Well it happened. I graduated. Even as I write this, I experience feelings of surprise and trepidation because the question which I hardly considered – what happens next? – is a reality that I have to answer. Is this a common phenomenon among new graduates, or am I alone in this pondering?
The program took me nearly five years of study, including practicum and internship, due to my working a full time job and living a busy life outside of my learning commitments. I knew internship was the final step of my university journey. The hustle, the bustle and collection of hours indicated I would be finished soon. I knew the end was near. Then it happened. All classes taken, all credit requirements completed and I was done.
What was I expecting? What did I think would happen? I am somewhat embarrassed to report that I had no idea what to do. If you are a soon-to-be graduate reading this, start thinking now about how you might answer this question for yourself.
There were certainly, no fireworks, or banging drums, no red carpets, and just a few pats on the back from family and friends. I suddenly felt isolated, maybe a tad let down. My realization of graduation carried minor grandeur and instead carried with it a daunting feeling of how alone I now felt. All that support, all those relationships, all that direction, guidance, supervision - finished! My heart felt empty and I experienced a growing sense of anxiety about what happens next. The training wheels came off a little quicker than I was anticipating and now I am riding alone. So the next month entailed a scramble of consults with peers, meetings with colleagues, all sorts of networking. I am grateful that my supervisors and professors answered a slew of questions, offered suggestions and feedback, and shared nuggets of wisdom about the prospect of private practice. (I am truly grateful to have such an incredible peer support network too. I highly recommend the latter).
And then it happened. The answer to my initial question came to me like intrusive thought. For me, at least, private practice is what happened next. I filtered through the paperwork, devised a concept that captured what impassions me in counseling, registered with the state, weighed SCORPs and LLCs, considered taxes, pricing, my market, branding, budgets, malpractice insurance, professional organization affiliation, commensuration dates premises and leases, computers, charting, printers, email, fax, phone numbers. (Yes there is a lot to consider!)
And now I’m set, sitting, waiting and hoping the client(s) will come.
It is a strange paradox: on one hand I am anxious that no one will come to me in a market that appears saturated; but on the other hand I am excited about the work ahead and the folks I might help. I am going to stick to my plan. I know clients will come, I believe in myself and I have strong support among peers who think the same.
I am set.
Thank you to those who have helped and who have been part of my journey. I look forward to reflecting on my journey through counseling school and trying never to lose track of the greatest gift of this entire process – understanding myself, my past and my dreams a little better.
Now where did I put that cup of tea?
Reflecting (in brief- one month after my initial thoughts)
If I look a little deeper I think my earlier musings (above) were a facet of instrumental grieving. I should have been more engaged in the anticipatory loss of school and the support of learning that the system entailed, but I was not. I was wrapped up in the moment and absorbing every little detail that my brain could contain. I truly love to learn. While I have not felt the anger, depression and denial often associated with a loss, I do feel a numbness and trepidation that this is the reason I went back to school. Now I have the opportunity to use my training, build upon the solid foundation principles I have gained these past five years and strike out on my own. This is change, this feels different, this feels really, really big and I am scared. While my initial fiscal investment is modest there is a lot more at stake that is personal: my ego, my reputation, my passion, my skills, and most of all the anxiety that is associated with this change that is taking place for me. I could just sit on my degree and training but I want to help people. I want to be available to listen, to process, to develop, to grow and work with couples, families and individuals, wherever they find themselves. This is what I want and the leap to get there requires this faith and belief this will work. It will. I just know it.
Christian Billington is an LPC/LMFT candidate. He is passionate about end of life issues, grief and loss, disaster mental health, helping the helpers and the development of training and support to better prepare the emergency services for what they experience in the field. Christian has a modest private practice that can be found here www.patchlanecounseling.com