Friday, October 19, 2012

Why I Became a Therapist?

This week a client in my group asked me how old I was.  I didn't even think before responding "29."  All the Graduate School training about boundaries and "turning the question" to "Why is that important to you?" went out the window quickly.  Later in the day when another person (not in my group) said "you are only 29!" I realized maybe I shouldn't be answering questions about my private life.  Then I meet with my one Borderline Personality Disorder client and hand her the DBT manual and give her the overview of DBT and say to her "DBT is collaborative between myself and you, so come directly to me with any questions you have."  I set up a weekly time to see me and walk back to my office thinking..."collaborative."  DBT is very collaborative and much time is spent on the relationship of both the client and the facilitator (individually and as a team.)  I remember using some personal examples in a DBT group a few years ago and made huge strides with my own "issues" facilitating DBT.

I tell you all this to share with you the question I get asked most often by clients, "What made you decide to become a Counselor?"

It was my last year in Undergrad and I was about to graduate with a degree in Legal Studies, had taken the LSAT's and was about to apply to Law Schools

Just like DBT, there is no black and white and no one answer for this question, but here's how the formula worked for me:

20% My own personal issues, without getting into too many details I had experienced my own trauma in my life as an adolescent and had been through therapy at age 10 for this as well as a few bouts of depression and anxiety in my young adulthood.

20% This was a few years after 9/11 and was still deeply affected by it (still am, if I am being honest with myself.)  I was a participant in a PTSD study from a major university where I took PTSD tests at intervals for a few years and although I never got results, with 1 psych class under my belt knew I probably meet the criteria.

60% My room mate at the time, was my best friend for 10 years when we moved in together at age 22.  I had known her family had a huge mental health history, including a grandfather whom killed himself as well as  a mother whom was unable to work and debilitated by even the smallest tasks.  After a few years (and a lot of therapy) we decided it would be a great idea for us to live together in Manhattan.  Things went well for almost 6 months and then she essentially "cracked,"  without getting into details she became psychotic  thought I was trying to kill her, would accuse me of things I didn't do, and attempted to take her life with pills.  (Remarkably she is fine now, turned out to be a rare blood disorder and she takes medication for it and has not had any issues since.)

I took a Psychology class my 2nd to last semester to fulfill a requirement and the more I thought about applying to Law School, the bigger the stack of unfinished applications sat.  I clearly had a lot of resistance to the path I had created for myself in Junior High School when I first thought about Law School.  The Psychology class had me hooked from day one; the professor was a PhD student studying Criminal Psychology and worked at Riker's Island, one of the largest men's prisons in the U.S.  I immediately choose my plan of attack; I cornered her after class and asked her questions about what she did.  Her job at the prison was to assess male inmates to determine if they could stand trial.  After 1 hour, in which I completely took over the conversation and violated her boundaries I decided that is what I wanted to do.  A few hours later I was at home googling what education I needed.  Within a month I told the boyfriend I was moving to Portland, Oregon (he did come with me-although it didn't work out,) enrolled in 3 extra psychology classes and had 3 very part-time volunteer jobs in order to meet the application requirements.

I currently work at the states only women's prison, as the Dual Diagnosis counselor in a unique intense 6-month program focused on addiction and criminality.  It is amazing to think to yourself "How did I get here?" and I am glad I took a leap of faith 8 years ago.

Here is a picture of me packing/driving/moving across country (again) to Michigan, where I am now.

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