November 25, 2011

Life Among the Merchants-in-Training

Filed under: Grad School: Building a Therapist — Ann @ 9:57 am

It's All Good

Since getting accepted into the MA in Counseling program at Sonoma State, the first question I’m usually asked by friends is, “How’s grad school?” and I never know how to answer. I’m tempted to go with an old cliché (variously attributed to war, law and science) and respond, “Grad school consists of long periods of boredom punctuated by moments of sheer terror,” but that doesn’t quite capture it. The experience of sitting through a 3 hour and 40 minute lecture is not truly boring, because all of the subjects are close to my heart and are training me for my chosen profession. But it does tax the brain to listen and take notes for so long, especially on days with back-to-back classes. So chalk up one accurate adjective: Graduate school is challenging.

But how else to describe it? Shall I talk about the countless hours of meaningful but wearying reading, writing, test preparation and vignette analyzing, or the practice counseling sessions and triad experiences? Should I mention the dread I felt when I learned that some advanced students have all-day classes in Carson 30, requiring them to sit in those hard plastic torture devices called “desks” until 7 o’clock at night, knowing that is my destiny as well?

Or should I skip the negatives, focusing solely on the rich rewards? And there are so many. I’m being trained by some of the best and brightest professors on campus. I’m reading materials by brilliant psychologists who are becoming my new BFFs, people like Irvin Yalom and Eliana Gil. I’m absorbing information, skills, and techniques at an exhilarating rate, moving rapidly in the direction of my dreams.

And then there is the unexpected blessing of this community, consisting of all of the professors, staff, and students that make up the Counseling Department. In my life thus far I’ve been a part of many circles – the legal world, various performing arts groups, and the freakishly delightful subculture of Renaissance Faire workers. But this program has introduced me to a community I find the most extraordinary of all because of the kindness and caring which are evident in countless ways. There are the little things – taking notes for each other, sharing helpful and/or inspiring articles or websites – and then there are the more meaningful selfless acts: A group of women helping a student with child care by taking turns watching over her infant during class while the mom, in turn, takes notes for her sitters. And I’m not the only one who’s noticed the kindness phenom: I’ve discussed this with several classmates and they share my delight in being immersed in this new world of heart-centered souls who want to make a positive difference in the lives of others, to be — as characterized by Professor Doolittle in class one day — “merchants of hope and empathy.”

Psychologist/philosopher William James wrote that “the aim of a college education is to teach you to know a good man when you see one.” Perhaps the next time someone asks me how graduate school is going, I’ll reply simply and honestly, “Every day I’m surrounded by good people with whom I share common dreams and goals. What could be better ?” That really does say it all.

Written for and published in the Fall 2011 edition of ‘Semester Spotlight,’ the newsletter of Sonoma State University’s Counseling Department.

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