Things I have learned in graduate school, part two

Last week, my name was called, and as I walked across the stage, I received a Master’s of Philosophy in Education. A couple days later, I woke up disturbingly early, put on my cap and gown, stormed down to the field with 6,000 other graduates, heard the vice president speak, and had my degree officially conferred. This past week has been a whirlwind of celebration and emotion. As I begin to finally hunker down and email my CV to every open position I can find, I reflect on what I’ve gotten out of these past two years. While I’ve learned specific techniques and facts regarding the counseling profession, there has been an abundance of life lessons that I hope will get me towards LPC licensure and beyond.

Your first job out of graduate school may not be what you initially anticipated, but it can be incredibly rewarding (if you let it be!). Many of my professors have talked about their first job out of graduate school. Many were overworked and underpaid, moved to completely different geographical locations, or took positions working with a different population than their initial interest. Whether they loved it or loathed it, they worked for the moments where they facilitated positive changes and learned things about themselves, the field, and the world. Yes, everyone has specific interests and areas of comfort, but this is not a field that warrants too much choosiness. Our job as counselors (particularly as new ones) is to be a source of support and recovery to those who need it, not just the specific few.

Badmouthing won’t get you anywhere. Everyone has complaints about their graduate program, or their jobs, or life in general. Yet I have yet to encounter a situation where whining solves any problems. There’s a fine line between constructive criticism and gratuitous complaining. You can be a positive agent in enforcing changes in program or office politics, but without action and compromise, you’re just wasting time and energy and burning serious bridges. Be reasonable – fight for what you need, but do so with grace, tact, and humility.

Keep your connections. And by connections, I mean everyone. Be on everyone’s radar and stay in touch with supervisors, professors, peers, and friends. You never know who can help you in the end (or who you can help), so it’s worth the 10 minutes of time to write a quick email or LinkedIn message to a former professor or supervisor. And with technology at our fingertips, it’s difficult not to stay in touch. Also, you’ll need your friends to help you through the difficult days at work, so call, text, email, message, or teleport (fairly certain the iPhone 22 will have that feature) them on a regular basis!

The path isn’t always linear. I’ve always been the rare person that knew my ideal career trajectory – get A’s in high school honor’s classes, go to college and major in Psychology, get a master’s degree, get a doctorate, and become a licensed psychologist. While that path is still the ultimate end goal, it’s not quite as simple. I’ve met people in graduate school who have switched career paths and were business or biology majors in college. Some people are perfectly content as master’s level clinicians, while others desire the prestige (and slightly more money) that comes with a doctorate degree. For the first time in my life, I’m not in school and am embarking on this crazy little thing called the “real world” (not to be confused with seven strangers living in a house having their lives taped). It’s terrifying, and there is a part of me that is kicking myself for not diving headfirst into a dissertation. But having the self-awareness that I need a break from school and that my end goal does not have to be immediate will help me gain more experience and be a better counselor (plus, perhaps I’ll be able to afford further higher education if I work for a few years? We can all dream, right?)

Everybody lies. Thanks, Dr. Gregory House, for that little gem of a statement is something I have had to internalize throughout my two years of graduate education. Everybody lies. And one of the most important aspects of counseling is working on trust and honesty in the therapeutic relationship. Your clients will lie to you. Your clients will lie to themselves. And you will lie to yourself. But when you can own up to your mistakes and face your own truths as a clinician and as a person, you will be able to build a better relationship with your clients and with yourself. And that is when change can really happen.

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