Tips on Finding a Therapy Mentor
One of the most important professional partnerships you can ever have is that of mentor/mentee. While you can learn everything you need to know on your own, why should you if you can work with a person who’s already learned it and is willing to share their wisdom with you?
This type of relationship benefits both you, as the mentee, and the mentor. You’ll gain knowledge and perspective. Your mentor will gain personal fulfillment by sharing what he or she knows with you. Of course, that’s only scratching the surface. There are a lot of benefits to this time-honored, professional relationship.
If you’re open to finding a mentor, you’re probably asking yourself these two questions:
- How do I find a therapy mentor?
- What are the best practices for working with a mentor?
In this guide, we’ll discuss the answers to both of those questions and more. Let’s get started.
Do You Need a Mentor?
Before we dive into how to find and work with a mentor, you may be wondering if it’s even a good idea to seek out mentorship in the first place. This is especially true if you’re already established in your career.
Do you really need a mentor if you’re a practicing clinician with your own private practice?
The answer is a resounding yes because there’s always someone who has made it a little further down the same path that you’re on. If you can get navigation advice from your mentor, you won’t succumb to the same pitfalls and you’ll be able to work around the inevitable roadblocks you’ll encounter on your way.
In life, you have two options: learn from your mistakes or learn from the mistakes of others. With a mentor, you’ll take the second option.
If you’re a new clinician, you may look for a mentor who’s capable of introducing you to your chosen profession. But, remember mentorship isn’t just for bright-eyed graduates fresh out of school.
A mentor can help you with all areas of your life, not just your career. Mentors can coach, support, advise, train, provide an introduction and facilitate networking with other therapists. Your mentor can assist you with work-life balance too.
Overall, mentorship provides a supportive relationship where you can identify and develop the skills necessary to operate as your best self.
Whether you’re transitioning from school or you’ve been in practice for years, finding a mentor is always a great idea.
Understand What You’re Looking For
What do you need from a mentor?
Depending on where you are in your career and what challenges you face on the road ahead, your answer will vary.
Fortunately, there are several types of mentors you can seek out. Below are just a few examples of what to look for. You can look for a mentor who:
- Offers general career advice.
- Provides specific advice on how to run and operate a private practice.
- Helps you learn how to balance career and family.
- Provides emotional support.
- Connects you with other professionals.
- Helps you develop big ideas.
- Provides a library of resources.
If the stars align, you may find a mentor who’s a magical mix of all of the above. In most cases, your mentor will offer some sort of combination of these items.
It’s up to you to determine which type of mentor will help you the most at your current stage. What are your goals and what do you need to get from a mentor to help you accomplish those goals?
For example, let’s say you’re encountering all sorts of sticky situations with your clients that you’re not sure how to handle. You’re looking for someone to provide real-world answers, forged in the cauldron of experience, to your client dilemmas. You don’t need a mentor to provide connections or teach you how to set up office systems. You need someone to help you determine the appropriate and ethical response.
If that’s your goal, it’s a lot easier to find a mentor once you’re clear about what you need. This cuts down on frustration too. Instead of forcing your networking mentor into an ethical advisory role, you can choose a person who’s better suited for that role.
Decide Who to Work With
Now that you’ve decided what type of mentor you’d like to work with, your next task is to find the right mentor.
Is there a particular clinician that you’d love to work with? Who in your industry do you respect and trust? Perhaps you’d like to emulate this person’s career trajectory, or you‘re inspired by his or her professional network.
Make a list of potential mentors that you’d like to reach out to. Try not to limit yourself to just one person, because he or she may not be open to mentorship or may be too busy to do it. However, when you’re making your list, start in descending order so that if the first person isn’t able to be a mentor, you can reach out to the next best choice.
Here’s how to find a mentor:
Look Within Your Local Network
Start with your local network. Are you a member of an association that offers a mentorship program? That’s the first place to look.
If that’s a dead-end, you can always branch out on your own and approach individuals who you respect.
Also, consider your school. Perhaps your professor can serve as your mentor. While he or she may not have the experience of operating a private practice (bonus points if they do), this person may still be able to provide you with coaching, advice, and answers to ethical dilemmas.
But Don’t Tie Yourself to One Geographical Area
We live in a time when everyone is as close as the computer screen. If you have Skype and a solid Internet connection, you can work with someone from across the country or even across the world. If your ideal mentor doesn’t live close by, you can still make it work.
Don’t Tie Yourself to One Niche
You don’t have to pick a mentor solely because he or she is in the same field as you. You can pick a mentor who has a different therapy focus, or you can pick someone who’s not even a therapist!
Also, consider the idea of working with a peer mentor. Even though a peer mentor may be on the same level as you career-wise, he or she may be able to offer valuable advice and help you develop under-utilized skills. For example, your peer mentor may be able to teach you how to schedule your day, how to join insurance panels, or how to branch off into different services, such as online therapy.
Don’t Limit Yourself to One Mentor
Don’t think you can only have one mentor. You can have multiple mentors if you have the time. Each mentor can assist you in accomplishing a different goal.
Try Before You Buy
Before you ask someone to become a mentor, take them for a test run. You may already know that you want a mentor, but there’s no reason to frame your initial conversation in that way.
Instead, you can casually ask, “Can you help me with this problem?”
Take note of how they respond, how quickly they respond, and if their response is compatible with your preferences. This feedback will let you know whether or not this person is a good candidate for a mentor.
If you feel compatible with this person, ask him or her the big question, “Will you be my mentor?” Yes, you might feel awkward, but the benefits you stand to gain will more than make up for momentary vulnerability.
Set Boundaries on Your Relationship
Once you get a yes to that big question, immediately set boundaries for your professional relationship. Boundaries reduce misunderstandings.
Here are the most important boundaries to set:
- When can I call you? Time of day and days of the week (i.e. weekends may be off-limits)
- How should I contact you? Email, phone call, Skype, text, stop by the office for a face-to-face chat
- How often should we be in touch? Once a week, once a month, call as the need arises
Before you go, check out these additional resources: