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Barbara LoFrisco gets JobShadowed about her career as a marriage counselor and sex therapist.  You can find her practice at www.counselorbarb.com.  You can also follow her on her Twitter feed in the sidebar of this interview.

What do you do for a living?

I am an individual counselor, marriage therapist and sex therapist.

How would you describe what you do?

I am a mental health counselor, marriage and sex therapist in private practice in Tampa, FL. I help individuals and couples overcome problematic thinking patterns, fears and nonfunctional attitudes to improve their lives and relationships. More specifically, I help individuals overcome depression, anxiety and relationship issues, and I help couples improve communication, increase intimacy, and argue less.

What does your work entail?

Speaking individually with people and couples for 50 minutes, recording notes, scheduling appointments, answering my business phone and explaining my services, accounting tasks (including billing), marketing tasks such as blogging and attending networking events.

What’s a typical work week like?

I choose my own hours and how many clients to see. I typically see between 10 and 15 clients per week; I would see more but I am a full-time doctoral student who also teaches 2 classes at USF so I usually limit my client load to 15 per week. I work one day during the day, two days of afternoons and evenings, and alternate Saturdays. I make sure I have at least 2 days during the week, with one being Sunday, where I don’t see clients at all, and I don’t see more than 6 in one day.

How did you get started?

I’ve always been the person that everyone went to to talk about their problems. I gain great satisfaction in being helpful to other people; I can change lives- how many other professions can claim that? I spent 20 years in Corporate America as a software engineer, and although the money was great, and the work semi-challenging, it was soul-killing. I wanted to do something meaningful and rewarding so I went back to school for a master’s degree and became licensed.

What do you like about what you do?

On the business side, I love being independent. I set my own hours, I schedule my own work. I have lots of freedom- as long as I follow ethical guidelines I can advertise how I want, create my own marketing materials, create a brand, utilize social media, etc. etc. etc. And I am the beneficiary of all of my hard work, not a corporation.

On the clinical side, I love helping people. That sounds so trite, so let me be more specific. I love it that people trust me enough to tell me deep, dark things about themselves that sometimes they have never told another soul. I find people extremely challenging to figure out, the ultimate puzzle. As a software engineer, I loved debugging things and would sometimes be disappointed when I figured out the problem, because that meant the challenge was over. With people, the challenge is never over, there are a million variables, another million you aren’t even aware of…it’s very complicated and that’s how I like it. Plus, it is the greatest feeling in the world when you do figure it out and the person’s face lights up when they realize the origin of their issues! Someone who beat themselves up their whole life because their father called them stupid or their mother was overbearing…after working with me they realize that these were false messages implanted by a flawed and sick human being, they aren’t real. So they stop calling themselves stupid and get on with their lives. They break up with the abusive boyfriend, decide to go back to school and get a better job- they start respecting themselves, so now others respect them too. That is my reward.

What do you dislike?

My number one pet peeve is clients who don’t respect me or my business and fail to show for their appointments. Since I have reserved that time for them, and because I work by appointment, and because the way I earn money is by spending time with people, their inconsideration results in direct monetary loss to me. Also- overly demanding clients, or clients who don’t take therapy seriously. But even then it’s hard to complain because they are paying me. On the business side, there are ups and downs, cycles. During certain periods I will be really busy, and then there are slow periods like Christmas and summer. I wish I had more control over that. But there really isn’t much I dislike.

How do you make money/or how are you compensated?

Clients pay me for 50 minute appointments.

How much money do counselor/therapists make?

Depends on what they charge, and how many people they see per week. I earn $90 per individual session, $110 per couples and $120 per sex therapy (couples).

How much money do/did you make starting out as a counselor/therapist?

I started out charging $65 per session, because I was a registered intern and not licensed yet.

What education, schooling, or skills are needed to do this?

You need a master’s degree in a properly accredited program- typically 2 years of full-time study, including a (mostly) unpaid practicum and internship., followed by another two years working under supervision.  But requirements vary depending on the state you are in, so check with your local licensing board.

What is most challenging about what you do?

Disrespectful clients- clients who don’t respect me or my qualifications. Clients who have certain types of personality disorders. Although they are seeking the services of an expert, these types of clients do not want to hear what the expert has to say, they would rather tell me how to do my job. Very frustrating. Clients without empathy are also very difficult to deal with.

What is most rewarding?

I believe I’ve already answered this.

What advice would you offer someone considering this career?

Be prepared for emotionally intensive work. You will have brief, suddenly intimate encounters with strangers. You are not their friend, nor are they yours. The therapeutic relationship is very unique. It is a professional relationship, but emotional intimacy is shared in a one-sided fashion. That means that you have to have really good self-awareness and boundaries: awareness that you don’t exploit clients, and boundaries that you don’t let the hard emotional work bleed over into the rest of your life. This field has one of the highest rates of burn-out.

How much time off do you get/take?

Hmmm….I’m kind of a workaholic, and don’t want to foist my ridiculous work ethic onto others. So let me answer in a very general way- you can take as much time off as you want, BUT you have to consider your clients’ needs first. Two week trips are basically out- generally, clients can’t go longer than 2 weeks between appointments. Forget spontaneous trips- not going to happen. You can’t just cancel appointments you made with people- it’s extremely unprofessional, and unethical! You also have to make sure your clients will be OK when you are gone, and get another professional to cover for you in case of emergency. So you’ll need lots of planning time for any trips. At least 3 weeks.

What is a common misconception people have about what you do?

They think a sex therapist has sex with clients, or touches them in an intimate way. Not true. It’s all talk therapy, and everyone’s clothes are on. And buttoned. They think marriage counseling is only for relationships in deep trouble, and individual counseling is for crazy people. Not true. If the relationship or individual is too far gone, I can’t help them. Basically I work with the worried well.

What are your goals/dreams for the future?

To have my own radio show, maybe even TV appearances someday. To be considered the local expert in relationships and sex. To secure a position as a full-time tenured professor. To keep seeing clients, never ever stop seeing clients.

What else would you like people to know about your job/career?

It’s hard work, long hours and can be overwhelming. And you’ll never be rich. But you can be really, really happy and your life can have great meaning.


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{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Tara January 15, 2013 at 6:22 am

Hi Barb, Thank you for a very informative interview – it answered a lot of questions for me. I am particularly interested in the fact that you were an IT professional for a considerable length of time before you changed careers. I am looking at something similar (technology backfround) and would like your opinion on how long it takes to obtain the qualifications and license, how you picked your school, and whether online programs make sense.

Reply

Barb January 21, 2013 at 3:10 pm

Tara,

It depends on your state, check the state requirements because they all differ. I believe generally it would be a master’s degree and one or two years of supervised experience. Whether or not you pick online depends on your needs, I was fortunate enough to quit my day job so I could attend a regular university. Online would be fine I think for several of the classes, but you’ll want to make sure you get in-person practice.

Barb

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David Armstrong May 28, 2012 at 7:25 pm

Great interview. I’ve been trying to find out some typical numbers for marriage counselors. What the typical client load? You said you could take more, but don’t. What’s a typical number? And how many, would you say, go on to remain married? And do you do things like sliding scales and pro bono?

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Barb LoFrisco May 29, 2012 at 7:42 am

Thank you. A typical client load for most counselors is usually between 20-25 clients per week; but some therapists do upwards of 35, up to 40. It really depends on individual comfort level and what else the counselor is doing. In my case, I am teaching classes at a university, and I also am a paid blogger, so I try to limit my client load to about 20.

I don’t keep statistics on my clients so I really can’t answer how many remain married. Counseling sometimes ends in a break-up or divorce, but from what my couples tell me that process is smoother when they are in counseling. Because sometimes people enter counseling already emotionally estranged from their partner, they often are looking for a clean way out, so I don’t consider the break-ups as failures of the process necessarily.

I really don’t do sliding scales per se, although I do hold a certain number of slots in my practice for reduced rates for those with unique economic circumstances. I do not do pro bono work.

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