The Therapy for Black Girls Podcast is a weekly conversation with Dr. Joy Harden Bradford, a licensed Psychologist in Atlanta, Georgia, about all things mental health, personal development, and all the small decisions we can make to become the best possible versions of ourselves.
We’ve had dozens of therapists on the podcast sharing their perspectives on various topics, from friendships to mediation and even horror movies. But have you ever wondered what it takes to become a licensed therapist? Well, the road isn’t quite paved in gold…more like several years of school and thousands of hours of supervised practice. But don’t fret we’ll break it all down. This episode is for our community members who are therapists, sisters looking to enter the field, and everyone interested in learning more about the process.
Joining me today are therapists Dr. Donna Oriowo, based in the DMV, and Josephine Ampaw-Greene, in Denver, Colorado. During our conversation we discussed the joys and challenges of becoming a therapist. We got candid about our journeys and talked all things licensure, private practice, mentorship, and more.
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Executive Producers: Dennison Bradford & Maya Cole Howard
Producers: Fredia Lucas, Ellice Ellis & Cindy Okereke
Session 299: Becoming A Therapist
Dr. Joy: Hey, y'all! Thanks so much for joining me for Session 299 of the Therapy for Black Girls podcast. We'll get right into our conversation after a word from our sponsors.
Dr. Joy: We've had dozens of therapists on the podcast sharing their perspectives on various topics, from friendships to meditation, and even horror movies. But have you ever wondered what it takes to become a licensed therapist? Well, the road isn't quite paved in gold. More like several years of school and thousands of hours of supervised practice. But don't fret, we'll break it all down. This episode is for our community members who are therapists, sisters looking to enter the field, and everyone interested in learning more about the process.
Joining me today are therapists Dr. Donna Oriowo based in the DMV, and Josephine Ampaw-Greene in Denver, Colorado. In our conversation, we discussed the joys and challenges of becoming a therapist, we got candid about our journeys and talked all things licensure, private practice, mentorship, and more. If something resonates with you while enjoying our conversation, please share it with us on social media using the hashtag #TBGinSession or join us over in the Sister Circle to talk more in depth about the episode. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. Here's our conversation.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much for joining me today. I am joined by Dr. Oriowo and Josephine.
Josephine: Thanks for having us.
Dr. Oriowo: Yes, so excited to be here.
Dr. Joy: Indeed. Josephine, I will let you get started since Dr. Oriowo has been here before, but you are a first-time guest for us. Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, your educational background, where you practice and a little bit about your life as a therapist?
Josephine: Thanks, Dr. Joy. My name is Josephine but most of my clients call me Josie. I am a licensed clinical social worker, a marriage and family therapist candidate, and soon to be addictions counselor. I also have my master’s in education and Curriculum & Instruction. So in other words, I really like school. My hope is to join the PhD club and get my PhD in either clinical psychology or in Learning Sciences and Human Development. I'm currently an individual couples and family therapist in Denver, Colorado. I specialize in working with trauma, specifically in couples and families, especially as it relates to identity- based trauma and complex PTSD and PTSD. I really love the work that I do because it allows for me to serve a population that is really, really small here in Denver, and be able to hold space for the experiences folks of color experience here specifically, being a minority of a minority.
And many times, I find that I really like working with trauma, especially identity-based trauma, with the clients I have because many of them also identify as children of immigrants or immigrants themselves. So for me as a therapist, I am the proud child of two Ghanaian immigrants who immigrated here in the 80s and they very much so set the path for me to be able to do the work that I am doing today. So I work with a lot of immigrants as well, a lot of children of immigrants, along with a lot of folks of color and folks in the LGBTQIA plus community. So I really enjoy my work.
Dr. Joy: Indeed, thank you so much for sharing more about that. Dr. Oriowo, re-familiarize yourself with the community for those who may not have heard you on one of the multiple times you've been here with us.
Dr. Oriowo: Hey y'all, I'm Dr. Donna Oriowo. I'm a sex and relationship therapist in the Washington DC metro area helping black women feel free, fabulous, and f-d because, you know, I'mma respect the space. I specialize in how colorism and texturism impact mental and sexual health, and really just helping people get back in touch with that pleasure and recenter it in their lives. Right now, that's not what we've been doing, so just trying to help people to get back to center and where they actually want to be, instead of being where they are.
Dr. Joy: I love that. I can already tell this is gonna be such a great conversation. So one of the things I love about being in private practice and just the multiple different ways we can show up in our spaces, we each practice very, very differently, serve different kinds of clients, have a variety of educational backgrounds. And I think as a part of this conversation, we're gonna be talking about things that you wish you knew about being a therapist. Letting the new generations of sisters and people who are considering becoming therapists, or are already on the path, share in some of the wisdom and excitement that we've had as a part of our careers, to helpfully make it a little easier for them as well. We put out a call on our social media channels to ask people what they wish they had known about being a therapist before they became one, and what kinds of things they would like to know. And so we got a wealth of information so I want to share some of those things with you all today and have you expound on those conversations that were started on social.
The first area that came up was around mentorship, which I think is huge, I think especially as black women in the field. Even though, because I operate in a lot of black women therapist spaces, I feel like my world is full of black women therapists, but in the real world, we still make up a very small percentage of people. And so I think mentorship really is important. @breezybee45 wrote: licensing is hard. Get a mentor who can walk you through the process and make sure you're always taking care of yourself. You can't pour from an empty cup. So I'd love to hear from you. Maybe you can get us started, Josephine, in talking about how mentorship has played a role in your life in becoming a therapist, and what kinds of advice you would offer to new therapists or soon to be therapists in terms of finding mentors.
Josephine: I do not think I would be here without my mentors. I don’t think that I would have even an ounce of the confidence that I have without the mentors that I've had. The therapists who have been my mentors, especially the black female therapists I've had, have really taught me that it is not only my knowledge that I've gained in school that I'm bringing into the therapy room, but it's also my lived experience that is so valuable to my clients. And so when I meet with my mentors, who some are in Colorado, some are in other parts of the country, I'm constantly reminded that I'm not in this journey alone and I am not in a spot where I have to figure everything out on my own. I think one thing I wish I knew back in grad school when I started in 2018, was that I don't have to figure everything out by myself. And I think I was in a real complex because I was doing…Fun fact, I did my master’s in social work and my master's in education at the same time in three years. Whew, it was tough. And I really thought that I was just going to have to be fighting systems by myself. Because every quarter, I would have to go and say, these are the classes that I'm taking, it's purposeful, I'm getting both of these degrees for a reason. And I think when I got mentors, they let me know that they were in my corner and I could run things by them, I could really gain a lot of knowledge and prevent a lot of mistakes that maybe they made and I could get further quicker because of the knowledge that they were sharing with me.
Dr. Joy: How did you meet your mentors, Josephine? Where did they come from? Were they professors in your university, or how did you meet them?
Josephine: Gosh, a myriad. One, Cherie, who is near and dear to my heart. She actually reached out to me on Psychology Today because she's in Colorado Springs, Colorado, which is like way south and she was completely full, and she was looking for other black female therapists to refer to. And I kind of mustered up the courage of being like, hey, I see you're doing what I want to do and you're doing it really well, would you mentor me? And I could barely get the words out, and she's like, Josephine, if you just wanted me to mentor, sure. And my whole heart was like, oh my gosh, she's willing to make the time for me. So that's how I met her. I also did a post-master's certificate in marriage and family therapy and so my other mentors I've met mostly through that. Actually, one ended up becoming my LCSW supervisor and she’s also a black woman. There have been some faculty, especially in terms of research that have been mentors, but they've usually come from different pockets. And I think there was a willingness to take me in and make sure that I was okay, that I was surprised by. And I think I would let other therapists or soon to be therapists know this is a field where we're willing to help one another out. I'm getting myself ready to become a supervisor, like an LCSW supervisor, and I'm like, yeah, I want to be able to do and pay it forward the way it was for me.
Dr. Joy: I love that. So the idea of shooting your shot, like you did with this other person in Colorado, seems really important. What about you, Dr. Oriowo?
Dr. Oriowo: Mentorship has been super important in my life. And I would say, to steal the title of this book that comes out June 2023, sisterhood heals! When I think about the mentors that I have, I'm talking about Dr. James, Dr. Ajita, Dr. Mel, Desiré, Dr. Amanda Nicholson, Dr. Lexx, Wilma Collins (?). You, Dr. Joy. I feel like there has been this space of there's the willingness to pour into, as well as be poured into so it feels most mutual. And I will say that mentorship is part of what got me to this point in the first place, not being scared to reach out and take the NO—because sometimes you've got to go through that sea of NOs to get to that one YES. And I have found that there have not been a lot of NOs.
Sometimes they're not yet, sometimes you have to pay for the mentorship that you're seeking. A willingness on my end to do that part, to figure out that part. Or maybe we could do like a mutual sort of mentorship thing because I do believe that we all have something to offer, it's just a matter of how we use that information and how we come back around with it. And yes, there are people who are more seasoned in the field who are more than willing to help you out. But sometimes they also have some different limitations than the ones that we have because we may be different generationally. But I have found mentors on the social work side of the degree. I also have a degree in education and my PhD is in human sexuality, so I have found people in all three of those realms who have been more than willing to offer some level of mentorship.
I would say, though, that on occasion, to whoever might be listening, you might need to go ahead and put some money on it. Because sometimes what you think of as mentorship is not mentorship. You keep doing that pick your brain thing, I'm looking like picking these brains ain't free and you're gonna pick me all the way out. A two-minute question with a two-minute answer is a pick a brain thing. But something that requires more longevity, more in depth knowledge and it's trying to get to something else... Sometimes people move over away from mentorship and they start moving into coaching and they don't want to acknowledge that what they're asking for is coaching that they're trying to get on the free tip. For me, even with my friends, I ask how I can pay them because I know that their time is valuable and they probably would’ve been doing something else if I wasn't asking the question that I was asking.
Dr. Joy: Very good points there, I appreciate you sharing that. And thinking about there are so many different consultation opportunities, so many people offering coaching classes and different kinds of things, so of course, you want to do your research to make sure people are coaching you and they actually have lived the thing that they are trying to teach you to do. But there are lots of different opportunities for us to get our questions answered, whether it be through a mentoring thing or a paid kind of coaching or consultation option. So I know that we all know the grueling process that is often that of licensure. Josephine, your eyes are rolling all the way back in your head! It's just so many steps and so this is the thing that it feels like had the most energy when we talked about it on social. Just because I feel like a lot of us did not know what we were in for in terms of, you think you go to school and it's like, okay, I'm good. But no, there are all these like post degree licensure supervision hours, and like y'all have already talked about, sometimes we have to find people to pay to do those.
Let me just read you a couple of the comments. @krystalgeorgerd wrote: transitioning from a trainee to an associate is a mental hurdle. One minute, you're an amateur and then when you get a job and you're expected to be the expert, it takes a lot of grounding and self-acceptance to know that you're still an amateur that will always be growing and learning through the field. There's a lot of impostor syndrome that comes too as you deal with more difficult cases but eventually as you become more competent, it passes. @sarhaphoebe wrote: the required 3000 hours are a pain, oof! And then @stateofmindjournal wrote: I wasn't prepared for all of the stigma. I also wish someone would have told me that most of the costs came out of your pocket, beyond just the degrees. Every licensee in North Carolina wants me to pay their rate by the hour for my supervised hours. They only allow a small group of students into graduate school where their supervised hours are a part of their degree. I should have gotten a bachelor's in social work so that I could still be making an income while I wait, but lessons learned. So talk to me a little bit about your licensure process, Josephine. And it sounds like you're still having a bit of a licensure process as you work to become a supervisor. Some of the things or words of wisdom that you would offer to people who are kind of in this journey now.
Josephine: You are so right. Yes, my eyes definitely went all the way to the back of my head when you said licensure because I finished my licensed clinical social work hours, 3360 of them, and then I'm doing the hours for the MFT, which is another 2000, and then doing the hours for the licensed addictions counselor, which is another 2000. So I have found that when it comes to licensure, it is a journey that I think makes me a stronger therapist, like it gives me real thick skin in terms of being able to handle the oppressive systems that we operate within. And the silver lining of it is it's really opened the opportunity for me to meet other professionals that I don't think I would have otherwise been able to work with.
My experience in becoming a licensed clinical social worker was unique in the fact that I was working in many different places at the same time. So I was trying to collect all of these hours, which meant that I had the opportunity to learn from so many different professionals. I implore folks working towards licensure to not amount their worth as a therapist to the license. At least in my experience, I thought I was less of a therapist because I didn't have the LCSW yet, but that's just simply not true. You're getting these hours so that you're able to get more experience but there's a reason why you got into graduate school, let's start there. There's a reason why you got whatever employment that you got, or if you're in private practice, there's a reason why you're doing that. There's so much that you can offer and that you can give while you're on your way there.
And when you get there, I threw myself a whole party when I got all my hours because it is a huge accomplishment. Doing it once, doing it twice—doing it three times for me—and it's so crucial to know the steps and know exactly what the licensing agencies are looking for. And being aware of what changes happen. Because in Colorado, the licensing requirements for social work have changed about three times over since I started trying to get my license in 2020. And now working to be a supervisor, luckily, there aren't a ton of requirements for that, but those things constantly keep changing. So I always implore folks to really keep your eyes open. Subscribe to whatever newsletter your licensing agency has so that whenever there's an update, you're always up to date on it. So those are the couple of things I've learned.
Dr. Joy: Thank you for that. And I think it is important to talk about, as therapists, we are licensed in individual states. So as of yet, though, there is some movement to talk about like can we have national licenses? Is there really a need to have this? But as of right now, we are licensed in each individual state. If you want to see clients in Georgia where I am, then you have to have a license from the board of social work, board of psychology, board of marriage and family therapy, to be able to see clients. And if you want to do that then in North Carolina, you have to have a different license. And the states don't all have the same requirements. Some states have like this verbal thing that you have to go and do. Most states have a test that you have to take, but there are lots of different requirements. So that's a great point, Josephine, is to kind of make sure that you know the requirements. Especially if you're somebody who's going to be applying in different states at the same time, you want to make sure you don't miss something because one state requires 1500 hours versus 2000. So I think that is important to point out. What about you Dr. Oriowo? Talk to us a little bit about your process.
Dr. Oriowo: This is such a long time ago. I walked across the stage with a license because I took my tests before I graduated, because you're allowed to do it so many months ahead of graduation. So I went ahead and I was like, well, I might as well go ahead and take it. One, if I fail, then I've got a little grace period to do it again. But I will say this, that number one, strategic thinking is my strength and that was part of my strategy. If I can walk across the stage with my license, then that's one less thing for me to have to worry about when I got my degree in hand, because I will walk across the stage knowing that I'm licensed. And when it came time to do the clinical licensure, the way I was studying, I was just like we study a little bit at a time, we don't cram. I took my time, I read books, but I probably did things in a way that some people don't. I took a practice test first before I began studying. I'm like there's no point in me studying for things that I already know, so let me let the test tell me what I already know, then I can study to my weaknesses and not study to my strengths. I mean, obviously gonna get those strengths anyway, but that was part of my strategy. You're gonna have to do what you do for you.
And same thing when I was doing AASECT certification, just making sure that you understand exactly what the requirements are. Just like Josephine said, don't be playing around, you're gonna find yourself in a world of hurt not knowing what it is you're doing and for where you're doing it. And knowing that certain licenses do not just automatically transfer. Because I think that a lot of people thought that you could just apply and be given reciprocity. New York don't play those games. California don't play those games. In California, you've got to take a law class – stop playing. In New York, they require very specific classes as well that a lot of states do not require so you're gonna have to get that first. And if you want to transfer that license, it's 10 years. You have to do 10 years already as a clinical social worker (because I'm a social worker) in order for that job to even go over there. So I think that a lot of people are not looking when they're doing this thing and sometimes we're in such a rush to get the thing that we're not sitting down to look at, okay, what are the requirements? What do I need to do? What is the best order for me to do this in? As opposed to let me just start and hope I don't have to double back. I find that that is a beautiful, delicious, tremendous waste of time.
Taking the time to sit down and consider what you want, where you want it and also bringing in the why, because I don't think that all of us are fully entrenched in our why. I know some therapists that I look at them, I'm like, wow, you're better than me. They got 10 licenses in 10 different states and for the life of me, I cannot figure out why. Like, what was the purpose behind 10 licenses in 10 states? And if you don't know your why, then maybe pause. Figure out the why, make sure it's in alignment with what it is that you're saying that you want, and then move forward. Because I will say this, I did consider licensing in New York, in California and Georgia. And then I remembered that baby girl been full since 2018. I've been full since 2018, I'm not hurting for clients, why would I get that license in these other states when I can't see nobody? I'm like, could I hire somebody else? Yes. Or, just throwing this out there, I can focus on where I am. Because I love my sisters here in the DMV and we still need stuff. I can let people who are in New York handle New York, and I can handle the DMV. So just throwing that out there as well because I see everybody going for all 50 states and I'm just like, better you than me. Because when it comes time to pay the piper on those renews, not I.
Dr. Joy: I'm glad you brought that up because I do think this is something that I don't think I knew before becoming licensed, is that you have to pay for your license every year. It's not that you pay one time and it's like, okay, it's good for your lifetime. Here in Georgia, we have to pay $250 every year when it is time to renew our license, so let's talk a little bit about the costs and let people know, just kind of generally speaking. Again, I'm in Georgia so those are the numbers I know. It's $250 to renew your psychologist license in Georgia, but your renewal also requires that you have continuing education credits. In Georgia, again, there are 12 hours, I believe, of continuing education units. I'm sorry, it's not every year. We renew on a two-year basis, so every two years, you have to pay $250. Across those two years, you have to also get 12 hours of continuing education credits which you typically also have to pay for. These are courses that you're taking in the community or if you go to a conference and you get CEUs, you're paying for the conference or for whatever the meeting is.
You both talked about the tests that you have to take, so the first step of licensure for most boards is some kind of license. For a psychologist, it is the EPPP, I will not even guess at what those letters mean anymore because I have been so far removed from that. But there is a test that y'all have to take to become licensed social workers, that's the first step. Marriage and family therapists, professional counselors, like everybody has a test they have to take, so you have to pay for the test. I feel like it was maybe $2500, $3000 when I took it in whatever year I took it. But in addition to the tests, y'all have also talked about these prep classes. There are these, at least you're looking at probably $3000 to $5,000 for a prep class, a prep class that gives you these practice tests, practice materials, all of these different things. What other costs am I forgetting that we typically pay for to maintain our licenses?
Josephine: I want to speak to the folks who want to get licensed in different fields in mental health, because that's the process that I'm in right now. It is not cheap to do. And I think a lot of times folks think that when they're an LCSW, an LMFT, and a LAC, it means that things are just going to be rolled in together. In some ways, that's true, but in other ways, that's not. At least in Colorado, you're paying to renew that social work license, you're paying to renew that MFT, you're paying to renew that LAC, all three separate times. All three in Colorado need 40 hours of continuing education every two years and those rollover. So I think in terms of cost, it's important to know how much it is for your specific state. And I think a mentor for me was really helpful because it allowed for me to know, in my state, what I needed.
Another really big thing to think about is the specialized trainings that count for CEUs but also have notoriety (that might be the right word) attached to it. So I'm EMDR trained, I'm considering EMDR certification. I'm also training in Accelerated Experiential Dynamic Psychotherapy. If you have ever heard about it, it's really awesome. And that came with another big price tag. Both of those trainings combined was about $5K. And I knocked out all of my CEUs in each of those, because they had like 40, 50 CEUs with it. But it's really important to know that a lot of times, especially in our field now, it's really important to consider that a lot of times these specialized trainings are also another cost, and things that agencies, sometimes even clients, are looking for when looking for therapists. So I think that's another cost.
Dr. Oriowo: I like to throw in gas money because you've got to drive to some of these trainings. Because all the licensing hours, especially pre-COVID, you had to show up somewhere. Because they were saying that you need a certain amount face to face versus the amount that you can get asynchronous or virtual. I'm in the DC area, so you better start thinking about cost of parking because the parking lots be like $25. And if you're going to a conference, sometimes the overnight parking lots are 60 dang dollars. So did you add that into your money when you were adding up the cost of registration? Because you are going to add that up. And then keeping in mind that some of these conferences, though you pay for the conference registration, it does not necessarily include the CEs. Some of them require you to pay for them CEs separate. And in addition to the financial costs, I would also say there's a mental emotional toll that it's also taking in going through these processes that we're not often thinking about as well. Like you are going to pay the piper one way or the other. So yes, you can pay your money and get these things done, but it's still gonna cost you in time and energy as well. So making sure that you're calculating those costs with the real-life things that are going on in your life at the same time, so that you're able to really consider what that looks like to move forward.
Dr. Joy: Great points. You're talking about like if the conference is in drivable distance, because a lot of them will be maybe on the east coast or the west coast and if you're not on one of those coasts and you've got to fly, you've got to think about where you're going to stay. And then paying for the registration and CEs because they are not always included. The other thing that we didn't talk about was professional liability insurance. You definitely want to make sure you protect all of this hard work that you have done by carrying insurance every year, which covers like should something happen with one of your clients or that your practice that you've built, if you're in private practice. But even if you're not in private practice, you still need to have liability insurance for any clinical setting that you're working in. That is an additional cost. And I think that this is sometimes a difficult point when we talk about barriers to entry in the field. This is, I think, a part that people often miss because look at all the money we just talked about. And so it feels kind of circular because, how am I paying for this if I need to get supervised to actually do the work? And so can y'all talk a little bit about how do people pay for this kind of stuff if you are still in training. Is it that a lot of people are working an additional job? What kinds of things do you need to do to even be able to pay for some of these?
Dr. Oriowo: I had me a second job, I'll say that. For a while I had a second job and that helped me to pay for some of the other things that I really wanted to do. I was also strategic about which jobs I accepted coming out of school. I needed a job that was going to include most of the things that I wanted. So I worked for a government agency when I first got out of school, and I didn't have to worry about the cost of supervision, it was included. I didn't have to worry about those type of things because it was already there. And when you want specialties supervision, now that was something that I used the job that I got to pay for. Which means I also had to make sure I chose a job that was gonna pay me well enough to be able to do that piece of it because I did end up paying for additional supervision from some other folk. And some of it was making sure to have a conversation with them, teaming with them, and sometimes asking, does that thing slide? Because while you might have a sliding scale for clients, do you have a sliding scale for up-and-coming therapists? Because by the time it's all said and done, these things add up.
In the field of sexuality, specifically if you're looking to be an AASECT-certified sex therapist (or educator as I am), sometimes those supervision hours cost $250 per hour. And you need something like 25 individual hours, not even talking about the number of group hours that you may still be required to get. So it can be very cost prohibitive upfront. And I found that talking to people and being like, yo, can jump slide a little bit, are you able to do that? Like no disrespect, but your girl can't afford that. This is what I can do and this is how I can also give back and pay it forward. Because that's what some of the mentors required. They're like, well, if I'm gonna give it to you, how are you going to make sure that you pay this forward? It was all about paying it forward, anyways, it wasn't a hardship for me in that way. But I did have a second job in order to help me to pay for some of that stuff, as well as being strategic in finding the jobs that were also going to help provide some of the hours and things that I needed upfront.
Dr. Oriowo: Thank you so much for that, Dr. Oriowo. More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: I think the other thing that we want to talk about is these supervision hours. You made me think of something, Dr. Oriowo, that I think is often overlooked in looking at job offerings that can cover some of it. And so I will say that a hack for me, even though I loved it and it was what I wanted to go into, but I have found that if you go into college counseling centers or some kind of counseling situation connected to a university or a college. Now, the salary is not often the highest, like you can probably get more in a private practice or whatever, but what I have found is that there are supervisors there who, a part of your work is comped, like they are able to supervise you. And the training experiences I had in college counseling centers also paid for my EPPP licensure test prep. So the things that they can't offer you in salary, they can sometimes make up for with these benefits. You already talked about it, Dr. Oriowo, in finding some of it through the jobs. Are there other hacks that y'all would offer people for how to find lower cost supervision or test prep or things that people may want to consider that they might not have?
Josephine: Well, for me, I learned the hard way with a lot of these things so I think a lot of what I have to share is what I would do differently. I wanted a supervisor who was a black woman, and in Colorado that is very hard to find. So I knew that that was something that I would have to pay for out of pocket. The way that I was able to swing a lot of these trainings was I had multiple jobs at the same time. I was working for a group practice in Colorado Springs which is south, I was working for a college counseling center up north toward the state, along with doing some stuff right where I am in Denver. So I think really knowing how to maximize on communicating what it is that you're needing and reaching out and using networking is really, really huge. I also have found that there are a lot of folks who may not necessarily know the answer themselves, but they know who knows. When I was looking at different job things, I took a job that didn't cover supervision, it didn't cover CEUs, it didn't cover all those things, so paying out of pocket was what I had to do. But I found that if I knew the person who had also gone through that, that they would be able to support me regarding my specific environment and community that I was working in. So I think finding folks locally is probably really salient and really important as well.
Dr. Joy: Do you have anything else to add there, Dr. Oriowo?
Dr. Oriowo: Just agreed. For me, this takes it back to the same point that I made earlier. Just slow down. Consider what it is that you're doing, why you're doing, where you're going, all of these things, what you're wanting, so that you can strategically plan. And so that you don't empty all your pockets all at once. I'm really great at the strategic thinking, I'm less great at the execution. But anyone that knows me knows that the execution game be looking mad good on this end, but that's because I break everything down into small steps, it is built into my schedule. So just taking the time to really consider what it is that you're wanting and what is also priority because sometimes one thing can be used to pay for the next thing. I used my license as a therapist and the job that I got from that to help me pay for the clinical. I got the clinical and I was able to commence a job where I should be made into a supervisor, and they sent me to the class for supervisors, so that didn't come out of my pocket. But when I got that, I stayed on with them for a time, but I also took on a couple of people who needed supervision, at a lower rate, but something that would add a little something back to my pockets. And I parlayed that money to start putting away toward my AASECT certification hours.
I mean, sometimes they'd be saying that you’re robbing Peter to pay Paul—more like I settled my debt with Paul and I'm gonna keep on working because I'm gonna use this money to now get Peter. So I did mine in that way. And that's also how I ended up paying for EMDR as well. I calculated how much it would cost for me to do the EMDR process because I really wanted to, and how many clients did I need to see in private practice for how long, to pay for that? So we're talking about looking at the date, when do you want it by? Now how many clients do you need to see in this much time in order to make this happen? So I chose what I wanted, I backtracked it, I did the math, and then I was like, alright, cool, this is the date that I have to start seeing this many clients at this rate in order to make this thing happen, while still being able to keep a roof over my head and food in my mouth.
Dr. Joy: I love that, thank you for breaking it down for us like that. Something that you both have also touched on is the mental health tools. You talked about it a little bit, Dr. Oriowo, in terms of the toll of just trying to keep track of all of this stuff. But I think the other thing is the mental health toll of just being a therapist. Again, I think that's a lot we don't always know what we're getting into when we become therapists. And a part of training is teaching you how to undergo these difficult conversations with clients, and how to not take it home, and all of these different kinds of things. Some of our social media comments included, so @askbiancasig wrote: how exhausting it can be, in that sometimes, I just don't want to talk. Which I think is very real. You hear a lot of therapists say stuff like that. Kindly Beat It also wrote: I didn't expect to have so much countertransference and to feel the pain as I've struggled with compartmentalization. So I think it is important to remember we are actual humans who are operating as therapists, we're not therapeutic robots. And so some of the times, stuff that our clients say, we may have personal experience with and it really is a process of learning how to separate your stuff from your clients' stuff so that you can be there to support them. Dr. Oriowo, can you talk a little bit about some of the mental health impact and what kinds of things future therapists need to be aware of how to take care of themselves as they also hold space for clients.
Dr. Oriowo: I am a person that believes that proper self-care comes with great self-knowledge. If you don't know yourself, it is very difficult to take care of yourself because you don't know you well enough to know what you need. Sometimes we learn by trial and error, but sometimes, they say “know better but we don't do better.” We know better but we don't change up what we're doing. So one thing that I learned is that I had to cap how many clients I was actually seeing in a day and in a week. There was a magic number where I felt good about what I was doing and not overtaxed. Which means that I was not emailing or looking at stuff and had a quiet time at the time that I needed it. I don't like seeing morning clients. First thing in the morning, I'm not trying to talk to nobody at 7am and 8am. Yes, some of these therapists out here, they be doing it, I'm like that's your ministry, that's not my ministry. So for me and for mine, the day started at noon until recently. Because now I'm like, oh, I like a 9am – every other Monday, not every single Monday. But I used that knowledge of myself to create a schedule that felt good for me and so that I wasn't drained.
And I definitely agree with what you said. I'm a person first so some of that has been making sure that I'm actually properly fed and hydrated. Some of it is making sure I'm appropriately rested. And sometimes looking at the chaos. If there is chaos in my life, I have to determine, am I really in the best position to be doing the work that I'm doing right now, today, in this moment? Do I need to reschedule people? Do I need to move people? So for me, I like seeing clients on Monday and I'm at a point in my practice now where I only see Monday clients. I don't do therapy the rest of the week, I capped my day at seven. Once I start getting into that eight, nine territory, don't feel good no more. And after every two to three clients, I have an hour break. So yes, it might take me the entire day to do the therapy day, but I'm taking regular breaks for my mental and emotional wellbeing.
I talk to black women so if something touches me a little extra close, I modulate what I'm going to say next. And I have to ask myself, is this for you or is it for them? I ask that question and that helps me every single time. But I would also say that another way to simply just modulate, and I'll give it with a baby story. Back when I first started private practice, I took any client that would have me. I was seeing children, I was seeing adults, I was seeing people of color. I saw black people, I saw white people. I was seeing everybody. And it wasn't until I niched that I stopped feeling so drained. Because the point is, I don't like working with kids. The kids were not the problem – I didn't like that they came with parents. I didn't like working with their parents because it required extra work and extra energy that was often not paid for. And it felt like there was no real return other than to say, hey, you keep undoing the work that I do in the therapy room with your kid, like please stop. So I stopped seeing kids because I knew that wasn't my ministry.
I did not want to spend an abundance of my day seeing white folk and trying to get them to understand that you saying the N word to me might lead to us having to fight. Because in that moment, I am a therapist, I'm not your therapist. We could get down with the get down – call me an N one more time. So I had to realize that I needed to niche in. And maybe this is an unpopular opinion in some way, but I believe that my clients also pour into me as I pour into them. I believe that there is reciprocity there. And that the reciprocity does not come with the payment, but it comes with how they show up and see you as a person and you are seeing them as a person. The therapeutic relationship should be a reciprocal relationship. It should still be mostly heavy sided on one end, but it shouldn't feel like I'm a dumping ground either. I do not do dumping ground therapy, I am not your place to lay all your stuff and leave. I'm a processing center. As in, you put it down, we're gonna process it, but I'm gonna give it back. That stuff is not mine. And having to make sure that I remember that it is not mine. But niching down helped me to also feel a lot less drained in doing this work.
Dr. Joy: Thank you for that. What about you, Josephine?
Josephine: This is a lesson that I'm learning as I'm going along. Because I think that with getting all of these hours done, I wanted to get them done as quickly as possible. I did not want to be working on these hours for years and years and years on end. So I burned myself out, getting those hours done. Colorado is one of the few states where you can open a private practice before you're fully licensed as long as you have a supervisor. So I was working in my private practice, working in a bunch of different environments, seeing anyone – well, mostly anyone – who would come in the door because I wanted to get those hours done. I highly recommend that that not be the process. Because once I got to the LCSW, I was barely able to enjoy it because I was so tired from what I had put myself through in those last two years. So I think in terms of not burning out or being able to make sure, I definitely agree with Dr. Donna, that niching is so important.
And also knowing that just because someone else's client load looks one way does not mean that it has to look that way for you. Especially in the environment that I am in, I see some white clients, but they have to be a really good fit for me. Like they have to really be feeding into the work that I do. And I say straight up to my clients, if you say anything racist, homophobic, xenophobic, Islamophobic, if there's a phobic or an ism at the end, you are not going to work out. Because I have to protect my energy and I have to protect my wellbeing as a therapist in order to be able to serve everyone else that's on my caseload along with you. I think for black women who are coming into being therapists, there is nothing wrong if you just want to see black women. Frankly, if I could go back and do it all over again, that's probably the way I would go back and do it.
I also think that there's a lot of worth in being able to learn how to say no. Not only say no in terms of clients – being able to say no if you're working in an agency or if you're in a training and there's something that is actually harmful, or another professional says something that actually is more harmful than helpful. Being able to say that is not okay with me. So I think that's how I protect a lot of my energy now, is by learning how to say no and being able to hold that space. And really prioritize what's important to me. I find that teaching brings me a lot of joy. Before being a therapist, I was a teacher, so coming back in and teaching at the graduate level, I find that brings me a lot of peace and a lot of joy. So I'm going to put more time into that than to put my time into trying to fill up my caseload.
I would say, especially if folks are working toward hours, the hours can't come before the mental health and the wellbeing. If it takes you two and a half years rather than it taking two years, if it takes you four years rather than two years, that's fine. Because the hope is that you're able to get to the finish line in one piece and able to continue doing the work after you finish the hours. Because if you get to that point where you're so burned out that you can't even continue after the hours, then what was the point of doing the thing? I find that a lot of times, I have to remind myself that it's not okay for me to burn myself out and I'm worth taking care of. To the point now where I stick almost pretty strictly to 55-minute sessions, so that I have five minutes to go to the restroom, grab a bite to eat, stand outside for a few seconds, before I come back in. I know as a person, I have to replenish myself. I can do eight in a row, that's not a big problem for me, but I need that 40 minutes that is comprised into those five minutes to be able to decompress, breathe before I go into the next one.
Dr. Joy: Very important considerations, thank you for sharing that. More from our conversation after the break.
Dr. Joy: You both have thriving private practices. And so this, I know, is the thing that nobody teaches us in grad school. I am surprised. I feel like more schools are adding in some of these kinds of business like or opening up a practice, but for a very long time, there has been no instruction on what to do after you're actually licensed. There's lots of preparation about how to see clients but nobody teaches you how to actually run a practice, and so some of the comments that we got online. @rayyonicole wrote: the business side of having your own practice. If you desire to have your own practice, learn about business. Engage with counsel groups, get connected with local counseling groups and the state board. And then Sharon Mosely @thefittalk wrote: you need to understand the business side, not just therapy. Which I think both of you would agree with. So talk to me a little bit about how you actually learned how to have a business and what suggestions you would offer to sisters who are interested in opening a practice.
Josephine: I found that it is not only important to learn the knowledge for yourself, but also know who are the experts of the things that you don't know. For example, I have an incredible bookkeeper and an incredible attorney who I turn to and I say, hey, I don't know how this works so help me figure out how it works. I don't think that owning a business is about being the expert of everything. I think owning a business is about knowing who to ask for help in the things that you are not an expert in. I focus on the therapy, I focus on the consulting, I focus on the curriculum-writing and all those things that I was trained in, but when I'm able to extend and ask for that help, that also prevents burnout for me.
I think another piece of running a private practice is trial and error. Knowing that there is a huge part of knowing that things that you try in the beginning don't necessarily have to be what you stick with in the long haul. If you want to see 20 clients a week and you change your mind and say you want to see 15 clients a week, and the math maths up, then do it. If you realize, okay, I have capacity to see more. No one in private practice should feel like just because they started doing something one way, they have to continue doing it that way.
The way that I run a private practice now being an LCSW is not going to be the way I run a private practice when I'm in a doctoral program – which I'd love to talk to y'all about. Mentorship, boom, it's a thing in the moment! And the way that I do it after I have a PhD is going to be very different. So knowing that as we grow and evolve as humans, our needs are naturally going to change and that's okay. And knowing who the experts are. There are tons of folks, even on Instagram, on Facebook, on TikTok, who know and share a lot of knowledge of things that we can prevent if we look out for the resources. And as business owners, it's important to know that answers are not going to come to us, we have to go and find them.
Dr. Joy: I know you've got a lot to say there, Dr. Oriowo.
Dr. Oriowo: Dr. Ajita Robinson, I joined at the time it was called Private Practice Academy and I learned what I needed to learn right there. It had a built-in community field, she was already an expert with like seven or eight figure private practice. Who else is going to teach you? And the way that she teaches. She thinks about what it takes for you to actually learn this information and for you to do this in a way that is going to be sustainable in the long run. Because let's be real, some of these private practices out here that sprung up in COVID are not private practices. They are therapists who just happen to practice privately. Your business is not a business, boo. It's not a business, boo. I'm looking like some people are running around here, not an LLC to be seen. Just a name. And the money is deposited into their private account where they don't have any insurance. And I'm just like, all that it's going to take is one client, one, to sue you and they get to take everything out of your bank account. Because you don't have a business account. I'm saying those basic business things, these are not things that we grew up just knowing, nor is it just things that we just got out of our social work or mental health counseling programs.
They didn't teach us how to be business owners, they taught us how to do therapy. And remembering that you still need someone that has expertise that is different from yours means that you go find the people who have business acumen. Don't just be asking your friend who also doesn't have an LLC, and who is putting money in her bank account, or telling their clients to just cash at me. Look, I done heard and seen some things. I found that being a part of the Private Practice Academy really helped me to, number one, get my foundations right. So that when I decided I was going from a solo practice to a group practice, it wasn't a thing. And I definitely agree with what Josephine said. I have people who know what they are doing. So my accountant knows what she is doing. They focus on private practices actually, so I've been able to just be like, cool, this is what I want to do next. They're like, if you want to hire this thing, you're gonna need to figure out this thing first. I'm like, *[inaudible 0:53:51] I'm gonna figure that out and I'mma talk to an expert so that I can do what I need to do.
So if you're having a business, you're gonna reinvest into your business. The same way that you invested into the knowledge base that you have to be a great therapist, don't be shocked about that money coming out of that account when it's time to learn this business stuff. I'm not saying you have to go get an MBA, but certainly you have to be willing to put up more than $50 a month to get the thing that you need from these other people who have an expertise. I have found that people be wanting something for nothing. They don't want to put time in, and they don't want to put money in, but they still want to be able to reap all the benefits and get where they want to go. But I will say that I feel like I got my money back from what I invested with Dr. Ajita and her crew, simply because of the way that they sort of outlined everything. That's what really worked for me.
Now I had tried some other ones. I'm not gonna name them because, you know, ain’t trying to hurt anybody's feelings. But I did try some other ones and for me those were – I call that lesson learned money. As in I learned me some lessons. I learned that you're not the one for me, that your approach does not work with what I need, and I needed to do a better job of vetting according to what I knew about me and not just what I know about this program. And I will say that this is lifelong learning.
As your business grows and changes, you have to be willing to continue to invest in that way. So right now, I'm a part of two masterminds that are focused on business. I'm also in one that is focused on marketing. This is how I am learning so that I can continue to pour into my practice in a way that doesn't take things away from me. If you want your business to be a business and not a hobby and be gone by— they say we're in a recession. Recession-proofing yourself also requires you to have some business acumen and that means that you're gonna have to put some money up or you're gonna have to shut up.
Dr. Joy: Such important points. I really want people to take that seriously because we go to school for so long, we pay so much money for all of the licenses, all the supervision, all the stuff, and then if you do not protect yourself and your interests by not setting up your business appropriately, it can all be gone very, very quickly. It is very important to have an LLC or some other entity outside of your name, so that your business is protected and it is not connected to yourself, you know, your family and your house is kind of compromised. Making sure that you have the separate business account, talking with a bookkeeper. Talking with an attorney, like there's so much paperwork that has to go into your practice. So all of your forms and all of those things, you need to make sure that you have stuff done correctly. And you can take the easy route. What you're hearing from us, though, is that it is not advisable because it is easily coming in and then it can just as easily be gone. So do make sure that you're taking the steps, like Josephine said, even if it takes a little longer to make sure you're doing things correctly so that you're not just building, you know, not a solid business. You want to actually build a business with a great foundation. I really appreciate all the things that y'all have shared.
We have talked a lot about money today in terms of investing and all the different things. But I have found that this is a very difficult thing, especially when we start private practices. Some of these conversations around money about like how much to charge, and am I really worth charging $200 an hour? Am I skilled enough? Can you all say a little bit about some of the conversations you had to negotiate for yourselves around money and in getting to a place where you feel comfortable with your fees and asking for your fees in your practice?
Dr. Oriowo: I had to be honest about what I know I was already bringing. Being humble is not always being honest. I want to make sure I say that because sometimes we be trying to humble ourselves right out of what it is that we already know about the skill sets that we bring, as well as understanding which population it is that we're serving. If you understand these things, you will price yourself accordingly. And that is not to say that you've got to charge $500,000 an hour or that means you don't like yourself. Because I'm not saying that either, right? I'm saying know who it is that you're targeting. I call my client avatar, her name Danielle or Britney, depending on which day of the week it is. And she's dark skinned, and she's this and she does this type of job, but she brings in this type of money and she has these types of problems. I've done the work on my avatar and I'm like, you know what my avatar can afford? Me.
So for me right now, individual therapy is $250 a session. Couples is $350 a session. I also know what I bring. I know the work that I'm doing. And I also know that when people pay, they pay attention. And that's something that I learned on the business side, that's not something that you learn on the other side. I know that some therapists, they have rock bottom prices, that have problems filling their practice and they have not considered that the problem might be those rock bottom prices. You're telling everybody and their mom it's only $20 to do therapy with you, and they don't value $20. There's also a psychology behind the pricing. If the pricing is too low, people think it's not worth it and they're going to be looking for like, well, who costs more than you because I don't trust that the work that you're doing is good work if it's that low.
I would say that number one, yes, consider some psychology behind pricing. But ultimately, I did my numbers backwards. How many sessions do I want to have in a week? What feels good for me? How much money do I want to make in a year? How many sessions is that? How much do I need to charge in order to do that? And when you do the math, the math will tell you the cost per session and how many sessions. Especially when you’re considering how many days off per week or how many weeks off per year you want to take. We close from Christmas to new year every year, we're off for things like Juneteenth. I calculated all of those things, I'm like okay, these are no longer therapy days. Plus, I want two-week vacation in September to celebrate me and Mr. Boo thing getting married. So I added up the weeks left. I'm like, ooh, let's count two more for possible sickness. So out of 52 weeks, I subtracted and said, okay, this is how many weeks that I can conceivably work. And then I did the math on, okay, and how much do you want to earn? Now divide. And figure out the numbers until the numbers make some actual sense. If it felt too high, recalculate it. If it felt too low, I recalculated, but I let maths and what I know about me and my household expenses also guide me.
Josephine. This is a place of real learning for me. Because starting a private practice pretty soon out of grad school, I felt like oh, I don't have 10 years of experience so I can't charge that amount. And all those things which, yes, I'm still battling within myself. However, I had to realize that my clients are not just getting me. They're getting me and everything that I've learned and all the resources that I have, and all the networks that I have to be able to support them. And as someone who does a lot of couples and family therapy, it usually means I'm giving referrals for individual therapists, I'm giving referrals for case management resources, I'm giving referrals for all sorts of things that come with me.
And I'm learning that even as I go into supervising. I can't discount myself as a supervisor because of worrying, oh, what if they don't want to pay or what if it's too much. I have to look at what it is that I can afford and not only think about what is it that I'm going to be able to make to survive, but what I'm going to be able to make to actually have a life and thrive. And be able to enjoy all the work that I’ve put in to actually be able to take a vacation. I didn't take a vacation for the first time until last December and it was my honeymoon. And I had to learn that, after that honeymoon, I was like I can't go another 20 some odd years, however old I am, without taking another vacation. That's just not sustainable.
Especially coming out of the field newer, I think it can be a harder hurdle to go over. However, we've invested so much in ourselves that we are worth our clients' time. We are worth our clients' effort, we are worth the emotional, the mental and the financial investments from our clients. And I think something that is really important to think about is the cost of living where you are. Because the cost of living in one place is going to be very different from the cost of living in another. And knowing that cost of living should be a part of what you're thinking about when you're setting your rates. Along with inflation. If everything else is getting more expensive, duh, you should be getting more expensive too.
Dr. Oriowo: And I want to add something because, I mean, you were just singing it. You also cannot serve well if you are hungry. You can't serve well if you're thirsty. And you owe it to your clients, as well as to yourself, to make sure that the money that you are charging makes sense. Because if you are going to be in therapy but then wondering how you're gonna pay your electricity, then whatever pricing you're probably doing is already unsustainable. If you can have a full week… I heard some people say 45 clients a week. So if you're seeing 40, 45 people a week and you are still wondering how you're gonna pay the light bill. If you're still worrying about those things, who are you serving well when you are half distracted in therapy because you're wondering how you're supposed to support yourself? Now, I'm not saying go live outside your means. Like maybe don't buy the $5 million home if you don't even make $200,000 a year. I mean, simple stuff like that. But at the same time, make sure that you are thinking sustainably. And part of the sustainability is also you. This is airplane type knowledge, like those airplane announcements. You have to put your mask on before you help others. How can you serve from your overflow when your cup is empty? You have to work on filling your cup first and then get the overflow that you need to serve your clients from there.
Josephine: I very quickly also want to add that good mentors are going to remind you to do this. Good mentors are going to challenge you when you're not doing this. Mine have looked me in the face and said you're working how many hours a week, and you're making how much an hour, and you're sleeping how many hours? They will give me the epitome black woman look of "absolutely heck not." Even my supervisors and my mentors who are white or not black also give me a real side eye that I need when I am overworking myself because I'm prone to doing that. So I think surrounding yourself with folks who will hold you accountable to the things that you want to do, and taking care of yourself, is really important too.
Dr. Joy: Oh my gosh, such incredible information, y'all. I have so much more I want to talk to you all about but unfortunately, we just do not have time today. I do want people to know where they can contact you if they have additional questions, or want to share the excitement that they get from listening to this episode. Josephine, can you tell us, where can we find you online? What's your website as well as any social media handles you'd like to share?
Josephine: Most of my social media handles are @TheAmpawPC. Ampaw Psychotherapy & Consulting is my private practice, so I'm on Instagram, I'm on Pinterest, I'm on Facebook, I'm on LinkedIn, so you can find me at all those places. Also, my website is the same, AmpawPC.com. Feel free to reach up.
Dr. Oriowo: Y'all can find me on Instagram and TikTok, especially because I'm very active on those spaces @Dr.DonnaOriowo. And you can hit up DonnaOriowo.com and from there, it will direct you to almost anywhere you need to be. So I gotchu! But definitely hit me up on Instagram. And you can also slide into my DMs, but if you say you want to pick my brain, I might ignore you.
Dr. Joy: Thank you so much, both of you. Absolutely will be making sure to include all of that in the show notes. Thank y'all so much for sharing your time and expertise with us today, I really appreciate it.
I'm so glad Dr. Oriowo and Josephine were able to join me for this conversation. To learn more about their work, be sure to visit the show notes at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/session299. And make sure to keep your eyes peeled for part two of this conversation. If you enjoyed it, make sure to text two of your girls right now and tell them to check out the episode. If you're looking for a therapist in your area, check out our therapist directory at TherapyForBlackGirls.com/directory.
And if you want to continue digging into this topic or just be in community with other sisters, come on over and join us in the Sister Circle. It's our cozy corner of the internet designed just for black women. You can join us at Community.TherapyForBlackGirls.com. This episode was produced by Fredia Lucas and Ellice Ellis, and editing was done by Dennison Bradford. Thank y'all so much for joining me again this week. I look forward to continuing this conversation with you all real soon. Take good care.