Choose Your Own Adventure

By John Loeppky

May 2024

Diane R. Girardot, LPC, has had a career with more than a few literary detours. It’s a trek that has included jobs with newspapers large and small, a stint in Mexico City, a couple of degrees, and now a sustained private counseling practice in Pennsylvania.

Girardot says, with a laugh, that she was drawn toward her bachelor’s program in literature and journalism at Louisiana State for two reasons: “Well, I’m a native Louisianian. So, isn’t that what we all do? We go to LSU.” 

She also excelled in English classes in school. She saw “proficient” in English stamped on her report card all the time. “So, I started writing early and worked for the local newspaper near my hometown of Ponchatoula. And then went off to college.”

From there came reporting jobs in Lafayette, Louisiana, and Beaumont, Texas — where she would meet her husband, a New Jersey native on a two-year work assignment. When he was transferred back to the Northeast, Girardot got lucky and was hired by The Philadelphia Inquirer as one of its South Jersey reporters.

When she became pregnant in 1990, she stepped back from her demanding job to focus on her family, freelancing occasionally. During her second pregnancy, Girardot miscarried at five months. Three more miscarriages, in much earlier stages, followed. She and her husband realized they would have only one child; her caregiver role would shift once her son hit his teen years.

“I wasn’t sure what I was going to do with myself,” she says. “I wasn’t sure about returning to journalism — what else was there?”

Girardot with activist Gloria Steinem
Girardot with activist Gloria Steinem
(Photo courtesy of Girardot.)

Taking the First Step

Girardot was seeing a therapist while grieving her miscarriages. The therapist shared her own experience of her husband dying in an accident, leaving her with two small children to raise on her own. She said that with help from family and friends, she returned to school for a doctorate in psychology and opened her own practice to support her family.

Girardot had always considered psychology in the back of her mind, but she was concerned it would take too much time. That counselor gave Girardot the push she needed to get out of that rut.

“She said, ‘Just start classes one or two at a time because at least it gets you moving, and it gets you participating in life again, and it has you looking forward — even if you never finish,’” Girardot recalls.

So began a decade-long educational path, first at the University of Delaware, then at the United States International University in Mexico City and finally at Immaculata University in Pennsylvania.

Girardot says that her therapist being willing to self-disclose her own history made a huge impact when, at the time, it was not the norm. “Clinicians are taught to avoid or limit self-disclosure,” she says. “But I think my decisions and experiences changing careers are worthy of sharing with my clients if applicable, the same way my previous therapist did.”

Girardot started a private practice in Chadds Ford, Pennsylvania, in 2005, around the time her son turned 15. Later, she added a second office in Philadelphia. Her practice has mainly focused on young women struggling with disordered eating, self-esteem, body image and relationship issues. She says the rewards have touched her heart time and time again as she witnesses these girls succeed in changing their narratives.

Girardot says having a literature and journalism background helped her be a better clinician. “I think journalists have to have a certain amount of courage to ask tough questions,” she explains. “I definitely find, as a therapist, I’ve got to ask those tough questions, getting right to the heart of a question, not a lot of dancing around sometimes. Journalism helped me with that organization of my questions and helping me to zone in quickly.”

There’s another set of benefits that came with the transition: She is able to make connections with clients, which is vastly different from the bouncing from one source to the next that a journalist does. “I wanted to do more than observe and report. I wanted to help.”

Then and Now

The journey to return to school to become a counselor wasn’t easy though. Girardot says the biggest hurdle was getting over the inertia that comes with knowing there are so many years of school ahead of you.

And attending her first in-person class at the University of Delaware made her feel out of place. “I had a bona fide, real old-lady purse, and all the other students had backpacks. So I’m like, ‘Oh my God, I am so old. I’ve got this purse that I’m carrying around. I gotta get a backpack."

But she thoroughly enjoyed school and looked forward to graduation and beginning her new career. For those considering big career shifts, she encourages: “Just do it, and don’t worry if you don’t finish. Just the whole act of doing it is often sufficient to help you at that moment.”

She hears people say, “I’m not going to start; I’m never going to finish. It’s going to take me 10 years!” And it did take her 10 years. “But I’d rather be 42 with my master’s degree, rather than 42 with nothing more.”

Trying new things isn’t something Girardot has stopped doing. Outside her Philadelphia apartment window is the Delaware River, where she can spot sailboats. Despite having never sailed before, three years ago, she and her husband joined a nearby sailing club and are learning the sport, which has led to physical challenges.

A self-described “non-gym person,” Girardot has had to acknowledge her limitations, build strength and challenge assumptions about herself. She says the experience of sharing those barriers, as a form of self-disclosure, also has benefits for her clients.

“I’m afraid a lot on the water, so I share that fear. I share that I’m doing something totally brand new. And many of my clients are like, ‘You’re kidding. Why, why would you do that?’ So, the sailing, I think, continues to build on what I have to offer clients in terms of that pivoting, that transitioning.”

She also began strength training at a local gym, which has become more enjoyable than she could have imagined. At age 65, she is active in various CrossFit classes, surprising herself — and others — that she can hold her own lifting, bench pressing, squatting, lunging and doing kettlebell swings. And she loves the gym’s fitting motto: “Change Your Story!”

More to the Story

Girardot continues to change her story. Once a journalist, always a journalist. She still views everything through a journalistic lens, considering what the article would look like, what the key themes would be, what she would want the reader to take away and what she’s excited to share with the world.

To scratch that itch, she recently began blogging about various mental health conventions and continuing education courses for her former employer, The Philadelphia Inquirer. She has also contributed occasional articles to other outlets in the mental health arena and continues to do a small amount of journalistic work in addition to her counseling practice. Just like with sailing and CrossFit, she’s keeping those muscles engaged. “‘I’m glad I was able to draw those two worlds together again,” she says. “I’ve enjoyed that.”

She’s equally glad that, through it all, she’s been able to create sustained connections with people, especially the young women she may have begun seeing in their teens who are now married with children, have satisfying careers and are thriving.

In 2019, Girardot became a certified reality therapist. The choice theory/reality therapy model was one she has been following even before she began practicing it. For her, the career path of the “quality world” component of the theory (the pictures that represents everything you want in a quality life) began when she imagined journalism bylines, then her name on her office door.

Her family picture originally had more than one child, but reality forced her to adjust that picture. Today, she considers her family just right. It is made up of her husband of 35 years, their son and his wife, and two grandchildren, ages 2 and 4.

Girardot has changed her story more than once and enjoys having the extra room in her “quality world” family for all the other people who have come through her office door — now proudly adorned with Diane R. Girardot, MA, LPC. 

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