A Conversation With The Part of Myself That Doesn’t Want to Work on Doc Paper

By Shahrzad Sadighim

Executive Homunculus: Alright. It’s Friday and we got the whole day free. Let’s make some headway on doc paper

The Part of Myself That Doesn’t Want to Work on Doc Paper : No.

EH: Why not?

TPOMTDWTWODP: I don’t want to.

EH: But why?


EH: Think about it: there’s so much free time this year, and we can actually dedicate ourselves to this thing. We’ll be working full time next year, and you’ll wish we had finished it.

TPOMTDWTWODP: It’ll get done before then.

EH: How? We’ve barely made progress in the past six months. How will it get done?

TPOMTDWTWODP: It just will.

EH: That’s magical thinking. Look, just put in two hours today. That’s it. Just get something rough on a Word document. We can always go back and revise it later.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Even if I wanted to, I wouldn’t know where to start. There’s so much.

EH: Well, we’ve already done some reading, so let’s just start writing the lit review.

TPOMTDWTWODP: There’s so much more to read. You’ve just scratched the surface.

EH: Fine, then let’s find and read a few more articles.

TPOMTDWTWODP: But when will we know when to stop? There is so much on shame out there. You can never read all of it… Doesn’t this remind you of the futility of existence?

EH: No. Come on, let’s hop on PsycInfo. 3 articles.

TPOMTDWTWODP: I gotta clean our room first.

EH: No, you d-

TPOMTDWTWODP: And the living room, the baseboards haven’t been cleaned in ages.

EH: You can do that later. Just do two hours of this and then we can do whatever you want.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Wait, don’t we have an assessment report due this week? That’s more urgent, let’s do that first.

EH: It’s not due until Wednesday, and I’m sure we’ll get it done. Whereas this…

TPOMTDWTWODP: Alright, how about this: we do the assessment report today, and then starting next week, it’s doc paper town all the way. By then we won’t have to think about the report, and there will be nothing else to do, and I’ll want to do it. It’ll be great.

EH: Has that ever worked?

TPOMTDWTWODP: Just because it hasn’t before doesn’t mean it won’t this time…

EH: Talk to me here, what’s this really about?

TPOMTDWTWODP: What if we picked the wrong topic?

EH: Why do you think that?

TPOMTDWTWODP: Because it’s hard. If I were passionate about what we were doing, it wouldn’t be hard. I would want to work on it all the time.

EH: That’s not t-

TPOMTDWTWODP: Also, I don’t know how to conduct research. I’m a PsyD, for Pete’s sake.

EH: It’s not rocket science. We know how to do this; you need to trust that. And we can talk to our committee, or read up on CQR, or just look at some other qualitative articles.

TPOMTDWTWODP: That’s a lot of work. I shouldn’t have to do this much work.

EH: You really should. We’re earning a doctorate.

TPOMTDWTWODP: No one else is taking this long. You take forever to do everything.

EH: You probably have something to do with that. We got this: it’s a thirty page paper, not a full dissertation. It’s really not going to take that long.

TPOMTDWTWODP: That’s just the point: if it’s not a dissertation, and I won’t get to say I wrote a dissertation, then why do it?

EH: Well because you have to, and because shame is a topic you’re passionate about, and you might learn a lot doing this project.

TPOMTDWTWODP: I mean yeah, I guess I am passionate about it, but are we really going to be contributing that much to the field with our dinky qualitative research with grad students? Such conceit, it’s embarrassing to even try.

EH: One might say…shameful?


EH: But that’s research: everyone contributes something small and specific, but the aggregate is something much greater. Besides, this is our first real research project. Just do it to learn about the process.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Fine, but what if I’m not actually interested in this topic?

EH: We’ve been through this.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Oh. Right. Ok, but what if this isn’t the topic I’m like, most interested in?

EH: Do you have any other ideas?

TPOMTDWTWODP: Well, no. But like, what if it turns out that there is some topic out there that I’m so passionate about, that it won’t feel like work at all, and it’ll just come pouring out of me…

EH: You know it doesn’t work that way. It’s just a 30 page paper. We have the rest of our career to do more substantial research…

TPOMTDWTWODP: Ok, fine. But even though it’s short, can I make it good?

EH: Of course!

TPOMTDWTWODP: Like, really good?

EH: Sure.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Like, so good that I find a way to do a lit review that manages to cover everything there is out there about shame, and the language is super precise, and there isn’t one superfluous word, and the whole thing flows like nothing has ever flowed before and—

EH: You’re getting carried away again. This kind of pressure is what makes this hard to do this in the first place. Good enough is good enough; just get ‘er done.

TPOMTDWTWODP: So what you’re saying is, put in the least amount of effort that we can get away with?

EH: Nope. Something in the middle of those two extremes.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Oh. But I don’t like the middles.

EH: I know you don’t.

TPOMTDWTWODP: So let’s wait until next week, so that we can resolve my aversion to moderation in therapy first.

EH: Come on.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Or at least like, let’s journal about it today, and start tomorrow.

EH: Work first, journal later.

TPOMTDWTWODP: What’s in it for me?

EH: Just think of how good we’ll feel in two hours if we start now.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Eh, no deal.

EH: Fine. A hunk of Gruyere and two episodes of Girls.

TPOMTDWTWODP: House of Cards.

EH: You got it.

TPOMTDWTWODP: Alright, let me just make a doc paper playlist first.

Me: Okay.

TPOMTDWTWODP: For the record, I still don’t really want to do this.

Me: I know. It’s okay.



The Value of Being Involved

By Hannah Katz

As a graduate student you have a lot of responsibility: classes, clients, field placement, doc paper or dissertation, teaching, and more, and that is just your graduate responsibility. There is also the responsibility you have at home. With all that said, where is there time to add more and why is it important to get involved in the community. As the COPAGS elections have started for the next year COPAGS board positions-page-001

I decided to write about how contributing time to organizations such as COPAGS have added to my graduate training.

I want to start out by saying that leadership is not for everyone, however, you don’t have to be a leader to contribute to an organization. Being involved means committing to receiving information about what the organization is doing, maybe paying dues, and if you want, getting on the leadership boards to help with the organization. These organizations are ways to network. You learn about what other graduate students are doing or how they are handling their programs, get training on a topic that might be of interest to you, go to conferences, and also have a social outlet to relax and enjoy the life you have chosen. These organizations can be small, such as a club at your school, or large, such as APA or other professional organizations. Whatever you pick, contributing to organizations will add valuable information and knowledge expanding on your graduate learning.

If that sounds interesting to you and you want to get more involved, there are always leadership opportunities in these organizations.  Learning to be a leader helps a person to grow and adds skills that will benefit them in the long run when finding jobs. Through working in leadership roles on different organizations, a person can learn to plan an event, delegate, create new protocol, practice multiple relationships, time management and organization skills, and being the voice of your colleagues. As John Quincy Adams once said, “If your actions inspire others to dream more, learn more, do more and become more, you are a leader.” The feeling of inspiring others and learning more is part of the reason we all got into this field.

So how has being involved added to my life and graduate training? It has added value in so many ways. I think the most important part is the networking and meeting different graduate students from different programs, as well as professionals. Learning about how they are now getting through or got through their programs has been so helpful to me. I get to learn their paths and why they chose the path they did and that ultimately helps me make the decisions I make about my career. Learning through conferences I have attended or from speakers these different organizations have brought in adds to the learning I am already getting from my program. Not only am I learning, but I typically have the opportunity to meet the speakers and again, network and learn about their career paths. Time management, organization, self care. I am able to have fun at different social events that the organizations put on, learn how to add these organizations into my already busy life and learn the effectiveness of balance. FUN! While there is a lot of work that goes into the organizations, every experience I have has been fun. I can say that these organizations have brought a lot of value to my graduate experience.

So if you are interested here are some great organizations to get involved in:



-Your school student government

-Your programs student government

-Academic clubs

-Organizations that might spark your interest outside the field of psychology

Dating, Romance, and Grad School

By David Gretz

This was the topic of probably the most interesting conversation I had with an interviewee when our program hosted its interview several weeks back. I’m used to being asked about the program, my feelings on professors, and on finances. However, this was new; during our unofficial outing after the interview, I was asked by an interviewee about dating in a PhD program.

It is certainly not a new topic among cohorts; this has been a subject broached with fellow students before, both inside and outside of the department. Our professors were quite thorough in repeatedly informing us our first year that something like 50% of romantic relationships do not last through grad school. This apparently holds true even though we’re learning a profession that relies on building and repairing relationships just to do our job.

Something that stuck out to me initially was the lack of new relationships. Those of us who came in single tended to stay single, or to get back together with people we used to know. I found this depressingly humorous, as it struck me as a direct consequence of how few opportunities we have to leave our building and actually meet people outside of professional settings. This was a reality that the interviewee and I talked about; meeting new people in a PhD program is challenging. It’s probably not going to happen by accident. Going out and meeting new people takes time, and even if you meet someone, the relationship itself requires even more time. This is time that could be spent making progress on that latest paper, on your dissertation, or on getting the recommended 8 hours of sleep per night.

However, things have seemed to change during our second year; people have formed new relationships with others they have met since joining the program. I’ve been impressed and surprised by the effort some of my colleagues have put into this. I had thought it was something most would gripe about but simply view as unavoidable, but it would appear I was wrong. A few classmates are even getting engaged and married, although I do not envy them carving out the time for such arrangements before graduation.

Honestly, I think that pursuing a relationship in a graduate program takes a lot of determination. My classmates who do this seem to spend the majority of their free time with their partners. I don’t often see my married colleagues outside of class. Just entering the program can end relationships; not everyone wants to move around the country as their partner gets more degrees. Internship can present similar challenges, particularly since you don’t know where you’ll end up until six months beforehand.

I don’t have a conclusion to this, or a take-away. I’ve shared my experiences and I hope they’re helpful, particularly to those of you looking to attend grad school. I can say that I haven’t seen anywhere close to 50% of relationships fail, but technically my cohort isn’t even halfway through yet. Feel free to share your experiences as well; an n of 1 can always use more observations.

A Research Survival Guide


Chesleigh March blog pictureBy Chesleigh N. Keene

This is a small compilation of things I wish I’d known about research as it relates to advancing in the field and some new realizations as I find myself mentoring master’s and doc students.

  • It all counts. That research section on your CV only grows if you do something, anything research-related. Monitoring pigeon mating behavior in college launched my research experience. Pigeons and their mating habits don’t have a whole lot to do with my intellectual curiosity and investment in understanding how Native Americans are best served by psychotherapy, but those hours watching pigeons ignore or respond to mating bids secured a later job in a neurotrauma laboratory, which I feel secured multiple offers to PhD programs.
  • Identify a burning question. If you want to get a PhD, you really should have a burning question and you’re going to be asked to convince people of it repeatedly. Programs want to be convinced that you are internally motivated and driven to read, think, write, and read a whole lot more on a specific topic and that you will be committed to it for quite a while.
  • Join a lab that is exploring topics you find interesting. You’re going to work better and be more productive if you’re interested. I coded dozens of videos of mother-infant interactions and it was a slog. I wasn’t interested in studying infant emotions and dreaded sitting in a semi-dark, dusty room watching VHS tapes of babies reacting to their mothers. It sounds cute and adorable, right? Well, it was, for a while, but I wasn’t just watching tapes of babies, I was intensely watching an infant’s face for any expressed emotion… It was a valuable experience, but I would have been such a better research assistant if I’d been interested and I would have learned a lot more if I’d been interested.
  • Attend conferences. Find posters or sessions that focus on your topic of interest. I kid you not, your brain is going to take in that information and give you all sorts of ideas. Ideas are brain gold!
  • Publications are pure gold. Contribute to a manuscript or book chapter, if you can.
  • Write those ideas down somewhere. Generating ideas is fun and you’re going to wish you’d written some of them down… Especially around the time you need to come up with a thesis or dissertation!
  • Find a lab partner or mentor who can help you finish projects. I am amazing at thinking up projects. I’m decent at starting projects. I’m lousy at finalizing projects. This might be due to taking on too many or resisting endings/goodbyes, who knows? Luckily, I have a research advisor who is awesome at helping me organize and motivate myself to complete my projects.
  • Submit that research to conferences! Seriously! Presenting your research can be highly rewarding and it helps the ego to hear positive feedback and genuine interest in something you did! Something you concocted with that big old brain of yours!
  • Read PhD Comics. It’s so funny because it’s true. http://phdcomics.com/comics.php
  • Find someone who loves research and is awesome at research. My boss in the aforementioned neurotrauma lab is so incredibly committed to research as a means of knowledge dissemination that I always left our lab meetings so dang excited to be investigating and discovering He got so excited about results that you couldn’t help but want to make more! He could also churn out a research proposal and manuscript like nobody’s business. Find and work with someone who makes research exciting.
  • Read those clinical books. Most of us in psychology will have some clinical responsibility. Absorbing those clinical sources of information: 1) keeps your psychology IQ up to speed; and 2) starts to open thought channels about which topics still have gaping holes. There’s still so much to explore in psychology! Burning questions come from finding research gaps. Go close some gaps!
  • If you can’t find a research opportunity in your department, look elsewhere! Research universities, especially, have extensive research opportunities in other departments. Check out social work, biology, business, and anthropology departments for opportunities. Like I said, it all counts!
  • Share opportunities with the next group. If you landed an awesome position, pass it on to a new person! Research karma is real. It will come back to reward you when you need participants for that thesis, dissertation, or that multi-million dollar grant you just secured!

Contribute to the research survival guide below! Also, if you’d like to discuss specific research topics, let me know!




Professional Development and how it can provide the self care you were looking for

By Hannah Katz

One might ask, “How in the world can you combine self-care and professional development, that just does not make any sense?!”  When you think of professional development in the most traditional sense you think of: learning opportunities that include formal coursework, conferences, as well as opportunities that are less formal. Professional development for clinical psychology students can encompass these opportunities, as well as research, presenting on that research, getting experience in your specialty, teaching, internship, postdoc, and so much more. In fact, it is critical that as we grow in our skills and develop as psychologists, these become foundational competencies that we can rely on.

Well it is simple. While we are doing all of these things, it is important that we find time for ourselves by finding a passion in the world outside of our clients. In doing so, we are providing opportunities for ourselves to take a break and reset our mind. Some people might do this by running, reading, getting a massage, or others can take a passion they grew up with and continue to grow it parallel to their own clinical psychology career. By providing that break from theory, research, and practice, your mind is given time to relax and ultimately you become a better clinician and student because you were given time to breathe, as well as gain worldly experiences. I am not saying this is easy. It is not! It takes time to really prioritize what is and isn’t important; time management skills are key.

So again, you ask how can reading or doing something outside of what we formally know as professional development be professional development? This is a question I have often asked myself. Growing up, I was a competitive athlete in a sport that I love. When I stopped competing I became an official for the sport. Doing so requires travel within the state, as well as around the country. I knew when I started my doctorate program this was something I didn’t want to give up. The experiences I gain by being an official allow me to give back, continue to grow as a networker, and exercise time management skills. In judging competitions, I have to balance being out of school, but still getting the assignments done, as well as seeing and meeting a variety of people. In addition to all of this I can be an educator and further explain the benefits of having mental health professionals. Furthermore, I am starting on a career a path of balance, providing me an understanding of how I can both take care of myself and my clients in the future.

I am not the only one who is able to take their passions and integrate them into their professional roles as a psychologist. Other examples that come to mind are people coming in from different fields who are using those skills to build on their professional lives. Or thinking about a recent supervisor who is now retired continuing his passion of photography that was his parallel through his career.

So, self care is professional development because by doing so and starting early you are creating the balance you will need as a professional to make sure you are taking care of yourself so you don’t fall into burnout, compassion fatigue, and all the other things that could take us away from this amazing profession!



Buysse, V., Winton, P. J., & Rous, B. (2009). Reaching Consensus on a Definition of Professional Development for the Early Childhood Field. Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 28(4), 235-243.

Kerns, R. D., Berry, S., Frantsve, L. M., & Linton, J. C. (2009). Life-long competency development in clinical health psychology. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 3(4), 212-217.

Identity and Self-Disclosure in Interviews: Do or Don’t?

By Barry Motter

It’s Interview Season! Phase One of the internship match is now in the waiting phase: ranks are submitted and interviews are done. May the odds be ever in your favor. However, interviews for externships and those for entrance into graduate school are just beginning, so this topic’s been on my mind a lot lately.

As my program is prepping to interview applicants for their new cohort of future counseling psychologists, our Training Director sent out a recent article from Parent, Weiser and McCourt (2015) entitled, “So What Are You?”: Inappropriate Interview Questions for Psychology Doctoral and Internship Applicants. The authors were curious about experiences with psychology doctoral and internship applicants being asked “inappropriate or illegal questions” through the interview process.  This includes questions about “age, disability, race, color, national origin, gender, sexual orientation, gender identity, or pregnancy” (p. 136), in addition to mental health status/history, relationship status, country of citizenship. Disclosure around any or all could potentially lead to discrimination against a candidate, whether implicit or explicit in the interviewer’s bias.

As a psychologist, I value my human experiences, which includes my identities and how they may intersect, overlap, or potentially impact the way I do therapy.  Who I am outside of the room directly influences my therapeutic practice and how I work with my clients- a unique challenge to our field that is probably not as relevant in, say, the business world.  The “most important of all” internship essay (one of four) was a tell-us-about-yourself, open-ended autobiographical statement that I can’t imagine not including some information about identity disclosure that would be inappropriate to ask otherwise. The personal often is the professional in counseling and psychology. We share of ourselves openly and honestly with supervisors, peers, and colleagues as a way to increase personal self-awareness and therapeutic effectiveness.

Yet, supervisory or advisor relationships often involve a greater understanding of confidentiality.  Does such a respect for privacy come to the table at a hiring meeting for a potential student, intern, or practicum therapist? Should we self-censor in these autobiographical essays so as to not reveal any potential information that meets the above criteria for inappropriate questions asked by an employer? My opinion would be no, this is the time to be honest and open about you and how you show up in the world.  How did you get to this point? What roads converged to lead you here? Maybe the difference is what you consider voluntary sharing and appropriate self-disclosure.  What is the intention you have of giving this information about yourself? How might someone else perceive it? What impact could it have? Are there other ways your story could be misinterpreted, your intention obscured? Is that worth the risk?

Another of the four internship essays was about experiences working with multiculturalism. I was asked several times on internship interviews to discuss a case involving work with “diverse clients,” which often connotes “cultures different than me.” In some ways, this discloses much of my identity factors in a roundabout way. By describing a client different than me, I’m telling you what I’m not, and sometimes even explicitly discussing what made it challenging to work with such difference.  Should programs not ask about this since it could lead to inference about my identity? Because of how important multiculturalism and diversity work are in my practice, I think it’s essential that programs ask this question! How do I work with people different than me? Who am I and how do I understand how my identity impacts my work? These are big questions at the core of being a good therapist and being an effective psychologist- empathy, respect, and self-awareness wrapped into one.  I want that to be a training value of my site, and I would hope that sites investigate this of their potential trainees.

So, are graduate students seen as students, or employees? Are you interviewing for an educational opportunity or employment by seeking further graduate study, unpaid prac experiences, or even a paid internship? Is it appropriate to understand your diversity factors as a trainee and how you are aware of them, or is it inappropriate to ask questions that could impact hiring status as an employee? I remain undecided.  I’ve been wrestling with this especially in the context of internship; it’s the last year of my graduate school training, yet it’s a full time job.  I’m expected to be autonomous, but also to be actively learning new things out of my comfort zone.

I prefer to take the Brene Brown approach: there is strength in vulnerability.  Seek ways to be yourself and open and honest without compromising your values, your priorities, and your absolutely glorious strengths.  Be you in the you-est way you want. Say what you want to say, and don’t share what you don’t want to.  Each step of the interview process gives you a glimpse into the world you will potentially be entering- is it the culture you want for yourself?


Parent, M. C., Weiser, D. A., & McCourt, A. (2015). “So what are you?”: Inappropriate interview questions for psychology doctoral and internship applicants. Training and Education in Professional Psychology, 9 (2), 136-143.

Why Clinical Psychology: Seven Narratives

Of the hundred and thirty six or so internship interview questions our DCT had us prepare, this was the one that stumped me most: “Why did you choose clinical psychology?” I’ve never known how to answer that question: not when I was writing my personal statements for grad school applications, not when asked by a well-intentioned first date who has run out of things to say, and at this point, not even in the privacy of my own thoughts.


It’s not to say that I think I’m in the wrong field, or that I feel indifferently about what I do, it’s not that at all. But asked to identify The Reason, The Defining Event, The Moment I Just Knew, I feel at a loss. It’s entirely possible I’m reading too much into it—that’s kind of my thing—but it always feels as if the inquirer is waiting to hear this specific story that started sometime around when I was in high school, when I took intro to psych, and I just knew it was what I wanted to do. The rising action is something like majoring in psychology in college and doing some internship with a population I realized I’m “passionate” about, the climax is moments of doubt as I consider the cost and effort that goes into graduate school, and of course, the story culminates with me after doing my first therapy session and realizing that despite the long road ahead, I have found my bliss.  And there is an extended metaphor in there involving climbing a mountain. I don’t know. So maybe not exactly that, but it seems to me that the question “Why?” assumes that there’s a linear response. A unified narrative that accounts for the most real reason, singular.  So answering “Why clinical psychology?” makes me nervous, because I don’t think I have that. Instead, what I got is a bunch of different ways to tell the same story. As far as I’m aware, they’re all true. Or at least fragments of the truth. And so in a most post-modernistic spirit, I give you seven responses to this question that’s been haunting me for years:


The One Where “I always knew this is what I wanted to do”


I have this one cousin, Mojgan. Mojgan and her husband Reza live in Belgium, and they were by far the most glamorous people I knew growing up. They spoke French, and when I stayed with them for a week as a teenager, I spent the night looking through all the art history books lining the shelves in their guest room. Despite being in their forties, they had all these friends they hung out with, and when they deigned to invite me to their New Year’s party, I watched in admiration as they laughed at political jokes I couldn’t quite understand between hits of a joint they passed around. They had one kid, which, as far as I concerned myself, was the only right number of children to have to ensure both the child and parents’ psychological health. To top it all off, they met and fell in love as teenagers in Iran, and because they had different religions, their parents didn’t approve of their union. So they eloped and escaped to Belgium. How badass is that? Very badass.


I wanted to be just like them. And so at dinner one night, as Reza explained to me the intricacies of borderline personality disorder (I had just read Girl Interrupted), I listened hypnotically as I made up my mind that short of becoming Belgian, my only shot at attaining this couple’s level of sophistication is by emulating their profession: clinical psychology.


The One You’re Never Supposed to Say


To help people. No, but really. In high school, I had two (in retrospect, functionally related) obsessions: Judaism and self-help books. In their own ways, they both purported that people are only truly happy when they give of themselves to others. I was really into unlocking the happiness achievement, so I decided that whatever I chose as a career needed to benefit others in some significant way. From there, I reasoned that I’d best be able to help others using something I was talented at.  Given my extensive self-help scholarship, daily viewings of Dr. Phil, and the garden variety of mental health issues in my extended family, I figured I’d have this therapy thing in the bag.


The One That Turned Out To Not Be True


I thought it would be a good way to make a decent amount of money without having to work all that much. So here’s the thing: much as I wanted a career where I found my work engaging and personally gratifying, I also kinda wanted to work as little as possible. Realizing that the going rate for a private practice psychologist in New York—where I grew up—was about $225 an hour, I figured I’d be set working about ten hours a week, and could spend the rest of the time reading and writing and drinking  tea in the sunroom I could definitely afford on that salary.


Plot twist: That’s not a thing.


The Nice Normal One That Makes For a Decent Grad School Personal Statement


In college, I wanted to be a teacher. I took some psychology classes because I found it interesting, (See: “The One ‘I Always Knew This is What I Wanted To Do,” above) but ultimately, my dream was to be a hip high school English teacher. So the summer after graduation, I got a job teaching at a non-profit summer school program for middle school students. I soon found that the interactions I enjoyed most were the one-on-one’s, where I got to know my student individually, and have personal conversations with them. In contrast, managing a classroom for hours every day didn’t fit with my temperament. So I decided that what I really wanted was a job where I got to work with people one-on-one. Enter: Clinical Psychology.


A Slightly Different Take On The Same Story


After I spent a summer teaching and discovered I wasn’t cut out for it, I realized I couldn’t do anything with my liberal arts degree and panicked. I briefly considered applying for a two year internship at This American Life and pursuing journalism, but it felt like a long shot and I didn’t want to move to Chicago. I bopped around monster.com for a couple of months, and sent out a blitz of applications for respectable grown-up sounding positions (“Ooh, ‘copywriting!’ Like Peggy from Mad Men!”). I didn’t hear back from anywhere (recall now, that this was in the recession-ridden 2011). Still intent on finding a job in the helping professions, I headed to the Idealist grad school fair and picked up a three inch stack worth of pamphlets. I spread them out on my bedroom floor and somewhat begrudgingly, looked at the clinical psychology pile. “I mean, I have the prerequisites for it, but is this what I really want to do? I’m already given to too much introspection and analysis, won’t being a therapist just make it worst? Am I really just hoping to fix myself? And every other girl I went to high school with majored in psychology in college. Do I really want to be that girl? It’s so…obvious. I should go into the hard sciences just to prove that I could if I really wanted to… Would I even be good at clinical psychology?” A part of me felt like it was always what I was ‘meant’ to do, but now, I wasn’t sure if I wanted it. Like a destiny I wasn’t ready to give into.  Then one day, at the fever pitch of my unemployment anxiety, I was sitting at the salon with my cousin, waiting for our nails to dry. “I don’t know what I’m supposed to do,” I told her.  “I think you’d be a good psychologist. Why don’t you do that?” So I did. Just like that.


The One I Fear is The Most True


Because deep down, I believe that that’s how I’ll heal myself. That if I learn enough, if I know enough, if I have the right tools, I can give myself a clean neurosesectomy. That once I decide what the right theory is, I can apply it to myself and chip away at the years of living that have made me heavy. If I make this my career, I can essentially make self-improvement my life’s work. What, isn’t that why we’re all here?


The Cornily Earnest One


My relationship with clinical psychology was something of an arranged marriage. Going into it, I liked it enough, but I wasn’t in love with it. The decision to get my PsyD was largely a practical one: I had to pick a career, and it seemed like one I would enjoy enough, and I decided that that would do. The week before classes started, I got cold feet. What was I doing? Was I really committing myself to 4+ years of school and hundreds of thousands of dollars in student loans for a degree I wasn’t all that sure about?  Was this really as good as it got for me? In the midst of this freak-out, my mom gave me some uncharacteristically level-headed advice: “Try it for a semester, and if you don’t like it, you can leave. “ And the thousands of dollars that would go to waste? “You’ll make it back. In the large scheme of things, it won’t really matter.” And so I was off.



As with some arranged marriages, I got lucky: I can honestly say that in the past 3.5 years, I have never seriously thought about bailing. More than that, with time, I fell in love. With those delicate moments of connection with my client who finally lets himself be seen. With attachment theory, the interpretation of early memories, and Irvin Yalom. With the impassioned resolution-less debates about the merits of theoretical integration.   With the sweet triumph of watching my twenty-something year-old client navigate her first romantic relationship after a year of us working up to her trying online dating.  With all my long-suffering supervisors who indulged my unique learning style of poking holes in every intervention. With the task of making my kiddo clients laugh three hours into a learning disorder assessment. With my brilliant consultation group as we interpreted each other’s dreams over Sunday brunch. Inexplicably, with the Rorschach.


And so, imagined interviewer, here is my  final answer: Clinical psychology because somehow or another I stumbled into it and it just felt right.


By Shahrzad Sadighim




When Grad Goes Bad: Facing Life Adversity During Your Doctoral Program

Being a graduate student is hard. Really hard sometimes. There are days that I get home and am emotionally, mentally, and physically drained. And, I wonder why in the world I ever decided to do this to myself. Yet, I would do it all over again in a heartbeat because I adore what I do. I get to live out my dream each day (in beautiful Denver no less!) I work with amazing patients who make me a better therapist and a better person. I work with incredible supervisors who support me and teach me more than I could have imagined. I have a wonderful mentor who pushes me to be better and never lets me settle or become complacent. Not to mention my cohort and fellow graduate students in my program who have supported me in more ways and more times than I can count and have become my family these past three and a half years. Truly, as challenging as it is at times, I love what I get to do each day, and I’m so thankful for it.

The thing about being a graduate student, though, is that life goes on, and with life comes adversity and hardships…adversity and hardships that have nothing to do with grad school and academics. There is no pause button for life while we get our doctorate degrees. We work long hours and have little time for ourselves, yet there are still family emergencies, deaths, divorces, medical illnesses, etc. There are things that come up that need our attention and time, but we only have so much to give. We all know that as much as we preach self-care as therapists, we tend to be the last ones to take that advice. But, I’ve come to realize that part of my education and training as a graduate student is learning how to cope with my own struggles so that even in the midst of it all, I can do a session with a patient, teach a class, or present my research in a lab meeting. It’s about taking care of yourself in a way that allows you to be the best psychologist-in-training that you can be, but we can’t do it alone.

I work with cancer patients, and one of the interventions I end up doing most often is helping those cancer patients and their families learn how to ask for help and support from their loved ones. Even these patients, who you would think would be among the most willing to ask for help during an insanely difficult time in their lives, have a really hard time doing so. They have a hard time doing it because we all have a hard time doing it. It’s a weird cultural phenomenon that has happened in that we want to do it all alone without anyone’s help. We want to be independent and strong, but sometimes being strong just means knowing when you need help and asking for it. Graduate students tend to have a “show no weakness” mentality. By nature, we are often competitive, determined, and strong-willed. Seeking out support is not antithetical to those characteristics though. In fact, I can actually argue that it’s more analogous to them than anything.

It’s been a journey for me over the past few years to learn how to ask for help and trust that not only is it okay to ask, it’s actually necessary for me if I want to be successful in life and in my career. I’ve had friends, colleagues, supervisors, and mentors who have guided me during those hardships and taught me how to lean on my support system and take care of myself so that I can take care of others. It’s been a process for me, and like everything in life, it will be an evolving process.

*Special thanks to Jo Vogeli, my amazing cohort member, for coming up with my catchy title! Again, it’s all about knowing when to ask for help!

Lacey Clement is a fourth-year PhD student in Clinical Health Psychology. Her areas of interest are palliative care and adjustment to chronic illness.

The Affect of Masculinity

That is not a typo. One thing that has stood out to me since entering the counseling profession is how the men I encounter who work in mental health have been profoundly different from the men I have grown up with. The men I have encountered professionally tend to have personalities and ways of being that are reminiscent of Irvin Yalom, Viktor Frankl, or even Oogway from Kung Fu Panda. They are often calm, in touch with their emotions and unafraid of expressing them, optimistic, see the good in everyone, and value relationships above individuality. In contrast to this, the men I grew up with enjoyed Arnold Schwarzenegger movies, bonded with each other by dishing out insults, competed with each other on a regular basis, never showed emotions apart from anger except under the most dire of circumstances, valued individual expression above group cohesion, and when experiencing problems sought out advice or concrete assistance rather than understanding and validation of their feelings. The men who did this were family members, friends, and mentors; these are men I cared about who had significant positive impacts on my life.

They are also men who do not seek out therapy. They believe it to be pointless, a place to cry and complain about problems rather than a place to fix them. This troubles me for several reasons. It troubles me because I worry that there is a disconnect in our profession that inadvertently turns away an entire population. It troubles me on a personal level because I’ve watched some of those same family members, friends, and mentors I mentioned earlier continuously struggle with substance abuse and depression because they did not consider therapy a worthwhile or valid treatment. It also troubles me because men make up roughly 80% of suicides and typically do not turn to therapy for help.

I remember discussions earlier in my graduate training about how traditional masculinity discourages men from going to therapy; feeling shame for needing help or for failing to be independent was a popular point, as was the pressure to avoid expressing emotions or in any way appearing vulnerable. I also remember female classmates expressing frustration about how their male significant others would attempt to console them when they were upset; my classmates simply wanted to be listened to and validated, and instead their partners jumped straight into problem solving without paying so much as lip service to validation. I think there are some important things to be said about how a traditional masculine identity can hinder one’s emotional well-being. I also think that sometimes we let our thoughts of how things should be blind us to the reality of how things actually are. Whether we like it or not, many men do shy away from therapy because they don’t want to ask for help. They avoid it because they do not want the shame or stigma of being “weak,” and they see no benefit in expressing emotions or being emotionally vulnerable. In my own personal experience, I will never forget overhearing the conversation of a group of women laughing about and mocking a man they had met the night before because they witnessed him crying in public. It sticks with me so strongly because these women were the same classmates who only a week or two prior were professing during class that men should not be socially stigmatized for expressing emotions or vulnerability (I hasten to add that this did not occur in my current program; my current colleagues are phenomenal therapists and have my utmost respect).

This is where I get stuck. I can show that men need mental health services, I can point out that we (therapists) have a tendency to insist that masculinity needs to change instead of figuring out how to reach more men where they are at, and I can provide evidence that men often don’t seek out services. What I can’t do is provide a comprehensive solution. I have thoughts and ideas, but nothing based in any kind of science or research. Fortunately, there are others who have been making strides in this area. An excellent example of this is a multi-agency effort in Colorado called Man Therapy, and I would encourage you to look into it. It is designed to engage men with a more traditional masculine identity and open a dialogue about mental health. You can check it out here: www.mantherapy.org

I think that this is a concern that will require ongoing work from our profession as a whole to address. I was excited when I first discovered the Man Therapy program and I hope that it will have a positive impact. The men in my life that I referenced earlier matter to me; I don’t want to see them suffering because we refuse to make our services even remotely compatible with a masculine identity. I’m going to wrap things up with the following quote by Paul Quinnett located in several of the resources I looked at when writing this:

“So long as we keep repeating the phrase, ‘encourage male help-seeking behavior’ in our grant applications, public health marketing, and outreach efforts, suicidal men will just keep dying. Hoping men will become more like women is costing us the lives of our fathers, brothers, sons, uncles and nephews.”

David Gretz is a second-year PhD student in Counseling Psychology. His areas of interest are suicide prevention and crisis intervention.

For God’s sake, it’s in the syllabus

I have been trying to find a witty way to start this post (or at least mildly profound), but alas I have been stuck staring at the computer, brain dead, because I’m exhausted.

Because, on top of being a student and a counselor—and on top of (trying to be) a partner to my fiancé and mother to my two cats—this semester I am also a teacher. Or more specifically, the instructor of record for two, three credit courses, totaling 39 freshman students (I’m actually quite lucky how few students I have).

So, on top of giving assessments, writing reports, working in our clinic, and learning how to do family and couples counseling (yay!), I am also going home and grading papers, lesson planning, and answering the barrage of emails I get. – No you cannot turn in your paper late! – And that is definitely in the syllabus – Yes you’ve seen the syllabus, it’s that thing we spent an entire lesson going over – No, I will not show you where it is online, again.

I’ve been a bit busy.

But there is no replacement to the experiences I have had now, after only a semester. I’ve learned to lesson plan (sometimes in the 20 minutes I have before class). I have mastered the art of awkwardly staring my students down until they answer my question—or just calling them out and watching the fear flicker across their faces. I have also had the amazing experience of seeing a student’s face light up when I complimented his writing or of having a student tell me my feedback was great despite having just torn her paper apart (constructively) in front of her. I got to watch one of my first generation students standing proudly in front of his research poster that he created on his own.

There is something unique about teaching your own class over just TAing. While some of my lessons are pre-designed and the material is pre-determined, I get to make my class my own. In many ways, I am in charge of what these students walk away with at the end of the semester. Which is definitely a weight on my shoulder every weekend when I’m trying to figure out what I’m teaching over the next week – or more specifically how I am teaching what I need to. It is a major foundation of the program I am working for to not just lecture or talk at our students, but allow them to fully engage in the material and the class. Great for the students—definitely some pressure on the teachers. But I know, my students will walk away with more if I can give them a good discussion or activity, rather than click through a PowerPoint.

And I’d like to hope my students have learned something from me. We’ve gone over time management, test taking skills, diversity, motivation, learning, and more. Somewhere in there I hope each student walked away with just one new piece of knowledge and one new skill. I know I’ve learned more than I could have imagined (sorry for the cliché).

Perhaps the best lesson I have learned as been how to balance the counselor in me with the instructor. Coming from a counseling program, we are trained to be so incredibly empathetic and supportive. But as an instructor, you can only support the students for so long before they have to pick up the baton and make the effort. Seeing those students who simply do not care (or don’t know yet how to care about classes) stumble has been an extremely difficult experience. I have had to learn how to step back and let it happen, instead of giving them a fourth or fifth chance, knowing their mistakes will help them in the future more than my coddling. It is a hard lesson for any counselor to learn (with students and clients).

Overall, it has been a frightening, enlightening, and exhausting experience. But I wouldn’t trade the opportunity for anything. I do not know if I’m going to teach again. I’m not even sure if I like it—I admittedly never want to teach again, while also learning CFT and personality assessment and “studying” for my comprehensive exams . But I’m pretty sure I don’t need to ever worry about being in this exact situation again—I hope.

I think that is one of my major disadvantages of graduate school. We are all so busy juggling fifteen million hats, it is hard to figure out which hats you truly like and which ones you truly dislike (rather than which ones have exhausted you to the point of burn out). Ah the challenges of grad school.

But I digress. Yes, I am exhausted. Yes, I have run out of ways to tell my students to use APA citation and I have given up try to explain why they can’t use “I” in formal writing. But, I am leaving this semester having been a part of 39 students’ first experience in college. I have encouraged, challenged, and pushed my students (and they have challenged me right back).

By Kiersten Eberle