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Who Do They Think I Am?



So, here I am in my fourth semester of a master's program in Counseling Psychology.  In danger of failing another class.

Maybe it's a Spring thing;  that's when I last had this trouble.  Maybe it's that my classes this time are again challenging beliefs instead of providing facts.  Challenging beliefs should be a good thing;  unchallenged ones lack detail and fail to inspire confidence.

But what it feels like is that each class, in a different way, is telling me that I'll make a great counselor;  all I have to do is be someone different.

Now, this perception may be a valid assessment of the curriculum, or it may be my issue.  I do have trouble defining an identity:  I got burned the first time I tried to take on the role of Husband;  I've worked for years as a computer programmer, so is that my identity?;  I had never even considered a helping profession for myself before the separation, was that a denial of latent ability or am I now fooling myself about having any?

Amusingly, one of my current courses is on Career Counseling, yet I've never really had any.  I always assumed I knew my strengths, I knew what job required what strength, what more did I need?

Well, one word is "self-efficacy."  I've never felt confident that I was good at anything in particular, except school.  I grew into computers, and eventually had some confidence.  But every interview, I felt as if I had to present something false, or rather, someone false, in order even to be considered.  Then I had to go through a phase of intense learning (calling it "cramming", as students do, doesn't do it justice), just so I would feel minimally competent in whatever the new job required.  I'm sure my employers welcomed my efforts, but I would have been unable to reduce those efforts even if told to take it easy.  It was my anxiety, and my need, that drove me.

And now here I am studying a field where you can't cram.  It takes time to learn about yourself;  there's no fast track, no manual you can memorize.  No easy decisions.  Engineering is pretty much defined as making difficult compromises between all the relevant variables, but none of those compromises is about your own identity, your own needs, your own value.

I thought I knew who I thought I was.  Now I'm wondering who they think I am, under what circumstances I should care, or even whether they know better that I.  I know that if they (my instructors) were to decide I shouldn't be a counselor, I would have to honor that decision.  Passing courses is required for licensure, for one thing, but I simply wouldn't want to work in a field where I was not qualified.  I have no desire to harm my clients;  what I don't have is any idea whether something about me might cause harm inadvertently.  For that, I have to trust the evaluations of others, and that's where my doubt takes hold.

I know I wasn't promised a doubt-free existence.  It would be nice if it weren't a constant, though.


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Hi, Mark,

It's been nice to read, as usual; you write also about unpleasant issues in a pleasant way...


what I don't have is any idea whether something about me might cause harm inadvertently

Do you really believe anyone could be sure they won't cause harm inadvertently? I think I know what you mean, but... I'm not sure if this doesn't reflect an unrealistic ambition, though. :redface: 


was that a denial of latent ability or am I now fooling myself about having any?

I would say it's also possible you didn't have it before experiencing therapy and [all other kinds of] healing yourself. In any case, your activities on this forum have proven your abilities to help in a way that isn't, of course, identical to therapy, but is similar enough to allow making extrapolations... ;-)

BTW, your post (first its title, later several points) reminded me this "song / performance" - I hope you won't find it too "unlikeable" to watch (I don't know much about your "taste in music", so...) ;-):

(I know it's not "much" related to your situation ;-), but anyway; I see it as a funny and "nicely crazy" way to "vent" when one is frustrated by "what others think about him" ;-), that's why I'm sharing it.)

Anyway; good luck!!!

(P.S.: Just for the record, as an explanation to the video: Bo is not a homosexual; it's just that many people do (/did) think that about him for some weird reason.)

Edited by LaLa
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Education has its value and I understand that the requirements in school are necessary, but I think knowledge itself can only go so far. One has to be able to apply the knowledge to life situations. I think that is particularly relevant in this field. How does one learn to empathize with others or learn to have psychological insight from a course? How does one learn to make human connection, to sit with a person in his/her pain? You have those qualities and those abilities, the ones I personally believe count the most. I hope at least you don't doubt that.

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Ah well, there's certainly no guarantee against doing harm, whatever one's training.  My concern is that they might be saying that it's likely that I would do harm.  And it probably isn't what they're saying;  we're exploring my mind, here, checking its reality.

Meh.  Bo has a sense of humor, whatever he is or people think he is.  It was fun, La.  And thanks for the vote of confidence.  :-)

I'm actually surprised how little emphasis there has been on actual human factors, so far.  It's like they want to prepare you with a lot of issues, like ethics or multicultural society or how to analyze research, to make sure you've been exposed.  Then you're supposed to do the Techniques class, and move into a Practicum and an Internship, where I guess they expect you'll learn the connection abilities.  Maybe they feel they've screened us well enough to believe that we'll learn the connection when we have to, or they believe that anyone, or most people, could learn the connection abilities as needed.  I don't know exactly which of those they believe, but it does give some anxiety about being dropped in front of clients with only classwork to work with.

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Hi Malign,

Well done on pursuing a Master's degree in counselling psychology - the mental health field was in fact an ambition of mine from when I was 19 years old and I have failed miserably in getting there. I hope that you are able to complete your course and go on to practice in the field. I have a read a number of your recent posts on the forum and you come across well in terms of your ''active listening'' skills as well as posing some valuable questions. As Beth alluded to, I think that the most important characteristic to have in being a counsellor (or working in any branch of mental health) is the ability to sympathise with the human condition. This is something that I no longer have and would prove a firm hindrance for me in the pursuit a like-minded career. I don't care much for most people or their problems based on the fundamental inconvenience - my problems far surpass theirs. 


Unlike me though, you do seem to have a healthy helping of sympathy and empathy - so I would rebut the worries you have with saying that you are in fact the perfect candidate to work in this field. You're engaging, and clearly have some instinctual notions of where to lead the conversation with someone that might be struggling. I'm rather conflicted here actually, not to sound like a sour puss or anything, but a part of me can't help but feel envy of your position in comparison to mine. You are supposed to be a stranger to my world yet you've hopped on over from software engineering to outdo me in the one thing I'm supposed to be good at. 


Anyway, I hope that my post doesn't prove to be a stain on this thread. I was trying to be nice (funny right?).

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I'm surprised you don't see the contradiction between "trying to be nice" and the implication that you have no "sympathy or empathy".  I've seen you behave very nicely to people here.  Only your avatars are scary to me;  maybe you should try electric shavers in the future.

We're all strangers to each other's worlds, ... until we stretch out a hand and say, "Hi, I'm me.  How are you?"  As for feeling conflicted, maybe that's something you could use as motivation.  You might be a great counselor;  what's that got to do with who's got the worse problems?  Heck, you might find that your very real problems provide you with insight you didn't have before.  I know that my past (and let's be honest, present) issues are a big part of my being useful at all.  Before, I would have been hard-pressed to even define "support".

As I said before, having lost is not the same as being a loser.

(How could you having the trust to be open cause a "stain"?)

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Unfortunately I'm way past counseling as a career. I've lost interest in people's problems & would rather not, if it can be voided, know a great deal about them. I know it might sound paradoxical since I exchange posts with members on forum, but I usually limit this to my own issues as much as possible (unless i consider the poster to be a friend).



To put it colloquially, I suffer so much that most people have come to irritate me. The one stipulation is how debilitating a problem is - if i believe someones issues to be similar or greater degree than mine in terms of how they limit their quality of life then I'm able to sympathise. I would however, based on the current prognosis of my wellbeing, place only select groups of people in this category & I assure you I'm objective as possible.


I don't subscribe to the notion that all problems should be viewed exclusively on the emotional effect they are (self) reported to have on an individual. I've discussed this briefly with Klingsor & Resolute in the past. Self reports are often riddled with defense mechanisms and the emotionally intuitive (paradoxically) may appear to suffer the most but are also more greatly equipped to wrestle with their problems. My sole question is "how much does this limit your ability to experience a normal life?". I've found that this separates the men from the boys so to speak. To give you a working example - I would sympathize with a paralysed individual in a wheelchair, but I couldn't give a shit about the tears of some girl that's battling a depression that's rooted in her past. When I was less broken I'd move heaven & earth to catch this girl's tear before it fluttered to the ground. But today it wouldn't illicit any form of a (meaningful) response from me unless I was particularly curious about the moving parts.


Having said that I will always consider myself a student of psychology and devote a great deal of my time to it. Anyway, I'm sorry to have hijacked your comments section. And I'm not trying to be disagreeable or display a show of rebellion to the status quo. I don't want to be disliked or anything, but wanted to clarify my position on the matter. Clearly you have maintained a respect for the human condition and that will make you productive as a counselor and as a member of society. I don't knock that I encourage it. 


Edit: Once you have completed your Master's program I hope you are able to transition into counseling. I would consider it a loss to the field if you somehow decided it wasn't viable.

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I think I'm finally going to pose the question that occurred to me while reading the original / first post: Could you, please, clarify how "they" assess "who you are" and if you're suitable for the profession, and how precisely "they" "challenge your beliefs"? (Also perhaps; what do the classes in spring have in common?) Only if you feel like explaining, of course.

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Small, I consider my blog comments a place for conversations to begin, and what kind of conversation would it be if I alone decided where it went?  If you look back at old posts of mine, you'll see that I mean it.

"... most people irritate me ..."  Trust me, this does not disqualify you.  :-)  But I can respect your decision not to go pro.  Everybody has a psychology;  most people are quite good at seeing other people's;  not everybody is that aware of their own.  So you're already ahead of most, there.

And it's totally up to you which problems you focus on.  Personally, though I might care, I don't see myself having the skills needed to balance the Federal budget, so I leave that to those less [sic] qualified ...

As a result of your honesty, I don't see you as a hijacker, disagreeable, rebellious, or unlikable.  Just human, and as you said, I like those (mostly).

La, there is a perception of the faculty as "gatekeepers";  they have a duty to pass only qualified people.  In practice, that means you pass the courses;  they don't claim to know our inner souls (or even if any of us have them.)

But the coursework is often challenging.  There are a lot of different people in the world, different points of view, etc., and we have to be able to deal with those differences without letting our own point of view intrude.  That means being able to counsel an abuser as well as a survivor of abuse, for instance.  Or someone you disagree with about how to treat women or pets, someone of different race or sexual orientation, how to handle their transference and your own counter-transferences.  And be certain you'll have them, so examine yourself for where they might be.  You do a lot of self-examination.

As for Spring, that was a joke, really, although Michigan's winter is mostly in the first quarter of the year, so you do get a bit sick of crystalline water (snow) by about March ...

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Congratulations on continuing your education! If we don't keep challenging our minds I truly believe they start to weaken as the years progress and this is why I find myself taking continuing education courses in various fields even though I will likely never apply any of these learnings to a career.

As you well know, school is mostly theory and while the theory is good and necessary it does not correlate to reality in many circumstances. I was just telling a recent graduate on my team, who is young in her career, that school is a great source of basic knowledge and would work perfectly if the world had a fixed set of parameters with only singular variables but it doesn't work that way. True learning starts when you begin to apply what you have learned to real world situations and determine what works and what doesn't for a particular problem. There really are some things they just can't teach you in school.

Another thing to consider is the adage "fail fast". The reality is that we all fail from time to time but the key is to learn from that failure, pick yourself up and jump back on the horse and try not to make the same mistake twice.

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I'd be more likely to shoot the horse and walk home, if I was the type to shoot a horse.

I hate failure, and not because I'm unaccustomed to it.  If all i could use was the power of positive thinking, the lights would only be on a few minutes a week.

There's a reason why no one would consider me for a management position.

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9 hours ago, malign said:

I hate failure

You're not alone here. I don't think anyone likes failure (I know that I personally hate it with a passion).

Even though I hate it, I've learned to take failures as learning opportunities and used them to grow personally and professionally.

I was once told by a friend of mine, who had made it to CEO of a mid-size private corporation, that if you do not have failures then you're really not trying. You're just playing it safe with everything you do.

Now, granted, some failures can be much more devastating than others so you have to know when you can take a risk and when you can't.

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