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Six Tips for the Therapist Wanting to Advance in His/Her Career

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Let’s start by acknowledging what an amazing career being a therapist is--reliable, dynamic, engaging and rewarding both personally and professionally.  However, I have found that some of the strengths that make great therapists--organization, focus, communication skills and discipline--also make great leaders.  Fortunately, with DotCom Therapy being a therapist-run company, I (along with the other therapists) am naturally placed in an environment that has room for professional growth. I feel fortunate to have grown in this environment and have learned, and am still learning, so many things.

My journey from Therapist to Therapy Director to Executive Director was filled with long meetings, leadership development books, asking questions and establishing strong relationships with leaders that coach me in highly supportive ways.  Now, I am in a position where I serve as that mentor to our internal team and team of therapists interested in professional growth, leadership development, and expanding pre-existing skills beyond the therapy setting. I write this blog not only as a therapist who advanced but as a leader who mentors therapists who want to advance.  I’ve compiled six things you can do to start advancing wherever you might currently be.

Voice Your Desire for Advancement and/or Growth

I can list all of our team members that have reached out to me with desires to take on additional roles outside of therapy.  Because there are so many external factors that come into play with (vacancies and company structure), advancements could take longer than expected. Nonetheless, there is something powerful about giving your supervisor an idea of your desire to advance.  This plants a seed as she or he starts to evaluate and observe you as a professional.

Start Coming to Your Bosses with a Problem AND a Solution

This is probably one of the first tips I share when mentoring someone looking to advance. Your supervisors most likely have a full plate and it’s always refreshing to have someone solution-oriented to take on any pain points in the company or organization. For example: Do you see a problem with the IEP referral process in your district?  Think about ways to automate this referral process and present it to your supervisor for his/her input. In my opinion, one of the biggest demonstrations of professional maturity is moving beyond complaining into offering solutions OR asking questions that lead to solutions.

Think of it as layers--basic foundation is going along with the flow, the next layer is identifying a problem, the final layer is identifying a problem and presenting a solution.

Master Your Current Position

This is such a difficult thing for dreamers or individuals who are wanting additional tasks and roles--it’s easy to have an eye on the northern star and completely forget about the job duties that you have at hand. Perfect where you are and use that performance to help you passively advocate for your desired role.  The majority of supervisors will go back to those annual reviews and notes when assessing you for future positions. Don’t let the dream of a role distract you from your current obligations.

Use Your Therapy Background

This is probably one of the biggest areas I see when therapists advance--the desire to step away from being a therapist.  There are preconceived notions and fears that you’ll be seen as "just a therapist.” First, being a therapist is a significant achievement.  Second, all of the skills that you have learned are from your work in therapy. You’ll see me reference my background as a therapist in 90% of what I do.  Why is this so important? Because it makes you mission-focused, service oriented and you have a grasp of "boots on the ground” that makes your perspective so unique and valuable.  You’re a therapist and despite your desired area of growth it’s OK (and impressive) to acknowledge that.


Be Productive

The therapist in me cringes when I hear, type, say, think or have nightmares (SNF therapists understand this last one) about the dreaded "p-word”.  However, productivity is one of the most important skills you’ll need to master should you be assigned additional tasks.

 The main reason I include this tip is because you have to start training yourself now--blocking off time to devote to paperwork in one power block, efficiently documenting services rendered, and keeping meetings organized are all areas you can start applying to perfect your productivity now. Productivity is learned, so it doesn’t hurt to start practicing this early on.  Plus, you’ll probably please your bosses while you’re at it -- a win-win.


Be in an Environment that You Can Advance In

To be clear, there are so many companies that contain the potential for advancement but have no vacancies at the moment you desire them.  That’s not what I’m referencing here as that is completely normal. With this tip, I’m thinking more to the individual reading this that thought "My supervisor would never let an OT be a Therapy Director” or "My company only allows for (insert profession here) to be a team leader.”  If thoughts like that popped into your head, and they’re fueled by fact and not insecurity, it may be time to look for other environments IF you strongly desire to professionally advance.

The journey to potential advancement or career changes is full of so many learning opportunities and opportunities for personal growth.  I truly wish anyone desiring that journey the best! If you’d like to hear more about my journey or DotCom Therapy, reach out to me at elise@dotcomtherapy.com.

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