Midlife Grad School Grad Goes For Brass Ring

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Midlife Grad School Grad Goes For Brass Ring

I have been given the opportunity to be a guest blogger for the Practice of the Practice website. This is an honor I’m really excited about, as it gives me the platform to talk about my journey into Private Practice, that started even before I went back to school in mid-life. This will be a 12 part series (one article a month), that will break down my experience, both the wins and the losses, as I have come to be where I am today. I am in no way at the end of the road in my pursuit to have a successful private practice, but I feel I have learned a lot in short time and hope to be of service to you, the reader, as I take you through these experiences with me. 

Making a Tough Choice

For me, going back to school to be a therapist was a decision that was born out of frustration and burnout in my former career. I was in the IT world for two decades and thought it would be all I would ever do. Then, in 2009, I was let go from a company that I had worked for for the last five years, because they decided to outsource their IT infrastructure. This was something I seemed to have to deal with over and over again, something had to change.

I could get going looking for a new IT related job, which I always seemed to eventually find, or I could do something different. I really had an urge to change things up in a drastic way and I had always been intrigued by therapy, especially couple therapy. Besides the job loss, I had also just ended my second marriage, which by all standards was very short. She and I had tried Couples Counseling, as I had with my first wife, but had very little success in both instances. Why then would I want to be a therapist?

Although Couples Counseling had never worked for me, I was so curious about why. I thought there must be a method that does work, or maybe not. But, what I had experienced just left me wanting some answers. I decided I was going to do it. I signed up for classes and for financial aid for the summer semester at my local community college, and I was off and running. Chasing a new dream that seemed nearly impossible at the time.

Staying In School Wasn’t Easy

As difficult as the decision was to go back to school, in some respects, staying in school began to be an even more difficult decision. Once the excitement of being back in a learning environment and taking all kinds of fun classes had subsided, I was left with the reality that this endeavor was going to take years and cost a fortune. I hadn’t really bothered to calculate how long it would take to get my graduate degree and I had no idea what college, especially graduate school, would cost.

I also realized that if I was going to finish this degree, in any reasonable time period, I wasn’t going to be able to work full time anymore. This would mean that I would have to find a source of income that would allow me the flexibility to go to school, when classes were scheduled, while working when I could in between. Not having any idea what kind of job this would be, and not knowing how I was going to afford all of this, left me feeling like giving up and just finding a full time job in my old field.

I’ve always remembered this moment because it was such a turning point for me. I almost did what was prudent and responsible; I always had up to this point in my life. Everything was telling me that I needed to quit this pipe dream and get a real job. In looking back, I cannot remember why I decided to forge ahead on my new path. But, I am so grateful that I did.

Graduate School…Finally!

After four straight semesters in community college, I was able to transfer to the University of South Florida to pursue a degree in Psychology. After seven straight semesters at USF I graduated with a BA in Psychology, took the GRE, and applied to the Rehab and Mental Health Counseling program at USF. I was interviewed and accepted into the Master’s program there.

My first day of graduate school seemed like it was a lifetime in coming. I couldn’t believe I was finally going to pursue the degree that would help launch my new career. Everyone I was going to school with now had roughly the same ambition; to be a therapist in some capacity. I was home.

How Many Of You Plan To Be In Private Practice?

As my classes got under way I would often hear the same question from professor after professor as they tried to get to know their new students. How many of you plan to be in Private Practice? Usually almost all of the hands would go up. How many of you plan to work for an agency of some sort? One or two hands would go up. This scenario would repeat itself time after time in class after class. I thought, ‘How do these agencies survive if no one ever goes to work for an agency’? I also thought, ‘Wow there is going to be a lot of competition out there in Private Practice’.

Is There Another Way?

My classes focused on everything having to do with Mental Health, but talked very little about what it might be like to start your own practice. Every now and then a professor, who had a practice of their own, would feed us a little tidbit and I would eat it right up. I wanted to know more but, frankly, did not know what questions to ask. More and more, it seemed like in order to get our supervised clinical hours, we would have to take a job at an agency, get licensed, and then consider private practice. I really didn’t know if there was another way.

Thankfully, one of my classes provided us an opportunity to ask questions to established mental health professionals in the field when they visited our class one evening. One former graduate of our program talked about how she went straight into her practice after graduation and was able to get licensed that way. Aha! It can be done! I was so encouraged by that. If she could do it, why couldn’t I?

A New Course

Now that I knew that I could go into Private Practice after Grad school it changed the way I viewed the rest of my time there. I worked harder to seek out other professionals who did the same thing, and found out more information about how I could make it happen. It changed how I viewed my internships and it also affected how I interacted with other students. I saw them as future networking opportunities and paid more attention to what they planned to specialize in.

As I finished up in graduate school, I heard very little talk about Private Practice from most other students. Most of my classmates got internships in agencies and then went on to work in those agencies after they graduated. Those of us who did talk about Private Practice kept in touch. I wanted to know what their plan was and how they were going to get there. I had no idea about how to start my practice, but I knew for certain I was going to do it.


Richard Tifft, M.A. is a Marriage and Family Therapist Intern specializing in Marriage Counseling in Clearwater, FL. Richard started his practice right out of Grad school and has a passion for helping couples in distress rediscover their lost connection. Richard has been through all of the training required to be certified as an Emotionally Focused Couples Therapist pending completion of supervision and licensure.