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Building therapy skills is an ongoing effort and ever-present need for most therapists. The problem is, there is an unlimited amount of things to learn and a very limited amount of time. This means that therapists must be proactive and specific about building their therapy skills, so that they can get the most from their investment.
Below, I review 5 quick and easy ways to build your therapy skills without having to buy products, attend trainings, or spend a ton of time or money.
1 | Videotape a session, and watch some of it
There are a host of reasons why we therapists avoid videotaping our sessions: watching ourselves is awkward, we don’t want to be judged by our colleagues or supervisors (or ourselves!), we’re afraid we’ll offend our clients by asking for consent, etc. But the truth is, the benefits of videotaping far outway the risks.
Videotaping helps you identify how you work; it is a simple way to notice your therapeutic tendencies, approaches, language (verbal and nonverbal), strengths, and growth areas. As a result, it will help you set specific goals for improvement.
2 | Transcribe a portion of a session
Transcription has the benefit of stripping the session down to merely the verbal communication. This is helpful, because it allows you to evaluate the relational aspects of the therapeutic conversation. In other words, it helps you pinpoint how a thought led to a response, and/or how a client’s comment influenced your subsequent engagement.
A transcript simplifies therapeutic content for the purpose of analysis. Useful content to analyze includes: a) the theoretical foundation of an intervention, b) your clinical reasoning, c) how effective your language was in eliciting the desired information, along with anything else you’d like to investigate. Additionally, transcripts help you reflect on your work as well as consider what went well and what you would do differently.
3 | Set a skills goal for a session, or a period of time
Skills do not develop with client contact--they develop with intentional practice. Setting a simple goal for a session will allow for this type of practice and lead to significant skills-building over time. Some examples of simple skills goals include to:
- deliver a traditional Solution-Focused miracle question in every session for one week
- complete a genogram assessment interview with a new client
- practice interrupting a talkative client or arguing couple
- offer a paradoxical intervention (for more information, see references at the end of this post)
Of course, your goals will be based on what you’d like to master, or begin attempting, at your stage of therapy development.
4 | Work with a supervisor, even if you’re licensed
There is always someone that knows more than you about the area in which you’d like to grow. This area may be private practice building, a specific theory, crisis intervention, supervising other therapists, etc. Clinical supervisors are invaluable for nurturing continued professional development.
If you’re licensed, a formal or informal agreement with a supervisor that you admire and trust can be a good motivator for seeking consultation regularly, or when needed. This also prevents you from experiencing an unexpected dilemma without support. If you’re not yet licensed, see my tips for choosing a clinical supervisor.
5 | Choose 1 learning goal at a time
Because there are so many wonderful learning opportunities in the therapy field, it’s common for therapists to complete several post-graduate certifications and consistently add to their “books to read” list. Continued learning is great! In fact, it is required. However, in order for learning to serve you and your skills, rather than detract from skills-building, it must be specific and goal-oriented; otherwise, the valuable information contained in trainings and books will offer a way for you to spend your time and money, but it will not transfer to skills-building. In order for information to transfer, you need a specific plan for implementing specific information.
How Do I Choose 1 Goal At a Time?
Option 1: Make a list of the main trainings, certifications, and books (or other learning opportunities) you’d like to consume; prioritize them by the year you will complete each, then by order within that year. Start by completing #1 from the current year’s list. Detail the skills and information that you’d like to assimilate from #1, and move on to #2 only when you’ve begun implementing these skills. Continue adding to your overall list and prioritizing as an ongoing process.
Option 2: Do some soul-searching + work dreaming + purpose casting, and set 3 main objectives for your “therapy life” right now. Commit time only to resources that will help you accomplish those objectives. Follow the prioritization steps in option 1. This process uses your overarching professional objectives for deciding how to spend your time, money, and energy.
- To begin building skills fast, check out the free Build Your Skills Bundle here.
- What certifications or trainings are at the top of your list? Let me know in the comments below.
- Grab your free summary of this post, with references, below.
More on paradoxical interventions:
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