If you haven’t already, be sure to take a peek at Deborah Taylor’s blog on mentorship. From someone on the receiving end, mentorship IS the cat’s meow!
When I began my clinical work at the medical center here in Loma Linda, I was surprised to discover that I would be doing co-therapy with other MedFT students and my supervisor, and in front of medical students and residents. Yikes! Previous experiences for me consisted of individual therapy sessions, and the occasional videotaped clips shown to my supervisor (which at times I’m sure inadvertently left me describing what I was hoping would happen in session rather than what actually did - I know I’m not the only one here). The idea of this new mentorship model was, to say the least, scary for me: I had visions of someone discovering that I wasn’t very confident in what I was doing and that at times I lacked direction and focus in session.
Those first few months were stressful; I remember feeling intense pressure to "perform” in front of my peers and colleagues. I was frustrated and felt that perhaps my sessions during those times didn’t reflect my actual abilities as my nerves took over and made me tentative and self-conscious. But with time and a purposeful group shift towards a more collaborative model, things began to change.
||"Mentorship gives us space to have honest conversations about what is working and areas of growth..."|
To my surprise, I discovered that working closely as co-therapists with fellow students and my supervisor was the best thing to happen to me professionally in a long time. I found myself being pushed in a safe, productive way towards being a better clinician. Conceptual ideas about how to do good therapy came to concrete life before my eyes as I watched others work and thought, ‘that’s how it’s done!’ I was able to see things modeled in session and then practice them myself within the safety net of more experienced therapists who would help me if needed.
I remember one session in particular, in which I was working closely with another doctoral student several years ahead of me. We were in a difficult spot: our patient was extremely anxious, and was making demands of staff that were impossible to meet. We’d been asked to help mediate the situation, and because I’d spent the most time with her, I was asked to lead our session.
My student mentor pulled me aside before we went into the room, and together we talked about how the session might go and what might be particularly helpful in trying to navigate this sensitive issue. As a result of our conversation, I felt confident going into the room, and the gentle coaching of my classmate paved the way for a successful interaction with our patient and several additional weeks of continued work together. Sure, I might have been able to do this on my own, but there was something about knowing that my mentor believed in me and would be there to help me should I need it that made this experience meaningful.
There are several things that have been particularly helpful for me in being the process of being mentored:
Feeling safe in my relationships with mentors. Mentorship requires a great deal of vulnerability on the part of the individual with less experience, and initially, it can feel as though you’ll never be quite "yourself” in therapy. It has helped me immensely to work with people who’ve been perceptive enough to hone in on my strengths and believe in me wholly - sometimes even before I believed in myself.
Practicing active, live co-therapy. Co-therapy does not mean that my mentor will "rescue” me whenever I am stuck. When one does step in to help guide me in a more therapeutic direction, I feel more equipped to try these skills myself in our next session. Rather than becoming a crutch, these have been empowering experiences for me.
Addressing the power differential. By its very nature, mentorship helps to level the power differential as MedFTs-in-training are allowed to see challenges and mistakes made by someone with more experience. This gives us space to have honest conversations about what is working and areas of growth, and allows me to see my mentors in more of a collaborative, rather than evaluative, role.
Mentorship may be an especially good fit for therapists in medical settings as it aligns with the traditional model of healthcare providers working in teams and may provide additional support for new therapists stepping into a setting with a unique set of rules and norms. As Deborah suggests in her previous blog, having experienced successful mentorship makes me want to "pay it forward” through developing these same times of relationships with new medical family therapists coming into the field. Who wants to join me?
Lindsey Lawson is a third-year PhD MFT student at Loma Linda University and has worked at the Loma Linda Medical Center for the past two years. Her professional interests include all things medical family therapy, as well as gender and power dynamics in couple relationships.