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I’m lucky that when I entered my graduate program to become a mental health counselor, I did it because I had discovered a passion for the field. I considered it lucky because the economy and job market at the time of my undergraduate graduation in 2009 was appalling. I figured 2.5 years might give me enough time to get my education completed with no real loss of time out in the working world. Heck, it might even be good for me. Many people suggested this as a factual claim, I would be just fine once I got my master’s degree and the jobs would come streaming in. Plus, I wasn’t getting a graduate degree for the sake of more education like many of my peers – I was really pursuing a passion.
We know the field of mental health care is expanding. Our expertise is becoming increasingly necessary because of things like the economic downturn, the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, and the increasing turmoil people are trudging through in their personal lives. Money is getting tighter, families are becoming more fragile, and addictions are flourishing.
But the jobs aren’t there. Not the ones I can access. Most places that are hiring where I’m located (Seattle, WA) are looking for therapists with 2-3 years of experience. Not only that, those who are offering positions to recent graduates are offering around $13 - $15 and hour. Not a salary and not a livable wage for someone who is 25 with their master’s degree and student loan repayments. It hurts me that our profession as a whole is given wages similar to these. It hurts me personally because I know what work goes into what I do and what work went into other jobs where I was paid similarly with only my bachelor’s degree. I paid more money to get paid the same or less than I was making when I went into graduate school. It’s something I knew was a possibility, but I still feel the barb.
Sure, it’s better than nothing, but it’s basically still nothing since I’m sending out my resume and each uniquely and carefully crafted cover letter several times a day without a peep in return other than an e-mail to confirm my “application has been received and I will be contacted if I’m considered to be qualified for the position”. I know I’m qualified because I wouldn’t apply if I didn’t meet the minimum qualifications. Yet, no phone calls.
The more I write this, the more I worry I sound quite petulant. I’ve only been out of school for three weeks. It’s not the end of the world. It’s more intended to be a commentary on the job market in general. My friends from my program are having a hard time getting jobs, period. I know it’s not a marker of my skills or my experience, necessarily. It’s just the way things are in this country and in this field.
So, I’ve accepted that I might be at home for a while. I’m in a much better situation than many of my fellow young counselors searching for work and I’m thankful for that. I’m also thankful that I have my degree. At the end of the day, I followed my passion and discovered a field that pushed me further toward a life of self-actualization. That’s something I would have paid my tuition for ten times over.
The kicker is that because I love what I do so much, I truly want to work. I want a job because I feel I am skilled and I am passionate about what I do. I know I must trust the process of life, of the job search, and the way I feel about it all. The right job will come along, I just have to be tenacious and patient. For those of you out there in the same boat as me, how are you handling it?
Jennifer Bingaman is a counselor-in-training and freelance writer. She blogs about her experiences as a client and a counselor with a few life musings thrown into the mix at The Pursuit of Sassiness