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Facing the Challenges of Graduate Study: Four Students Speak Out
Note: In a variation of our "4 Questions 4" interview series, following are the responses of four current graduate students to the same question.
Graduate study poses different challenges for each student and the strategies students employ to address those challenges are equally diverse. We asked four of our active ACA student bloggers (at
Pete Saunders, Capella University
Pete Saunders is a graduate student at Capella University studying for a degree in marriage and family counseling. An ACA blogger who also blogs at
Response: As a graduate student, I have found my greatest challenge to be maintaining balance with my other obligations. Being a husband, father of a special needs child, and a full-time employee, it can be quite a juggling act, which sometimes gets overwhelming.
There are three strategies I have used to maintain a healthy balance.
Graduate school is a journey that provides a training ground not only for mastering a certain subject area, but life itself, or at least some aspects of it. When the challenges come, and I have proven that they do come, it pays to have an arsenal of strategies ready to meet those challenges. Mastery is achieved through practice and persistence.
Tara Overzat is a second year Master's candidate in Mercer University's clinical mental health counseling program. She aspires to attain a PhD in Counselor Supervision and Education and to work with clients struggling with substance abuse and acculturation issues.
Response: My greatest challenge as a graduate student in counselor education has been looking inward and going on a journey of introspection as I learn the struggles of our clients and ways to help them. I have experienced therapy myself and I have had to be fully aware of my own issues and biases when studying different counseling theories and case studies.
I have often found myself after class contemplating the material and seeing how it relates to my life as well as to society as a whole. Unlike other fields of study, counseling is deeply personal and a part of matriculation in the program is self-exploration and self-realization. This can be challenging when it accompanies the usual graduate program stressors of research papers, tests, group projects, and presentations.
It can be overwhelming learning and applying all this material to one's life. I find myself writing about my school and life experiences in order to process the thoughts and emotions that are stirred. Additionally, I reach out to my friends for their thoughts, opinions, and emotional support. I think it is important to make time for contemplation and processing so that emotional responses are kept in check and do not cloud one's mind when studying. Finding a balance between the seriousness of the program and the enjoyment of life is crucial. By keeping an active social life and hobbies I am also able to deal with the reflective nature of the counseling program.
Matt Krauze is a master's student in Seton Hall University's counseling program. He is interested in Rogerian-based theory and adolescent development and aspires to a career in student development in higher education.
Response: Thus far, the greatest challenge for me as a counselor-in-training is in the realm of professional identity. As a second semester graduate student, I am beginning to learn about the many areas in which counselors can serve. It is important to understand the beginnings of the profession so that present and future counselors can continue to build upon its foundations and further establish it as a reputable and credible career.
Many people know of psychologists and social workers, but counselors do not receive the same amount of attention. That is slowly changing as counselor education increases and advocacy groups, such as the ACA, become more popular and prevalent.
The fact remains that counseling is still a relatively young profession that is seeking to further establish more foundations around the world.
Advocacy within the profession by doctoral-level counselors and beginning graduate students needs to be implemented as part of counselor identity. ACA and its divisions have been made great strides. Codes of ethics and multicultural guidelines for counselors help to establish credibility for the profession. There is more to be done to centralize what a counselor is and what our collective mission statement entails.
The definition of a counselor remains a bit elusive to some. With such a wide variety of professions that involve counseling (law, diplomacy, career counseling, teachers, etc.) aspects of the profession are certainly pervasive in society. What is of concern to me as a beginning counselor is continually working to establish further credibility and prestige for professional counselors in the realm of social science and human services. Having so many specialties illustrates the versatility and value of the skills that a counselor uses, but understanding what we are at our collective core is of interest to me as a beginning counselor.
Natosha Monroe earned a master's in professional counseling and is currently a doctoral candidate at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She recently worked as a behavioral health specialist in U.S. Army deployments to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba and Afghanistan. Among Natosha's interests is a desire to advance the need for professional counselors to serve enlisted personnel and their families and work directly with victims of trauma.
Response: While there were many challenges during my masters degree program, the most significant one was how to actually become a professional capable of bringing positive change to people's lives. When other challenges popped up, at times they would momentarily shake my confidence and divert my attention from the sole purpose of my educational experience. I sometimes found myself consumed with stress from things such as lack of sleep, how I would afford another semester, breaking up with an unsupportive boyfriend, or the professor who called me "a disappointment." Among all the challenges, I kept my eye on the one that I needed to conquer the most in order to someday empower people through "the gift of therapy" as Dr. Yalom called it.
Feedback from clients over the past few years is all the proof I need that I have indeed met the challenge of becoming a capable professional. In addition to focusing on what was truly important during my studies, leaning on the support of family and friends, reminding myself regularly of my ability to succeed, and facing challenges head-on benefited me greatly. Two years into my PhD program, these 4 strategies continue to serve me well.
Specifically, conveying honest interest and establishing true connections with clients seem to have the most powerful impact on my therapeutic interactions. Simply applying technique, asking cookie-cutter questions, writing up good-looking client notes, and pushing medication is a great tragedy in the field of psychology, which demonstrates zero professionalism or skill in my opinion. So I have vowed to never become that kind of mediocre "professional" and instead will remain committed to seeking continual growth and viewing my career as an honor. This is a challenge I encourage all aspiring counselors to embrace and conquer.
Grant Writing Tips for Graduate Students (and New Professionals Too)
A recent Chronicle of Higher Education feature offers a series of tips for graduate students (equally relevant to new professionals) seeking support for research activities. Increasingly, external financial support is going to be needed to drive counseling research and innovation, and, the more savvy students and new professionals are about the grant-making and grant writing strategies, the greater their chances of tapping into this vast reservoir of funding. The article promotes a preparation, perseverance, and positive outlook approach to grant writing and offers eight tips:
Top Ten Titles in the ACA Publications Catalog
ACA is the "go to" source for first-rate resources for the professional library of the student and new professional. Below are the ten most popular titles (best sellers) in recent months:
Visit the ACA online bookstore to review the descriptions and order these books. And save with the ACA Member discount!
Self-Esteem Boost Ranks High with College Students
A new study reported in the Journal of Personality and in The Ohio State University Research News has found that college students consider a self-esteem boost about the best thing that can happen to them during their academic careers. Having a good grade or quality piece of work acknowledged ranked ahead of having sex, getting a paycheck, enjoying the company of friends, or eating a great meal. The researchers stated that having too strong a self-esteem craving could be viewed as an unhealthy trait for some.
Special ACA Conference Programs and Career Center for Students, New Professionals
ACA presented the first For Graduate Students and New Professionals Only series in 2007 and each year this part of the ACA Conference & Exposition grows in both participation and popularity. The New Orleans schedule will include the following sessions:
There will be several companies doing live interviews at the Career Center; to date, there are more than 40+ openings for Master's and Doctoral-level LPCs throughout the U.S. These interviews will be open to all conference registrants.
In addition to the above, there are 6 additional sessions developed specifically for Students and New professionals. For complete program and registration information, visit
Be sure to visit the ACA Career Center while you are in New Orleans. Free consults are available to ACA members and registered conference participants on career, job search, and private practice issues.
Questions? Contact Rebecca Daniel-Burke at firstname.lastname@example.org.
There's still time to pre-register for only $275 (for those whose membership category is Student or New Professional). Visit the
Sign of the Times: Keeping Up with the Words Clients Use
When one of your clients says he has been "chillaxing with a green-collar frenemy and dating a cougar," do you have any clue what he might be talking about? Chillax, cougar, frenemy, and green-collar are just four of 50 new words cited in the January/February edition of the AARP Bulletin, words the author believes will soon be found in the dictionary. The definitions are:
Quotable Quotes of Notable People: Maya Angelou
"I have learned that people will forget what you said; people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel."
Maya Angelou, celebrated poet, memoirist, novelist, educator, dramatist, producer, actress, historian, filmmaker, and civil rights activist
Developing Resource: NY to Establish National Center on Student Loan Understanding
Andrew Cuomo, outgoing attorney general and new governor of New York, has announced that a portion of a legal settlement paid by colleges and lenders for abuses in student lending will be used to create a national center on student loan understanding. Cuomo said that $13 million in settlements to the New York State Higher Education Services Corporation and the New York Public Interest Research Group will be used to underwrite the center designed to help students and parents navigate the student loan process.
Included will be a 24/7 hotline and a website for borrowers and prospective borrowers. As attorney general, Cuomo was vigilant in his monitoring of abuses in the $85 billion student lending industry. The center should be operational in approximately 6 months. ACAeNews will report its opening when announced.
Student Liability Insurance for Master's Level Students Included in Membership
ACA student membership now includes liability insurance when the student is enrolled and engaged in a master's degree counseling curriculum at a postsecondary institution. Coverage is available to ACA student members solely while performing counseling services (e.g., practicum and internship) related to such curriculum. The student insurance coverage includes:
CACREP Announces Student Research Opportunities
The Council for the Accreditation of Counseling and Related Educational Programs (CACREP) announces a research funding opportunity for students. Individual students or groups of students at the master's or doctoral level are invited to submit a proposal for funding by CACREP. There are no deadlines; applications can be made at any time during the year. Applicants must be enrolled in a CACREP program and the research must be related to CACREP in some way.
Inside JCD: Articles of Interest in the Spring Edition
The spring edition of the Journal of Counseling & Development (Volume 89, Number 2) includes a number of articles that may be of interest to counseling students and new professionals.
Note: The above is a partial list of the articles contained in the JCD Spring Edition.
About ACAeNews for Counseling Students and New Professionals
ACAeNews for Counseling Students and New Professionals is one of four new electronic newsletters that are published three times each year each by the American Counseling Association for the benefit of members. It is disseminated as a free benefit of ACA membership and made available via an
Past editions can be found here. (Login required).
The other three special focus enewsletters are:
Any reference to a product, service or activity or listing of a web site in this publication does not imply endorsement by ACA. Any views and opinions are those of the sponsoring organization and may or may not be shared by ACA.
Direct comments, questions and submissions to Frank Burtnett. All submissions will be subject to review by ACA for accuracy, timeliness and relevance to the readership and may be edited.
Marcheta P. Evans, President
Richard Yep, CAE, Executive Director
Debra Bass, Director of Marketing and Communications
Frank Burtnett, NCC, NCCC, ACAeNews Editor
Don Kenneally, Internet Development / Production
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