It took me a long time to complete my Bachelor’s degree. It was a combination of trying to pinpoint what I wanted to do after plan ‘B’ and dealing with life head-on along the way. Occasionally, I changed my mind midcourse and occasionally life just put education on the back-burner; it happens. I don’t regret changing my mind and I don’t regret putting education in its place when it came down to the priorities of my life. If you go back and read College; round 1, College; round 2, and College round 3 – VICTORY, you may get the gist of the road I walked – my walk, my shoes.
After much consideration, endless nights of researching different avenues, and countless conversations with some very important people in my life, I decided to apply to a doctoral program for Clinical Psychology. I was 41 years-old when I applied.
I’d like to pause there because I know many people think “Oh good for you!”
Along my journey, I have had encouragers,
But I’ve also had the critics.
Some of my critics, I did not expect and it took me a little while to digest their criticisms. I heard them – each and every one of them and I mulled them over. I gave their criticism a good hard, long look for what it was. I took any value they may have had in their words and I tucked it away; the rest I chucked.
And here’s why…
People love to tell you what you should do; what’s best for you and your life. But do they know?
Do they know my walk? Have they been in my shoes?
My biggest critics haven’t a clue who I really am. They think they know me, but truth is they never took the time to know me; which makes the majority of their criticism invalid and unworthy to me.
It wasn’t a spur of the moment decision. I had a long heart to heart with my husband. I also held a family meeting with the kids. I knew the road would be long and challenging. I also knew that I couldn’t do this without their support.
So despite some criticism, I applied for a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology in the spring of 2014 and part of that application process was to write an essay comprised around three questions which they provided. In writing my essay, I placed these questions in red font and made them more personal by adding my name (thanks to a great suggestion of one of my proof-readers). I had a few invaluable proof readers. I didn’t take everyone’s advice in editing. For the main part, I wrote from my heart and I mulled over suggestions, taking some and leaving others. I wrote honestly and without masks. My essay word for word that I wrote for my application for acceptance is as follows:
What are your long-term professional goals, Christine?
An experience roughly ten years ago, led me into the world of juvenile delinquency. I had temporary custody of a non-relative, troubled adolescent from Louisiana and though the story didn’t have a ‘perfect’ ending, it created an awareness and compassion within me. Troubled adolescents are one avenue that I am very much interested in. Can I narrow my professional goals to specifically working with troubled adolescents? Not yet, but I would like to explore this possibility.
There is another avenue that I am passionate about and that is complex psychological trauma. It was a book on the ‘recommended, but not required’ list of a course in my undergraduate studies that ignited a passion in me to learn more about trauma and the trauma-based therapeutic approach. Can I narrow my professional goals to specifically working with trauma? Not yet, but I would like to explore this possibility.
I want to exceed expectations and limitations; I want to reach the unreachable. I need to know more in order to do this; this is why I want my doctorate. I wouldn’t be honest telling you exactly where I want to be in 10 years because I’m not sure what I’ll learn along the way and how that will influence my thinking. I ask that you grant me that opportunity to learn and discover my niche in this field. I realize that I am taking a risk in what may appear to be uncertainty; and to some degree perhaps there is truth in that. Although acknowledging uncertainty, should not be interpreted as inadequacy or incapability. I fear being identified early on with one particular specialization in the field of clinical psychology because there are many avenues that interest me. And while I’d like to incorporate juvenile delinquency or trauma into my professional goals, I’m not sure that I know enough about either at this stage to fully pledge that as part of my goal. With that being said, my goal is that, through the journey of a graduate education aimed at obtaining a doctorate in clinical psychology, I will be able to more clearly and definitively find my passion, skill set and be well prepared to make a valuable contribution to the field as a whole.
How have you explored your interests in a professional psychology career, Christine?
My exploration in a professional psychology career has been an honest one. I don’t think it’s enough to jump into this field with the notion, “I want to help people.” And while I undoubtedly think that is noble; I think there needs to be more consideration given from a personal standpoint. I have examined this under a thoughtful microscope on not only the level of the implications to my life and that of my family, but also careful consideration of what I can bring to the table and my own limitations. I poured countless hours of research into the different avenues in which I could enter into the field of psychological therapy. I engaged in lengthy conversations with current practitioners. I have mulled through the New York State Licensed Professions website and examined the licensing requirements for most of the mental health professions. I am currently familiarizing myself with the Affordable Care Act and its implications for clinical practice.
And finally, Christine, what are your strengths and weaknesses for a career in clinical psychology?
Years ago, someone asked me to describe myself in one word. My self-descriptive chosen word was ‘Muller’ (one that mulls). Mulling things over allows me to remain objective; and yet reflective. Mulling allows for deep, introspective thought, the development of insight, options, and even answers. It is part of who I am; a ‘Muller’.
Another strength that embodies part of who I am is the ability to walk in someone else’s shoes (empathic). How do we understand and learn from others? We must be able to see the road that they are on, be able to view their experiences through their lenses, and we need to feel how their shoes fit. It is part of who I am; empathic.
I have traveled through a kaleidoscope of life experiences; good and bad. I’ve read that experience is one of the greatest teachers and I partially agree with that. There is something about real life experience that opens us up to understanding, compassion, growth and sometimes, wisdom. It is part of who I am; experienced in many different aspects of life.
I haven’t always wanted to go to graduate school and not because I hadn’t given it ample mulling, but because there was a time in my life that college was forbidden. What I hope you gain from me sharing this with you, is not the raised eyebrow questioning the word ‘forbidden’ and its meaning, but the strength of a woman who perseveres. Upon gaining freedom to walk through the door of higher education, I walked cautiously, yet curiously. It matters not the length of time that it took, but more so that I stayed the course. It is part of who I am; I persevere.
If I can write freely and honestly about my weaknesses (which I presume you would prefer), I would say that my empathic nature is a strength, but also has the ability to be a weakness. There have been times in my life when I have been taken advantage of due to my empathic nature. There is a delicate balance between a bleeding heart and empathy. I recognize this about myself and the need to keep things in check.
Finding the ‘off’ switch in my mind is another potential weakness with which I occasionally struggle. Obsessive preoccupation with the lives of my clients could lead to serious repercussions in clinical practice and potential burnout. When I found myself in the middle of a real life substance abuse crisis situation with an old high school friend, I understood the importance of finding the off switch. I spent countless hours on my front porch walking (figuratively) an addict from suicide to a residential treatment center. After the three long days of arguing and negotiating with insurance companies that it finally took to get her in treatment, I exhaled for the first time since the roller coaster began. I have been able to look back on this experience and know that I ate, slept and dreamt about the crisis at hand for not only those three days, but for days after that. I worried about her and wondered whether I handled her crisis correctly without creating a crisis of my own.
I’d like to hope that I will always care about my clients and hope that they always continue to better themselves to live healthy lives, but obsessing about their well-being and questioning myself to the point of self-doubt wouldn’t be healthy for me or helpful to my clients. That is what I mean by finding the off switch. Just as it’s important to know how and when to shut off the over-analyzing switch, it’s equally important for me to remember all that I am and all that I have beyond the walls of my practice.
Over the past couple of years, I’ve found canoeing to be a great mental ‘off switch’, as well as various art projects. I think it’s important to have this mental decompression and I aim to never stop improving the balance between a focus on others and my own inner health.
I shared with you my goal of obtaining a doctorate degree and my personal exploration into this field. I have shared my strengths and my weaknesses for not only a career in clinical psychology, but also, I shared a glimpse of me. I am so thirsty to know more. I stand at your door now, knocking; knocking for knowledge. Please, I ask you, invite me in.
-My essay took the longest for me to complete, almost three months. Upon sending it, I received a phone call within three days that they wanted to meet me and interview me in person. I interviewed with them and received notification that I was one of ten accepted into the program. I’d like to tell you why I chose this path and why I believe in it. I’d like to tell you the ridiculous things I’ve heard along the way and my thoughts on it, but all of this is a story for another day….
(Permission was granted by those anonymous people in my essay to share their story within my essay and publicly)
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