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Updated by Amy Armstrong on Apr 10, 2016
Headline for Common Misconceptions About Therapists and Counselors
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Common Misconceptions About Therapists and Counselors

The day-to-day life of a therapist is hard to describe to other people, but I've noticed that when it comes to the theory that Nature abhors a void, lack of information doesn't seem to prevent folks from making up their own theories about what we do all day. You know, adorable stuff like the belief that your elementary school teacher actually lived at school and never had to do "homework?" For anyone who's curious about the facts of what it's like to be involved in this super glamorous profession, here's the scoop.

We get paid for missed appointments and vacations.

Um, well, if you book an appointment with a therapist and you don't attend your appointment as agreed and don't give any notice, you really should pay your therapist because the payroll fairy doesn't visit your therapist's office and pay her rain or shine. Most therapists are either independent contractors with various insurance companies or independent contractors at agencies. We are rarely employees who get a regular salary just for showing up.

(P.S. If you still think we have it too good, certain legislators are on your side, so soon, no healthcare providers will be able to recuperate lost income due to cancellations if these people have their way.)

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Becoming a therapist is the same as being really good at psychology classes as an undergraduate.

Undergraduate psychology classes have very little to do with being a professional counselor, social worker or therapist. Clinical and counseling psychologists may usually be psychology majors as undergraduates, but most of them get into graduate school based on quantitative and analytical skill rather than what you might consider the classic signs of being a good listener. An undergraduate psychology degree basically prepares you to do well on the GRE Psychology test and, if you're really lucky, graduate school.
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We have this leisurely life after we leave the office.

I can't speak for all therapists, but doing this full time means working about 80 hours a week the way it does for just about any other small business owner. After a client leaves my office, I have to update the client's case notes, handle any referral requests that need to be addressed, call back agencies I'm coordinating with, fill-out whatever paperwork the insurance companies have decided is important this month, and, if I'm feeling really energetic, deal with marketing, accounting, and other business-related matters. Most of these things actually can't be done in the office, by the way, because insurance companies don't want clinicians keeping client files in a cabinet that clients can see. So, unless you have an office suite with a file room, that's not happening.
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We get a "huge chunk of change" for every client we see.

Baristas at Starbucks probably do about as well as we do, depending on the insurance plan. If you have "an awesome, caring therapist" who just doesn't accept your insurance, he is getting a huge chunk of change. The rest of us don't. Plus, regardless of what insurance companies decide we're worth at any given moment, we still need to cover expenses like rent, malpractice insurance, taxes, continuing education costs, licensing and credentialing fees, and fees to billing services so that we hope insurance companies pay us in a semi-timely fashion. Most of us do okay, but keep in mind that Dr. Phil is not a typical example.
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We have perfect lives.

Nobody has a perfect life. If you expect your therapist to be perfect, you will be let down. Nobody is perfect. Speaking for myself, I get up every day and resolve to do the best I can and most of the time, I'm okay with that. The point of therapy, regardless of approach, is not to make everyone into a cookie-cutter version of perfection---that's Stepford Wife creation.
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