I just completed a Qualitative Research Methods course in my PhD program at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology (which sounds dull but was AMAZING, thanks to the great Dr. Leahy, ha). Over this past year our portion (there are two) of the International Psychology cohort became very close. After witnessing our interactions and apparent bond, we were asked by a professor: “If you are willing, tell me... how is it that this group became what I see an exemplar for what is possible in an online learning situation?...How can we…support other students to create the kind of learning community you have created?”
It seems like we all chose “reply to all” as we shared our various takes on what created our bond. 2 things were universal: 1) The positive impact of our first professor, Dr. Joan Cooper, upon this new class. She introduced and encouraged an environment where we felt free to share our thoughts and “stupid” questions without judgment. She facilitated the class in a way that fostered genuine “getting to know you” moments rather than just reading and answering questions. 2) At one point or another we each made the decision to open up in a genuine way so that, in addition to our academic conversations, we chose to share our life experiences: job changes, family illness, frustrations with one seemingly “bad apple” professor, personal injury, pregnancy, divorce, world travel, dating woes, achievements, career ambitions, professional epiphanies, great vacations, decisions of whether or not to stay in the program…oh yeah and one military deployment to Afghanistan. Beneath all that we found a common passion for world cultures and making meaningful contributions to that world in which we live. Are we so different after all? Maybe in some ways, but we are more alike than different, we have realized, and we now feel like we are part of a new and unique family.
In his book, “The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients” (one of my absolute favorite books I’ve ever read, and I’m reading it again right now), Yalom explains how in recent years “young psychiatrists are forced to specialize in psychopharmacology” and “psychiatry is on the verge of abandoning the field of psychotherapy” while meanwhile “clinical psychologists face the same market pressures, and…schools of psychology are responding by teaching a therapy that is symptom-oriented, brief, and hence, reimbursable (Yalom, 2002, xiv-xv). This creates a valuable role for counselors and other professions in the field of behavioral health services! Yet sometimes we still end up divided by more specific “interests.” But are we so different after all?
That being said, I would love to see an increase in efforts to unite the various professions in social sciences. Even within our field of counseling and in our interactions through ACA we can work to support one another more. There should not be an aura of competitiveness between groups who feel they are “different.” So much more can be accomplished by supporting one another in our efforts rather than isolating on the island of My Own Personal Interests. Don’t you agree?
I am optimistically agreeing with Yalom: “I am confident that, in the future, a cohort of therapists coming from a variety of educational disciplines (psychology, counseling, social work, pastoral counseling, clinical philosophy, psychiatry) will continue to pursue rigorous postgraduate training and, even in the crush of HMO reality, will find [clients] desiring extensive growth and change willing to make an open-ended commitment to therapy” (2002, xv). I think my cohort group at TCS is a good example of people coming together and remembering what’s really important—interpersonal connections with one another. My classmate, O.T. Porter said, “It is as though we are all competitors running a race, wanting to win. But while doing so, we also want to reach across to pull each other along as well.” We don’t have to spend so much time accentuating our differences, but utilizing them to enrich one another’s lives.
So what can each of us do—what can YOU do, what can I do—to actively support other professionals in their endeavors and to meaningfully connect in our common goals?
Yalom, I. D. (2002). The Gift of Therapy: An Open Letter to a New Generation of Therapists and Their Patients. New York: HarperCollins.
Natosha Monroe is an Army Reserve Mental Health Specialist stationed in Afghanistan. She is a counselor and PhD candidate passionate about increasing Troop access to counseling services. Her blog contents are not representative of the Army or Department of Defense in any way.