I’m putting my ego aside in hopes that this blog will help others who may find themselves feeling the same way I was feeling years ago. For lack of a better word, I was scared. Back in 2000 I was an undergraduate student longing to be a Psychologist. Human behavior and the brain fascinated me and I wanted to learn more and ultimately help empower others in understanding themselves more fully and taking control of their lives. I spent almost a decade delaying my interests and professional dreams due to being intimidated by research and the idea of undertaking this dreaded “Thesis” and “Dissertation” I had heard so much about. Besides, I was from rural Blooming Grove, Texas: Population 823. I’d never personally known anyone with a PhD (except for my undergraduate professors). Was I delusional or narcissistic in thinking I could actually be called “Dr.” one day? 11 years later, I know the answer to that question is “no”.
Although I did well in both my undergraduate research and statistics courses, the experience was AWFUL! The material was confusing to me and I struggled. I even repeated the Experimental Research course in an effort to increase my understanding of the material. I learned enough about z-scores and formulas and Pearson Correlations and quantitative research to emerge with the conclusion that I had no burning desire to spend the next decade of my life struggling with numbers and lab rats as my professor had described. To the best of my knowledge, there was no research going on that involved student participation in my program with the exception of one professor who studied child sexual abuse—a topic I was not interested in. Upon graduation in 2001, I felt ill-equipped to enter a PhD program where I thought all I would be doing is research. Despite my high GPA, leadership positions to include Psychology Club President, extra-curricular activities such as track team and yearbook staff, and scholastic achievements and awards, I did not apply for graduate school. I was not confident in my knowledge or abilities whatsoever in the area of research so instead, I took an internship near Seattle, Washington at a research company.
Since I “knew” I was behind the curve in my research experience and capabilities, I decided to pursue Industrial/Organizational Psychology. My internship at Bavendam Research, Inc exposed me to the business-y side of psychology as I like to call it. I quickly realized I still desired work where I interacted with people and where I was learning more about psychology in a biological and therapeutic s realm. But again, I was scared of that PhD! I began to read about different professions in psychology and decided that becoming a Licensed Professional Counselor would offer me the education and experience I needed. However, I was still insecure about my lack of research experience so I continued to apply to I/O programs and decided to pursue an MBA at Suffolk University in Boston.
As fate would have it, an unexpected military deployment to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba kept me from the MBA though. I loved my work at GTMO with the Troops. Working with my Officer-in-Charge, LTC Alan Fehr, reminded me of the power offered to people through therapy. With our work there under LTC Fehr’s leadership, I saw clients’ nightmares cease, backaches and headaches alleviated, quality of sleep increased, relationships improved, stressors reduced…all through the power of therapy—not just medications. He encouraged me to become an officer and to pursue my professional license to work in the field. Dr. Fehr and I remain in contact today and he is still serving in North Dakota National Guard and works as a Psychologist in his civilian life.
I returned to Texas and began to apply to local masters programs in psychology, still insecure about what? Yup. Research. I received my MA in Professional Counseling in 2009, had a great internship so was hired at an inpatient psychiatric facility, and was on my way to licensure. But I still felt a desire to pursue a PhD in order to spend a few more years learning more and specifically I wanted to learn more about trauma and trauma therapy. Within months of graduating with my master’s I was accepted to a PhD program in International Psychology with a Trauma Services concentration.
Since then, I feel as though I am finally feeling complete in my academic and professional interests. I am no longer intimidated by research. My professors at The Chicago School of Professional Psychology have been amazing in their instruction. One professor in particular, Dr. Martin Leahy, transformed a group of timid, skeptical Qualitative Methods students into a group who are knowledgeable and confident in various approaches to qualitative research and actually excited about it! I’ve learned about paradigms, approaches, and methods I never even knew existed prior to my PhD program. My classmates and I felt misled by previous educational experiences because we finally learned research is NOT all quantitative and lab-like in the social sciences. We shared the general opinion that all undergraduate programs in psychology should include this information and not just focus on quantitative methods and/or whatever any given professor happens to prefer.
This makes me wonder…are there more Licensed Professional Counselors and Therapists out there who are not contributing research because they are intimidated or have never learned how to do so? I think there must be. So many in our profession have great experiences and knowledge that could benefits others greatly if shared. It seems so often that “research” is comprised of sterile quantitative studies of individuals who are in a clinical setting already and are performed by academics. Which is fine. But how much more complete would research in our field be if it was derived from a more diverse group of contributors?
I am so happy that I’ve decided to conquer my fears of research and am pursuing my PhD and the work to which I have always felt drawn. I now realize the fears weren’t real. The fear I felt was actually a result of inexperience and of instruction from professors who were not diverse in their own knowledge and delivery of information about the field of research.
One of my favorite quotes is from Amelia Earhart and has really inspired me over the years and has given me strength during times I have doubted my ability to pursue a difficult goal or challenge. I applied it when I decided to fulfill my dream of becoming a collegiate athlete. I made the women’s track team and ran the 400m hurdles and the 1600m relay for Tarleton State University in Texas. I applied it to the many physical and professional challenges I faced in my years in the Army. I never once fell out of a group run, even when I was the only female and I now work at the Pentagon in Washington, D.C. I applied it when I sealed the envelope in 2009 which held my application to a PhD program in Chicago. I am now working on my doctoral dissertation. I hope you will remember it the next time you find yourself hesitating to pursuit a goal or dream due to lack of confidence in your ability to achieve it:
“The most difficult thing is the decision to act, the rest is merely tenacity. The fears are paper tigers. You can do anything you decide to do--you can act to change and control your life; and the procedure, the process is its own reward.” -Amelia Earhart
Natosha Monroe 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.