Most therapists in private practice quickly learn the value of having an eclectic set of therapeutic skills upon which to draw. Not only does having a range of tools at your disposal make you a better therapist, drawing upon a range of models that are either compatible, complementary or good for treating specific populations is a smart way to increase your patient base and referrals.
It is all too easy to get stuck in one particular therapeutic modality or framework and lose the ability or willingness to be a flexible practitioner. But when we refuse to learn new skills, the work can become boring, tedious and at worst, ineffective. And besides, who wants to keep getting continuing education credits in the same old methods? Learning new tools can be extremely fun, exciting and inspirational. It can breathe life into a stale or stuck practice.
But there’s no doubt about it, learning a new model — or anything new, for that matter — has its challenges. So here are some things to keep in mind as you embark on the journey of learning a new therapeutic model.
Be mindful of what you’re bringing with you into the work.
No matter which method you’re diving into, you should always keep in mind what you’re bringing with you. You have your own set of beliefs based on some combination of the methods in which you’ve trained and your personal learning history. All of these things can either help or hinder your ability to learn a new model or open to a new way of doing therapy. And without awareness of your theoretical or personal biases, you’ll have a tough time integrating new things.
You may think that you know the one right way to do things, but challenge yourself to go into each new training with the expectation of having your mind changed. If you come in with a rigid set of principles,you’ll limit your ability to learn new perspectives and you’ll leave with the same old approaches to doing therapy.
Use this experience as an opportunity to shift your relationship with mistake-making.
There’s no better time to get comfortable with making mistakes than when learning a new therapeutic model. When it comes to learning a new type of therapy, mistakes are 100 percent inevitable and are, in fact, a crucial part of the learning process.
Think of it this way: the more mistakes you make in trainings and role-play sessions with your peers, the more you’ll know about using a new model when you sit down with a patient in the therapy room.
Mistakes are priceless. You might even set a goal of making as many as possible in the training phase so that you can iron out any potential tripping points before you take your new skills to the field.
Find study buddies.
When you’re training in a new model, you’ll likely meet other clinicians who are new or in the beginner’s phase of learning the method, too. Even if you only connect with one or two other clinicians in the training, swap contact information, create a private Facebook group or establish some other way of keeping in touch to discuss how things are going as you take your new skills for a spin in the field. Having peers to bounce questions off of and solicit feedback from can be a wonderful way to build clinical skills and maintain fidelity to a new method.
If you’re learning a new method from a book, make sure to attend a workshop or training if at all possible. There are so many online training options now that you’ll surely find something to suit your needs. Many online trainings will allow space to interface with other participants. Find your study buddies by any means necessary.
Let go of the need to be perfect.
If you’ve ever worked with a client who struggles with perfectionism or had a personal relationship with a perfectionist, you know how hard it is to build an environment of authenticity when one person in the room is primarily concerned with looking perfect.
Learning a new therapeutic model is the perfect opportunity to chip away at that need to be perfect. After all, your clients don’t need you to be perfect. They need to be able to connect with you in an authentic way in order to establish an effective therapeutic relationship.
You may be a master or advanced practitioner in one model, but the truth is you’ll never be perfect — even in methods you’ve practiced for years. Be okay with that.
Trust in your capabilities.
Doing therapy takes a tremendous amount of trust in one’s own capabilities for relating in a healthy way. After all, the therapeutic relationship is one of the most important predictors of positive psychotherapy outcomes. Most likely, you have built up faith in yourself over the years from graduate school through your clinical experiences. When you feel overwhelmed or the pangs of incompetence start to emerge, remember that you can trust yourself.
You may not know everything there is to know about this new model you’re learning, and you may never get there. But if you are truly mindful of what you bring to the work, conscious of your intentions and aware of the impact your behavior has on the patient, you are capable of doing effective work.
Remember, you can always ask for help if you need it. There are many professional groups, clinical consultation opportunities and trainings now available both in-person and online. Pat yourself on the back for being willing to learn something new and if you’re stuck, reach out for help. You’ll be glad you did.