Back in 1990 I got an MA in psychology from New College of California. I worked hard over the next two years to rack up the then required 3,000 internship hours, and study for and pass both the written and oral exams to become what was then called a Marriage Family and Child Counselor. The license has been renamed Marriage and Family Therapist. I specialized in counseling adolescents, so the former license name better described what I did. I’m not sure exactly what went into the license name change, but I do recall that child psychologists seemed to lay claim to working with children. In fact, while in grad school, a school that offered a masters, not doctorate, my child psychology instructor told me that I could not make it professionally as a child therapist, that to get clients one must do psychological testing, the domain of psychologists. I was enraged. She was wrong. There was a strong demand for psychotherapists in the non-profit sector to work with high-risk adolescents. Upon graduation, that was where I found my jobs, working with teens — pregnant and parenting teens and severely emotionally disturbed adolescents in residential and day treatment.
That’s my “ancient” history, my short-lived profession practiced when I was in my mid-twenties to age 30. At 30 I had a complete psychiatric breakdown, was literally unable to get up out of bed, and had to stop working. I turned for the first time to my medical doctor for medication, up until then I had managed my depression with psychotherapy. First with Prozac, which overstimulated me and felt as if I had an electric current running through me, then with added Trazodone to take the edge off the Prozac side effects. My parents urged me to get a second opinion from a psychiatrist. Unfortunately, the psychiatrist I saw was old school, did not believe in using an SSRI for it was relatively new, and he put me on a tricyclic medication which led to ramping and cycling. I ended up spending a week awake, thinking simultaneously at rapid speed in binary, about chaos theory, and about Christian mystics, with whom to this date I strongly identify. At the time, I wished that there had been a way to record my thoughts so that later I (and a computer) could decipher them and see if any made sense. The content involved topics with which I had some basic knowledge and interest, but the experience was that of channeling information beyond my comprehension, way above my pay grade.
After that week of full-blown mania, I decided that I was not fit to be a psychotherapist. I had a psychotic episode. I wasn’t sure whether I was bipolar, for the episode was likely precipitated by the tricyclic. I was not put on a mood stabilizer. My psychiatrist prescribed a three-day regime of antipsychotics which stopped the racing thoughts in their track and allowed me to sleep.
From that time on, I maintained my license, paying the necessary fees, and when the licensing board began requiring continuing education credits and came up with an inactive designation, I maintained my license on an inactive basis. This May my still inactive license comes up for renewal, and I’m faced with the question: Should I keep my California Marriage and Family Therapist license inactive, or should I take the continuing education credits and activate my license?
What would I do with my license? I can see myself doing education. I can see myself leading groups. Not so sure about individual, couples, or family psychotherapy. Would need to be careful in protecting myself. And then there’s the cost of rent and professional liability insurance.
As the time to renew approaches, another week goes by, and I am leaning towards taking the continuing education credits to activate my license. Interesting note, I see myself more as a “former” psychotherapist than a “former” commercial real estate professional in spite of the fact that I worked in commercial real estate for twice as many years. In part, I believe it is because I was educated as a psychotherapist. My graduate education, internships, and written and oral exams, as well as continuing education, weekly supervision, case conferences, and a lifetime of dealing with mental health issues.
This post has been sitting as a draft since last week. Now I’m thinking that I will renew my license as inactive and activate it if and when the time seems right. Quite ambivalent. Next week I have signed up for a webinar hosted by the International Bipolar Foundation entitled “E-Mental Health: Computer and Device Assisted Therapies for Mental Illnesses” with Dr. Michael Knable. The topic intrigues me. Using the Internet as an interface may provide me with the distance I need to maintain professional distance. Who knows? I guess I’ll learn more about the subject next Thursday.