By Sally McGregor, MC, NCC, LPCC
COPAGS Programming Chair
“Do you want to look good, or do you want to be good?” This is a question one of my supervisors asks regularly. I often find myself reflecting on this idea in the context of being a doctoral student in our field.
We spend a significant amount of time trying to look good. We want to look good to clinical supervisors, academic supervisors, and university faculty. Heck, our careers live and die by these people’s evaluations and letters of reference. We spend tremendous amounts of time tweaking our CVs to cater to the needs of a particular externship or internship site. I have attended so many grad school and field placement interviews at this point, I could practically write a book – How to Convince an Interviewer that You Have Leadership Skills but Aren’t Too Bossy to Work Collaboratively. Or, my FAVORITE – How to Dodge Declaring a Theoretical Orientation in an Interview, while also Avoiding Using the word “Eclectic”.
We also spend time trying to look good in front of our peers and early career psychologists. One day, the people sitting next to you in Rorschach class complaining about how difficult it is to score determinants, will be called “doctor” and could refer their next client to your private practice. Next, there are our non-school peers and family. They often expect us to function like on-duty psychologists at all times, rather than humans who wear multiple hats. If you haven’t heard, “Are you psychoanalyzing me right now?” from a non-clinician before, you need to get out more. My knee jerk response: “No, Susan, I am actually eating a sandwich, and thinking about taping the Real Housewives Reunion when I get home.”
My purpose for focusing on the topic of looking good versus being good is that I think we all enter this profession with the intention to be good. A required entrance essay for applicants to my current doctoral program includes the instructions, “Avoid writing about the wish to help others or about how you want to contribute to society.” Otherwise, all personal statements would read as plagiarized statements about helping people. Then, we enter this pressure cooker of a doctoral program where looking good ostensibly takes a front seat. My personal aim is to never forget why I entered this field in the first place. It is a career priority for me to sit alongside people who are in a lot of pain. In pursuing this end goal, I want to be intentional about leaning in to being good. So, I created my own TODO list.
HOW TO BE GOOD:
- Show your supervisors the worst parts of your tape. Select that five-minute clip where you rambled incoherently about some concept you thought was profoundly life changing, and the client stared at you as if you had three heads. Show the clip where you practiced affectively attuning to your client and completely missed the mark. Don’t you always cue up the parts where you feel like you shined. Show them where you are struggling with your client, and get the help you need in order to develop your skills and to help your client. A good supervisor will appreciate this rather than chastise you.
- Help with case management. Often students avoid this work because it cannot be counted as direct client hours (looking good). Also, some psychologists consider themselves superior to tasks traditionally delegated to social workers. Frankly, I find that incredibly pretentious. Social workers who primarily conduct case management have one of the most taxing professions in the field. I know you are busy, but roll up your sleeves and do some research into outside resources for your client if it is reasonable for you to do so. If you don’t have time, at the very least, consult with a case manager about your client’s particular needs. If you are the client’s regular therapist, you likely know them better than anyone else at your agency.
- Advocate for your clients outside of work. It is easy to engage in social justice advocacy in order to appear attractive on a resume. Be very intentional about what you choose. Does this cause pull on your heart strings? If so, the experience will be more meaningful. Is your client struggling because they are homeless? The next time you decide to volunteer, perhaps it will be with a shelter.
- Above all – Be… Your… Self. Your clients will benefit from this, and you will benefit from this. There are two people in that therapy room, and your client should experience you as another human. Be someone who focuses on being authentic, rather than being right.