Before I began my graduate program, I had several friends tell me that it will be challenging and stressful but the growth it produces in you is invaluable. I completely agree with their sentiments. While it is hard to verbalize personal growth, here's my attempt at sharing with you what I have learned this past year. Lesson #1: Remember all of your life roles. I am more than a counselor-in-training and graduate student. I am a wife, daughter, sister, and friend. I am also a ballerina, Christian, book worm, amateur photographer, and arts advocate. The "counselor-in-training and graduate student" roles are important, but not so important, that they cause me to neglect other fulfilling life roles. Lesson #2: Take the initiative to own your education. No one holds your hand in graduate school. Yes, there are people to guide you and provide a sounding board for you, such as my wonderful advisor. However, you must make the final decisions and put forth the required effort – just like our clients must do. Lesson #3: Know your limits. I am extremely Type A, which means that I usually think I can do it all and become disappointed in myself when I have to say no. For example, I originally intended to take 12 hours (four classes) this past semester and work 20 hours a week at MSU's Career Center. After the first week of classes, I quickly learned that would not be possible (unless my husband never saw me again) and dropped a class that I could take another semester. Although I initially felt like a failure, I realized that living within your limits produces a much healthier and satisfied life. Lesson #4: Become involved with professional organizations. I am a member of the Mississippi Counseling Association, the American Counseling Association, and the Association for Creativity in Counseling. All of these organizations provide me with valuable information, current research trends, and opportunities for professional growth. Becoming a counselor is more than just obtaining a degree from a CACREP-accredited institution and completing the required hours for licensure – it is also treating yourself to the wealth of knowledge and networks that professional organizations provide. Lesson #5: Dare to explore. Whether that exploration occurs through experiencing personal therapy or completing practicum at a psychiatric hospital, choose paths that stretch you and challenge your worldview. Those paths may even appear in a group project. For example, my group in career counseling presented a lecture on career counseling for gay, lesbian, bisexual and transgender clients. One group member focused her research on the transgender population because she felt uncomfortable working with that clientele. She dared to explore a personal bias and, as a result, better equipped herself as a counselor. My hope is that I will carry these invaluable lessons into my professional career and always be eager to add to the list.
Courtnay Veazey is a graduate student at Mississippi State University pursuing a Master of Science in clinical mental health counseling and working as a graduate assistant at MSU's Career Center