No More Course Plans: Transitioning from Student to ECP

On my first day as a counseling psychology doctoral student, I received a Graduate Planning Guide that outlined the courses to take, due dates to meet, requirements to fulfil, and milestones to complete. Although there was a little wiggle room, my next 5-6 years were neatly outlined in front of me. I could do this! The milestones were not easy, but knowing what to focus on, what to do next, and having an entire department structured to support me made it feel possible. Quarter by quarter, I checked things off the list. This Spring, I checked off the last box on that Planning Guide: Graduation!

Now, I am acutely aware that there are no longer next steps neatly outlined. Speaking with other counseling psychology doctoral students about life after graduation helped me see that many of us wonder, and at times worry, about how to best transition to ECPs. Thus, I interviewed several Counseling Psychologists, with varying years of experience post-graduation about challenges they faced when they transition to ECP and suggestions they may have for students. Many recalled their first year after graduation as a year of transition, with trials and tribulations, but also an immense sense of accomplishment and opportunities!

Karen Enyedy, PhD

Dr. Enyedy obtained her PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of Southern California. She worked for The Help Group, a non-profit agency serving children, adolescents and young adults with special needs related to autism spectrum disorder, learning disabilities, ADHD, developmental delays and emotional challenges for close to 18 years. She started at The Help Group as a doctoral intern and had numerous roles throughout the years, including Director of Training, and culminating in Chief Psychologist. Recently. Dr. Enyedy has relocated to Nashville as is currently a Lecturer at Vanderbilt University,

 Kevin Delucio, PhD

Dr. Delucio obtained his PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of California, Santa Barbara. He recently completed his 1st year as an Assistant Professor of Multicultural Psychology and Mental Health at Western Washington University located in Bellingham, Washington. Dr. Delucio’s work focuses on how to improve the wellbeing of marginalized communities in the United States, and his research focuses on identity development and wellness of Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Trans, and Queer, Latinx, and Queer/Trans people of color populations.

 Melanie Lantz, PhD

Dr. Lantz obtained her PhD in Counseling Psychology from the University of New York, Albany. She is an Assistant Professor and the Director of Doctoral Training for the Counseling Psychology program at Oklahoma State University. Currently, Dr. Lantz is also on the APA Board of Educational Affairs and is the Past-Chair of the Early Career Professionals Committee of the Society of Counseling Psychology. Her research interests are in multicultural counseling and multicultural training, as well as professional issues in psychology.

 Challenges Faced When Transitioning to ECP

Dr. Delucio, who recently finished his first year as an Assistant Professor, shared that the biggest challenge that he faced that first year as an ECP was “shaking the student identity away” and finding his own voice. He shared that at times it felt he was suffering from the imposter syndrome he experienced in graduate school, but magnified! Dr. Delucio wondered if this feeling may be particularly stronger as a faculty of color. Every time Dr. Enyedy started a new position, she also felt that she often had to “fake it until she made it.” Another challenge experienced by Dr. Delucio was that as an ECP, there was no longer an advisor or supervisor guiding the way. Now, he had to seek connections with people that he could go to for guidance and support. People who you would see as experts in the field are now your colleagues.

Dr. Enyedy and Dr. Delucio both shared that during their first years, it was challenging to find work-life balance. The pressure of being new at a job and wanting to stand out, often meant late nights and missed dinners. Dr. Enyedy reflected that she wished she would have set boundaries on her time earlier, but that having mentors and colleagues who modeled how to successfully set boundaries was helpful to learn how to do so appropriately. At the same time, Dr. Enyedy wished she would have been able to keep her assessment skills updated by doing a few testing cases a year. As counseling psychologist there are so many roles we can be involved in, that there was simply not enough time for assessment when she began her career.

 Both Dr. Delucio and Dr. Lantz sited finances as a challenge during the transition to ECP.  Dr. Lantz shared that in our field, we “don’t talk about money enough.” She stated that she wishes students were taught more explicitly how to negotiate and what to ask for, especially for first generation college students. Dr. Lantz remembers the mentorship she received around offers and counter-offers as vital during this stage.

 Suggestions and Recommendations to Facilitate the Transition to ECP           

The most salient advice across the Counseling Psychologists interviewed was to develop strong mentorship relationships and to stay open to unexpected opportunities. Looking back, Dr. Enyedy credits mentors that were interested in supporting her in her own interests, and who were able to adjust when her interests shifted, as an important resource when she was transitioning to ECP and in her professional roles thereafter. She explained that mentors in her life were able to help her see that she was capable and knowledge in times of self-doubt and were able to provide hard feedback to help her become a more fully rounded person. Dr. Enyedy does not see mentorship relationships as limited only to graduate school or ECP. She stressed that people, and in particular women, will doubt their own abilities at times, feel that they are not qualified for that next promotion, or that they are faking their skills. Dr. Enyedy is now herself a mentor for countless graduate students and recent counseling psychology graduates. Dr. Delucio credits connecting with other faculty of color in his own department and across departments as the most helpful thing during his first year as an Assistant Professor. They will often meet for happy hour and lunch to check-in, and often end up discussing identity, culture, privilege in their professional lives.

Dr. Lantz also views mentoring as critical in her professional development. In particular, she recommends that students work alongside other students and as well as  psychologists in all stages in their careers, as often mentoring relationships form by working with people. She urged university based mentors to “help students get involved, don’t just tell them to get involved.” Dr. Lantz views networking as a skill that requires learning and scaffolding, thus mentors should model those skills and strive to facilitate these skills in their students. Mentors may introduce the student to people personally, forward a position opening in a committee, or attend conferences with the student and teach them how to approach faculty.

In addition to seeking life-long mentors in and outside your university, Dr. Lantz, Dr. Enyedy, and Dr. Delucio had the following advice for students:

  • Start thinking about what you hope to do after gradation long before you have completed your internship. Plan ahead and be strategic about how you can get to where you want to go.
  • Don’t shy away from technology. Attending virtual seminars and conferences can be a great way to meet potential mentors that share your interests.
  • Look for additional mentorship relationships beyond your university advisor. You can never have too many mentors!
  • Become involved in committees, don’t just pay the dues.
  • Learn to have a long-term mentality to avoid trying to put too many things on your plate at once.
  • Keep in touch with your internship and grad school cohort, they will be your colleagues and an important part of your network.
  • Seek some mentors that are only a few years ahead of you, so they understand where you are in your training. For example, if you are about to take the EPPP, connect with people who have taken it recently.
  • To stay connected with past mentors, supervisors, or advisors:
    • Write periodically to them but be gracious about their time and acknowledge when it may be a bad time of year (such as during summer break or when internship applications are being reviewed).
    • Reach out with questions about jobs, legal or ethical questions, or professional development questions.
    • Seek opportunities for when you may be able to help your mentors in return. Try your best to create a give and take relationship, one that is beneficial and enjoyable for both parties.
    • Do not seek to stay connected with every supervisor that you have had, be self-aware of the relationship and personality fit.

Speaking with Dr. Enyedy, Dr. Delucio, and Dr. Lantz helped me see that although we may no longer have the formal mentorship structure provided by our graduate programs, we can create our own network of knowledge and support as we transition to ECP. Building symbiotic relationships with colleagues in different career stages, asking for advice when we are not sure what to do, and finding ways to continue to grow and learn can help us gain our ECP legs a little quicker.

Mercedes Fernández Oromendia, Ph.D.
Clinical Psychology Postdoctoral Fellow, UCLA TIES for Families at UCLA

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