Even in solo private practice, coworkers never really go away. Your coworkers become the psychiatrists you refer to, the provider relations rep from the insurance company, the teachers and physicians you receives referrals from; they’re all relationships that need to be managed, not just for your benefit, but for everyone’s. But this post isn’t for people in solo private practice, this is for therapists that are working in agencies and other institutions. I have found that getting along with therapist coworkers is different from other settings and I’d like to write about how to optimize those relationships.
Before I went into the mental health field I worked in food service. I loved my coworkers. They made the day fun and made the day go by faster. I made a lot of great friends. Then I moved on to my first job in the field, which was a residential facility. It was my first day on the job and as I was walking in the door, I saw all of my new coworkers walking out. “Bye, we’re all leaving! Also, Sandy called out so you’re going to be alone. The residents will tell you what to do.” They laughed as they rushed out the door. I can only imagine the shocked look I must have had on my face. That day I was there alone for 11 hours, no training, and no idea what I was doing. I wish I could say that this was just a fluke, just a one time event, but sadly the lack of training seems to be a common theme in mental health and it is my belief that this is what often causes problems between coworkers.
The problem with this kind of “on the job training” is that aside from the obvious that it causes stress and anxiety for the new hire, it creates a situation where coworkers are training coworkers. The new hire is learning how to do paperwork, get authorizations, do case assignments/transfers, deal with emergencies, etc from someone that may not how to do it right themselves. This also creates an imbalance of power where someone is essentially supervising someone they have no business supervising. Some may take advantage of this power, something we’ve all seen.
One of the things that really shocked me when I first entered the mental health field was the lack of supervision, and I do think that supervision often makes all the difference in how coworkers get along. A good supervisor sets the tone of professionalism, mutual respect between colleagues, and provides that needed training/supervision without micromanaging. Sadly, a good supervisor may be hard to find. So what to do in this situation?
If you’re finding yourself having problems at work, the best thing you can do is to contact your supervisor and schedule a time to meet. Let him or her know what you’re having difficulties with and your desire for scheduled weekly supervision. One of the best things you can do to get along with coworkers is to work with your supervisor on getting a clear job description of what is your job and what is someone else’s. People get frustrated when they feel they’re doing your work for you and vice versa. Having clear boundaries about what’s your work and what’s your coworkers can really help.