Before You Begin

By Kate Gerwin

With the PC Open House coming up next week, thought I would put together a list of a few things I would tell anyone starting the MS program.

  1. Let the process unfold in its own time. Two and a half years and no more. That’s how long I wanted the program to take me when I first started. I was, by necessity, working full-time so even though this rich, growth producing experience may need more time to evolve in me, that fact was secondary to my desire to get it done. As it stands, I am slated to graduate in May of 2015, five and a half years after I started. And I wouldn’t have changed a thing. The “extra” time it took wasn’t extra at all—it was vital space for me to learn, integrate, question, play and grow. So if you are like me and find yourself anxious to be finished before you have even started, take heart! The process will take the time it needs to, no more, no less.
  2. Get involved.  I had the great fortune of attending Loyola Maryland (at that time Loyola College) as an undergrad and one of the things I appreciated most about my choice is how many opportunities I was presented with to get involved in campus life and other activities. When I started grad school however, I was working full-time, living far from campus and like many grad students, really pressed for time. In the last year or so, I have become slowly become more involved with the Pastoral Counseling community and it has been very rewarding. Even something as simple as meeting up with classmates for a cup of coffee can help you feel more connected and invested and is well worth the time you think you don’t have.
  3. Save Stuff! In fact, save everything! For one thing, you will need to have all of your syllabi to qualify for licensure. For another, you never know what kind of insight you will glean from that one little hastily scribbled note down the line when you are actually practicing in the counseling field.
  4. Plan Backwards. When I started the program, it was all I could do to register for one class—the thought of planning out what classes I would be taking the next semester, or the next year seemed way too overwhelming! I quickly learned however, that the best way to move forward is to plan backwards. As I learned what classes were offered when and got a sense of my overall “plan”, it became easier to see where I stood in the bigger picture and keep myself on track towards my graduation goal.
  5. Find a peer advisor—or a whole team of them. As great as Advisors are, the reality of office hours and schedules makes meeting regularly somewhat difficult. It’s definitely in your best interest to get to know some individuals who are further along in their journey and glean whatever information and insight you can from them. They can be invaluable resources for helping you navigate everything from what classes to take to helping you through the major challenge of clinicals.
  6. Take your own therapy seriously. While I have always valued therapy, I must admit I saw the 20 hour requirement as a bit of a chore when I first started—one more thing to fit into my busy schedule. As I grew in the program however and things started coming up for me however, my own therapy has been key in the process of evolving my identity as a counselor and a person. I think it is one of the best parts of Loyola’s program, so don’t short change yourself!
  7. Network Now. You never know if your “first friend” in Intro to Pastoral Counseling could later become a link to a job down the line! The program is just as much about developing your own professional identity as it is knowing the material, and networking is a key—and very practical—part of that process.

And most of all, as strange as it sounds, HAVE FUN!

Hope-FULL


Psychologist Irvin Yalom stated that one of the most important agents of change that the therapist can use to assist the client is the instillation of hope.

While I am not an expert in the process, I did want to share a few lessons that I have learned that hopefully will be of benefit to you.

 

We instill hope, not install it

We are not the therapy versions of the Best Buy Geek Squad. We don’t install hope, like they would install high-definition television sets. During the counseling sessions we strive to “instill” hope. Instilling is defined as the process of “gradually but firmly establishing”. In therapy we try to “gradually but firmly” connect the client to the hope that is already inside them. It took hope for the client to even come to the counseling session. So they already have the hope, we just have to help them increase it.

We bring the belief of hope with us

Even though we don’t install hope, we do bring the belief that the client has hope inside them, which can be built upon. We bring the hope that the time spent in counseling will bring about a positive result. We bring the hope that we have been educated and prepared to journey with our clients through whatever challenges life has given them.

We hope in God

As great as our clinical skills may be, I personally believe that God is in the room as well. And that other person is God. I recognize that everyone may not embrace this hope and I understand that. When I feel lost in session, (and even when I don’t), I try to stay constantly aware that God is in the room and His love and grace are present as well. I also have hope that His love for the client, (and for me), is operating even more than my clinical skills and techniques. This is not to absolve me of being prepared, present and focused in session, but it is a sense or comfort.

Also as the semester begins, realize that hope is for you too! There may be times when you will feel that you are losing hope yourself. It may be after an unfruitful session with a client or after getting a bad grade. It may even be when the rest of your life intrudes and you are started to feel overwhelmed. When that happens remember this anonymous quote, “When the world says, “Give up,” Hope whispers, “Try it one more time”.

Roll Like a Ball

Each summer since I have been at Loyola, I have concocted a “Summer Bucket List.”  The list includes those activities that I always wanted to do, but didn’t have the time because of class and clinical internship. One of the items on this year’s Summer Bucket List was to take up yoga. I have heard many great things about the benefits of yoga from fellow students, professors, clients, and even my doctor and I finally decided to give it a try.

My local gym had daily classes so I picked a morning one, showed up early, sat down on my newly purchased yoga mat, and prepared for fifty minutes of bliss.

It started out so well, a few stretches here, a few twists and turns there, and soothing music playing in the background. Then we really began, and it was not pretty. My “Downward Facing Dog” died mid pose, my “Warrior Stance” was AWOL, and I won’t even mention the horror which was my “Pigeon Pose.”  In fact, with the few exceptions of the “Mountain” and “Chair” poses, the relaxing morning of yoga was looking to be an ego-bursting, reality-bashing exercise in frustration. Then, the instructor led us into “Roll Like a Ball”. It turns out that in this I was a natural. My technique was perfect and I was able to balance mid roll on every occasion to my surprise and delight.

In some ways, my first year of clinical internship was very similar to my yoga experience. In the introductory phase, I approached clinicals with not only anticipation, but to be honest, also a slight sense of untested confidence. After some initial great sessions, I started working with the “real” clients and often felt like I did in yoga, wondering what in the world was going on. But, just like yoga, I stuck with it and improvement started to occur. Thankfully, there were “Roll Like a Ball” moments when there was a significant breakthrough with a client, or an effective treatment plan was written, or a highly productive supervisory session was held. These are the moments that you look forward to, but the other arduous moments are just as important for our growth and development as counselors.

I have no doubt that, if I continue, mastering a true “Tree” pose will be in my future, but until then I will keep showing up to yoga class. Each day I try to make the best of that time.

If we, as counselors, apply the same lesson in clinicals and try to make each day, each session, the best that we can, we will be “Rolling Like a Ball” in no time.

Namaste.

Don’t Say Goodbye . . . Say Thank You

Another semester is almost over and the familiar routine begins. The furious rush to finish all papers, projects, and assignments that you knew about from week one. Then, that oft-repeated vow: that you will never wait so late start . . . again. The perfunctory filling out of class evaluations that you know you should spend more time on, but you don’t, and the lightning-fast goodbyes that we give to teachers and students alike as we dash toward the parking lot.

It is the last part of the routine that I take issue with. We say goodbye too easily. We often talk about “terminating” with clients and how much care is needed because of the emotional bonds that have been created. Yet what about the bonds created with that person who sat beside you for countless morning and evening hours? Saying goodbye to them should not be so easy. Take the time to thank them for their presence, their camaraderie, for their commiseration with you about the long nights, for their listening ear about the woes of your internship. And, of course, thank them for all the times that they agreed with you that your paper did deserve a better grade. Don’t just say goodbye, say thank you.

If the events in our country over the last few weeks have taught us anything, it is that life is precious and every day is a gift. Just like we can’t take life for granted, we also can’t take the relationships with our classmates for granted either. These are our present peers and our future colleagues, fostering and maintaining relationships with at least a few persons will produce unimagined benefits.

I have heard it said that part of what makes Loyola great is the students, and I would definitely agree. Even the students that I have disagreed with have added something to me. They have helped to clarify my voice, my views, and my beliefs and, in some cases, even my faith. That is a gift and I am thankful for it. And, to you who are reading this blog, I thank you as well for journeying with me and all the other writers as we have shared with you.

To the students I have met, the professors who challenged me to grow, and the friends I have made, I have been blessed by the gift of your presence.

I am not saying goodbye. I am saying thank you.

Answering Prayers 101: Angels In Training

As a child of God, I am a selfish little person. When confronted with the troubles of another, I might shoot off a quick “dear God, help that person” or “send me some wisdom here, please,” but, for the most part, I pray mainly about my troubles and generally for the good of all.

Lately, God has been tweaking me with these gentle cosmic flicks that are sending me the message that maybe I am not just on the receiving end of prayers. Sometimes, God says, you, Barbara, get to be the angel and answer someone’s prayer.

In my clinical internship here at Loyola, a client quietly smacked me across the head with her thankful words a few weeks ago. She had been referred for counseling because she was having some difficulties in her life and had been afraid that she had something seriously wrong with her. Why else, she said, would someone refer her for counseling? It had not occurred to me that anyone would be frightened of me or counseling. Another client told me she had been praying for help in the moments before I waltzed in and became her counselor. I am humbled in their presence because I am the one who shines from all of their hard work.

My halo gets a little dingy as I get caught up in my own struggles. It often sits atop my head a little dented and skewed to one side especially after I’ve had an altercation with early morning rush hour traffic and drivers who think they are special (meaning they don’t have to use turn signals, follow at a safe distance, or drive within the speed limit). As I am mouthing sometimes not-so-silent curses, someone out there is saying a prayer: let me get to work safely . . . please, someone, let me get off at this exit . . . I hope no one rear ends me with my child in the back seat.

I can be the answer to all of those prayers, too.

As a pastoral presence, we are the answer to someone’s prayer whether that prayer was spoken or silent, whether it was conscious or unconscious, and whether it was the prayer of the person sitting across from us or the prayer of a person we may never meet.  If you have asked God for help and that help is a long time in coming, be patient. Some of us angels are just now learning how to fly.

Whose prayer can you be an answer to?

Defining lives and careers: It goes both ways

Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.
Confucius

In pastoral counseling at Loyola, students invest long hours preparing for the
diversity of clients who we will counsel during our clinical internship and afterwards in the “real” world. We learn to identify and treat depression, anxiety, trauma, and personality disorders. We learn how humans become who they are and the dynamics of family life. We investigate the insidious disease of addiction and avenues of therapy. We choose our theoretical approach to practice and how to integrate psychology and spirituality. When I took a class in career counseling, however, I puzzled about its usefulness in pastoral care.

Then, America found itself in a recession. Suddenly, my internship was full of clients who were unemployed and looking for more than self-esteem boosters. They knew why they felt bad and what would help them feel better: a job. I turned to Loyola affiliate faculty, Deb Rollison, Ph.D., who teaches career development, for some guidance.

The people who were having the hardest time finding employment were in their late 50’s and early 60’s. For these clients, Dr. Rollison recommends:

  • Do not put dates of graduation on resumes
  • Summarize work experience that is ten years or older
  • Reframe what older means by exploring advantages: experience, loyalty, fewer sick days, wisdom, and perspective
  • Think in terms of accomplishments, including volunteer experience; list 6 to 8 PAR key accomplishment statements that show:
    • Problem – what did you face?
    • Action – what did you do?
    • Results – what happened specifically and measurably?

Exploring your clients’ accomplishments, what they enjoy, and how they effectively managed difficult times in the past is key to helping people develop self-reliance and coping skills. I encourage and coach unemployed clients to talk about what they have done and why it mattered. This helps them sell themselves both to prospective employers and to themselves. It is a constant reminder of their self-worth.

AARP’s job hunting web page is a good resource for older Americans. America’s Career InfoNet is a gateway available to everyone to explore careers, State job banks, occupation and industry information, and much more.

The longer unemployment goes on, the more strain there will be on relationships, finances, and families. If you are counseling a person with a history of substance abuse, unemployment may be a trigger or a slippery place. I have helped clients with social services, fill out forms, identify their current assets and budgets, and find the closest AA meetings.

Deb Rollison put it very clearly: Career is not just a job but a whole life – it is leisure, priorities, and purpose. In helping others define their careers and make their lives whole, my career and life as a pastoral counselor become whole.

 

 

 

Tiffany (Coons) O’Hara – An M.S. Graduate Success Story

JoAnn: What led you to Loyola’s Department of Pastoral Counseling and Spiritual Care?

Tiffany: I got my undergraduate degree from Mt. Saint Mary’s and knew I wanted to stay in Maryland.  While looking for graduate programs in Clinical Psychology, I saw Pastoral Counseling, but I had no idea what it was. I researched it, and the more I learned about it, the more I realized that it was the perfect fit for me with its blend of psychology and spirituality. I was not comfortable pushing aside my faith in my career path. I discerned Loyola was a good fit for me.

JoAnn: How was it at Loyola?

Tiffany: I loved Loyola from day one!  Starting class with a prayer, meeting people from different faith backgrounds, experiencing everyone’s passion to help other people, and the way they integrate spirituality into their work was so inspiring for me from my first class to my last and now.

JoAnn: What were your most memorable experiences?

Tiffany: Dr. Sharon Cheston’s and Dr. Frank Richardson’s classes stood out for me. Family Counseling and Pastoral Integration were my favorite classes. The clinical portions of my studies were meaningful for me. Getting hands-on experience with different supervisors was extremely helpful.  Two years of internship gave me the confidence to go out into the workforce and know that I was ready.

JoAnn: Where did you do your internships?

Tiffany: My first one was at St. Francis Academy, a Catholic High School in Baltimore, and the second year I was at Lighthouse Youth and Family Services. I had a practicum supervisor, an on-site supervisor, and a small group supervisor in my first internship and two supervisors in my second.  I learned so much from all of them and would advise students to make the most of the supervision that they receive.

JoAnn: I heard you got married, bought a new house, went on your first ever cruise for a honeymoon, got a new dog, wrote the Professional Seminar paper, and got a new job!  How did you juggle it all?

Tiffany: Through the grace of God!  And, with very supportive family/friends and self-care. I did a lot of knitting and crocheting blankets/scarves. I prayed and journaled. I had a “keep my eyes on the prize” mentality.  Everything that happened, while stressful, was a positive thing, so that helped.  Knowing that I was called to be a counselor helped me to get through the program.

JoAnn: How was the job hunting process?

Tiffany: I started job hunting my second to last semester before I graduated. Perhaps I was a bit pre-emptive, but I am glad I did. The process was frustrating and discouraging! I put out so many resumes and only got only two bites. I was in a catch-22 situation. I had not yet graduated or gotten my license. I interviewed with Contemporary Family Services. I told them I wanted to be a school-based counselor and they were looking for a counselor for their charter schools in Baltimore. They offered me the job on the spot! I will start as soon as my LGPC (Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor) certification is completed.

JoAnn: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

Tiffany: I am thankful, grateful, and blessed to have gone through the program, graduated, and to be where I am now.  I enjoyed my years at Loyola in the PC
Program
and I miss it much more than I thought I would.