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.”
Note: This article, or parts of it, may have been posted to other blogs. It is not entirely unique to this site.
Guest Post: My Experience with Depression
Depression, also known by some as the silent killer. And for good reasons.
Little did I know I was going to find this out firsthand.
Early on in life, before the age of 16, everything was perfect. I had loving parents and, in general, a loving family. I had plenty of friends. I excelled in sports and did well in school.
Things were easy back then. The only ounce of responsibility I had was making sure I got passing grades. And what if I didn’t listen in school and got detention as a result? Well, he’s still a young kid who’s figuring out life. Got into a fight? Well, he’s still a young boy who doesn’t always thinks before he acts.
But my perfect world didn’t last.
My Experience with Depression
Around the age of sweet 16, my life started changing rapidly.
I stopped feeling happy and optimistic. At first, I thought it was just a phase everyone my age went through and that it would pass as quickly as it came. But it didn’t. I had a difficult time adjusting to my ever-changing environment and handling the pressure I believed was being put on me.
I didn’t know what I wanted for my future. My friends and schoolmates already knew what they were going to study when they went to college the next year. I, however, did not. I had no direction in life. I was a loose cannon, an unguided projectile, an immature and wild kid, busy with partying and drinking.
I started getting into frequent fights; I’m not a violent person, but the anxiety, negative emotions, feelings of helplessness, and an overall sense of feeling lost in this world led to physical confrontations with others. The fights were a reflection of my poor mental state.
Then I turned 18. My parents told me it was time to start taking responsibility for my choices and actions because this time “it was for real.”
In college, I decided to pursue the field of nutrition. Not because I had a strong desire to become a dietician, but rather, because people I knew from my home town were going this route, and I figured since I was interested in exercise/health, it might be a good fit.
Newsflash, it wasn’t.
I quit school two months in. Turns out choosing what course to study based on friends rather than what you want in life is not the smartest idea. (Who would’ve thought, right?)
The following year, I gave it another try. This time I studied occupational performance. Long story short, I managed to earn a college degree despite my depression.
After I graduated and started working as an occupational therapist in a physical rehabilitation center, things got better. I was motivated to help people relearn lost skills, improving their quality of life.
But in time, my thoughts turned dark again, becoming negative and nihilistic. I slept less and my sleep quality was poor. I would randomly wake up at night and cry because I felt so terrible. I withdrew from friends and family. I even discovered a way to measure the severity of my depression; when my mood worsened, I craved alcohol. Drinking was a way to self-medicate.
I continued to plow away at work, but an excessive sense of responsibility, perfectionism, and anxiety was eating away at my mental health. I was head deep into my depression.
One day, I woke up and found I couldn’t get out of bed. I had nothing left in the tank. I realized I needed to take some time off work to deal with my depression and get my life in order again. I called my parents and asked to come home.
At first, I didn’t leave the bedroom. There were successive days I didn’t get up to eat or shower. I was in constant mental pain. It was hell on earth.
One evening, I managed to get out of bed and sat down to eat dinner with my parents. They were silent, and looked tired and sad. Until this moment, my depressive haze prevented me from seeing how my illness impacted my family. I decided: that’s it, no more. It was my guilt that fueled the decision to fully contend with my mental illness.
Up until now, I was only living for myself, not participating and valuing what my parents, family, and others did for me. So, something needed to change. I needed to turn my life around. And with my life, my attitude.
I started seeing a psychologist and taking antidepressants. I took a sincere look at self, including undesirable traits I’d been afraid to face. I set goals for myself. And when I had zero desire to get out of bed, I pushed through. I made sure I did something useful every day.
After several months of therapy and medication, life became manageable. I talked more, was less irritable, and as a result, my life and that of those around me improved. At times I even looked forward to things!
How Depression Changed Me
Although the depression was tough on me, and there were times I didn’t know if I was going to make it, it brought about some positive changes.
I became more mature and resilient; I learned to put things in perspective and take necessary responsibility. But the two most significant aspects that changed were my so-called “intellectual arrogance” and the pessimistic way I viewed life.
Before, I considered myself a fairly intelligent fellow. The problem with this was that I overvalued intelligence, viewing other aspects in life as inferior.
Moreover, my attitude was overwhelmingly cynical and negative. What I failed to realize is that focus shapes experience. And if you only pay attention to the negative, you miss the beauty life has to offer. Now, I actively search for the good and beautiful things happening around me.
What Helped Me Get My Depression Under Control
In addition to medication and therapy, I found the following to be helpful:
Seeking help. We can’t do everything on our own, no matter how much we’d like to. There are times when you will need help to cope with your depression. In addition to professional help, seek support from family and trusted friends. You may find that feeling heard and understood is what carries you through the darker days.
Setting goals. I had no desire to do anything in life. I had no goals. For severe depression, I would advise setting smaller goals you think you would mind doing the least (minimal effort) and/or goals which you found important in the past (before your depression took over).
Taking responsibility. Although depression can be debilitating, practice taking responsibility for the things in life under your control. For me, it was easy to blame others for everything that went wrong, believing the world to be wretched and unfair, but it didn’t do me any good.
Exercising. Mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. Exercise releases endorphins, the “feel good” brain chemicals related to pleasure. If you don’t enjoy exercise, try a hobby that requires some level of physical exertion. As an additional benefit, engaging in exercise can take your mind off the stressful things in life.
My Depression Warning Signs
For me, there are clear signs that indicate my depression is coming back or worsening. Keep in mind that warning signs vary from individual to individual. What might be a warning sign for me may not for you.
My desire to do anything decreases. Hobbies I enjoy like weightlifting and running suddenly mean very little to me. But it’s not just about hobbies. Things like getting out of bed and showering suddenly become difficult because I have zero motivation or energy.
My thoughts get darker and more negative. It becomes increasingly tough to see the positive things in life or the positive in people. I become cynical and pessimistic.
Overthinking. I tend to overthink when things go bad, which is basically what depression is for me: feeling bad.
Anxiety. Negative thoughts and overthinking lead to increased levels of anxiety. My anxiety about the little things in life may seem insignificant to others who don’t have a mental illness, but a simple act such as calling or visiting a friend can freak me out and lead to rumination.
Ruminating. Intrusive thoughts run through my head and there’s no “off” switch.
Irritability. I become increasingly irritable; I’m in a foul mood all of the time and the smallest things piss me off.
Increased desire to self-medicate. I experience a strong desire to drink. Alcohol impacts the brain by triggering a release of dopamine. This rush of dopamine creates feelings of pleasure and happiness.
Decreased sleep quality. My overall sleep quality gets worse, partly due to constant overthinking and ruminating. Anxiety and stress are also big factors. And when I’m able to fall asleep, I wake up throughout the night.
Depression is a terrible disease that may go unnoticed if the signs aren’t recognized or known. A person with depression might attempt to maintain a positive front, possibly because they don’t want to complain or they’re afraid of being misunderstood.
There are multiple symptoms of depression; my symptoms went hand-in-hand, playing off one another and creating a vicious circle of negative thoughts that sucked the energy and lust for life from me.
Depression symptoms are different for different people. Learning to identify the symptoms will help you to recognize depression in others. Furthermore, an increased awareness enhances empathy and enables you to better support someone with depression.
I give the following advice to anyone with depression:
Don’t give up.
Seek professional help.
Seek support from your family and close friends.
Set goals and work hard to achieve them.
Take responsibility for the things you can control.
Is there a cure for depression? No. Do I think I will ever be totally depression-free? Maybe. What I do know for sure is that my illness is manageable and livable at the moment. I look forward to what the future has in store for me. Which is a lot more than I anticipated at first.
About the Author:
Kevin Mangelschots is a writer and occupational therapist with seven years of experience in the field of physical rehabilitation. He is a long-time fitness enthusiast. Kevin lives in Belgium and has created a platform for other bloggers to share their life stories where he writes about his own experience with depression at retellinglifestories.com.
From Survival to Endurance to Fulfillment: How I Found Meaning in Life
Without delving too deep into my past, I can tell you that my late teens and early to mid 20’s were not the best of times. They were dark. Lonely. Depressing. I was living a life of chaos and hopelessness. At one point, I didn’t think I was going to survive; I gave up on having a future. And I was strangely okay with it.
My turning point was a spiritual awakening of sorts. A
near-death experience led to a realization that I didn’t want to die; and it
was either die or change my life. I picked change.
What helped me to live again (and ultimately find fulfillment and meaning in life)? You might guess family or a relationship or God. But at the time, I wasn’t close with my family, I didn’t have any significant relationships/friendships, and God wasn’t a part of my life.
It was the following that helped me with finding meaning and becoming the person I am today:
Having not a single shred of self-esteem, I went to see a counselor. She created a safe space and then uplifted me, making me feel worthwhile. She normalized what I was going through; I felt less alone. She affirmed me for positive choices I made. She initiated the mending of my fragile self. I gradually gained confidence, not only in myself, but in the idea that I could live a better life as I started finding meaning.
She loved me unconditionally… and she depended on me fully. I knew that if I died, she would never understand why I left her. I couldn’t bear that idea; I wouldn’t do that to her.
She played a huge role in my recovery. I sometimes think she saved me. She was instrumental in finding meaning in life.
I’ve always known I have potential. I’m smart and creative and determined. But that potential died somewhere along the way in young adulthood. In moments of clarity, I mourned my lost potential. I wanted to be better and to do better with my life. I was meant, maybe not for great things, but for better things than living out of my car, broke and friendless. When I decided to live, my potential reawakened; it became a driving force – a bright, glowing beacon that revitalized and inspired me.
“You have to forgive yourself.”
I couldn’t bear to tell my therapist about some of the things I’d done. I was ashamed; late at night, lying in bed, I would think about the past. I’d feel sick to my stomach – then, an unpleasant head rush heart racing not able to get enough air… (That’s the feeling of shame seeping from your mind into your being.)
My therapist didn’t push me to share; instead, she said, “You have to forgive yourself.” It became my mantra, quietly uttered in the dark. I would repeat, “I forgive myself, I forgive myself, I forgive myself…” until I internalized it. (That being said, it didn’t happen overnight… it took weeks, months, years. But all was set in motion with that one simple statement.)
I went back to school and was able to fully immerse myself in my studies. As a naturally curious person, learning is a sort of fuel for me. The more I learn, the thirstier I become. My classes provided me with not only knowledge, but with a spark that generated purpose.
While in school, I discovered a new passion; I fell in love with research. (#nerd) I thrived in my research/statistics class; my undergraduate study was even published in a national journal. It felt good to be passionate about something again; it stirred up (from the dust) long-forgotten loves, like reading and writing – passions I thought I’d left behind in childhood.
A Meaningful Career
After finishing college and starting graduate school, I became a counselor… finding meaning in helping others. My first job in the field was tough, heart-breaking at times, and deeply fulfilling. It solidified what my education had started to shape – I no longer needed to survive or endure life; I found my purpose and a meaning in life.
Open-ended questions are important in therapy. They allow a client to explore his/her values, ideas, and beliefs. This is a list of 161 questions for group therapy, journal prompts, conversation starters, and/or icebreakers.
The questions to explore ask about recovery, spirituality, personal growth, and other relevant topics. As a counselor, I’ve used the questions with adults who struggle with mental illness and addiction, mostly in a group setting.
Asking open-ended questions is a basic counseling skill. Open questions invite the client to explore his or her thoughts, beliefs, and ideas. In contrast, closed questions can be answered with a yes or no.
The first section, “Conversation Starters,” is comprised of questions to explore that can be used as icebreakers, at a party, or even on a date. In a clinical setting, use a “Conversation Starter” as a group check-in. It provides an opportunity for group members to engage and to learn about their peers.
Click below for a free printable handout that includes questions to explore from each category:
If we don’t strive to meet our goals and improve on a regular basis, we become stagnant. And if we aren’t growing and learning, our minds become lethargic. This is an article about 37 simple things you can do to prevent stagnation for a more meaningful life.
1. Emotional—Coping effectively with life and creating satisfying relationships
2. Environmental—Good health by occupying pleasant, stimulating environments that support well-being
3. Financial—Satisfaction with current and future financial situations
4. Intellectual—Recognizing creative abilities and finding ways to expand knowledge and skills
5. Occupational—Personal satisfaction and enrichment from one’s work
6. Physical—Recognizing the need for physical activity, healthy foods, and sleep
7. Social—Developing a sense of connection, belonging, and a well-developed support system
8. Spiritual—Expanding a sense of purpose and meaning in life
Find additional SAMHSA links in the Links section of this site. SAMHSA is the agency within the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services that leads public health efforts to advance the behavioral health of the nation.
In order to maintain balance and live a meaningful life, it helps to have a variety of wellness strategies in your toolbox. The following list is comprised of 37 ideas for personal/professional development, self-improvement, and creating healthy habits.
37 Simple Things You Can Do for a More Meaningful Life
1. Read one inspirational/motivational book per month or
2. Read one wellness article per week for a more meaningful life.
3. Take advantage of free classes offered at the library or through Coursera. (Coursera provides universal access to education by partnering with top universities and organizations.)
4. Take part in a new activity or event to step outside your comfort zone. (Examples: Join a book club, take a cooking class, attend a Meetup, etc.)
5. Make time for an old friend for a more meaningful life.
6. Develop an exercise routine, write it down, and then stick with it. No excuses!
7. Walk your dog (or borrow one from a friend!)
8. Complete household tasks and chores on a daily basis. Create a chore list. Don’t procrastinate!
9. Stay informed on the latest science and health news/research with sites like Science Daily.
10. Attend a workshop to learn about a topic you’re unfamiliar with.
12. Improve your posture. (And yes, there are apps for that!)
13. Read a non-fiction book.
14. Take a daily inventory; assess your attitude, productivity, etc. before going to bed.
15. Drink more water, green tea, and black coffee. (And drink less wine, beer, sugar-sweetened beverages, and soda!)
16. Practice active listening.
17. Overcome a fear.
18. Identify your “blind spots” by soliciting feedback from a trusted friend or loved one. They can help you to recognize areas for improvement by sharing their observations. (Example: You may not realize how often you complain until someone points it out for you.) Make a commitment to change.
21. Live a meaningful life with daily meditation and mindfulness. Spend a few quiet moments alone every morning, drinking a cup of coffee. Or journal before going to bed. Reflect on your day and think about what you’re grateful for. Practice deep breathing exercises or listen to guided imagery scripts. Create your own unique ritual.
22. Dress up, style your hair, apply makeup, get a manicure/pedicure/facial, wear sexy shoes or your favorite jacket… Alternatively, you may prefer to put on your comfiest clothes, sweatpants or a fuzzy sweater. Whatever makes you feel good!
23. Be optimistic. Catch yourself if you start complaining and reframe your thoughts. Always assume positive intent.
24. Complete a task you’ve been putting off.
25. Watch a TED Talks.
26. Cook and enjoy a healthy meal.
27. Learn to juggle.
28. Learn a foreign language (or sign language).
29. Practice random acts of kindness, give a spontaneous gift, or help a stranger.
30. Create a vision board.
32. Be a tourist in your hometown. (Free walking tours are often available in larger cities!)
33. Donate blood or plasma.
34. Memorize the lyrics to a song (or rap) of your choice.
35. Find a Pinterest project that interests you. Pin it and then do it!
36. Pick up trash in your neighborhood.
37. Write and mail “thinking of you” cards/postcards.
Additional ideas for a more meaningful life: Run a 5K (or 10K!) Adopt an elderly pet that needs a home.
Comment with your best ideas for living a more meaningful life.