Archive for Grad School – Page 2

Ceremonies and Rituals

Here’s something I’ll probably never be able to write again: by the time you read this sentence, I will have graduated from Gonzaga.

Unofficially, of course. Officially, I still need to finish my Internship hours, revise a theory paper, take my ProSem class, sit for my orals, and start applying for jobs.

This is far from the closure I would prefer. But you know what? I’m finding out that that is one of the big challenges of life: to draw our own meanings from a sticky, complicated existence.

I hear about similar stories from my clients all the time, about how what should have been a major life event was drained of its joy by its complications. I’m trying to make sure I learn from their mistakes.

Even a week ago, I didn’t really care about the graduation ceremony. To me, it was just another excuse for the school to siphon my money for the privilege of sitting in an unventilated gym. Clearly, not the best use of my emotional energy, especially not for a new mental health grad.

Instead, here’s how I’m trying to picture it. My family, who I actually do care about, would like to see me up there getting my degree. If it’s important to them, it’s important to me. The meaning, like the actual diploma, will have to come later, through pictures and memories that have long since outlived the boredom.

Success!

Acorn WebFirst, a small report on what my last couple weeks have been. Yesterday, I gave a tour of the Gonzaga campus for teenage refugees. The week before that, I volunteered to work with doctors who work with chronic and terminally ill children. Slightly before that, I took my comps (comprehensive finals for those not in the know), and scored somewhere in “out of the park” territory. Can we take a moment to acknowledge how crazy fulfilling my life is right now?

Now then, if we’re all done cheering (or maybe that was just me, and probably also Clark and Dan), I want to say a little bit about what I’ve found out about what success means as a counselor. Success is something you have to get very zen about if you want to make it as a counselor. If you judge yourself by how many complete turnarounds your clients make, you’re not going to be a very happy camper. If even you hit some kind of hot streak, and all your clients pull full 180’s, you have to remember that they were the ones that did the heavy lifting in the first place. Success in the healthy counselor is not achievement, but rather a state of mind.

Here’s therapy in its skinniest nutshell. A client comes in and (hopefully/eventually) says “look at all this crap!” The counselor looks at it and says “Wow, that is a lot of crap! What are you going to do about it?” Eventually, the two sort through the crap, and the client goes “I can deal with my crap now, thanks!” For those counselors out there with a god complex, remember this little dose of reality; our job is to teach crap filing systems.

Some might think this sounds jaded. I think it’s a beautiful thing. My job as a counselor is to hear the client’s stories, challenge the client’s sadness, and to ultimately convince the client that the power to help themselves has been within them the entire time. Getting to see that journey and that growth is, I think, one of the coolest things a human being can be a part of.

-Austin

Own It, Use It

PlayingCardWebIt hasn’t been a very good week for us here at GiTH. Dan is fighting against what may technically be called a slumlord. Clark is seeing the reality of a field that may not be all it’s cracked up to be. And this week I got the feedback that I still may not be where I need to be to succeed as a counselor.

Funny how crappy things come in threes.

But even here, at the darkest moments of 2014 (so far), its important to take stock of what we have, and what we can do going forward. I can’t speak for Dan or Clark, but I can say a whole bunch of cliches. Nothing worth having is easy. Rome wasn’t built in a day. Be the change you want to see in the world. Nothing is constant but death and taxes (and student loans).

Getting the picture?

I am beginning to face the full brunt of responsibilities I will have as a counselor. It’s scary, and I will have to face that fear to grow. But there’s something universal in that, I think. Everyone faces make-or-break moments in their lives. Problem is, in my work, I’ve seen it go both ways. I’ve seen people rise to challenges I couldn’t imagine. I’ve seen what happens to a person when they don’t. And the reality is, these make-or-break moments do break people. So now I have to go without a proverbial safety net, and trust in myself to not fall.

It’s a situation I’ve seen before, only now I’m on the other side of it. A bitter pill, and probably one I need to take to be competent.

So now I (and the other two at GiTH) have to rise to the challenge. I don’t know how yet, but I do know why. Because growing and overcoming challenges is what humans do. I think I’m looking forward to surprising myself as I puzzle this one out.

Stay tuned, you just might learn something.

The Head and the Heart

Brain FlowerThere’s a dirty little secret all counselors know. It’s the trick to counseling. But the funny thing is, knowing it won’t make the slightest difference to most people.

The head moves faster than the heart.

This is, in effect, what makes the counselor’s job easier than the client’s. A cognitive, intellectual understanding of a person’s problems is a lot easier than the present emotional experiencing of those problems. In other words, thinking about about a problem is one thing. Feeling it is another entirely.

I see it all the time with my own clients. They may be aware exactly what their problem is, and completely understand that what I’m trying to teach them would be helpful. And week after week they come back exactly the way they were when I first saw them. But, I keep trying to get to the “heart” of the problem, for one reason.

Until you know the problem in both the head and the heart, change is almost impossible.

Lucky for me, I’m finally at a point in my life where I can feel the ways in which I need to grow. Anyone that knows me (or has read my posts over the last couple of months) knows I’m the shy, awkward type. And for the first time in my life, I’m in a place where I can understand that both intellectually and emotionally. Because of that, I am gaining the humility to accept feedback, the patience to suffer growth, and the wisdom to know my limitations (I’m pretty sure I’m ripping off the serenity prayer, but hey, same principle applies).

Think about all the major roadblocks in your life, and the ones still around today. They won’t ever go away until you can say the same.

-Austin

Life in the Johari Window

Johari WindowIt’s funny. Ever since I started asking people about my blind spots they’ve been telling me about them. Bastards.

Life never comes at you from the direction you’d expect. All my fears and things I never wanted people to find out about me? Perfectly fine with them. But all those things I do automatically because I never thought to do them differently?

In those gaps are the roadblocks keeping you from being truly whole.

Even now, I’m scared to share the things about myself that people keep saying aren’t a big deal. I’m geeky (as if the blog didn’t give that away), I’m selfish, I bore easily, and I withdraw from things more often than I face them head on. The funny thing?

These all contribute to the things people love most about me.

I’m geeky and I bore easily, so the things I do love I love intensely. I’m selfish and I withdraw, so my own knowledge of my own inner workings gives me a wisdom beyond my years. I don’t face things head on often, but when I do, I end up making change, real change. Like now, for instance.

But the things that almost damned me were the things I didn’t even think of.

I keep things to myself. I tend to underplay emotions. I set most of my goals around the expectations of others. Perhaps worst of all, I don’t listen to the things inside me that tell me when I’m struggling.

For the first time in years, my head and my gut agree on where I am and what I want to become. I’m struggling where I’m at right now, and that’s fine. But to struggle alone and deny who I am in those struggles? That’s the blind spot I have to change.

Changing the Changer

Alarm ClockAs I write this, it’s mostly to burn off nervous energy. I’ve learned a lot about myself in the last few days, and I need to process. I mention it here, because I think it gets at the heart and soul of what Counseling is.

Counseling is change. And change is determined by you.

This is easy to accept on its face, but think about it. What I’m saying is this; you can be sexually abused from the day you were born. You could be burnt out and brain-fried from every bad decision and amphetamine out there. You can lose everything and everyone in your life and my message to you will be this- If you want to get better, its on you to pick yourself up. People like me, we’re here to make sure that change sticks. With that in mind, I’m owning my own mess.

I’m seeing how I relate to the world around me in a new way. I’m finally asking for feedback from those close to me, and they’ve all been telling me the same thing.

They can’t see me through the defenses I’ve put up.

As much as i hate to admit it, I’m a person that hides. I hide behind excuses. I hide behind professional facades and clinical monotones. Worst of all, I hide from my own feelings and my own fear, and because of that  I left the people that cared about me two states and a timezone away.

Counseling is change, and change is on me. This time, that means opening up, so here I am.

I’m scared. I’m fighting a ticking clock and a mountain of debt to try and do something I may not be able to do. I’m scared that if I drop my defenses for an instant I’ll drown in a sea of my own emotional chaos. If I’m going to get where I need to go, there’s a lot more I’ll need to own.

And you know what? That doesn’t mean I’m not a good counselor or a good person. Counseling is change, and if the changer can’t change themselves, can they do anything at all?

-Austin

FAQ- Frequently Asked Question

Hamburger

When I was interviewing for my current Grad program, I was frequently asked “why do you want to do this?”. It seemed rather formulaic, like something they would ask whether I was applying for a Grad program or a job at Wendy’s. As long as I didn’t answer with either “money” or explosive vomiting, I was golden. My answer would quietly gather dust in a file somewhere, to be forgotten unless it needed to be lorded over me in some way.

It’s one of those questions you hear all time, but never really think about.

With this job, maybe more than any other, you need to know the answer to that question. You need to know what keeps you coming in every day, because as a counselor you will encounter the best and worst parts of humanity. All the skeletons in you closet? Your clients can see yours as well as you can see theirs. If you don’t have a handle on it, those skeletons can own you.

I mention this because my own need for growth is becoming more apparent. There are times I know I’m off the ball with my clients, and there are times when flipping burgers for a living is a pretty attractive option. If there is the tiniest hole in the dam of your convictions, this job will hammer it open and burst out every unpleasant thing hiding in your psyche.

I wish I could tell you how to patch that dam. Once I figure it out, I’ll let you know.

The bright side? Imagine truly knowing a person, an experience of empathy so profound it borders on the religious. And imagine using that place to help move a person away from pain and isolation to understanding and change. That is what this job can be, if you have the heart and the patience for it.

That is why I want to do this.

-Austin

Broken Systems

MinerHelmet

One of the first things my teachers told me when I entered Grad School was this: “Remember, you are going to work in a broken system.” I had no perspective then on what “broken system” meant, of course, and so the thought was promptly drowned in the resulting deluge of research papers and assigned readings.

Then came the day when I was looking for an internship site. At the place I now work, my interviewer, now my supervisor, told me the same thing: “Remember, we work in a broken system.” Now, the words scared me, because I wasn’t going to work in a broken system soon, I was going to work in a broken system tomorrow. I still wasn’t sure what it meant. I’m still working on it. It’s one of those phrases that lacks form until it is experienced. For the sake of education, though, I’ll try to put it into words.

We, as Americans, live in a society that is governed by certain assumptions. One such assumption is that everything of value can be measured. We also tend to assume the reverse: that only measurable things have value. As a result we have institutions such as insurance agencies, whose job it is to assign values to the trickier subjects in life, such as death, injury, and sickness.

Here’s where it goes awry for us Counselors. The above organizations set out to quantify the disruption of life brought on by serious mental illness. They landed on the idea that a person had to either have been hospitalized by their illness, or have an illness which is by definition disruptive. This is why certain mental illnesses, like Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, are usually covered by insurance, and things like, say, a personality disorder are rarely covered by insurance. In things like Medicaid, the system is even more bare-bones in what it covers.

It makes sense, from that point of view; Bob is too sick to go to work, money is lost (and Bob can’t afford his insurance payment), society as a whole is weaker for the sickness, and everybody loses. However, loss is not the key determinant of the severity of mental illness. It’s a canary in the coal mine, but it isn’t the killing smoke. In my mind, The severity of mental illness is based on the suffering of each individual person. The problem with that, as any professor will tell you, is that we have yet to successfully define “suffering”. Even if we could, there’s still the idea that a person can still function even if they’re miserable and in need of help. Try selling that to the insurance companies.

The cherry on top? The people that need mental health care the most are those who can afford it the least. The people that fall through the cracks and have to rely on things like Medicaid have to make due with fewer services than people who are actually healthy. Hence, broken system.

I want to leave you with a sense of hope, as I see this may come off as a bit of a hopeless situation. What I will conclude on is this: Any profession is only as good as the character of those within it. I can’t think of any job with kinder, hardier people.

-Austin

 

Introductions

Soap Box - Introductions

Everyone has a story to tell. I believe that everyone’s story is worth listening to. I’m a counselor now, and if you think about, that’s all a counselor is; someone who listens to other people’s stories. We try to change the ending where we can, make it a happier one, but at the end of day we are listeners. And maybe it is because I listen as much as I do that I have begun to see things, things that have touched me deeply. I’m not just referring to my clients, either. Once you learn how to listen you’ll find the whole world has something to say.

It is because of this that we, myself and my two dear friends Clark and Dan, are starting this blog. I think it’s finally time to tell my story. Which leads me (in one of the most long-winded ways possible) to my point.

We live in amazing times. Technology is influencing society all the way down to how we think. Communication has never been easier, but Dialogue has never been harder. The easier it is to say things to one another, the harder it is to find the courage to say what matters. It is the information age, and we are drowning in it.

Maybe it’s because of this, but we as a generation stand accused. We stand accused being lazy. We stand accused of promiscuity. Perhaps most damningly, we stand accused of “not getting a job.”

Over the course of this blog I hope to address, and refute, each of these charges. I will not do this to point a finger at my accusers (there are far too many people in this world who spend their lives miserable and cursing their parents). Instead, I do this so that we can begin to understand the problem, and in doing so, begin to heal.

You may not be buying it just yet. I get it. I really do. I know how people work; I’ve sold my soul to student loans for the skill. Why should you care what three Montana nobodies have to say? There are a thousand blogs like this one, and beyond that hundreds of thousands of people with stories entirely similar to ours. After all, time is so valuable, and life is so short. If you’re not wondering what makes us worth your time, you should be.

Here’s my pitch; we may not be the first to say what we’re going to say, sure. We certainly won’t be the last. But there is a lot to be said for starting a dialogue. And that is my hope. That we can start a dialogue. That we can walk together for a time. That you can learn from me and I can learn from you, and together we can bring this big, ambiguous thing into the light and be better for the experience.

My name is Austin Logan. I am a graduate student in Counseling at Gonzaga University, and I want you to listen to my story.