In the final days leading up to my first class, I was increasingly nervous about what I had gotten myself into. Coming back to work was even harder than I had anticipated and I was struggling to get back into the routine of Not Break. The thought of trying to balance work and school again gave me rather unpleasant flashbacks to last spring, compounded by the realization that I was committing to being a student for a very long time. All kinds of doubts about my ability to handle this undertaking started cropping up, to the point where people would ask me if I was excited about starting classes, and my response would be “…….yeeeeeah…….” which is Kattiewampus for “I know I’m supposed to be excited and I’ve been talking about how awesome this program is going to be so I feel obligated to be excited about this, but I do not in fact actually feel any sense of excitement right now and the truth is I’m quite nervous about this and am pretty sure that I’m going to royally fall on my face, but I feel compelled to answer in the affirmative, because I know that’s what everyone is expecting and if I try to explain how I’m actually feeling, they’ll just dismiss it with a cheerful ‘You’ll be fiiiiiiiiiiiiiiine!!!’ which admittedly is what I want to hear but also kind of what I don’t want to hear at the same time because I’m very conflicted about giving up the freedom of not having additional stress and time constraints and, well, homework for the next. five. years.”
Sometimes a succinct response is easier.
SO. That was my state of mind going into Wednesday’s class.
And then I got to class and it was love at first handout.
Not even joking. I’m familiar with and have experienced the phenomenon of syllabus shock many a time throughout my collegiate days. Therefore, it is a rare and beautiful moment when going over the syllabus fills me with excitement and wonder at this amazing journey upon which I have embarked.
All I can say is that, after reading through the syllabus, my internal reaction was something along the lines of “OKAY. LET’S DO THIS.”
But wait, there’s more!
The last part of the class consisted of a role-playing session. The professor had told us earlier in the evening that there would be a role-playing session every week. My first thought was “Ugh.” Because I hate role-playing. I’ve had to do it in a number of classes before and I find it largely contrived and unhelpful. I had already mentally prepared myself for the reality that a counseling psychology program would necessarily entail a lot of in-class role-playing. And this particular class is about developing communication skills for conducting effective counseling sessions. I mean, they basically could have called the class “Role-Playing 101” instead.
But then as she described the nature of the role-playing session, my curiosity got the better of me. It was re-creating a client-counselor situation (with a student as the client and the professor as the counselor). The ‘client’ could talk about whatever they wanted. No scripts. No prompts. The class was bound by the code of ethics to maintain the confidentiality of whatever was discussed during the role-playing session.
And the realization hit me: this really wasn’t role-playing. This was free therapy!
And suddenly, I really wanted to participate in the role-playing. So when we got to that section of the class and the professor asked for a volunteer, I waited a beat – because I didn’t want to be That Student – and then said, “…Sure!”
And that was how I found myself in an actual therapy session in front of an entire class. It was weird and not weird all at once. I’ve been in therapy for almost two years now – I know the drill. And I, somewhat alarmingly, have very little reservation when it comes to talking about personal things in front of perfect strangers (a fact to which this blog testifies on an ongoing basis). My professor and I sat in front of the class, facing each other. We went through introductions, informed consent, etc., and then she asked me what I wanted to talk about. I just went with the first topic that came into my mind.
Then, in front of a class of complete strangers, I embarked on a candid no-holds-barred discussion with my professor, as if it was just the two of us in her office. I answered her questions and shared my story with complete honesty, recognizing that the only way for this role-playing demonstration to be effective for the rest of the class was by treating it with a corresponding level of value and seriousness. My professor treated it with the same approach, which in turn made it easier for me to take it seriously. We were building off of each other’s commitment to respecting the process.
Because of that mutual commitment, we progressed through several stages of therapy. We didn’t arrive at a solution to the issue, but my perspective about the issue slowly changed over the course of the session, as I gained new insight and perspective by talking through it with my professor-therapist. It was thought-provoking. At the conclusion, the professor observed that even though I had not come to a conclusion about what my next step would be, I had gained the ability to wonder about what my next step could be, and that was progress in itself.
Afterward, the professor opened up the floor for questions from the class. They asked her questions, they asked me questions. They asked a lot of questions. And their questions were real, thoughtful, and insightful. They examined the session as if they had just witnessed an actual therapy session (which they had). They were given permission to ask me questions that had occurred to them as questions they would have asked, had they been in the counselor role. It was this bizarre-yet-glorious moment where my learning environment and my personal life completely merged and I knew I had made the right decision about doing this program.
Since Wednesday, people have been asking me about how my first class went. I don’t have to force or fake my excitement now. Instead, I have to reign it in, otherwise I get sort of giddy and euphoric and start babbling incoherently. I suppose that’s a good sign.