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Since 2008, Massive Online Open Courses have been providing free or low cost high quality college courses.  There are several sites that offer outstanding courses from universities around the world.

EdX.org is based in Cambridge, MA and governed by Harvard and MIT. You can read more about their principles and goals at https://www.edx.org/about-us.  As with most MOOCS, you can take courses live, or you can audit an archived course that has ended but stored online and still available. More about EdX later.

Coursera’s mission is to “provide universal access to the world’s best education,” and has partnered with major universities all over the world. Like EdX, it has apps for your Android and iPhone as well, to make it even easier to take courses.

iVersity is a European based MOOC with a variety of courses. EdX, Coursera, and iVersity all offer courses in languages other than English if you also want to practice your other-than-English language skills.

You can also use these as resources for students, and there are some geared just to students with resources for teachers and parents.  Khan Academy is a good resource and also has test prep for the SAT and other tests. If you, or someone you know, are interested in tech and coding, there is the Code Academy and Udacity. The World Wide Web Consortium also has classes with certificates you can earn for learning various computer languages and coding.

For a long list of free courses, MOOCS, and other free learning sources, take a look at Open Culture.

I hope you check these out and find something to stretch your mind. The course you take may be work or career related or just something you are interested in and take for fun. The most recent course I took on EdX was called “Chinese Thought: Ancient Wisdom Meets Modern Science” taught by Edward Slingerland of the University of British Columbia. Slingerland did an excellent job of looking at Chinese philosophers such as Confucius, Mencius, Mozi, Laozi, Zhuangzi, and others and using modern neuroscience, psychology, anthropology and sociology research to examine the ethical models of human behavior that each philosopher espoused.  Do expect to spend time on courses. There are lectures (the EdX ones I have taken are not classroom lectures but more like very well made documentaries), reading assignments, message boards for class participation, tests, and papers. There are certificates for passing. Be sure to read the details on the site where you sign up.  Give your brain a work out, and keep learning and growing your entire life.

You may be at a point in your life where you want to go out on your own in a private practice and maybe even do some consulting.  Or you may have a passion for something and feel inspired to start a nonprofit supporting the cause. Or you may already have taken one of these steps and want to maintain or grow what you have started. You may find that for you, deciding to make these changes follows the same stages as the transtheoretical model of change – pre-contemplation, contemplation, preparation, action, and maintenance.  The preparation stage is critical.

There are many web resources for persons deciding on whether to go into business or whether to embark on starting a nonprofit. There are also many web resources for those on low budgets as sole proprietors of a counseling practice, and there are also some resources for nonprofit organizations to save money and to help develop the organization. Let’s explore some of these.

Contemplation and Preparation Resources

For Counselors Graduate school teaches you all about how to be a counselor. They don’t teach you about the business aspect. A good resource for counselors is ACA and VCA. Network and talk to therapists you already know in private practice and see what has worked and not worked for them. Again, do your research and preparation.  You can get connected to liability insurance through VCA and ACA. If you are going into private practice, allow time for getting added to insurance panels – it can take months for the process to be completed.  You may have to complete forms and submit information to individual companies. There is CAQH – http://www.caqh.org/ for streamlining the process. You also need a national provider number. Information on this is at https://nppes.cms.hhs.gov/NPPES/Welcome.do

Business Resources for Entrepreneurs – If you have thoughts about going into business for yourself, or if you or your group needs help with business plans and marketing and other issues, check out these resources.  You may also find help at your local government website, including the process for obtaining a business license, or the local chamber of commerce web site. For example, you can find the Williamsburg Chamber resources at http://www.williamsburgcc.com/business-start/ and Hampton Roads at http://www.hamptonroadschamber.com/ .  To find your Virginia local government website, the state has a list of these at http://www.statelocalgov.net/state-va.cfm.  – just scroll down the page for the lists. If you are in a state other than Virginia, you can find listings at http://www.statelocalgov.net/. And you want to check on liability insurance for malpractice and also for property, injury, etc.

  • SCORE – http://www.score.org/ – SCORE is a nonprofit association dedicated to helping small businesses get off the ground, grow and achieve their goals through education and mentorship. They have been doing this for nearly fifty years. SCORE is supported by the U.S. Small Business Administration (SBA), and thanks to a network of 11,000+ volunteers, they are able to deliver their services at no charge or at very low cost. They also provide a mentoring program as well as workshops and local volunteers.
  • Small Business Administration – http://www.sba.gov/ – This site has a wealth of information for starting and growing a business.
  • Business One Stop – http://www.bos.virginia.gov/index.shtml – Guide to starting a business in Virginia
  • Enloop for writing a business plan – https://www.enloop.com/

Business Resources for Nonprofits – If you are a 501(c )(3) nonprofit organization, you can get a lot of help from Grass Roots. For starters you can get free website space at Blue Host. You will be able to put up a straight HTML site or use one of the content management systems listed below, plus a whole lot more software. It also includes email, store software, and plug-ins for your content management system, as well as learning management systems.  But there is so much more to Grass Roots. Their website describes the organization as helping “nonprofit organizations succeed, by leveraging technology to accelerate their charitable efforts. When you join Grassroots.org, you join with thousands of nonprofits, volunteers, businesses and donors working together to change the world.”

Action Resources

These are some general tools you can use regardless of the business you are in.

Office Software – The standard office suite is Microsoft Office. It can be costly, and various packages have different software included. For example, Publisher and Access are not included in the Home and Student Office edition. There is a subscription plan for Office 365. What are the low cost or no cost options? Open Source office suites have been around for years.  Open Source means that the software code is open to modification by anyone and is the software is free to download, install and use. That also means, though, that you are pretty much on your own for support. There are communities you can join and ask questions, and the software site typically keeps support, frequently asked questions and support sections. Click on the links for more information about each application. Both Google and Microsoft have online versions of office products.

Online Storage, File Sharing and Collaboration – With these you can write and create projects together and share files with others. You can keep a file private – just for you – or you can share it with individuals you specify, or you can make it open so that anyone can see it. Google and OneDrive have the office software built in. The others are online or “cloud” storage.

Encryption – There are times when for privacy and confidentiality you may want to encrypt files or your entire hard drive. For instance, you may want to keep records in a document or spreadsheet template you create rather than pay for electronic health records software. To keep your documents private, you can store them as encrypted files or you can encrypt your entire drive.

Getting the Word Out – There are lots of options here. You can use MailChimp to set up your own direct electronic mail list or newsletter for your business or your organization. There is a free version, and you can create your own templates if you want. You can set up listservs with Yahoo Groups and Google Groups. SlideShare allows you to embed your PowerPoint presentations on your website or sites like LinkedIn. Twitter has an option that allows you to embed your account feed into your web page so you can easily update information to your site with just a Tweet. Blogger is owned by Google, and you can add newsfeeds and your Facebook feed to it for constant fresh content. You can also monetize it with Google Ads. You can also embed video from your YouTube Channel and slide shows of photos from Picasaweb. The list below includes social media, pod casting, blogging, and other sites for sharing information.  Lastly, don’t forget about press releases. You can find a how-to with examples at http://www.cbsnews.com/news/how-to-write-a-press-release-with-examples/.

One thing to remember about these is that they take time and work. Don’t overdo them or over commit. You can end up spending all your time on your web projects and not have much time for your business or your organization. Have a clear vision of how you want to use them. For social networking sites, be mindful of the boundary between personal and business and what you want kept private. We won’t discuss each of these since many of them change formats and options periodically. Just click the links and explore.

Graphics Software – Photoshop is great tool, but it is also costly, and is now on a subscription basis.

Surveys – You may need surveys for feedback from customers or stakeholders, or you may need it for a research project. Both these products have free versions.

Collaborating Live – These products allow you to collaborate online in various ways – conference calling, videoconferencing, sharing files, instant messaging, etc.  Google Voice allows you to set up an account in which you can embed a gadget on your web page so that people can call you from your site. When someone leaves a voicemail, you can call for it, check it on your Google Voice page, and receive both a text and an email with the message. The text and email use voice recognition to change the vocal into text, and the quality varies depending on the phone connection and the enunciation of the caller.

Audio Recording and Editing and Video Converting and Recording – Software to help you put together audio and video projects for you site, your podcast, or your video channel. Screen recorders enable you to record your computer screen so that you can produce tutorials from your computer.

Space for Fee Websites – There are lots of places you can start your own website besides Facebook. Here are a few. You can still buy your own domain name, like counselingservices.com, and then have a site at one of these servers and point your domain to your free site. If you are using Google Sites, your free URL is sites.google.com/site/counselingservices. Just go to the control panel of the company you bought your domain from (like Blue Host, Fat Cow, Yahoo, GoDaddy and many others) and point your domain name to the URL. The company you bought your domain name from can explain how that is done. It is actually a very simple process.

Content Management Systems and Learning Management Systems – These allow you to have more than one person be responsible for various sections of the site, each with their own log in. They are open source so you would have the responsibility of doing the upgrades and security updates.

Other

If you know of other resources, please feel free to share them. We all get better when we work together.

Recently I spoke with a graduate student in counseling who needed to interview someone in the field for a paper he was writing for class. He told me he had called numerous therapists but was told that they were too busy to talk. I have gotten to talk to many students, both graduate and undergraduate, over the years and it has always been a very enjoyable experience. I encourage therapists to make time for students and to give back to them. Many have helped us along our path.

What follows is a result of several conversations with students looking for internships. It was originally published in the newsletter of the Virginia Counselors Association.

Even though it is spring, it is not too early to begin planning for a fall practicum or internship for your graduate program. Slots at agencies and programs can fill up early, especially with the number of graduate programs these days. You are not only competing for spaces with others in your program, but with students from programs at nearby schools, from online degree programs, and sometimes from students who may go to a school from a distance away but who live close by you and look for placements near home.

The first step is to check with your school for a list of agencies and programs with which the school already has a valid affiliation agreement. Affiliation agreements involve the school and the program exchanging agreements signed by the directors of both entities with each program having an original of the agreement. The agreement states the responsibilities of both parties and the liability insurance information. Students can get liability insurance for free with their ACA membership, or at a tremendous discount (approximately $35) with their membership in VCA. It is a good idea to have your own insurance even after you are licensed and working for an agency that has insurance that covers you. The insurance that the agency has looks out for you, but the primary responsibility is to the agency. If the agency can prove you failed to follow policies or procedures, you may be left on our own. Your own insurance’s responsibility is to advocate for you. If you find a place that you would really like to intern and there is no agreement, most likely you will need to find a person at the agency who is willing to follow through on getting an agreement. This can take time, and if the process is not started early, it may not be done in time for the start of the placement, if it occurs at all.

Larger agencies and schools may use the same process for taking on an intern as they would for hiring a new employee (except without the pay). This includes going through an interview process, having references, providing a transcript, resume, and completing a job application. Make sure your references are easily reachable. I remember instances when a reference had a full voicemail box and did not respond to several messages left with the receptionist nor to multiple emails. I had to ask the student for an alternate reference. Also make sure that you provide documentation as requested. If a sealed transcript is required, providing a personal copy will not work. Your placement may be delayed or may not occur at all. If a job application is required in addition to a resume, repeatedly writing “see resume” for questions on the application may not be acceptable either. Sometimes bureaucracies put their needs over user friendliness to applicants.

Once you begin at the placement, you may go through an orientation in which you learn about the organization and its structure, policies and procedures. There may also be criminal background checks, DMV and social services checks, finger printing, and drug screens. And then there is training to be done. If you are at a facility that is licensed by the Dept of Behavioral Health, that will include things like CPR and First Aid (if you have these already and the certifications are valid through the time you will be at the agency, you may be able to present your card and not have to take the training again), behavior management, client rights, cultural competency, ethics, confidentiality and privacy of health records, developing treatment plans, health record documentation, and infection control among others. You would also have to learn the ins and outs of whatever health record system the agency uses and more and more that means an electronic health record. Being comfortable with computers has become a pretty essential part of the behavioral health workplace. You may also learn about whatever other forms the agency uses, such as incident report forms.

You will probably have an easier time finding a placement at larger agencies, or at least places that provide for fee services. Since you are not licensed yet, services that you provide cannot be billed to insurance companies. If you are at a stage where you could meet the Medicaid criteria for qualified mental health provider, the agency might be able to bill for services such as case management or intensive in-home services, but not for psychotherapy at the office, unless the client pays out of pocket. The for fee services would be things like services contracted by entities like courts, Community Corrections, probation and parole, Alcohol Safety Action Program, jail programs, or social services. This may involve intake evaluations, individual counseling, group counseling and psychoeducation. The focus may be mostly on groups. Groups can be for drunk driving offenders, possession of marijuana, underage possession of alcohol, family violence, and anger management. Groups may also be part of programs like intensive outpatient programs and partial hospital programs. You may also be asked to do breathalyzers and drug screens, including observing urine drug screens. You may also have to make reports to referring agencies like probation or social services.

You will also learn the ins and outs of the culture of the workplace. Some are very nurturing and mentor very well. At the other end are toxic places with lots of office politics rife with turf and ego wars. And many have a various mix of the two. Like most things, office cultures seem to follow a bell curve from very healthy to very unhealthy with most somewhere in between. You may run across hierarchies based on credentials and clashing philosophies. The practitioner as expert pathology-based medical model versus client centered strength-based recovery model are two examples of competing philosophies that cause friction in the workplace and a difference in ideas of how best to work with clients. How would you cope with that?

It is imperative that you research the places you are applying to as much as possible and make yourself a list of questions to ask when you talk to them. They are interviewing you to see if they want to work with you and for fit, but you are also interviewing them to see if it is a place you would want to be and if it would be a good fit for you. You may feel you need to positively impress them, but they also need to positively impress you for you to consider them. This research is crucial, particularly trying to talk to folks who work there to get an idea of what it is like. Management isn’t always straightforward on what the real conditions and expectations are like, so sometimes interviews have about as much predictive value as say an SAT or GRE for academic performance – none. Write out the questions you want to ask during the interview and take them with you so you are sure to remember them. It is useful, too, if you know someone who has gotten services at a place to talk with them and see how they were treated – more than one person if possible. Also people who make referrals to a place can be a help, though less so for various reasons. But I think those who get counseling from a place can give you a pretty good idea of the treatment philosophy of the program. Also talk to students and graduates who have been placed there before if you can. Find what kind of situations they were put in and what kind of guidance and mentoring they received or did not receive. Find out if there are individuals there who will advocate for you, and who can do so effectively. And always advocate for yourself, and that especially includes after you begin the placement. If things are not going well, do not wait to the end of the semester to bring up what has not been going well.

So if you are planning on starting a practicum or internship in the fall, the time to start working on it is now. You can find out more about the Virginia Counselors Association at http://www.vcacounselors.org/.

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