Who am I in this [professional] world?
By Kaitlyn Stafford, LCSW
When people ask me what I do for a living, my usual answer is “I am a licensed therapist, and a doctoral student.”
Their typical response is “Well, what are you studying?”
Most are surprised when I say that I am studying Counselor Education and Supervision and that my license is in clinical social work. To other professionals in the field, I jokingly say that I am a “mutt” of disciplines, which is true, because I have a Bachelor’s of Science in Psychology, a Master of Social Work, and I am a dissertation away from having a PhD in Counselor Education and Supervision. I have even taught at a Marriage and Family Therapy program.
When I am asked why I chose this mixed professional track, the answer isn’t always easy for me to articulate.
The truth is, looking back on my decision-making process, I always knew I wanted to get my PhD in a behavioral health field and I always thought it would be in psychology, BUT military life happened, and I had to make decisions accordingly
…just like many of you.
So where does this leave so many of us? I know that many of you, my fellow mil spouses, are either searching for your career path or are somewhere in the process of trying to maintain a behavioral health career amidst a world of constant change.
I realized quickly when I was a program manager, supervising all types of disciplines from social workers, to counselors, to certified addiction professionals, that we all really do similar things. We may have different methods or ideas about how to help our clients get from point A to point B, but at the end of the day, we all want our clients to get to point B and we all value the role we play in helping them get there.
Authenticity is important in that search for a professional identity.
I have recently read my fair share of Brené Brown books, which drove that home to me. The conclusion that I have come to is that my identity is in helping people.
As military spouses, we may not have had the luxury of attending the brick and mortar APA accredited psychology program or the like. Our lifestyle challenges us to be flexible, creative, and persistent. Our experiences are dynamic and while it often feels like we are faced with never ending tests, it is through these growing pains that we evolve into the unique clinicians that we are.
So, how do you identify as a professional? If you are reading this, and you are someone who is navigating this process with confusion or you just find yourself reflecting on who you are in the behavioral health field as a military spouse, I encourage you to spend some time with the following questions.
Why do I want to do this work?
How do I want my colleagues and clients to see me?
What language fits just right when I am describing what I do to others?
What goals do I have for my career and how might thinking outside of the box help me get there?
I know personally that my career has taken a shape and form that I never imagined when I first decided to pursue studies in psychology because of my life as a military spouse; and for that I choose to be grateful. I am someone who helps people for a living.
I am an educator, supervisor, and scholar in the field of fellow helpers.
I am a multi-discipline behavioral health clinician.
This is the language I have chosen to reframe my past doubts and confusion about my professional-identity.
I hope you find a language that works for you too!