Counselor interns, are you running out of money to pay your bills? Stressing about how slowly you have to go in your internship hours because you’re still working your full-time hours? Living on borrowed cash from relatives or a credit card company?
Making enough money to live is a big problem during your internship.
I’ve been writing for counselor interns since 2010, and this theme keeps coming up.
- Interns are worried about having enough money.
- Interns are stressed they’re going to run out of money.
- Interns feel guilty because they have to make more money.
From my interactions with counselors-in-training I’ve come to the conclusion that unless you’ve been left a trust by wealthy Aunt Bertha, you’re going to be worrying about money.
This was backed up by a recent poll taken in the private Facebook community I help lead, asking, “What Is The Biggest Thing That Stresses You Out About Internship?” nearly 50% of the responses were “Money!” This is among 5 possible options, including getting hours, supervision, finding a job, and even clinical work itself.
And why wouldn’t you be worried about it? After all, you’re trying to earn multiple thousands of hours in a decent amount of time while still, you know, eating and putting gas in your car. That would stress anyone out.
I wish I could just wave a magic wand for you and make all counseling internships have 6-figure salaries, but that’s not going to happen. But what I can do for you, as someone who’s been through it myself, is tell you some tips to help you budget for your internship.
Unfortunately, money problems during internship are nothing new. As soon as you graduate, a clock begins to tick as your student loans enter the grace period. Then, you have to find a place to earn your licensing hours - and it’s not always easy to find one that pays what you need it to.
You’re also having to immediately switch your mindset from that of a student - paying for your education - to an employee, someone who needs a job to live. It can be quite a jarring transition. When you’re still in school, if you show up, pay your tuition, and complete your homework, you will usually graduate. But there’s no such formula for life after grad school. You can do everything you think you’re supposed to - like post your resume, look on job sites, and so forth - and still struggle to make ends meet while earning your hours.
At the same time, you have no one to ask, “What should I do instead?”
This lack of support between graduation and the time at which you find a great match in a supervisor is one of the main reasons Ann Stoneson, LPC-S, and I co-created the community, Beginning Counselor: Building Your Ideal Internship. Together, she and I developed some tips for new counselors budgeting for their ideal internship.
The first tip is to know your exact income goals and make a budget. If part of your soul died a little bit when I said the word “budget”...please don’t stop reading now. I know how you feel.
I’m an anxiety counselor and I also coach other counselors in dealing with their “money issues.” Among the reasons I focus so much on those topics is that I used to have substantial anxiety related to money.
And like most anxious people, when it came to the thing I was anxious about, I avoided like it I was being paid to do so.
Think about the thing that worries me? No thank you! Pretty sure it will solve itself if I just ignore it long enough.
Even if you’ve just started your counseling training, I’m pretty sure you can tell me that ignoring the problem doesn’t make it go away.
Yet many of us don’t even realize that we are ignoring our anxiety over money when we don’t budget.
A budget doesn’t have to be a scary or overwhelming thing. All you need to know is what money you have going out - and what money you have going in. Then, you can problem-solve to either INVERT those numbers (if more is going out than is coming in) or MAINTAIN those numbers, if your input/output ratio leaves you with enough to live on.
Once you know your budget ratio, let’s talk about what you have to do to manage those numbers. For most people making a budget, managing their income can be pretty straightforward - just keep doing what you’re doing or find a job that makes more money. But for you, it’s not always that easy.
However, knowledge is power. If you know what you’re dealing with, you can come up with a suitable strategy to find success! Below is your second tip - the road map of the challenges you’ll face along the way and how to work through them.
You will face four distinct stages in your transition from trainee to a full-time counseling career.
Stage One: Counseling Student. At this stage, your main concern is paying for your education, room, and board. Your counseling-related income will likely be at an all-time low. At the same time, you haven’t stopped needing to eat. To manage your budgetary needs during Stage One, you’ll want to make sure you’ve seriously considered the route you wish to take for your income. There’s no wrong way to go about it, as long as you know your numbers and how to make it work. You can take it slowly, and take a few classes a semester while working a full-time job. You can work with your spouse or your parents to help support you so you can focus on your career. You can engage in a work-study program, or make use of student loans or scholarships. At the same time, you have the advantage of student financial services - take it! With them, you may have all sorts of tools at your disposal to help you budget and creatively make ends meet at this time in your life.
Stage Two: Post-Grad, Pre-Internship Counselor. This stage is thankfully quite short - usually about 1-6 months. But it’s often overlooked. Before a student counselor can officially become an intern, they must be approved by their state. Depending on licensing exams and the speed of your licensing board, this can be a time lost in limbo. You can’t start collecting your hours, or even working with clients, before you’re officially designated an intern or associate counselor. During this stage, you may face delays in employment and a greater output than income.
To maintain your budget during Stage Two, I recommend a lot of planning ahead! You can get most of your paperwork prepped before graduation. Usually graduation is the time when most states allow you to start applying for exams or even applying for your license, if you’re otherwise ready. Submitting your paperwork as SOON as possible is the key to minimizing the time spent in Stage Two. Also recommended is doing your best to negotiate this stage of your career with any future employer. Even if they’ve hired you to provide counseling services, see if they have temporary projects for you to work on while you’re waiting on the state.
Stage Three: Counseling Internship. Depending on your state and license, the length of this stage will vary - but generally between 1.5 and 5 years. During this time, your main concern is earning your internship hours so you can qualify for your license and practice as a counselor full-time. Quite naturally, you may be willing to take any and all hours you can, free or paid. If so, there’s nothing wrong with it. But you do want to make sure you’ve planned how to make ends meet if many or all of your hours are volunteer only.
Like in Stage One, you may choose to take the part-time approach. You work full-time at another job, and earn your hours on nights and weekends. You may seek out full-time counseling employment, instead. Either way, the key is to plan ahead and start seeking the right option for you early in the game. Many of the employment options that offer counseling hours, such as nonprofit agencies, are run by a governing board. Why does that matter to you? Well, because it affects your employment timeline. At a previous nonprofit agency I worked for, my director told me much later that she knew she was going to hire me at our interview - but she had to wait for the board to meet before she could officially give me the job! That was several weeks later.
In this Stage, have a Plan B and a Plan A. If Plan A doesn’t work right away, that doesn’t mean you have to give up on it. Take the Plan B, and keep working towards Plan A in the background until things work out as you need them too. I believe that if we are going to tell our clients to have faith in a better life, we have to live that way, too. Continuing to work towards your goals, despite obstacles, is part of how you do that.
In Stage Four, you have your license! (Yes, this will happen!) And you’re looking for the next step in the rest of your career. Again, there are many different but equally valid paths here. Perhaps you go into employment right away at a better salary, with the purpose of paying back debt and getting back on track financially. Perhaps you have dreams of starting your own practice, or joining a private practice group.
In this Stage, budgeting may not feel as important, because you’re likely working with more income now! But it is just as important, because right now you’re setting the tone for the rest of your counseling career. What will you save towards? What will you invest in? How will you claim your financial value in terms of salaries sought or fees set?
Whatever stage you are currently in, you can manage your income and expenses in a way to further your counseling dream. Just make a plan. Do the math. And assume that a solution is possible - you just have to find it.
If you’d like encouragement and ideas on budgeting, I’d love to talk to you about them. The best way to reach me is through the free Facebook group for interns and counseling students, Beginning Counselor: Building Your Ideal Internship. Get links to our free training videos and the private Facebook group by registering at www.beginningcounselor.com/join. Can’t wait to see you there!
Stephanie Adams, MA, LPC likes to support interns and private practice counselors in the areas of counselor imposter syndrome, business, money, marketing and preventing counselor isolation. Connect with her through Beginning Counselor: Building Your Ideal Internship at www.beginningcounselor.com or MYOB Counselor: Helping Counselors In Private Practice “Mind Their Own Business” at www.myobcounselor.com.