“How are you?” This is the text message I get from my mother last Saturday.
Now, most people probably wouldn’t think this is weird. But my mom’s not much of a small-talk conversation texter, and she hates talking on the phone just as much as I do (and I wonder where I got it from). Uh oh, is something wrong? I debate ignoring the text and waiting to talk to her in-person during the week (after all, if it was urgent, she would call, right? There’s the rationalization defense mechanism for ya), but I was too curious to know the meaning behind those three words on my phone.
“Thanks for that detailed update on your recent major life changes!”
I guess she had a point, though it was a bit silly for my mom to expect me to explain everything through a touch-screen keyboard. In that week, I had finished moving out of my ancient, dust-filled West Philly apartment and started my first (hopefully) permanent, full-time job. Two huge transitions, two major stressors, two incredible life changes. And I didn’t call my parents all week. And the award for daughter of the year goes to…
Yet despite our detest for dragged-out phone conversations, I called and told her all about the move and the first week on the job. It’s been two weeks since I’ve joined the full-time employment club. And if those first two weeks are any indication of the next few years, I can expect to work extended hours outside of my schedule, lots of paperwork, some frustration, and not a moment of boredom. Let’s start with day one.
Monday morning, 7:30. After making sure I’m properly fed and caffeinated, my main concerns are what do I wear? Does this look crazy? Ugh I hate my hair. My nailbeds suck. Once I settle on a nice blouse tucked into a pencil skirt, the non-shallow but still entirely egocentric concerns creep in on my walk down Broad Street. What if they hate me? What if they’re disappointed in me? I’m way too new at this, why did these people ever hire me? Did I calculate the right amount of time I’ll need to walk to work? What if I’m late? Oh no oh no oh no. Is it too late to take out more loans and pray that the concept of a guacamole store is successful? I mean, people love guac just as much as they love cupcakes or bacon or froyo! Always good to have an improbable plan B, right?
I’m greeted by my supervisor promptly at 9 AM. She shows me the lay of the land, I ask her questions, we go over my contract, I sign. 33 billable hours per week by the first week of September. Benefits come six weeks later. Group and individual supervision. Office 12, Extension hasn’t been figured out yet. Here’s your email – looks like it was set up a while ago. Delete the one about grapefruit left in the staff fridge. Here’s your caseload, start making phone calls and scheduling people! Okay, so it wasn’t quite as blunt and abrupt, and my supervisor was as reassuring and welcoming as could be. But the fact remains that my entire orientation took approximately 1 1/2 hours..My interviewer certainly wasn’t lying when he said new therapists are thrown right into the deep end. By 10:30 AM, I’m making my first phone call and scheduling an appointment for the next day. By the end of day one, I’ve called 80 people, left messages for 20, scheduled 20, and cannot reach the other 40 (busy line, disconnected phone, etc). I’ve sent out 80 letters introducing myself as a therapist. Me. A therapist.
By 9 AM on day two, I have my first paid, out-of-graduate-school therapy session. Despite being a nervous wreck, I survive. But that’s a tale for another time.
Two weeks later, I’m scheduling 8-9 people on a daily basis (unfortunately, I’ve come to learn that if half the people scheduled show up, I’m lucky). And though I’m anxious about meeting my quota, frustrated with people that continually don’t show up to sessions without calling and expect immediate rescheduling, and bogged down in paperwork, I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. In two weeks, I’ve planted the seeds for positive therapeutic relationships. I’ve had traumatic histories thrown at me and been able to successfully hold it, even if I felt like crying. I’ve helped individuals with severe depression and anxiety smile and laugh again; it may be a long road for some people, but they say laughter is the best therapy, so why not start there? Most notably, I’m getting paid to do what I’ve wanted to do since I was 12 years old – be a mental health therapist. Yes, I’m a mental health therapist now – if I wasn’t, why would my supervisor have put a laminated sign on my door stating so?
Plus, the occasional free breakfasts and lunches from various pharmaceutical companies don’t hurt either.