Epic Guest Post: Newbie Therapist Esther Dale on Staying Determined

Every once in a while I receive an email that reminds me that the work I am doing is making a difference.Ā  Today I received this from a new colleague to our field, and with her permission I share it in its entirety.Ā  I hope that you will comment on it and show her that she’s not alone:

Hello Mike,

I am a newbie therapist, having entered the licensed profession less than a year ago. Though despite my newbie status, despite the fact that I currently have no clients, no office, no firm job prospects, with a website and business plan that are both still in the initial stages, I still feel that I am an Epic Therapist. Or, at the very least, I am in training to be one!

Anyway, I just wanted to let you know how truly, truly, refreshing I found your blog. In the past, I have spent many, many, many hours skimming one random psychotherapist website after another. More often than not, I get so bored to tears reading the same drivel. I can’t understand how so many of them stay in business. From their websites, I feel that often there is no real spark or passion for their profession, and that they are all trying so hard to play it so safe, that so many psychotherapists end up sounding so cookie cutter. Not to mention the rather pretentious attitude that comes with, “I specialize, well, in the whole DSM-IV. What is your disorder? How may I help you in your disordered state?” Or my personal favorite, “Are you anxious? Depressed? Do you find yourself worrying a lot? Do you sometimes find yourself feeling lonely?” My thinking after reading that is always, “Yeah, I am depressed and anxious just from reading that!” After exhaustive online research, I felt rather alone in feeling like a therapist could dare to have their personality shine online. And then I found your site, and I was like, “Someone who dares to break the mold!” YAY! šŸ™‚

So I have basically spent my free time the past couple of days reading as many of your blogs as possible. I know that you must get many, many e-mails. And I am trying my very best to have my e-mail be worth your time. I am hoping at the very least that what I have to say might spark a possible interest for a blog response.

When I am in my Secret Headquarters, well, ummm, Head(corner) more like it, I feel like anything is possible. I feel the passion and excitement and knowledge for my blossoming niche, Sandplay/Play Therapy. I feel my passion and excitement for my professional focus on the more non-verbal approaches to psychotherapy, for the times when individuals just can’t seem to find the right words to truly express everything that is going on inside of them. Even right now, I feel myself fumbling around for words, and wish I didn’t have to rely solely on words at this moment in time to captivate my Epic Therapist passion. So when I am in my Secret Head(corner) I feel rather invincible. I feel like I can make it. I feel like I have the ability to design the website I want, and set up shop the way that I want. Though the moment I step out of my Secret Head(corner) I am immediately flooded with all these scripts of why I can’t do this. I feel like there are so many “voices” telling me I can’t succeed on my own terms quite yet because I haven’t paid my dues to the system. The current system that exists between many CMH, Non-Profit establishments and insurance companies, make it near impossible for newbie therapists to get a traditional job. From my own experience, I didn’t even qualify to apply for the clinical position for which I interned. When this happened to me, I acknowledged to myself that the current system is way out of joint, and that deep down inside, I have no real desire to associate with that kind of business structure. Though still I feel so many professionals trying to taint my passion for a private practice with their venom of, “Well, you need to walk, crawl, climb your way through Mordor, in order to finally be able to sever your newbie status ring into the fiery pits.” Though I tend to see another option rather than the traditional route: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1yqVD0swvWUĀ  (I love this video, two minutes of LoTR epic-parody goodness.)

In their eyes, I am trying to take a short-cut. Though I am not trying to take a short-cut, merely a different path. I have checked the policies and procedures regarding private practice, and even with my Limited License Professional Counselor (LLPC) status, I am able to set up shop. I have a qualified supervisor and seek out as many mentors as possible; I am constantly researching to gain as much knowledge as possible; I spent much time and effort in receiving professional training in Sandplay/Play Therapy. I feel like I am a blossoming professional in my field. I am determined to have an ethically driven, professional private practice, with a strong niche, and a strong professional voice. Though, every time I think of my “Limited License” status, or I think of all the things I still need to learn, I sometimes feel myself retreat into this defeated status. So I guess my question is this, how does one continue to build up and defend their Epic Therapist status, when so many naysayers want to tear you down because you are forging your own path?

If this sparks a possible blog/e-mail response that would be awesome. If it doesn’t, that is okay too. I know your time is valuable. I am just grateful if you took the time to make it to the end of my letter. Best of luck in all your efforts!


Esther Dale, MA, LLPC


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  1. Hi, Esther! I so remember feeling that way . . . like there were so many difficult stints along the way to ending up in private practice.

    YOU ABSOLUTELY CAN be that EPIC THERAPIST that you know you are meant to be! It’s ironic timing that Mike has posted your email this week as I’ve been blogging away about the benefits of starting off in agency / community / hospital work.

    I certainly understand why your path may be different and may be just right for you. And, I don’t think that taking a different path is necessarily a short-cut. In fact, depending on where you want to end up . . . it may be the longer path – at least that has been my perception.

    If being an EPIC THERAPIST is your goal, then it’s important to consider what an EPIC THERAPIST brings to the table. What are the traits of that EPIC THERAPIST that you want to be? Over time that definition has changed for me. I now believe that in addition to ethics and clinical strengths, that EPIC THERAPIST also needs breadth and depth of clinical experience and s/he needs to practice defensively – attending not only to her client but also to her own self-care. And, s/he needs to be in ongoing regular professional consultation and needs a good dose of humility and passion for issues of social justice. . . . Oh, OK, so the list goes on and on . . . .

    But, Esther, my point is that YOU CAN DO IT and you can forge your own path. Mike has done it. I have done it. And, you are doing it – maybe not as quickly as you would like, maybe not as easily as you had expected it – but I can see from your email that your light is still shining and there is much to be passionate about. ESTHER DALE, MA, LLPC is stepping out into the world and making difference – and that IS the PATH of an EPIC THERAPIST!

    I look forward to you paving the way for others, Esther! (And, Mike, thank you for introducing us to Esther. It’s a good day to be in mental health!)

    • Mike Langlois, LICSW says

      I figured Esther had said it all so well in her email, I didn’t want you all to miss out.

      Esther, I echo what Tamara said. You are and are becoming an Epic Therapist. It will require you take lots of risks and invest lots of time and money, on top of the time and money you’ve already spent! But it is so doable, just keep at it. And check back here to let us know whenever you down a boss! šŸ˜‰

  2. Excellent blog Esther!! I suspect you will more than thrive in private practice!! Keep at it- it will happen for you! Thank you for your energy and passion!

  3. Hi, Esther,

    I think you are going to have an epic career as a therapist. I also think you are right on target in your thinking about websites. The comments I most appreciate from new clients are along the lines of, “I felt I knew what it would be like to work with you,” or, “I thought you would be someone I’d like working with.” In my experience, website readers want to know 1) do you believe you can help them? and 2) at least a sense of what it will be like to sit down in your office together.

    Please send me the link when you get your website up! And thanks to Mike for putting your post up.


  4. Hi Esther —

    As another newbie therapist, I can really relate.

    I had to complete my degree in a non-traditional way, and I heard every version of “you can’t do that, it doesn’t really work that way” while I was knocking myself out to find a way to make it work. Staying determined was really hard, because sometimes I was so afraid they were right, but in the end, I got my degree, and I did it exactly the way I wanted to.

    So now, here I am, with a degree so new it squeaks and the licensing exam looming just ahead and another non-traditional plan for where to go from here, and once again, the chorus of nay-sayers are telling me it’s not possible.

    It’s easier to stay determined now, though, because I’ve already seen that they’re not necessarily right. They MIGHT be right, but I won’t assume they are just because there are a lot of them and they’re loud. I’ll wait and let my own efforts and experience tell me whether they’re right or not.

    And in the meantime, I get reminded each week how much I love doing this, how I’ve finally (20 years and three careers later) found the thing that feels right, how the worst day at my day job is completely forgotten as soon as I walk into the counseling center, how even though I don’t always feel epic – sometimes I really really do and it’s totally awesome… it keeps me focused on where I want to go and why. In fact, it practically drowns the nay-sayers out, because I’ve been looking a long time for the thing that fit me the way this does – and now that I’ve found it, I’m just going to make it work. Period.

    I really appreciated your comment. It’s heartening to hear from other newbies out there doing it a different way. šŸ™‚

  5. Esther Dale says

    First off, I have privately thanked Mike for the opportunity to guest post on his blog. Though I wanted to publicly thank him as well. This experience has been quite the treat for me!

    Tamara, Leslie, Catherine, and Laura: thank you all so much for taking the time to read my post and for all your words of encouragement. All your comments were such a delight to read. It gave me so much motivation and an extra dose of courage! I am beyond grateful.

    Catherine, I will be more than happy to provide you a link when my website is up. Being able to do this guest post has given me the extra drive to set up my own blog ASAP. I figure even if I am not quite ready to set up my own shop quite yet, there is no reason I can’t have my blog up and running!

    Laura, since you and I are fellow newbies, your post really warmed my heart. It does take that extra dose of courage to constantly combat all the messages out there that try to taint passion and spirit. I feel that many newbies start out with a lot of passion and spirit, though often times it is lost along the way. I will admit, I almost lost my drive and determination. It got so bad, that in all seriousness, I was considering going to truck driving school! There are so many naysayers out there, and sometimes you don’t even realize how much damage they are actually causing. Though now, I am determined to find yeasayers to surround myself! (I knew “naysayers” was a word. So I figured “yeasayers” had to be a word, even though I had never used it before. And I guessed right, it is a word! I love learning new things!)

    Thank you all for being my yeasayers!

  6. Hi Esther,
    I too am new to the mental health sector and in the still of the night I often feel as if I have bitten off more than I can chew. However, as you have found, when I get a really good response from a client my spirit soars.
    I really appreciated reading your blog and wish you well,
    All the beat Mark Pearce

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