Going back to school to become a therapist!

I spent the first 12 years of my career on staff at various media/media-related jobs: trade magazines, a consumer magazine, one awful year at a PR firm, and four awesome years doing social media for a fitness media company.

I also got laid off three times. Each time, I became more and more disillusioned with corporate America. When I last got laid off in 2017, I decided to give the freelance life a real try. I’d tried before between other layoffs but ultimately wanted to go back to being in an office. But after losing my mom—and having the flexibility from my job to go out to NJ as often as I needed to—I felt like life was too short to be chained to a desk on someone else’s terms for 40+ hours a week.

My feelings poured out of me and onto the screen in that first year after losing my mom. So thick was the haze of grief and depression that any insecurity that had held me back in the past disappeared, and I wrote and pitched freely.

I racked up bylines in outlets that had only been dreams before, and I started making some real freelance goals. I wanted to have one steady social media client for some income stability, and I wanted to have editors who regularly assigned me stories so I could cut back on the pitching process.

This January, I took a maternity leave fill-in at an agency to help a friend out and make some regular income as a buffer for the more dry months. I was too depressed, though, and the job felt as empty as my soul. (It wasn’t the job, it was me.) I struggled to make it work each day because I struggled to get out of bed each day, and it filled me with great shame to need to cut it short when I needed to be hospitalized.

When I filled out the intake forms, one of the questions on the sheet was: “do you need any further schooling to return to work successfully?”

“Thinking about going back to school to become a therapist,” I wrote timidly. The truth was, I’d been thinking about it for years.

I started regularly seeing a therapist in 2012 for anxiety, and the longer I’ve spent in therapy, the more I’ve been fascinated with reading everything I can about mental health and the mental healthcare field. Partially to help myself, but partially because I just find it fascinating to learn why we humans behave the way we do.

My only regret about treatment was not talking about career more, though there were other issues I needed to tackle to just be a functional human before worrying about career. I came out of treatment still feeling a little rudderless professionally. I told myself I’d give it through the summer (also giving myself time to adjust after my move) before making any changes.

But throughout the summer, that seed I’d planted earlier this year grew and grew until I finally decided I wanted to explore this career change. In August, I told my therapist I was thinking about becoming a therapist. I was TERRIFIED and texted her before our session to tell her I had something I wanted to tell her but had been chickening out for a few weeks.

I was worried that, knowing my mental status well and being in the field for nearly 20 years, she would think I wouldn’t be good at it or could handle it, but a big smile spread across her face. “Theodora, I think you would be a phenomenal therapist.”

I decided to apply for school, and if it didn’t work out, then I’d explore going back to a 9-5 in January. I applied, interviewed, and then it was time to wait. Friends, I am NOT GOOD with waiting, and I checked my email obsessively for those few weeks in between. The call came on a day that was already really emotional for me, and I went from sad to ecstatic on a huge emotional rollercoaster.

I’m going to Antioch University, which is conveniently only 15 minutes from me! I looked into several other programs (UCLA, Pepperdine), but I liked how geared towards adult learners Antioch is and how flexible they are.

I have worked with such amazing therapists in the past who have literally saved my life, and I want to be that person to someone. Who helps them see their own worth, that they deserve to be here, to be happy, and that it is possible. Right now I think I want to do some combination of private practice, something community-based and writing, but it will be interesting to see how all of this evolves over the next four years. (It’s two years of classes and about two years to get your hours to get licensed.)

It’s a hard road ahead, and I’m terrified I won’t be able to do it, but I know that this is the right thing for me, and I can’t wait to help people.

26 comments on “Going back to school to become a therapist!

  1. Clare

    so proud of you!! going back to school as an adult can be hard, but it’s so worth it to know you’re going to do what you love and make a huge difference <3

  2. Katie

    Wow! How cool is this!! I often think those of us who have been through the fire and come out the other side could potentially be the best thing for a person who is in the middle of a devastating low. Your story (however much you share with clients), I believe, will make you a phenomenal therapist. If you ever want to move back east, SAMSHA could use persons with your skill set!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      Thank you <3 I definitely plan on using my experience to help others feel less alone. It will be interesting to learn how to do that in an appropriate and professional way that helps the client. My own therapist is really good at this—when she shared that she'd lost her dad and had gotten divorced, it definitely helped me connect to her more to know she had been through a lot, too.

  3. Lily

    Congratulations!! Your therapist is right — you will be phenomenal. I think so many people will benefit from having you as their therapist.

  4. Annie

    I think you will be an amazing therapist! Your openness and experiences will help you relate to your clients as well as give you credibility with them. I’m so excited for you!

  5. Michelle Ginsburg

    That is fantastic! You will be wonderful in this new role, as I have read your blog for years. Theodora, you always know how to pivot and adapt. That is invaluable skill. You are so resilient!

  6. Abby

    I couldn’t be happier for you!!! I too went back to school to get my MSW at age 53! It just gets better with age! Best of luck in this next chapter.

  7. Christina

    Long tine reader here – I am so excited for you and truly think that you will be an amazing, empathetic, impactful therapist. Congratulations on your acceptance to Antioch! You are going to be awesome. 🙂

  8. Carol

    Congrats on taking this next step! a career change is definitely hard, but can be so fulfilling…while I haven’t done it myself, I went through it with my husband (software developer – back to school to become a college professor of history), it was so worth it…and seeing him in a career he truly enjoys is very rewarding.

  9. Carolyn McDougald

    I am excited for you and can’t wait to see how it evolves for you. You will be great because you are already a good listener, intuitive and empathic. Remember it’s the feeling people get from you more than the words that are most important.

  10. Julia

    How exciting! I am sure you can do it even if it’s not an easy route to take.
    I’m thinking about changing career too and even though it’s scary, deep-down I know I have to take this step for future happiness.
    Good luck to you!

  11. Anne

    Reading this made me so happy. You are going to be a fantastic therapist – your empathy, openness, and experiences will shine through for your classmates and future clients. What a wonderful way to share your light with those who need some help finding theirs.

  12. Emily

    I’ve read your blog for many years and have never posted a comment. I actually started reading when I was looking for weight loss stories! I lost both of my parents when I was 30. My mom, especially, was my rock. It was absolutely devastating. I’ve been a LCSW for 10 years and it has truly been an amazing career. I echo what a previous person wrote-to me it is always about the relationship you create with your clients, not the modality or therapeutic style. Enjoy graduate school and congratulations!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      aw thank you <3 and I'm sorry about your parents and both at 30 sounds so hard.

      And, I have heard a lot of therapists talk about burnout or healthcare industry BS like insurance, but I've never heard a therapist say it *wasn't* a fulfilling career, and I'm so excited for that. I have felt fulfilled by my writing when I've been able to write personal essays that connect with people but I can't just churn them out and the other stuff that I do to actually make money (ie social media) is not really fulfilling at all.

      And as for modality/therapeutic style, my current therapist has a whole bunch of boxes checked off for modalities on psychology today, so I didn't know what/if there was anything she focused on until I asked her, and her answer was not what I expected. I also totally wouldn't have picked her based on her profile—she specializes in eating disorders and couples stuff—but my psychiatrist shares office space with her and recommended her, and she is absolutely perfect for me and we have a really strong therapeutic relationship that "on paper" I wouldn't have expected to work.

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  16. Ashley

    It’s been years since you wrote this. I just stumbled across it dealing with very similar things as you wrote. I’m looking into going back to school – again – for therapy of some sort. I don’t know if you will see this but I am so curious how your journey through school went, what you decided to do, and how it’s worked out for you! Anything you would do differently? Thanks!


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