Going through a master’s program in mental health counseling is a little like putting your mind on a cold, steel table and dissecting it in at least eleven different ways – and then leaving the room quickly because it is going to expand. The very essence of counselor education encourages the student to look at their lives, choices, families, and roles in society from many different perspectives. Each class offers a wealth of knowledge and fresh ways to consider yourself and your place in the world. It is at once wonderful and exhausting, intriguing and infuriating. I’d be lying if I said I didn’t love it.
The classes we take are demanding academically and are even more challenging emotionally. Presently I am enrolled in Marriage and Family Counseling and we are delving into the various aspects of family dynamics. Focusing so much on the way my family of origin functioned when I was a child and how we function now is a true eye-opener. My family or origin – containing members I still see on a regular basis as many Italian-Americans do – is a potpourri of dysfunction. Through this class I have looked at my life and my family structure and re-realized who I am and how (in some ways) I’ve turned out the way I have. I’ve also recognized that some of our quirks are not pathological, just eccentric.
Which leads me to my family of today – the one I’ve formed since I’ve become a “grown up.” And we are quite the blended smoothie with adopted, step, natural and various ethnicities whipped into the brood. As I learn about family therapy I am becoming aware of the ways in which I can sometimes distance myself from my stepchildren and ways in which I can be rather enmeshed with my natural born child from a previous marriage. The latter is now 22 years old and I can see how – although I’ve done well – I’ve haven’t renegotiated our relationship to complete adult-to adult status. So I’ve got a long way to go … but I am learning every day. I am rethinking the way my husband and I parent - we’ve gotten into some interesting conversations exploring this topic.
Becoming a counselor leads students toward revelations (hey, I was somewhat neglected as a child), realizations (I am able to express myself much better than I think) and epiphanies (I want to work with children and help them within their family structure) – so much happens and your mind grows daily. It is also a path of lifetime learning and we are all on the road.
Susan Jennifer Polese is a counselor in training, a personal coach and a freelance writer. Her areas of interest are mindfulness, divergent thinking, and creativity in counseling.