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7 Mistakes Therapists Make When Choosing CEUs — And How to Avoid Them

Four individuals sit around a table, engaged in conversation. One person is looking down at a tablet, another is looking up and smiling at someone across the table, another is smiling and looking down, and another is holding a to-go coffee cup.

Mental health professionals have thousands of options for earning the Continuing Education Units (CEUs) required to keep your license up to date.

From podcast episodes worth one CEU to multi-part training programs for certifications, there are options for every specialization and schedule. In many ways, this is exciting — whatever your area of interest or expertise, there’s a class you can take to help you grow.

But at the same time: Talk about choice overload!

One way to start narrowing down your options is to get clear on a few important factors that will shape your individual learning plan, starting with your state requirements. Your budget, preferred way of learning, and the kind of clients you work with can also help you zero in on the most impactful options to add to your plan.

For more support, we talked with Alma therapists about their advice on what to keep in mind when creating a CEU plan that helps you stay on top of requirements while meeting personal goals to grow as a clinician.

Here are some of the most common mistakes therapists make when choosing their CEUs, and how to avoid making them yourself:

1. Not reading the requirements from state licensing boards carefully.

Every state has different requirements for how many CEUs you need, how often you must complete them, whether or not you need to take courses on specific topics, and how many hours can come from self-study courses (as opposed to live classes online or in-person).

Some states require clinicians to take courses on ethics, state laws, or cultural diversity, for example. Others have strict requirements for how CEU providers are accredited by relevant organizations or boards.

The CEU website you choose should have details on whether the course will earn you credits in your state. Be sure to reference these requirements regularly, as they may be subject to change.

2. Not taking certifications into account when choosing CEUs.

If you’ve received a certification, you’ll have to complete specific CEUs related to that specialty to maintain your certification, too.

For example, to maintain an EMDR certification, you’ll need to complete 12 hours of continuing education in EMDR to maintain an active status.

Professional organizations will have varying expectations related to the certifications they offer, so be sure to reference their websites for up-to-date information.

3. Deprioritizing your personal interests as a therapist.

Besides staying on top of the requirements from your licensing boards and professional organizations, Alma member Sharon Stines, LPC, recommends adding classes that simply interest you or help you learn about the clients you serve.

“I pick classes I must take per the [California state regulatory agency] Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS) and per EMDR International Association and the Probation Department, because these are all required by the type of work I do,” shared Stines. “[But] I also take classes that will help me become a better clinician based on my personal interest as a therapist—trauma, neuropsychology, dissociation, ego-state therapy, art, etc.”

Following your fire — or, what you’re passionate about as a therapist and a human being — can strengthen your work, even if it isn’t directly tied to your license or current specialty. It may even change the course of your career!

4. Making your budget an afterthought.

CEUs range in price from free to thousands of dollars. Whether you’re getting a continuing education budget from your employer or paying out of pocket, include the price of the CEUs in your planning to stay on top of how much you’re putting in.

And remember that if you’re an Alma member, you have unlimited access to our database of courses for CEU credits for free. You might also consider your CEUs as a tax deduction.

5. Not checking that the content you’re studying is up-to-date.

Imagine looking forward to diving into a new course on ACT, only to realize that the assigned reading materials are from fifteen years ago.

Unfortunately, not all CEU courses out there are up-to-date! Before you start a new course, ask colleagues or your favorite listserv if anyone has experience with the courses or database you’re considering. See what information you can get about the course before you start to ensure it's based on current research.

Ideally, CEUs will help you learn something new or refresh your knowledge of an area that’s changed or grown since you started practicing.

“Continuing education helps me support my clients by allowing me opportunities to learn and grow as a clinician,” said Stefanie Araya, LISW-S. “It gives me cutting edge information and tools I can pass on to my clients.”

6. Having unrealistic expectations for what you’re getting.

Typically, shorter programs like two-day courses or webinars are meant to provide an informative outline of the area of specialty. These can be a great way to get a sense of topics you might want to delve more deeply into through a certificate program, for example.

If you want to become an expert in a certain modality, though, consider working towards a certification. Besides making you a more capable provider in that area, sharing a certification on your website or other online profile can help your business, too.

“I look for continuing education that helps me work towards certifications,” said Araya. “I love being able to be certified in topics that my clients struggle with.”

You might also consider conferences, too, especially if networking is a major consideration at this stage of your career.

While in-person courses and webinars are both indispensable ways to learn, they’re not always the best option for relationship-building. Conferences, on the other hand, often have intentional programming for networking and learning directly from peers.

If it’s in your budget, consider traveling to a national or local conference — or, if you volunteer, you may even be able to get in for free or at a discounted rate.

7. Forgetting to document your efforts.

This is another critical one! Keep your Certificates of Completion for each course in a labeled folder on your computer or printed out and in a safe place. Many clinicians track their learning in a spreadsheet, too.

You’ll need to provide proof that you completed your CEUs if you’re ever audited by your licensing board — so don’t lose track of all your hard work.

Audits may not happen often, depending on where you live, but you definitely don’t want to be caught empty handed if you are selected.

In addition to documenting your efforts, it’s helpful to mark the date of your license expiration on your calendar! The date can creep up on you, so it’s good to have a reminder on your calendar.

Closing Thoughts

For many clinicians, lifelong learning is a core value. Knowing that you’re approaching your CEU requirements in an organized way can help you enjoy your courses more, with less stress.

Looking for more help getting organized? Download our free CEU tracker to start gathering your ideas and checking requirements off your list.

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Nancy Ryerson

About the Author

Nancy Ryerson is a content marketing leader with 10 years of experience working with B2B, B2C, and B2B2C healthcare and technology brands. Nancy believes content is king and she loves translating complex information into digestible, engaging pieces that drive emotional connections and business results.

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