By Joonho Han
Congratulations to Andrew Robinson for being recognized as an Honorable Mention for the 2016 Corey/Ivey Graduate Student Essay Competition of the American Counseling Association (ACA)! Andrew’s essay was one of 181 submitted by ACA student members in this year’s competitions. For this accomplishment, he will receive a complimentary registration to the 2016 ACA Conference in Montréal, Canada.
A 1st-year student, Andrew grew up in Baltimore, MD and attended Hamilton College in upstate New York where he studied Chinese and Creative Writing. He then moved to Shanghai, China where he taught middle school English for three years before entering our program in Fall 2015. Currently, he is receiving his practicum training at the North Suffolk BEST Child Team and will be a 2nd-year intern at the Wheelock College Counseling Center next year. He is especially interested in mindfulness, identity development, and existential approaches to counseling. Andrew volunteers on the advocacy team at Y2Y, an emergency shelter for young adults in Cambridge, MA, and enjoys photography and a capella.
Thank you, Dr. Hyman.
Good morning and thank you all for being here to celebrate this important day. I would like to first take a moment to express my gratitude to all the GMS faculty, staff and administrators, friends, families and loved ones of today’s graduates. We would not be here today without the support from all of you. I’m lucky to have many of my best friends here. My site supervisor Sharon is here. My cousin is here. Most importantly, my parents and my 87-year-old grandmother flew for 8 thousand miles from China to attend this ceremony! Grandma you look so beautiful today.
She doesn’t understand English.
I was nominated to be class speaker by my fellow classmates from the mental health counseling and behavioral medicine program. I feel incredibly honored by this opportunity. I’ve also never done a graduation speech before, not to mention delivering it in English, which is not my native language.
Pause for noises of disbelief.
I grew up in China. I received my bachelor’s degree in biotech from Fudan University in Shanghai. After graduation, somehow I thought it was a good idea to go to graduate school there for a master’s degree in plant biology. It was a bad idea. Basically at some point during my graduate training, I realized that I couldn’t stand the idea of investing so much of my time in something that I’m not passionate about. So two years later, I’m here, pursuing my dream as a mental health counselor.
When I first came here two years ago as an international student, I experienced all kinds of cultural shock you could possibly imagine. I didn’t know that when people asked me, “How’s your day?” I’m only supposed to say, “It’s good” not matter how crappy it was. I didn’t know that people hug so often. I got so excited at a party when a guy I briefly talked to before approached me and gave me a hug. I thought, “Wow this relationship is on a whole new level now. We’re gonna be best friends”. Of course we never saw each other again. And don’t even get me started on the Chinese food here: What on earth is General Tso’s chicken? Please raise your hands if that’s your favorite Chinese food. I’m sorry we can’t be friends anymore. That’s not Chinese food. That’s not even food.
When I finally adjusted to the American culture, I found myself, along with many of my classmates, struggling with understanding my new identity: mental health counselor. What does that mean? Is it just sitting next to a patient, and asking them, “How does that make you feel?” and “Tell me more about your mother” ?
I think now we can finally explain to you what mental health counselors do, after two year’s training, which is equivalent to one thousand and eight-seven hours of clinical training and one thousand seventy hours of classes. That’s two thousand one hundred and fifty-five hours in total. I’m doing the math for you because I know it’s supposed to be my thing. I mean look at me: I’m an Asian guy; I wear glasses; This is my second master’s. I’ve got the whole package.
Mental health counselors work with diverse populations in many settings. My clinical practicum was at Boston Medical Center Psychiatric Emergency Department, where I saw clients in their deepest distress. My clinical internship was at Boston Area Rape Crisis Center where I’ve worked with many survivors of sexual assault and their significant others.
When we work with our clients, we talk about how to recognize and cope with their symptoms such as flashbacks, nightmares, anxiety, depression, and panic attacks. We talk about how to make sense of the shame, guilt and the victim blaming that the society imposed on them, when none of this is their fault. We talk about the importance of re-establishing safety, trust, and reaching out to their support system. We tell them that we believe them, that we have faith in their recovery and that we are there for them. This is just some examples of what we do.
It is hard to be a counselor. I remember in the orientation class in our first semester, Dr. Levy-Bell said that counseling is both art and science. It’s science because all therapeutic approaches need to be grounded in empirical evidence. And yet it’s also an art because science cannot possibly capture the richness of human behaviors, emotions and motives. In the end of the day, we’re bringing ourselves into the sessions as an authentic human being. We endeavor to foster a safe and trusting therapeutic relationship with our clients that would hopefully facilitate their recovery.
So, in addition to learning knowledge and techniques, we’re constantly exploring ourselves by engaging in discussions, process groups, personal therapies and seeking supervision. Self-exploration is not easy. In fact, often times it is very painful because we will probably end up discovering things that we don’t like about ourselves. It means acknowledging our own biases, privileges and blind spots.
As a cohort of mental health counseling students, we have definitely had our struggles. Each one of us has our unique life experiences and trajectory, just like I did. It’s definitely exciting to be surrounded by such a diverse group of people. But sometime it could also lead to misunderstanding and tension. However, I’m so impressed by the courage of all of us to be open and to allow ourselves to matter to one another. We were so willing and determined to work on our differences, because we all know diversity isn’t just a number or ratio on a Powerpoint slide. Multiculturalism isn’t automatically going to happen if we don’t listen to each other. I’m so grateful that we have shared such a wonderful journey as fellow travelers and I’ll always, always remember each one of you.
Everyone who’s sitting here has shared your journey with your fellow travelers. We also share the desire to make a difference in people’s life, whether it’s through counseling, researching or education. After today, we will continue to challenge ourselves to be a better person, as well as a better clinician, researcher or educator.
Thank you and congratulations to all of us!