Counseling Career Profile

VocationVillage.com interviewed Rob Baker about his counseling career.

How would you describe the main functions of your job?

I provide marriage, family, individual and group therapy services and business/executive coaching. I have a private practice, specializing primarily in three major areas: Couples Therapy, Sexual Addiction Recovery for individuals and couples, and Business and Executive Coaching. In addition to individual and group therapy, I offer workshops, presentations, continuing education training, supervision and consultation services in my specialty areas.

How long have you been a therapist?

22 years.

What does a typical day look like in your practice?

A day in my life in private practice is devoted primarily to what I am most passionate about – providing therapy for individuals and couples, and facilitating group treatment. Beginning with an hour of administrative efforts at 8 AM, I begin to see clients at 9 AM. On average I can typically have 6 or 7 “standard” appointment sessions lasting approximately 50 minutes and conduct a group therapy session that is for 90 minutes on three different evenings. I also attempt to keep another hour during the day for administrative details – charting, making and returning calls, etc. – and finish any of these items at the end of the day. My week is structured to meet with clients Monday through Thursday. I reserve Fridays to support my personal and professional development, such as networking, continuing education, study/retreat, new program or curriculum development and preparation for new program or workshop offerings. Though I consider myself to have good organizational and administrative skills, the actual “work” of these administrative tasks is the least appealing aspect of my work and my day. So, over the years I have put in place several elements to minimize the time I have to give to these items. These include hiring a good bookkeeper and accountant that specialize in practices like mine and developing appropriate templates and/or software systems to streamline as many functions as possible.

What do you like best about your work?

It is most gratifying for me to play a role in facilitating meaningful resolution through painful issues and impasses in someone’s life and then see them begin to thrive through the application of the new perspectives and problem solving approaches they have gained. One of the key aspects in this endeavor is that a meaningful and successful outcome involves a mutual collaborative effort by both the therapist and the client. Since personal change is one of the greatest challenges any of us will encounter, I believe that cultivating this collaboration is the art of therapy that is both delicate and crucial in the achievement of the desired outcomes.

What are the most challenging things about your work?

Constant attention is given to developing an appropriate relationship with each client which involves having empathy and developing trust. These efforts are undergirded with evaluating and attending to the clients’ unique capabilities, history, learning style and values. At the same time, it is a sober, but important consideration that some individuals may not choose to invest or commit to making the kind of effort necessary to achieve their stated goals. Having attempted to work creatively and thoughtfully toward the achievement of their therapeutic goals with a client, it is also important to do some routine “benchmarking” to evaluate if progress is being made toward their goals. It may be the case that they need to take some time to step back and take inventory regarding their goals and their commitment level to their current plan or to consider some new perspectives, approaches or direction. This could have the outcome of either enhancing their current efforts with greater clarity, sense of direction and motivation, or they may decide to not continue with their therapy at the present time. With either of these outcomes, it has become important to recognize that, though it can be disappointing for the therapeutic relationship to end without the stated goals being achieved, the work in the therapy can be seen as valuable for the person in their life journey, based on the time they have invested in examining their life and relationships.

How did you build your business?

The two main dynamics for developing my practice have involved corporate strategic planning and having identified specialty niches. My first job after the completion of my Bachelors degree was as a YMCA Program Director, where I was trained in 5-year Corporate Planning. The application of the general principles of this approach over the years has been invaluable in assisting me to clarify both the vision that I might have at any point for my career and to develop a strategic business and marketing plan to implement that vision.

What was your professional background before you became a counselor?

In addition to the career and practice development path shared above, when I began my graduate work in counseling and in the early days of starting into the development of my counseling career, I worked in the business sector to support my young family. This primarily included work in restaurant management, and later insurance sales and management. This experience was valuable in contributing to my understanding of the business aspects of managing my practice.

What is your educational background?

I have a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology from San Jose State University and a Master’s Degree in Counseling – Emphasis in Marriage, Family and Child Counseling – from the University of San Francisco. This education has been enhanced by various certifications in my areas of specialty focus.

What skills are most important to succeed in a counseling career?

Primary skills of value would be in two arenas. First, it is important to have “emotional intelligence” skills, which would include having empathy, being grounded in personal self-awareness and integrity and the ability to collaborate effectively with a variety of different people styles. Second, I believe it is important to develop a strategic plan and have practical business skills to effectively launch, grow and manage a practice.

What advice do you have for someone who wants a counseling career similar to yours?

This would include several key focus points: Gaining clarity regarding one’s motivation and passion for this work. Then, assessing one’s strengths to provide direction for having the best fit regarding (1) The specialty areas to focus on, (2) Work environment – deciding if you thrive best within the structure of a counseling center or as a private practitioner, and (3) The kind of education and training required in the pursuit of one’s career goals. It is important to have clarity regarding one’s financial goals in order to have appropriate expectations in this field. Finally, it can be of great value to interview several therapists, particularly in the areas of your specialty interest, to understand more of the total dynamics involved with this work.

Are there any commonly held misperceptions about a counseling career that you would like to clarify?

When I share what I do in social situations, often others seem to become self-conscious and may comment to the effect of, “Uh-oh, now I am going to be psychoanalyzed…” Though this could be an occupational hazard, what is more true is that there is a desire to be real, along with an interest generally in having an enjoyable and caring connection with others.

What is the income range for private practice counselors?

Again, this can depend on the areas of specialty, level/years of experience and the work context, i.e. private practice vs. working for a counseling center. So, the income potential could range from $30,000 to over $100,000 for a licensed Master’s Level therapist.

What are your long-term career goals?

While my primary goal remains doing the work of therapy, I also have identified two important values. First, I have a commitment to being a lifelong learner. Second, an important expression in my work is teaching and training. In looking forward, my ambitions include continuing to supervise and consult with those desiring to become involved in the areas of my specialty through a variety of formats. This would involve supervising new therapists and/or experienced therapists that are pursuing certification in the sexual addiction area, offering workshops in the community, continuing education training for practitioners and/or a specific curriculum in the academic environment. I believe that any time I prepare and offer a curriculum in any training venue, I continue to learn and grow as well.

Thank you, Rob!


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If you would like to read more about Rob Baker’s counseling career or his professional counseling or coaching services, please visit his website at NextStep Counseling & Coaching
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