Tag Archive | practicum

Ready … Steady … Go!

When I was a kid, I would participate in Sunday School picnics and they would have egg and spoon races, three-legged races, and sack races. The superintendent of the Sunday School would always start the races by saying her little rhyme:

One to get Ready … Two to get Steady ….. GO!

That’s where I feel like I am right now.  I’m at the starting line, and my body and mind are preparing for the “qualifying” rounds – pardon the pun!

Four more days until I start my winter semester for my 2nd to last course before my practicum.

I only have 114 days until my practicum plan must be approved by my university. By that time I will have finished my last course before the practicum.

And there are just under 242 days between today and the day I start my practicum! (Can you tell I’m excited?  Keep reading!!)

I had been “courting” this one spot for my practicum placement for the last several months, corresponding back and forth with one of the counsellors there, a really nice fellow.

This past Thursday morning, (to give a bit of context to what’s coming next) I had had a particularly challenging meeting with my manager at work regarding my request for the leave I wanted to take in September to do my practicum.  The leave was denied for various reasons.  However, I had worked out (and presented) an alternate plan during that meeting for working part-time two days a week from September to April inclusive, and she was much more open to that. It was disappointing because of the decrease in money and the increase in stress from juggling two “jobs” (one of them unpaid), but I suppose it is better than having to make a choice between them.

That same afternoon, after I got home from work, I decided to re-contact the fellow at the potential practicum spot again to let him know that I would be available three days a week in September if they were still interested.  The site is at the local university in the Student Services department.

Yesterday evening, I received an email from this gentleman after I turned on my computer. In his email, he said that he was glad that I had indicated my continued interest, since two people had changed their plans for this year, and that the next step for me would be to sit down with (a) the director of Student Services and (b) the person who would be my supervisor. He gave both their names and took the liberty of copying them on the email, and said he’d be backing out of the conversation at this point. Then he said what absolutely floored me: that, after we met and discussed our expectations, if the three of us agreed that it was a good fit, (and I quote), “you will be our intern for the 2018-2019 academic year.”

The Green Way For Start Bike In Park by ArPleum at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “The Green Way For Start Bike In Park” courtesy of ArPleum at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Boom! No carefully worded escape clauses – just – if you like us, we want to work with you and learn together.

I’m still totally floored.

Within 24 hours of that email (just about an hour ago, in fact), my daughter also got an email from the same university (this time, from admissions). She’d been on a waiting list to take a course in Sociology (she was 21st on the waiting list) and all of a sudden, they told her that a spot had opened up for her, and she could register for the course. She did, almost right away, and is even now looking at her course requirements, readings, assignments, and exam schedules for the semester. (She’s not even behind on any readings because they haven’t assigned those yet.)


So the atmosphere in the house is one of stunned and grateful silence, broken by the occasional, “Wow.” In fact, I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve said that word. Wow.

Oh yes, just to follow up on the email I received, I wrote back to the director and the supervisor. I thanked them and told them I was looking forward to meeting with them, and gave my availability dates and times for the next two or three weeks.  In fact, just now I took a break from typing this and sent a private email to that gentleman and thanked him for his encouragement and guidance, letting him know how thrilled I was to get his email.

And as I mentioned to him, my feet haven’t quite yet touched planet Earth since that moment.

Can you blame me??


Not knowing

There has been a recurring theme in my graduate studies in counselling. I keep coming back to what my professor called a “not knowing stance” when I was at Summer Institute in 2016. Every course I take, every experience I have in this program, keeps circling me back to this one inescapable truth, a certainty that bases itself in not being certain … of anything.

When counselling, when researching, even when faced with an ethical dilemma, it all boils down to this: I don’t know.  I might think, or believe, or even suspect, but I don’t know.  I am not the expert; I am not even AN expert!  Guess who is?  The client!! The client is the expert in the room, the expert in whatever situation or problem brought them into counselling.

I am learning to take that stance, to not have my mind made up, to be curious and compassionate, to gather more information, to encourage the other person to fully be who they are and feel safe in doing so.  Does this mean that I have chosen a theoretical orientation, as psychology graduate students have been expected to do for generations? Absolutely not!  Even regarding theory, I am on the proverbial fence.  I can see good in almost all therapeutic approaches, and I think that each of them would work best in different situations for different types of people with different backgrounds.  One person might need to explore their family-of-origin dynamics, delve into their childhood issues to uncover something in them that affects today’s functioning.  Others might find more help in a short-term solution-focused approach to a specific problem. Many people respond to identifying and countering their negative thoughts with positive ones.  Still others could be looking for a way to relieve stress in the moment and would respond to a mindfulness-based thrust.

“Man Lying on Chaise Lounge” courtesy of Ambro at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Regardless of where I end up on that spectrum, or whether I just take an eclectic approach, I know one thing: I don’t know.  Not knowing has become something of a pattern, a habit, a rhythm of life for me. It doesn’t mean that I won’t be qualified to be a counsellor.  In fact, it might mean that I’m better qualified than I ever thought possible.  Not knowing will force me to ask questions, really listen to the answers, and then ask more questions. It will help me to understand my clients’ experience from their own perspective.  I won’t assume that I know about someone’s life just because it might look like they belong to this or that group; instead, I will ask them to help me understand how it is from their point of view.

This not knowing mentality has so many applications, not just in counselling but also in relationships, work, and family.  When people understand that I am not prejudging them, when they know that they are safe with me, they will feel more free to open up and share their experience.  It feels good to be with someone who accepts you unconditionally, and who creates that atmosphere of caring and respect.  I want to become that someone.

In my last post, I spoke about health issues from pre-cancer in my uterus, in addition to my brother’s colon cancer.  I am happy to report that they got all of my brother’s colon cancer, literally saving his life, and I underwent a hysterectomy in early January, saving mine.  I feel very grateful, and even more so now that my winter term is done and I got a great mark on Professional Ethics.  I have plans to practice a fair bit of self-care over the next couple of weeks, and I hope to squeeze in a visit to see my brother and my mother; it will be the first time since his surgery.

There’s a lot that is up in the air of late.  I’ve been acting as a team lead at work since October, and the employer has been conducting interviews to fill that role on a permanent basis.  So, I’m waiting for the results of that, at the same time as I am reaching almost the half-way point of my degree.  I decided to slow down my degree so that I could do my practicum in September of 2018, so I am hoping to be a little less stressed than I would have been going full bore.  And even making all these plans, I still don’t know what will happen.  All I can do is take each day as it comes, do the best I can, and keep asking questions.

Time to breathe

It’s hard for me to believe that I’m officially into my second year of my 3.3 year program of graduate studies in counseling. This semester, I’m taking a course that many consider pivotal in the sense that it is foundational to the culminating experience of the program.  Contrary to what one might think, it’s not the practicum, but comes after the practicum: producing a publish-ready research article. The course I’m taking now is about how to do psychological research (both qualitative and quantitative studies). So this course is essential to being able to complete the final course… even though that is 2 years away!

In the midst of this course, though, I had to take some time to look after a health issue, and right now I’m recovering from a surgical procedure that needed to be done for diagnostic purposes.  It’s given me time to breathe, time to reflect and think about my school work, and about putting balance into my life: home, work, school, and hopefully volunteering.


This photo “Psychologist Listening To A Client” is provided courtesy of David Castillo Dominici at www.freedigitalphotos.net

Through a friend who volunteers her time, I managed to get in touch with someone who operates a not-for-profit center for young mothers at risk. The organization offers life skills instruction, low-cost baby supplies and clothing, and counseling to pregnant mothers and mothers of toddlers and young children. At this point, I am seriously considering putting in about 3 hours a week volunteering at this place, getting to know the clientele, teaching some cooking perhaps, so that I can perhaps provide some counseling to them if they need it. It will mean that I need to re-jig my hours at work, but I’m starting to see a way clear to do that. I’ve had a few discussions with the Executive Director and she has asked me to stop by.

Part of me wonders if I’m not biting off more than I can chew. However, if I am busy, perhaps I can budget my time more appropriately and ‘work smarter.’ It doesn’t sound like something that would be overwhelming. And I might get to connect with people a bit more, which could prove to be rewarding! The mentors in my program tell me that it is a good idea to get some counseling experience before I start my practicum – and since that will start in less than a year, I think that it might be good for me to get my proverbial feet wet.

Once I do that, I can tweak my professional c.v., and start casting around for a practicum site, which must be set up and approved by my university before May 1, 2017. I had a meeting last month with a local representative of the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association, and she suggested some quality sites for me to look into.  So that will keep me busy the next little while, as well as my assignments in this course – and work – and family most certainly.

Even though life has been kind of closing in on me with all the extra stuff on my plate, I think that it’s just that my world is expanding so much that it only feels as though I have less mental and emotional space.  Still, I am learning to practice self-care and I plan to make it a part of the every day.  And at this moment, I am not sure exactly what form that will take! All I DO know is that I’m on my way and that the path ahead goes farther than I can see.

Not in Kansas anymore

I watched “The Wizard of Oz” last night – and when Judy Garland (as Dorothy) said that classic line, “I don’t think we’re in Kansas anymore, Toto,” I nodded in agreement.  Much of my student experience is just like that.

Just eight weeks into my program, I am coming to realize that the profession of psychology is not the same as when I was taking my undergraduate (Bachelor’s) degree back in the 1980s.  Back then, the professors who taught at my university learned their psychology from a school of thought known as modernism – the idea that ultimate truth could be known – and they were busy feeding into what I have dubbed the ‘theory wars’ – a perpetual struggle between behaviourism (B.F. Skinner), humanism (Fritz Perls, Carl Rogers, Viktor Frankl, and others), and psychodynamism (Sigmund Freud), and their various offshoots, including cognitive therapy (such as Albert Ellis, Aaron Beck, and so forth).  All of the theorists and their disciples were waging war, arguing about which way was the right way to do therapy to produce maximal results.

Perhaps five or ten years after I graduated, an ideological concept known as post-modernism emerged, which questioned everything and stated that there were no absolutes.  I heard a lot of preachers trying to say that this idea would be the death of society as we knew it. However, the critical thought process that it proposes asks important questions like, “Why do we do what we do?”, “What is working about this method, and what is not, and why?”  Post-modernist thought, like it or not, is here to stay, and I must say that in a way, it is quite liberating because it calls into question all of those polarized arguments of who is right and who is wrong.  And, as difficult as it is to get my head around the idea, the freedom to be able to be eclectic in my therapeutic approach (although some take offense at that word and prefer the term integration) opens the door for me to construct my own therapeutic style, one that is unique to me, one in which I can be genuine and empathetic, where I can truly accept those who come to me for help, while still working on the problems that trouble them.

This is exciting!  I remember going to therapy several years ago; I was referred through my Employee Assistance Program.  The counsellor was very technique-oriented, heard maybe 20% of what I said, and ignored the rest once he had made up his mind what my problem was.  According to his rule-book, I had to do A, B, and C in order to get better.  What I wanted out of therapy was something completely different – I wanted to be able to make peace with my past – and he wanted me to yank someone out of my past and make them pay for what they had done.  That was not helpful, I was not after vengeance.  All I wanted was peace, a path to forgiveness.  I left therapy after the required six sessions and found help elsewhere – but it still took me considerable time to silence the monsters.

I want something better for my clients.  I want to be able to truly hear them and to be able to use tools to help them that we both agree to.  In my program, I am learning that this is the kind of counsellor that I can be; I do not have to be limited to one theory or type of therapy.  I can bring others into it, depending on the needs of my client.  Fit the therapy to the client, not the client to the therapy!

Yet … the landscape of this new learning environment is so different from the one I was in when I was in my undergrad.  Back then, people were all into teaching your baby to read at the age of six months, studying rats in mazes, and making people lie on couches and spill their problems to a psychoanalyst that they couldn’t even see, much less relate to (or have their therapist relate to them!)  Person-centred therapy had been around for a while, but was largely misunderstood and often mocked.

Winding Road by pixbox77 at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Winding Road” courtesy of pixbox77 at http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

Now, there is a vast body of scientific evidence proving that the therapeutic relationship (including the person-centred elements of genuineness, unconditional acceptance, and empathy that so many made fun of) is a large part of successful therapy, twice as much as techniques are (Leibert, 2011).  While this is amazing, and makes me very happy, it also makes me realize that much more than I ever realized, much of my own success as a therapist will depend on my own ability to establish that bond, no matter what techniques I use. And so, I get the feeling that this is all new territory – that I am ‘not in Kansas anymore’ – and that much more than just my age has changed since the last time I was in academia.

I will therefore need to be very careful when it comes time to choose a practicum placement (not until April 2017), for the people that will help to shape my approach will need to be at least supportive of my approach, and in that atmosphere, I can learn from them.  With that in mind, perhaps I had better start looking around now, if I am to find something that will work for me.  The yellow brick road is unwinding before me, and I have my ruby slippers.  All I need now are good mentors, and I will “get there”.


Leibert, T. W. (2011). The dimensions of common factors in counselling. International Journal for the Advancement of Counselling. 127-128. doi:10.1007/s10447-011-9115-7

A Leap of Faith

I really don’t feel like I’m in my fifties.

My body sometimes feels like it’s in its seventies. But in my head, I really only feel as though I’m about 25. That gets my body into trouble sometimes – but for the most part, I still feel like I’m learning how life works. Except that … I have a little more experience now than I did thirty years ago.

Two years after I got my bachelor’s degree in Psychology, I took time off from work in the late 1980s to raise my two beautiful daughters. Once they were ready for me to not be there all the time, I did go back to the work force (around 1998). Before long, I had landed a nice government job and I thought that this was it – this is what I was meant to do – especially after landing a position that for me was a career-long dream.

Then, the cutbacks started happening. Long-time employees were given options like work force adjustment and such. I knew that it was only a matter of time before these cuts would affect me. Like the Hobbits hid from the Eye of Sauron from Lord of the Rings, I did my best to stay undetected. My job satisfaction went way down and my stress went way up.

I started casting around for a second career, one that would allow me to retire from my current one and not have to depend on the whims of political will. To my surprise, I discovered that I had a passion for counseling, so I started to look into the available programs which would allow me to work full-time and still pursue my education. The online option seemed the best one, so I narrowed the field down to two Canadian schools.

Long story short, I chose the wrong one for me personally. There was nothing wrong with the school; it was just that my province didn’t consider it to be good enough for me to have my own counseling practice (covered by health care insurance); the requirements for that are quite stringent here.

I don’t regret the year I spent in that program; it taught me a lot! However, the province’s requirement did mean that if I wanted to continue and get my Master’s degree, it would have to be with the other school. I notified the registrar of the program I was in, in August of last year. She was disappointed, because my marks were good (3.8 to 4.0), but she understood my reasons. Other provinces accept degrees from that school; mine doesn’t.

So, it was back to square one; I researched the second school’s entrance requirements. I learned that this particular school wanted some prerequisites that I didn’t have, so I set about correcting that (by taking a particular course at the undergraduate level that I had not taken in my BA.) Even though it was not something I would have chosen to take, I finished it just last month. (I’m still waiting for my final mark.)

As soon as I get my final mark, I will be requesting all the information (transcripts, letters of reference, etc.) that I need to apply at my new chosen school, Athabasca University in Calgary, Alberta. (Most of the program is online but there is a residency component).

Since the deadline is March 1, 2015 for a September 2015 intake, I am in a bit of a time crunch. However, I’m confident that it will be okay as long as I get my marks, from the course I took this past fall, in the next week or so.

Mountain Ridge by Evgeni Dinev at freedigitalphotos.net

Photo “Mountain Ridge” courtesy of
Evgeni Digenev at

A bit about me

I’m a tail-end baby boomer, married to a great guy for the last 33 years, and together we had and raised two amazing daughters. I’ll probably talk about them off and on in this blog. The oldest was born in 1989 and the youngest in 1992. The oldest still lives with us; she is on disability insurance due to an accident she had in November 2012, and the youngest one was killed in a car crash in October 2013.

I’m active in my church; I’ve been a member of the worship ministry (as a backup vocalist) for over fifteen years. I’ve taught Sunday school and done solos. Our daughter’s death opened new doors for me, as painful as that was. In December 2013 I spoke at a women’s group, and in June 2014 I led a workshop session on rising from the ashes (inner healing). I’m mentoring a couple of young women.

A survivor of childhood abuse, I have an interest in working with adult survivors of similar experiences, many of whom have PTSD and/or anxiety and depression. I also have a keen interest in working with those who have or live with someone who has addictions.

I’m bilingual. Fluent in French and English, I do have an interest in languages, especially the romance languages (French, Spanish, Italian.)

I love horses. At the moment, due to health reasons, I wouldn’t be able to ride like I used to, but someday I would love to get back into it.

I absolutely detest the cold. Especially the wet cold like we have in the Maritimes. (Yes, I know, what in the world am I doing living here??) … Someday I would love to learn Spanish and live in a warm country – like in the mountains of Ecuador for example – and maybe even do some e-counseling. The options could be endless.

I’m sure I’ll be seeing you around the net. And thanks for reading my first post!