The list of requirements for becoming a therapist is substantial and the process of licensure isn’t a short one. The amount of hours psychology students must complete on top of their degree is daunting, however, once completed, undoubtedly rewarding. One of the most important of these requirements is observation hours. Observation hours are expected to be completed before beginning a therapy program, not only to prepare you for what you’ll be doing in the future but also to determine whether this is the right career path for you. It’s like when you were a little kid and you weren’t sure about trying new foods and your mom would say, “until you try it, you won’t know if you like it.”
Maybe that’s a rough analogy, but essentially, that is a big part of why observation hours exist in the field of therapy. You’re also able to decide by experience on which kind of practice setting you like best by sitting in different types of sessions and visiting different types of practices. However, simply getting those observation hours isn’t enough, you want to actually absorb and learn from each meeting. So how exactly can you make sure you’re maximizing your observation hours?
Taking notes is a simple and non- disruptive way to be an active observer. You may have a lot of questions that you have to wait to ask until after a session so writing down your questions as they come to you is the best way to ensure that you’re getting all the information you need. Not only should you take notes on the sessions themselves, but also on the location, the type of therapy, the office and the counselor you’re shadowing. You’ll be visiting many different counseling offices and so having as many details recorded about each experience, even if they seem kind of trivial, is something you’re going to want as a reference when it comes to deciding which type of counselor you want to be in the future.
Although when you’re shadowing in a session you’re expected to be a silent observer, after each session and during breaks in between, you should ask as many questions as possible. Focus not only on specific sessions, but on bigger topics like day-to-day schedules, opportunities and chances for growth within the profession. This is an opportunity to see a real therapy session and to get real-life advice and feedback from actual professionals in the field.
Offer to help (when appropriate)
During a therapy session, observers are usually not supposed to interject. However, there are other aspects that go into a therapist’s day-to-day routines, other than client sessions, that you can ask to help with, like billing, collecting insurance information, scheduling and other important tasks that get done behind the scenes. This, of course, may not be possible for every shadowing experience, depending on how much time you’re given to observe, but if you’re able to help, you should absolutely offer.
Observation hours can be difficult to come by, so it’s important to take what you can get in order to get the hours done. With that being said, go into every shadowing experience with a positive and professional attitude and remember to listen actively.