Category: Student Spotlight
Thank you, Dr. Hyman.
Good morning and thank you for being here to celebrate today’s graduates, and those who support them. This ceremony is to celebrate us, and we do deserve it, but I would be remiss if I did not take a moment to celebrate the Graduate Medical Sciences faculty, staff and administrators, and the family, friends and loved ones of today’s graduates. Without each one of you, not one of us would be hooded today. So thank you all.
Although I would love to use this speech to impart some earthshattering words of wisdom on what it means to be a mental health counselor, in reality I’ve only been doing it for a flaming hot second. No one’s even paid me for it yet. In fact, when you really think about it, I’ve essentially paid people to let me be their therapist… So instead I guess I’ll begin by dispelling a few common misconceptions of what mental health counselors do. What follows are a few exchanges I’ve had upon telling people what I’ve been studying for the past two years.
Are you psychoanalyzing me right now?
So you’re a social worker?
Close, but no.
Ohhh so you help people who hear voices!
Yeah, sometimes. What about it?
Can you get me some Xanax?
Can you be my therapist?
Or, my favorite, the overdone mocking of the “and how does that make you feel?” stereotype… to which I respond with no words, just a Michael Hendrickson signature eye roll.
So if mental health counselors don’t do those things, then what do we do? For me, it starts with listening. Sure, there’s a lot of doing – we question, we build trusting relationships, we advocate for change on a systemic level, we consult and document (You’re welcome Dr. BG) – but at our core, we are listeners. We listen to understand the person sitting across from us without judgment so that we can find a way to view the world through their own lens. Once we adopt this lens and build a relationship based on trust and understanding, then the change can begin.
Just as we hope this relationship has an impact on each person we counsel… each person we counsel can have an impact on us as well.
A few months ago I sat down with Dr. Berger-Greenstein and said that in many respects, I felt like a new person from the rather naïve young man who entered this program. She responded that she hoped I had not changed who I am as a person in order to be a therapist. That’s all well and good Dr. BG, but to some extent, I have to respectfully disagree. I agree that I have to bring my authentic self into every session. But by adopting the lens of each person sitting across from me, even if only for a 50-minute appointment, how can the lens through which I see the world not be changed as well? Perhaps I’ll get better at compartmentalizing as I gain experience in the field, but I really don’t think we can avoid the impact our clients have on us as clinicians and as people.
So what is the goal for the people we counsel? It’s different for each individual, but generally, it’s not too dissimilar from the goal of being a graduate student. Bear with me for a second here. From my perspective, being mentally healthy is not having only positive mental and emotional experiences. Believe me, if I had some magical power to protect everyone I counseled from the negative, my job would be a whole lot easier.
But as cynical as it sounds, suffering is a part of being human. So I like to think of mental health as having the ability to enjoy the positive experiences, and engage with and overcome the negative ones. My goal as a mental health counselor then, is to guide the person sitting across from me to find the tools and ability to engage with and overcome the challenges that come along with being human. And my hope is that when they leave therapy, they continue to grow as a result of doing so.
Similarly, our goal as graduate students was never to learn how to handle every challenge that our career could possibly throw us. That would be impossible. There will be moments throughout our career when we feel like we have no idea what the hell we’re doing. Moments that make us question everything – in therapy and out. But I believe we now have the tools and ability to engage with and overcome those challenges. And in doing so, we will continue to grow as clinicians and as individuals.
So. After completing approximately one-thousand and eighty-seven clinical hours, sitting through roughly one-thousand and seventy hours of class, spending over a hundred grand in tuition and books, and shedding countless tears in our professors’ offices, what do we get? A really pretty piece of paper. Oh and this regalia which itself cost us each an additional $113.
But what do this diploma and our hoods really represent? To me, and my hope is that this extends to every graduate who crosses the stage today, our diplomas represent not only professional but personal growth beyond what we expected when we walked onto BU’s Medical Campus for the first time.
Our diplomas also represent more growth to come… For those of us graduating with terminal degrees, this growth will hopefully begin with our bank accounts… But my real hope is that we will each continue to encounter and engage with those challenges that make us question everything. For that is when we can grow as clinicians and as individuals.
Thank you and many congratulations to my fellow graduates.
We did it!