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Mar 13, 2019

Rediscovering a love for psychotherapy through doctoral work

Perhaps it was due to a special dispensation of masochism, but during the summer of 2018 I decided to pursue a bucket list goal and enrolled in a doctoral program. Prior to enrolling in this program, I had been held back from pursuing this life goal by fears about navigating the egotistical gatekeepers preventing many doctorates from completing and the incredible financial burden of many doctoral programs. However, in 2018 I was made aware of a self-directed program that was much more affordable and decided to make the plunge. As fate would have it, my doctoral studies were in the same field as my masters, Clinical Psychology at a southern California university just around the corner from where I graduated with my BA (California Southern University).

After completing my first four courses in this doctoral program, I find myself reflecting on how starting an education program has impacted my clinical work. After completing my master’s program, I set the intention to pursue doctoral work only after spending many years in the field. Ironically, my doctoral studies began nine years after graduating with my master’s degree, unintentionally meeting this goal. Thus far, I have been pleasantly surprised to discover that digging back into academic studies have catalyzed a renewal in my clinical work. I didn’t expect such a catalyst when I began these studies but have been pleasantly surprised to find myself once again excited about psychotherapy. Sadly, a degree of burn out may have been growing over these nine years of clinical work without my conscious awareness to its insidious nature. Rediscovering a joy for the profession through digging deep into studies has reminded me of the original catalyst for graduate studies – the desire to do clinical work better.

When I first began the exciting masochism of a graduate program back in 2007, I was seeking to attain tools to do clinical work better. After working for just shy of five years in skid row in downtown Los Angeles, I was deeply impressed by the need to better steward the incredible gift we have as clinicians. The sacredness of our profession was lost over the years and now is rediscovered in further graduate study. I am reminded in these reflections of the tendency toward automation and avoidance of our errors that Dr. Scott Miller talks about outcomes research ego-busting talks. As I celebrate this re-invigorating, I also look toward the future and the challenges of staying error centric, avoiding automation, and avoiding burn out. In seeing the danger of losing a sense of the sacred role we serve working intimately in client’s lives, I hope you likewise are encouraged to remember the sacredness of this role. May this be a catalyst for self-care, for error centric focus, and for avoiding the dangers of automation.

Thank-you for reading and for your service!

Stephen Ratcliff is a Counselor in private practice in Albuquerque, NM. He specializes in treating psychological trauma, working with sexual and gender minorities, couples therapy, and sex therapy. For more information or to contact Stephen, please visit


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