LB Headshot pink shirtHaving completed my Master’s program in Couple and Family Therapy in May, I thought it might be useful to direct my blog post for current MFT/CFT students.  The school year is about to begin.  Some of you might be entering your first year of a program and for others it might be just another start to the school year. I don’t know about you, but the beginning of the school year is one of my favorite times of the year. I can buy new school supplies, start to fill out my new planner, and get things organized. If I am lucky, I will buy myself a new first day of school outfit and take a first day of school picture, because no one is ever too old to do this.

Along with buying supplies, downloading syllabi, and ordering books for class, I think there are some other things to be mindful of when preparing for the school year. These points are certainly not an extensive list and are based on my personal experience.

1. Budget– First, figuring out what your budget for the school year looks like and making sure you stay within your means is important. My budget seemed to be something on the back of mind throughout the school year. Often times my financial situation caused moments of stress and anxiety. Make sure you are utilizing the budgeting resources available to you through your university or online. An important financial resource overlooked is finding an assistantship with the university if your university offers them. Assistantships are often posted on graduate listservs (make sure to sign up for them) or posted on HR websites.  Assistantships might also be provided to you from your academic program’s department. Typically, assistantships provide some sort of stipend and tuition remission. Check out your university’s graduate school information for more details about what assistantships provide. Another way students can find an assistantship is making connections with departments and offices on campus. Start making these connections early because the office might not have any openings this year, but might remember the connection you made with them and notify you of future opportunities.

2. Personal Resource Library– Since graduating, I am grateful while in school a professor, supervisor, or member of my cohort recommended a couple different ways for building up my own resource library. I
had an electronic folder and hard folder where I collected resources I could use throughout my career as a therapist. After the two years in the program, I had two file folders jammed with various handouts, activities, and psychoeducation tools I could use with clients in the future.  I also have an electronic folder full of additional resources I can pull from. Creating your own resource folders might be something you consider doing as well in order to begin building your own resource library.

3. Professional Development- I created two lists while I was in school regarding resources. One list was focused on potential trainings/continuing education opportunities. I created my list based on opportunities I was emailed about, heard in class, authors who interested me, and opportunities about different therapies I wanted to expand my knowledge base on or start a knowledge base. The additional bonus of creating this list was helping me know how to infuse professional development into my schedule and budget. Having an idea of the cost and how often an organization or person holds trainings allows you to plan out how you will be able to cover the cost and see when it fits best into your schedule. I was fortunate to be able to attend a handful of trainings and continuing education opportunities throughout my two years in school. I found many of these additional educational opportunities were worth the money spent and helped develop me as a beginning therapist.

4. Creating a Wish List– The other list I created was books, games, and other therapy tools I would like to have after I graduated.  Supervisors, professors, guest speakers, fellow students, and even clients have
great recommendations for books, games, and items that will be useful in session. I was writing down all the suggestions, but the information was not in one central location for me to find. An easy way to go about doing this is creating an Amazon Wish List. I found it quick and easy to find most of the items, books, or games I was interested in on Amazon. Then I would add them to my Wish List. Since graduation, I have bought several items off my Wish List in preparation for working in the field. It is nice and helpful to have this prepopulated, centralized list. I continue to add books and items.

5. Professional Network– Another helpful component to be mindful of is creating support networks. For me, the support networks I was creating were both professional and personal. Creating my support networks is ongoing and changes regularly. I think it is important to think about who is in your support network and people you would like to add.  When you first enter school, you might not have an idea who you want to include in your professional support network and that is okay. I think if you keep an open mind and try to take away something from the various professional you interact with you will start to recognize the people who have similar philosophies to your own or philosophies you are interested in learning more about. Don’t be afraid to reach out to professionals to set up information meetings. Most professionals were once in the same student shoes like you! I have found most professionals are interested in helping out students in any way they can. Talk to the professors, supervisors, and other professionals you interact with to see if they have any recommendations of people you could reach out to. You will be surprised the connections you can make once you ask and put yourself out there.

6. Personal Network/Personal Well-Being– Just as important as professional networks is your personal network. Your personal well-being is important and having people who can help, support, and increase
your well-being can make a difference during your time in school. Your personal network can include whomever you want or need. I was fortunate enough to have an amazing group of students in my cohort who often were my first line in personal support, but sometimes it was helpful to get support outside my cohort and professional network.  I was able to get this support by scheduling time for it. I found it helpful to schedule “Me Time” throughout the year. Sometimes I used the time to be by myself, to do nothing, to relax, to go out and do something new, or to treat myself.  Other times I used my “Me Time” to connect with my personal support network. I found if I scheduled time just for myself to do whatever I wanted; it allowed me the time to re-energize my batteries to continue to push forward with school. It can be hard balancing the many responsibilities of being a student so try to figure out a system that works best for you in incorporating your personal network and time for you. Don’t forget to treat yourself (It is easy to forget or neglect)!

Lastly, I hope you have a great school year. Good luck. Be proactive, ask questions, and have fun!

Elizabeth M. Brown, M.S., LGMFT
Licensed Graduate Marriage and Family Therapist

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