What do Luke Skywalker, Harry Potter and The Karate Kid have in common? They all triumphed with the help of amazing mentors. And while it might not be realistic to expect your mentor to be of the same caliber as Obi-Wan, Yoda, Dumbledore, or Mr. Miyagi, they can still be instrumental in your personal and professional development.
Therapists and other behavioral health practitioners, in particular, can reap enormous benefits from mentorship. As an example, 77 percent of women practitioners agree mentorship programs are critical to career success.
In this article, we discuss how you and your practice can benefit from a mentor, different types of mentorship arrangements, and how you can go about finding the right one for you.
- Improving your practice with a mentor
- Types of mentorship
- Finding the right mentor
Improving Your Practice With A Mentor
As a therapist, you provide validation, encouragement, guidance, and inspiration to your clients. And just like your clients, you also need this type of support. This is especially true when it comes to the daunting task of managing and improving your own practice.
1. Guidance and Support
Mentors can provide you with guidance and support on various aspects of your job, including clinical practice, ethical considerations, and career and business development. Mentorship provides an opportunity for you to learn from experienced practitioners who have a wealth of knowledge and insights because of their years of experiences, successes, and challenges. They can also offer advice on how to build a growing private practice (perhaps to turn it into a group practice), manage ethical dilemmas, and maintain work-life balance.
By learning under the wing of experienced practitioners, you can gain a deeper understanding of the profession and develop your own professional identity. Mentorship can also provide emotional support if you ever feel overwhelmed or burned out. A mentor can serve as a sounding board for your concerns, provide a safe space to vent, and offer encouragement and validation. Additionally, mentors can help develop resilience and coping skills to deal with the emotional demands of the job.
2. Skill Development
Mentors can offer feedback on your clinical practice, helping to identify areas where you can improve your techniques or approaches. Mentorship helps develop clinical skills and effective practice management, such as guidance on how to conduct assessments, diagnose mental health disorders, and develop treatment plans. They can also help improve your communication skills, such as active listening, empathy, and non-judgmental communication.
Through mentorship, you can learn new techniques and interventions, stay up-to-date with the latest research, and receive feedback on clinical work.
3. Grow Your Network
Mentors can introduce you to other professionals in the field, opening up opportunities for collaboration, learning, and professional development. Mentorship also builds professional networks and connections with others in the field. This is especially important if you work within a niche area of behavioral health. Introductions can be made to other therapists, researchers, and experts in the field, and provide opportunities to collaborate on projects, research, and presentations.
By expanding your professional network, you can increase your visibility and credibility in the field, which leads to new growth and opportunities.
4. Personal and Professional Growth
Many times, personal and professional growth go hand in hand. Growing personally can influence your professional growth just as professional growth can influence you personally. Mentors can play a critical role in defining your personal and professional goals, and offer support as you work towards achieving them.
5. Reduce Burnout
The reported increase of anxiety and depression in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic fueled an exponential increase in the demand for mental health services. And many therapists are struggling to meet all of their clients’ needs as a shortage of psychiatrists continues. This shortage has led to an increase in burnout among the behavior health services community. Mentorship and connecting therapists with one another reduces these feelings of isolation and burnout. They also provide guidance on how to mitigate feelings of burnout and how to manage should it ever come up.
Types Of Mentorship
Mentorship isn’t a one-size-fits-all endeavor. What works for one therapist may not work for another. For that reason, there are several different mentorship models that you can use based on your personality, preference, personal, and professional goals.
One-on-one mentorship: This model involves a single mentor working with a single mentee. The mentor provides direct guidance, support, and feedback to the mentee, helping them to develop their skills and knowledge.
Group mentorship: This model involves a group of mentees working with a single mentor. The mentor provides guidance and support to the group as a whole, helping them to develop their skills and knowledge. Through this model, mentees are often also connected with one another, further creating a sense of community and support.
Peer mentorship: This model involves two or more peers working together to provide mentorship and support to each other. This model can be particularly beneficial for therapists who are just starting their careers and who may not have access to an experienced mentor.
Online mentorship: This model involves a mentor and mentee working together virtually. This can be particularly useful for therapists who live in remote areas or who have limited access to experienced mentors.
Finding The Right Mentor
Congrats! You’ve decided you want a mentor. Now what? Where do you even begin? It can be overwhelming and frankly a bit intimidating to find the right mentor. But, if you have a clear understanding of how a mentor can help you and are focused on what you want to get out of the experience, it can be easier than you think.
How To Connect With Other Therapists
Surely you’re not the only therapist that wants to connect with other mental health professionals, right? Connections are everywhere, you just need to know where to look.
Networking: Attending conferences, workshops, and other professional development events can be a great way to meet other professionals in the field. These events provide opportunities to network with other therapists and to find potential mentors. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) Meetings & Events calendar is always a great place to start. Researching local events will give you the chance to connect with other professionals close to you, as well.
Professional organizations: Joining a professional organization in the behavioral health space, especially one that focuses on your chosen area of expertise, can provide access to a wide range of resources including mentorship programs. Many professional organizations offer mentorship programs that can help therapists to connect with experienced professionals in the field. The APA is a great example in addition to local behavioral health organizations.
Online resources: The number of online resources that you can use to find a mentor is seemingly endless. These resources include professional networking sites (think LinkedIn) and mentorship programs offered by professional organizations, such as Mindset Partners.
Social media: Social networking sites like Facebook and Instagram are great ways to connect with other therapists. Many are marketing their practices and services online, which makes it easy to engage. There are also groups and communities, like The Group Practice Exchange, you can join.
Qualities You Want In A Mentor
Every person will have different criteria they will look for when choosing a mentor depending on what their goals are for having one. But, there are qualities that all great mentors tend to share. Below is your ideal mentor checklist:
- Desirability: First and foremost – and this may seem obvious, but is worth noting – a mentor should want to mentor. Mentorship is a partnership, and just like any relationship, it needs to work both ways. Otherwise, you’ll feel like you’re pulling teeth when it comes to asking for advice and guidance.
- Expertise and experience: Great mentors have extensive knowledge and experience in their field. Pay close attention to your potential mentor’s experience as behavioral health is incredibly nuanced. Also, ask yourself, “Is this person where I want to be in my future?” They may have the experience you are looking for, but if they aren’t in a place in their career where you can also see yourself, it’s best to keep looking.
- Empathy: Great mentors are able to put themselves in your shoes and understand your perspectives, needs, and concerns.
- Active listening and good communication: Mentors, regardless of what industry they’re in, are a lot like therapists to their mentees. And just like a therapist, active listening is an important quality to look for as it shows they are taking the time to fully understand your questions, concerns, and goals. They have strong communication skills and are able to clearly and effectively convey information in the most receptive way for you.
- Supportive: Great mentors are supportive and encouraging, providing necessary resources, feedback, and motivation to succeed. They are generous with their time, knowledge, and resources, and are committed to helping you achieve your goals.
- Honesty and constructive feedback: You don’t want your mentor to sugarcoat things for you. Mentors should provide constructive feedback that helps you improve your skills and achieve your goals.
- Humility and open-mindedness: If you want to mentor, it’s likely that you inherently value knowledge and are constantly learning and evolving yourself. In that way, great mentors are humble, recognize they are not perfect, and know there is always more to learn. They are open-minded and willing to consider different perspectives, approaches, and ideas.
- Patience: A self-serving mentor might not have the patience you need. A true two-way mentorship requires your mentor to be patient, understand that progress takes time and that setbacks and failures are a normal part of the learning process.
Don’t Make These Mistakes When Choosing A Mentor
Equally important in the process of choosing a mentor is knowing what not to do. Some common mistakes to avoid when choosing a mentor include:
- Not clearly defining your goals
- Not thoroughly researching potential mentors and vetting your options
- Not assessing compatibility and overlooking the fact there may be a clash of personalities
- Not establishing clear expectations, like frequency and duration of meetings, and specific goals and outcomes
- Choosing a mentor solely based on their success
- Not being open to feedback and constructive criticism – this is a learning experience and taking things personally will hinder your growth
How To Ask Another Therapist To Be Your Mentor
This is likely the most intimidating part of finding a mentor. What if you put in all this work, ask them if they will be your mentor and they say no?
Luckily, almost half of mental health practitioners are open to becoming a mentor to other mental health professionals.
The first step is to reach out to your potential mentor and ask to set up some time to discuss. You will want to have enough time to articulate your intentions and goals. Additionally, it’ll be useful for the mentor to understand exactly why you’ve sought them out specifically. It doesn’t hurt to sprinkle in a little flattery either.
Overall, you want to acknowledge and respect the person’s time. Demonstrate in one way or another that you’re willing to put in the work on your end. Be clear that you’d be grateful for the opportunity and that you appreciate their consideration.
If you need a little inspiration, Yale University has examples for asking someone you know and don’t know to be a mentor.
Finding a mentor can feel like an overwhelming endeavor. But, with the right partnership, you’re guaranteed to improve yourself, your practice, and ultimately your client’s experience with you.
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