The Merriam-Webster definition of a bucket list is “a list of things that one has not done before but wants to do before dying.” This post is a therapist bucket list with 26 professional achievement ideas for counselors and other mental health workers!
“Live as if you were to die tomorrow. Learn as if you were to live forever.“
Therapist Bucket List
26 Professional Achievement Ideas for Counselors and Other Mental Health Workers
1. Earn an advanced degree or certificate.
2. Become licensed in your state.
3. Start a nonprofit organization or charity for mental health.
5. Open a private practice.
6. Conduct and publish a research study.
7. Write a magazine or newspaper article.
8. Develop and validate an assessment tool.
9. Become president or chairperson of a professional organization.
10. Write and publish a book, workbook, guide, or manual.
11. Develop a new theory/model or treatment intervention.
12. Create and maintain a website.
13. Become a teacher or professor.
14. Run for public office.
15. Become a mentor or clinical supervisor.
16. Develop an online course or training program.
17. Organize and/or facilitate a seminar or workshop.
18. Start a podcast.
19. Develop a mobile app.
20. Write a bill for mental health reform.
21. Start a mental health or counseling YouTube Channel.
22. Develop and moderate a Facebook group for mental health professionals.
23. Advocate by organizing and leading a peaceful protest for reform.
24. Win an award.
25. Present in a TED Talk.
26. Inspire positive change!
“To understand the heart and mind of a person, look not at what he has already achieved, but at what he aspires to.”
A list of membership associations for mental health counselors, psychotherapists, social workers, psychologists, psychiatrists, specialists, etc., including ACA/APA divisions and international organizations
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
This is a list of professional memberships organizations for mental health clinicians and specialists. This listing includes American Counseling Association (ACA) and American Psychological Association (APA) divisions.
A resource guide for clinicians who facilitate counseling groups
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Throughout my counseling career, group therapy has been a focal part of what I do. I’ve worked mainly in residential settings where groups take place several times a day.
Initially, group counseling terrified me. (What if I can’t “control” the group? What if a member challenges me? What if I can’t think of anything to say? What if everyone gets up and leaves? – that actually happened, once – and on and on. What made group therapy especially intimidating was that if I “messed up,” an entire group of people [as opposed to one person] would witness my failure.)
I got over it, of course. Group facilitation wasn’t always comfortable and I made many (many!) mistakes, but I grew. I realized it’s okay to be both counselor and human; at times, humans say dumb stuff, hurt each other’s feelings, and don’t know the answer. By letting go of the need to be perfect, I became more effective. Group facilitation is now one of my favorite parts of the job.
This resource guide provides practical information and tools for group therapy for mental health practitioners.
Group Therapy Guidelines
Group therapy is an evidence-based treatment for substance use and mental disorders. An effective group calls for a skilled clinician to meet treatment standards. Professional associations, such as the American Group Psychotherapy Association, develop best practice guidelines based on scientific data and clinical research.
SAMHSA promotes research-based protocols and has published several group therapy guides for best practice, including TIP 41: Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy, Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy – Quick Guide for Clinicians, and Substance Abuse Treatment: Group Therapy Inservice Training (a training manual), in addition to group workbooks/facilitator guides for anger management, stimulant use disorder, and serious mental illness.
The book itself is small in size but packed with helpful information and creative ideas. As a new counselor lacking in clinical skills, I supplemented with activities to engage the clients. Group Exercises for Addiction Counseling never failed me.
A more recent discovery of mine. This guide provides detailed instructions accompanied by thought-provoking discussion questions for each intervention. I was impressed with both the quality and originality; an instant upgrade to “house-tree-person.”
You need only Google “icebreakers” and you’ll have a million to choose from. I’m not listing many, but they’re ones clients seem to enjoy the most.
Activity1. My most highly recommended icebreaker activity involves passing out blank slips of paper to each group member and instructing them to write a “fun fact” about themselves, something no one else in the group would know. I provide them with examples (i.e. “I once had a pet lamb named Bluebell” or “I won a hotdog eating contest when I was 11 and then threw up all over the judges’ shoes”). Depending on the crowd, you may want to tell clients not to write anything they wouldn’t want their peers to know. (I adopted this guideline after a client wrote about “sharting” himself.) Once everyone has written something, have them fold their papers and place in a container of some sort (a gift box, paper bag, plastic bowl, etc.) Group members take turns passing around the container (one-at-a-time) and picking a slip to read aloud. They must then guess who wrote it. (I give three guesses; after that, I turn it over to the group.)
Activity 2: A similar but more structured activity is to write out questions ahead of time and have clients take turns drawing and answering the questions. Questions can be silly, thought-provoking, or intending to illicit a strong emotional response (depending on the audience and goals for the group).
Activity 3: “People Search” involves a list of traits, feats, talents, or experiences. Each client receives the list and is given x amount of time to find someone in the group who is a match; that individual will then sign off. The first person to have their list completely signed sits down; they win. I typically let clients continue to collect signatures until two additional people sit down. (Prizes optional, but always appreciated.) During the debriefing, it’s fun to learn more (and thereby increase understanding and compassion).
Activity 4: “First Impressions” works best with group members who don’t know each other well. It’s important for group members to know each other’s names (or wear name tags). Each group member has a sheet of paper with various “impressions” (i.e. judgments/stereotypes). For example, items on the list might be “Looks like an addict” and “Looks intelligent.” Clients write other group members’ names for each impression. In addition to enhancing a sense of community, this activity provides an avenue for discussing harmful stereotypes and stigma.
Activity 5: Affirmations groups can be powerful, generating unity and kindness. The effect seems to be more pronounced in gender-specific groups. There are a variety of ways to facilitate an affirmations group, ranging from each person providing an affirmation to the client on their right to individuals sharing a self-affirmation with the group to creating a self-affirmation painting. Another idea is to give each client a sheet of paper. (Consider using quality, brightly-colored paper/posterboard and providing markers, gel pens, etc.) Clients write their name on it and then all the papers are passed around so each group member has the opportunity to write on everyone else’s sheet. Once their original paper is returned to them, they can read and share with the group. This can lead to a powerful discussion about image, reputation, feeling fake, etc. (Plus, clients get to keep the papers!)
Activity 6: “Most Likely to Relapse/Least Likely to Relapse” works best with a well-formed group and may require extra staff support. It’s good for larger groups and can be highly effective in a therapeutic community. Clients receive blank pieces of paper and are tasked to write the names of who they think is most likely and least likely to relapse. After writing their own name on the sheet, they turn it in to staff (effectively allowing staff to maintain a safe and productive environment). Staff then read each sheet aloud (without naming who wrote it). If they choose, clients can share what they wrote and provide additional feedback. (Most do.) Clients selected as “most likely” (in either category) have the opportunity to process with other group members and staff.
Access group therapy worksheets and handouts here.
In need of fresh material? It can be easy to fall into a rut, especially if you’re burnout or working with a particularly challenging group. The following three PDF downloads are lists of ideas for group topics. I also included two links to sites with helpful suggestions.
As a group facilitator, consider incorporating some sort of experiential activity, quiz, handout, game, etc. into every session. For example, start with a check-in, review a handout, facilitate a discussion, take a 5-minute bathroom break, facilitate a role-play, and then close the group by summarizing and providing clients with the opportunity to share what they learned. If that’s not feasible, provide coffee or snacks; sitting for 45 minutes is difficult for some, and 90 minutes can be unbearable.
Another idea is to have a “fun” or “free” group in the curriculum. Ideas include going bowling, having a potluck, Starbucks run, game group (i.e. Catchphrase, Pictionary, etc.), escape room, nature walk, etc.
Dealing With Challenges
Clients are not always willing therapy participants; some are court-ordered to attend or there to have privileges restored. Some attendees may be there “voluntarily,” but only to save their marriage or keep a job, not believing they need help. In residential treatment, clients attend mandatory groups as part of the daily schedule — participate or you’re out.
Even when attendance is truly voluntary, a group member may be in a bad space. Maybe they’re stressed about the rent or just got into a fight with their significant other. Or what if the AC is broken and the group room is 80 degrees? What if a client has unpleasant body odor or bad breath or an annoying cough?
Multiple factors combine and it’s suddenly a sh**show. (I’ll never forget the client who climbed onto a chair to “rally the troops” against my tyranny.) Anticipating challenges is the first step to effectively preventing and managing them.
Click here for an excellent article from Counseling Today that addresses the concept of client resistance.
Tips for dealing with challenges
If possible, co-facilitate. One clinician leads while the other observes. The observer remains attuned to the general “tone” of the group, i.e. facial expressions, body language, etc.
Review the expectations at the beginning of every group. Ask clients to share the guidelines with each other (instead of you telling them). This promotes a collaborative spirit.
After guidelines are reviewed, explain that while interrupting is discouraged, there may be times when you interject to maintain overall wellness and safety. (Knowing this, a client is less likely to get angry or feel disrespected when/if it happens.)
If you must interrupt, apologize, and explain the rationale.
Avoid power struggles at all costs, especially when a client challenges the benefits of treatment. (The unhealthier group members will quickly side with a challenger, leading to a complaint session.) Challenging the efficacy of treatment (or you as a clinician) is often a defense mechanism. Sometimes, the best response is simply “okay,” or none at all… and keep moving. You can also acknowledge the client’s perspective and ask to meet with them after group (and then get back on topic). If the group is relatively healthy, you may want to illicit feedback from other group members.
If a client becomes angry or tearful, give them time to vent for a moment or two (don’t “Band-Aid”); they may be able to self-regulate. (If they do self-regulate, share your observations and offer praise.)
If a client’s anger escalates to a disruptive level, ask them to take a break. At this point, their behavior is potentially triggering to other group members. Don’t raise your voice or ask them to calm down. Direct them step out and return when they’re ready. You may have to repeat yourself several times, but remain firm and calm, and they will eventually listen.
If a client is disrespectful (cursing at you or another client, name-calling, insulting, etc.) while escalated, let them know it’s not okay, but don’t attempt to provide feedback. (A simple, “Hey, that’s not okay,” will suffice.) Bring it up with the client later when they’re able to process.
Once the client who has been disrespectful leaves the room, acknowledge what happened and let the group know you will follow up with the client. If another client wants to talk about it, ask them to share only how it made them feel, but stress that it’s not okay to talk about an absent group member. (“How would you feel if we talked about you when you weren’t here?”) Strongly suggest that they wait until the person returns (and is open) to have a group discussion.
After a major blow-up (and once everyone is calm), it can be beneficial for the group to process it with the person who escalated. Group members can empathize/relate, share their observations and/or how it made them feel, and offer feedback.
If other disruptive behaviors occur in group (side conversations, snoring, etc.) address them in the moment (without shaming, of course). Point out the behavior and explain how it’s disruptive to the group. Refer back to the group guidelines. Ask group members to comment as well. If you let a behavior persist, hoping it will eventually stop, you’re sending the message that it’s okay, not only to the person who is disruptive, but to the entire group. This impacts the integrity of the group and opens things up for additional disruptive behaviors.
For clients who monopolize, who are constantly joking, or who attempt to intentionally distract by changing the topic, point out your observations and encourage group members to give feedback.
If, on the other hand, clients seem disengaged or unmotivated, seek out their feedback, privately or in the group, whichever is clinically appropriate.
If there’s a general level of disengagement, bring it up in the group. Remain objective and state your observations.
Anticipate that at times, people may not have much to say. (And while yes, there’s always something to talk about, that doesn’t mean someone is ready to or has the emotional energy to.) Maybe they’re distracted or tired or feeling “talked out.” It’s good to have backup plans: watch a psychoeducational film, take a walk in the park, listen to meditations or music, provide worksheets, education reading material, or coloring sheets.
Always keep in mind a client’s stage of change, their internal experiences (i.e. hearing voices, social anxiety, paranoia, physical pain, etc.), external circumstances (i.e. recent medication change, loss of housing, conflict with roommates, etc.), and history of trauma. What looks like resistance may be something else entirely.
Adverse Outcomes in Group Psychotherapy | Roback, H. B. (2000). Adverse outcomes in group psychotherapy: Risk factors, prevention, and research directions. The Journal of Psychotherapy Practice and Research, 9(3), 113–122.
Differences that Make a Difference | Change-Caffaro, S., & Caffaro, J. (2018). Differences that make a difference: Diversity and the process group leader. International Journal of Group Psychotherapy, 00: 1-15.
Group Interventions| Ezhumalai, S., Muralidhar, D., Dhanasekarapandian, R., & Nikketha, B. S. (2018). Group interventions. Indian Journal of Psychiatry, 60(Suppl 4), S514–S521.
Group Therapy for Substance Use Disorders | Wendt, D. C., & Gone, J. P. (2017). Group therapy for substance use disorders: A survey of clinician practices. Journal of Groups in Addiction & Recovery, 12(4), 243–259.
All About Group and Team Facilitation | (Source: The Free Management Library) This site provides free resources for managers, entrepreneurs, and leaders; much of the content on facilitation and teams is applicable to group facilitation
Regular self-evaluation is essential for mental health professionals. Use this daily assessment tool (downloadable PDF) to evaluate your ethical and self-care practices.
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The 10th Step of Alcoholics Anonymous (AA) suggests taking daily self-inventory: “A continuous look at our assets and liabilities, and a real desire to learn and grow.” The founders of AA recommended that a person in recovery both “spot check” throughout the day in addition to taking a full inventory every evening, preferably a written one.
An honest self-evaluation can assess for resentment, anger, fear, jealousy, etc. According to the principles of AA, self-inventory promotes self-restraint and a sense of justice; it allows one to carefully examine their motives. Furthermore, it allows one to recognize unhealthy or ineffective speech/actions in order to visualize how they could have done better.
Similarly, for best practice, self-evaluation is essential for anyone who works in the mental health (MH) field. It doesn’t have to take place daily, or even weekly, but it’s a necessary measure for any active MH worker. If we don’t regularly examine our motives, professional interactions, and level of burnout, we could potentially cause harm to those we serve.
“As important as it is to have a plan for doing work, it is perhaps more important to have a plan for rest, relaxation, self-care, and sleep.”
Autonomy (self-sufficiency), or fostering the right to control the direction of one’s life;
Nonmaleficence, or avoiding actions that cause harm;
Beneficence, or working for the good of the individual and society by promoting mental health and well-being;
Justice (remaining just and impartial), or treating individuals equitably and fostering fairness and equality;
Fidelity (integrity), or honoring commitments and keeping promises, including fulfilling one’s responsibilities of trust in professional relationships; and
Veracity (genuineness), or dealing truthfully with individuals with whom counselors come into professional contact
The following is a format for MH professionals to evaluate both ethical and self-care practices. It’s meant to be used as a daily assessment tool.
Daily Self-Inventory for Mental Health Professionals
1. Did I cause harm (physical or emotional) today, intentionally or unintentionally, to self or others?
❒ Yes ❒ No
2. If so, how, and what can I do to make amends and prevent reoccurrence?
3. Have I treated everyone I’ve come across with dignity and respect?
❒ Yes ❒ No
4. If no, how did I mistreat others? What were my underlying thoughts/feelings/beliefs? How can I act differently in the future?
5. Have I imposed my personal values on a client (or clients) today?
❒ Yes ❒ No
6. If so, which values, and what steps can I take to prevent this? (Note: professional counselors are to respect diversity and seek training when at risk of imposing personal values, especially when they’re inconsistent with the client’s goals.)
7. Currently, what are my personal biases and how can I overcome (or manage) them?
8. Have I done anything today that has not been in effort to foster client welfare (i.e. self-disclosure for self-fulfilling reasons)?
❒ Yes ❒ No
9. If so, what were my motives and how can I improve on this?
10. On a scale from 1-10 (1 being the least and 10 the greatest), how genuine have I been with both colleagues and clients?
11. On a scale from 1-10, how transparent have I been with both colleagues and clients?
12. What specific, evidence-based counseling skills, tools, and techniques did I use today? Am I certain there is empirical evidence to support my practice? (If no, how will I remedy this?)
13. Have I practiced outside the boundaries of my professional competence (based on education, training, supervision, and experience) today?
❒ Yes ❒ No
14. What have I done today to advance my knowledge of the counseling profession, including current issues, evidence-based practices, relevant research, etc.?
15. What have I done today to promote social justice?
16. Have I maintained professional boundaries with both colleagues and clients today?
❒ Yes ❒ No
17. Did I protect client confidentially to my best ability today?
❒ Yes ❒ No
18. To my best knowledge, am I adhering to my professional (and agency’s, if applicable) code of ethics?
❒ Yes ❒ No
19. On a scale from 1-10, what is my level of “burnout”?
20. What have I done for self-care today?
Self-Care Activities I’ve Engaged In:
❒ Adequate rest
❒ Adequate water intake
❒ Regular breaks throughout the workday
❒ Positive self-talk
Areas for Improvement:
Areas in Which I Excel:
Download a PDF version (free) of the self-evaluation below. This assessment can be printed, copied, and shared without the author’s permission, providing it’s not used for monetary gain. Please modify as needed.
20 professional development ideas for counselors, social workers, and other mental health clinicians
By Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Professional development encompasses all activities that provide or strengthen professional knowledge/skills. Ongoing professional development is a requirement for mental health practitioners in order to maintain competency and for keeping up-to-date on the latest research and evidence-based practices in an ever-changing field.
Listed below are several ideas for counselor professional development.
1 Find a mentor (and meet with them at least once a month).
4 Keep up-to-date on the latest research. If you are a member of a professional organization, take advantage of your member benefits; you likely have access to a professional journal. You can also browse sites like ScienceDaily or use an app like Researcher.
5 Facilitate professional trainings or manage a booth at a conference.
7 Practice awareness. Know your values, limitations, and personal biases.
8 Become familiar with local resources in your community.
10 Join a professional counseling forum and participate in discussions. The ACA has several. You could also go the reddit route (i.e. r/psychotherapy).
11 Review your professional code of ethics on a regular basis. (Link to the ACA Code.)
12 Attend webinars, trainings, and conferences. Stay informed by subscribing to email lists, participating in professional forums, and searching Eventbrite for local events; search “mental health.” PESI is another source, but the seminars can be costly.
14 Subscribe to psychology magazines like Psychology Today or Psychotherapy Networker.
15 Further your education by taking classes or earning a certificate.
16 Pick a different counseling skill to strengthen each week. (You can even use flashcards to pick a new skill or simply review!)
20 Practice self-care on a regular basis to prevent burnout. Why is self-care included in a post on professional development? Because self-care is crucial for counselor wellness; a counselor experiencing burnout puts his/her clients at risk.
(Updated 11/21/20) A resource list for mental health professionals and consumers. Free PDF manuals/workbooks/guides for group and individual therapy or self-help purposes.
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
The following list is comprised of links to over 200 free PDF workbooks, manuals, toolkits, and guides that are published online and are free to use with clients and/or for self-help purposes. Some of the manuals, including Individual Resiliency Training and Cognitive Behavioural Therapy for Psychotic Symptoms, are evidence-based.
Please repost this and/or share with anyone you think could benefit from these free resources!
Disclaimer: Links are provided for informational and educational purposes. I recommend reviewing each resource before using for updated copyright protections that may have changed since it was posted here. When in doubt, contact the author(s).
For free printable PDF workbooks for youth and family, click here.
A collection of free printable PDF workbooks, manuals, toolkits/self-help guides for substance and behavioral (i.e. food, gambling, etc.) addictions and recovery
There are several SAMHSA workbooks listed below; you can find additional free publications on SAMHSA’s website. For printable fact sheets and brochures, go to the National Institute on Drug Abuse website or the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism. If you’re looking for 12-step literature, many 12-step organizations post free reading materials, workbooks, and worksheets; don’t forget to check local chapters! (See 12-Step Recovery Groups for a comprehensive list of 12-step and related recovery support group sites.) Other great places to look for printable PDF resources for addiction include education/advocacy and professional membership organization sites. (Refer to the Links page on this site for an extensive list.)
💜 = Resource for Veterans 🏳️🌈 = LGBTQ Resource 🟡 = Treatment Manual 🟦 = Printable PDF Workbook
(Updated 11/20/20) A list of online education courses and trainings for mental health clinicians (some offering free CEs!)
Compiled by Cassie Jewell, M.Ed., LPC, LSATP
Are you looking to expand your clinical knowledge or need CEs to renew your license? In-person workshops and seminars are ideal for learning up-to-date practices and the latest research, but they’re often expensive and/or require travel. And while there are plenty of online programs that offer CEs, most charge a fee.
This is a list comprised of over 50 sites that provide free online education, including training courses and webinars, some offering CEs.
Please share this resource for free online education with anyone you think might benefit!
6-Module DBT Course | An educational course designed for professionals to learn the basic principles for the diagnosis and treatment of borderline personality disorder. There are six 20-minute modules.
SOAR Works: SSI/SSDI Outreach, Access, and Recovery Online Course | A free 20-hour course with seven comprehensive classes that teaches how to navigate the SSI/SSDI application process with clients with mental illness, who are at risk of homelessness, have a medical impairment, or a co-occurring disorder. CEUs offered for NASW.
YMSM & LGBT | Archived webinars on topics related to treatment services for the lesbian, gay, and transgender population. You can also access a monthly webinar series held on the 4th Friday of each month. CEs may be offered.