. I was at a loss as to what my next steps could be, but I knew that the degree of my unhappiness meant that something had to change.

Challenges to making a career pivot

The process of deciding on, and then making, a career transition, is less foreign to us as a culture now than it was in the 1980s. But greater familiarity only makes part of it easier – the part where we and the larger culture recognize that this is a thing people sometimes chose to, and sometimes have to, do. The other challenging parts, like realizing that big things that we were confident about have turned out to be quite different than we thought they were, and/or that we have spent a lot of time, money and effort training to become something that we no longer want to be, are still daunting. The way forward to making the desired change is sometimes very unclear.

What other people have to say about our decisions and our decision-making process can discourage us. The financial cost of switching careers, and the possibility of coming into a new career as an older beginner, can be very unappealing.

And yet, we also have certain things in our favor: as someone who has already established one career, we know something about that particular terrain. Generally, we know ourselves much better than we did when, often in our early 20s, we set out on the path. We know what we value, what we can give up, and what we have to have in our lives for them to feel meaningful and satisfying. And in this era, we have the internet – something that would have come in very handy when I set out on my quest in 1983!

Finding the right therapist training program

Fast forward 35 years, and I have now been a marriage and family therapist (MFT) and a divorce mediator for three decades. In addition to my clinical practice, I am fortunate to also be the Director of the Post Graduate Training Program for marriage and family therapists at Council for Relationships. The path to get here from there was long and winding and involved some major shifts in thinking and in lifestyle.

My career went from flooding me with anxiety and stress to bringing me great fulfillment and growth as a person. One of the most interesting things about this story is what these two parts of my life have in common: the program that I now direct is the same program through which I was able to make my own career transition. It brings me joy to now be able to help many others on their journeys to fulfilling careers as therapists.

When I learned about Council for Relationships’ Post Graduate Certificate Program, I was pretty sure I had found what I was looking for. For me, as for many others who enter the program after many years of schooling, the immediate real-world emphasis on clinical practice, and on how to support people in making needed changes, was welcome and refreshing. Another strength of the program is that it is designed for adults, who are trusted to understand how to make decisions on their own behalf and to already understand that what you get out of something is intimately tied to what you put into it. The program size is fairly small, which means individualized attention is readily available when needed, and that bonds between students, as well as between students and clinical supervisors, faculty, and administrators develop very naturally, in part because of the collaborative approach that Council staff embodies.

People from various backgrounds become couple and family therapists. 

I am far from the only person whose professional life has been changed in valuable and important ways through Council for Relationships’ Post Graduate Certificate Program. One fortuitous aspects of Pennsylvania’s licensing law for marriage and family therapists is that the license is not only available to Masters level marriage and family therapists, but also to Masters (and higher) level mental health practitioners with other degrees, such as social workers, psychologists, counselors, and psychiatrists.

In what comes as a wonderful surprise to many, the license is also available to clergy, doctors, nurses, and those with Masters and higher degrees in child development, family studies, education, or sociology. (Lawyers are no longer eligible for MFT licensure, but Council, in partnership with Jefferson University, now offers a license-qualifying Masters degree in Couple and Family therapy, through which several lawyers have made the change to licensed MFTs.) In the years since I came through the program, in addition to many clinical social workers, professional counselors and other mental health professionals, the students I have known have included rabbis, ministers, priests, pastors and chaplains, hospice workers, doctors and nurses, and several sociology professors. Teachers, school counselors, and researchers have also found the program to be a good fit, as have many former professionals who have stayed at home to raise children and now are ready to return to paid work.

If a career pivot is something that you have considered, this national period of uncertainty and change may turn out to be a good time to invest in your career. If work in the mental health field appeals to you, the need for mental health services is on the rise. This may be a good time to consider your own next steps.

Michele Southworth. J.D., LMFT is available for consultation and counseling regarding career and life transitions of all kinds, as well as for therapy relating to other issues.

The Post Graduate Certificate Program is currently accepting applications for the 2020-21 academic year; admission is offered on a rolling basis. Click here to learn about admissions requirements.

If you are a lawyer who would like to consider becoming an MFT, information about the Masters program can be found here.

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