Reflecting on my Experience
April 3, 2020
The past week has seen some major developments in the lab. With COVID-19 still a major pandemic around the world, my mentor Dr. Law has developed a new project that assesses how suicidal thoughts and behaviors change over time in healthcare providers. Since these individuals are very vulnerable at this time, such as working in a hospital setting in close contact to persons with the virus, it’s important to pay close attention to their mental health. So, our project is trying to recruit healthcare providers and interview them on how they are dealing with the virus at work and in their personal life. These participants will be taking surveys once a week for 10 weeks, as well as being followed up 6 months and 1 year later to see how things have changed. This is not only a very interesting project in terms of how a major pandemic impacts healthcare providers’ lives, but it is also very important since these individuals come in direct contact with the effects of the virus. In fact, I’m currently working with a crisis hotline organization (Crisis Text Line) to see how we could make a platform available specifically for healthcare providers if they are in a mental health crisis.
I have also continued to read more on Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT). I read another book on DBT and I’ve already learned so much about this type of therapy. Reading these materials has really made me be more passionate about helping other people dealing with severe mental health issues, and so I really want to continue learning more and hopefully one day become a practitioner in order to provide treatment for individuals suffering from these issues. Therapy is very complex and there are many facets of therapy that I’m beginning to understand. It seems like a very empowering type of therapy because DBT is all about producing change in the client. The relationship between therapist and client is not like a doctor prescribing medication, but instead, it’s a collaboration between these two people in order to initiate and motivate change to occur. I think that’s such a beautiful thing when that happens even though I imagine how difficult it can be when you’re dealing with a client who constantly pushes back. I think the challenge and complexity of therapy is what attracts me, because clinicians are expected to keep on learning more about therapy and keeping up to date with best practices. This is what inspires me about therapy, working with a client who is struggling in life (oftentimes trying to unlearn past behaviors reinforced over many years) and being there for them in order to help them make the necessary changes in their life in order to improve. I’m excited to continue my education in order to reach this goal.
That being said, I’ve also made my official decision on my offer from SPU which will inform how I want to proceed with my education and career goals. I will not be accepting my offer from SPU. Let me talk briefly about how I came to this decision. Clinical PhD programs are research oriented. In other words, students are expected to conduct original research and get publications within these types of programs. For me, I’ve done a lot of research in my undergraduate career and I’ve enjoyed it a lot. I think psychological research is very important in advancing our knowledge about mental disorders so that we can be better providers for individuals who are affected by these debilitating issues. Research has also made me a better thinker and has made me better able to handle my personal challenges. When faced with a difficult situation when conducting research, you try and solve the problem which may not always be easy or straightforward. But that’s a part of life, and I love what research has done for me academically, professionally, and personally. However, I think that continuing to pursue research for 5 or more years is a huge commitment. I don’t feel ready to go into a program with a strong focus on conducting research at this time. I like research but I don’t like it enough to say I want to do it for 5+ years and potentially make a career out of it. I’m not saying I never want to pursue a clinical PhD, but for now, I think I want to focus on becoming a mental health provider by getting a master’s in either counseling or clinical psychology. After all, I am only 21 years old and pretty young, and I have my whole life ahead of me to do some amazing things. Down the road, if I think it’s the right time to pursue a PhD program, I’ll make that decision and be confident in it. But for now, I feel great about not making a 5+ year commitment and instead, working to become a therapist in order to directly help individuals specifically dealing with suicidal thoughts and behaviors.
I do just want to say how thankful and blessed I am to have had this amazing opportunity. I’ve grown a lot during my two months here. I’ve learned what it’s like to be a grad student in a clinical PhD program. I learned more about suicide research by reading the most relevant journal articles, discussing ideas with my lab, and exploring the existing datasets that my lab had available. I’ve also learned how to live on my own, like budgeting money and making sure things are all in order. I’ve also figured out that a clinical PhD program is not right for me at this time. I think the best part about my experience was meeting everyone and seeing Seattle up close. I really do believe that I could see myself living out here in the future because it’s such an ideal place for me. I want a large city that’s very diverse. Seattle is exactly like that because there’s so much diversity here in terms of the location and the people; there are mountains, beaches, rural areas, and of course the downtown area. There are also a lot of different ethnicities and cultures in Seattle which makes me feel like I belong in a place like this. Also, everyone at SPU has been so supportive and have cared for me so much during my time here. I’ve gotten to meet new people and share doing something we all find meaningful, researching the nature of suicide. With that being said, I would like to specifically acknowledge a few people that have positively impacted my time here. First, Dr. Law, who has really guided me very well and has supported my decision to not attend the program. She’s also made sure that I felt welcome and supported with everything. She even made me food sometimes because she knew my financial situation was not great here. Next, Janelle (grad student mentor) really helped me get oriented to the program and we worked so well together on our HRV project. It was really great to work so closely with her and get to know each other. Also, the other grad students helped me a lot in telling me about the program and helping me with any research question: Joel (who also made me food), Rocky, and Gina. I cannot thank these people enough because they truly made my time here worthwhile.
So, as this is my final post, I just want to also say a big thanks to a few other people that have supported me during my time in Seattle: my fellowship sponsor who made this whole thing possible for me, Dr. Melinda Green (my academic advisor at Cornell), Rebecca Sullens who really made sure everything went smoothly and made sure I was getting all the support I needed here in Seattle, everyone at Cornell who organized this fellowship opportunity, my parents who made sure I was feeling good and staying safe, and all my friends back at home who made me feel less alone in Seattle.
John is a psychology major and philosophy minor from Fridley, Minnesota.