Transitioning From the Academic to Professional World.

I had the fortunate opportunity to begin my professional career at the same site I interned. Because I entered into my professional world in a familiar and comfortable environment, I anticipated little issue transitioning from intern to full-time therapist. Also, I had taken time in between my coursework and internship to experience work in related fields.

I figured I was older, more mature, and more ready to handle the pressures of a new job.

It didn’t take long for me to discover that life, as a full-time therapist was incredibly different than being an intern.

As anticipated, no one was there to give me feedback at the end of my sessions. It was up to me to self-assess how things had gone and use my professional judgment to structure the most therapeutically effective environment for my clients. What I wasn’t prepared for was how this new role would make me feel. Normally a confident individual, I found myself second-guessing everything.

Completely freaked out by my unexpected reaction to professional life, I began reading every self-help, “student to new professional” article, blog, or affirmation available on the internet. All the advice read the same to me and nothing seemed to console my deep feelings of insecurity. Determined to work through my emotions and figure out my new role I began confiding in those close to me. It was through these conversations that I discovered my triangle of success.

The Triangle of Success. This was an analogy I had used before with one of my adult groups and realized hey, why not create the same for myself: my triangle of success from intern to professional. I began to reflect upon my experiences and emotions surrounding them to piece together my triangle.

Component #1: Discover your authentic self.

One of the most challenging aspects of professional life has been sifting through the insurmountable number of differing opinions on treatment and best practice. Some of those opinions came from music therapists; others from parents and professionals from related fields. I found myself trying to appease all those opinions at the same time and in the process lost the very opinions that matter the most, mine. I realized I had to develop a new strategy otherwise I’d be burnt out within a year of practice. I decided to respectfully listen to all opinions individuals had to offer but act on those whom I trusted most. Above all, I would listen to my instincts.

Component #2: Don’t be afraid to ask questions.

Professionally AND personally.

I had an incredible experience as an intern and learned an unbelievable amount of information. However, after internship I felt pressure to somehow just know about all things music therapy. As though passing my board certification exam had magically made me the all-knowing master Jedi of clinical music therapy practice, except I felt the exact opposite. I thought back to a question from my practice certification exam. It was something to the effect of “what should you do if you start services for a population whose behaviors & potential treatment goals are unfamiliar to you?” I vividly remembered the answer being “ask a therapist who currently works or has experience with the population”.

Again: ask a question! Our very scope of practice states to ask questions when the answer is unknown. Our field is constantly evolving and changing and whether a young or experience professional, questions will come up in our clinical practice. It is our duty as responsible board certified therapists to continue to ask questions.


Component #3: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Be patient.

I’d argue that this is the most critical component to the triangle of success. Like so many things in life, it takes time to develop a skill. It’s the very principle behind “practice makes perfect”. We have to work at it, practice, and even fail sometimes.

In the infamous words of Rocky Balboa “it ain’t about how hard you hit. It’s about how hard you can get hit and keep moving forward; how much you can take and keep moving forward.” There will be days when sessions don’t go as planned or days when you feel like no progress is being made.

Be patient.

As a young professional we’re still learning, still molding our therapeutic “style” and that’s something that only comes with time. Always keeping the big picture in mind, its essential that we identify small, attainable goals for ourselves, running them mile-by-mile. Just like our clients, we too, need both long and short-term goals so that we don’t feel overwhelmed and end up quitting the race.

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