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How did I get started?

I often get asked the question, "Why did you become a therapist, how did you get started?" I rarely reflect on this question, but sometimes I stop and look back at the journey that brought me here. I talk to many people who feel stuck in their careers, are dissatisfied with their jobs, or are uncertain what it is they want to do for work. I observed at a really young age that the thing we spend the most time doing, in all of our lives, is work. We spend 8 or more hours every day working. That is more time per day than most of us get to spend with our life-partners, our children, our pets, our friends and family. Certainly more time per day than any of us spend on a hobby or leisure activity. It just made sense to me, even as a child, that the importance of finding enjoyable work was pretty huge. Otherwise, we could potentially spend a large portion of our lives unhappy, or doing things that we do not enjoy. This realization, and determination within me to make a wise choice, was one piece of the puzzle.
Up to the point of this realization I had found myself in a variety of roles within my family of origin. Caretaker, peacemaker, and advisor, among others. Chaos within the home dictated that I watch and listen, so I was a keen observer. I studied and I learned from everyone around me. I became someone others sought wisdom from, someone who jumped in the middle of conflict--not to be a part of it or participate in it, but to resolve it. I became a mediator, even among adults. It wasn't long before my peers recognized this and began to confide in me. At age twelve it dawned on me that I was essentially acting as a counselor--to everyone around me, for free! This realization happened almost simultaneously with my understanding that enjoyment of work was an essential part of being happy in life. At that point the decision was clear-- making a profession out of counseling, which I loved and which also gave me fulfillment, was simply a no-brainer for me!
At that point I began researching what being a paid counselor required, and a degree in Psychology seemed the most appealing method for me. At seventeen I began my degree as a joint-enrolled high school student. I went on to get a Masters Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy from the same University (Valdosta State) and pursued licensure to practice after that was complete. I have done many things in my career, all of which I enjoyed and learned from. I started out doing community-based services, working largely with children and their families. I did that for almost ten years before deciding I wanted to learn more about trauma and how it coincides with many other treatment presentations. I then went to work in a hospital setting and worked with inpatient, partial hospitalization, intensive-outpatient, and outpatient populations there. For a time I managed an inpatient trauma stabilization unit, where I continued to learn and hone my understanding and skills. I then managed the women's detox, PHP, and IOP units and helped develop a PHP trauma-focused treatment tract for women with PTSD and various types of trauma.
I am now working in the outpatient world again, operating with a strong trauma-focus and using methods research-proven to be effective in resolving symptoms of PTSD and other after-effects of traumatic life experiences. Since I made the decision to become a counselor in 1989, to when I started counseling at a crisis clinic in 2002, to when I became a licensed Master therapist in 2010, I have never, not for one second, stopped loving what I do! Was the journey challenging at times? Did I ever consider giving up? Yes to both! Am I so incredibly grateful that I persevered? YES!!!! Did I mention that I am the first person to graduate college in my family? In fact, in my family of origin, I was the first to even graduate high school! I was told planning to go to college was an unachievable expectation more than once. I chose to ignore that! I had no family assistance to get my education. I had no "leg-up" or "high connections" anywhere. What I had was a dream and a determination to make it a reality. If I can get three college degrees against all odds, SO CAN YOU! To summarize my message for you today--find what you love, what makes your heart sing, and DO THAT! You may get discouraged, it may at times seem impossible, but if you keep believing in yourself, and keep day at a can do it! Don't give up on yourself. Keep picking yourself up until you achieve your goal! Anything is possible--I am living proof of that!
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