Second Half of Grad School!

I’ve really felt more of a draw to write lately. I can admit that a little bit of it is fueled by envy—which is leading to a why not me? Some of it is realizing that my words and I do matter, and some of it is just becoming more authentic and less afraid to be myself. And I miss having this kind of record of my life. Maybe I won’t feel this way forever, but I still do right now.

I’m listening to Elizabeth Gilbert’s Big Magic (a pep talk of a book about living a creative life) right now, and one line made me literally take pause, coming to a halt while walking Lucy.

You are allowed to be here, and you are allowed to have a story.

She also talks about not writing for the sole purpose of helping others and the joy that can take out of it for both the reader and the writer. I can vouch for feeling that way, and also for how much I despise attempts to help others that feel fully pedantic.

I can write because if feels good, because keeping the words inside feels like ants in my pants. Because writing is part of my identity, part of my soul, part of what makes me whole.

“What do you want your clients to feel from you when they’re in the [zoom] room with you?” my therapist asked me yesterday. I started my internship this week and will probably start seeing clients within the next week or two (!?!?!) (If you’re new here, I’m in school to become a therapist.)

“Comfort, understanding and like they’re less alone in the world,” I said. Maybe I’m projecting my own wants and needs, but they’re pretty universal ones.

And although I am nervous about how I might handle tough situations/clients/cases, I am pretty confident in my ability to create a warm space, and the relationship is the foundation of the therapy. (The foundation—you still need the skills.) In fact, research shows that a stronger therapeutic alliance is typically correlated with better results in therapy.

I will be 38 next month, and the magnitude of starting an entirely new career hit me HARD the other day—ALSO while walking Lucy. Apologies to the small shih tzu at the end of the Lilly leash for abrupt stops when I make realizations. When I realized this the other day, it felt really depressing and daunting to feel like I was starting all over again, but right now it’s feeling really exciting to think about how I want this future career to look.

I am feeling a weird sense of calm right now so I thought it should be documented. And I wanted to also document a little check in as I embark on my second half of grad school.

Last quarter was really hard for me. It went from early October to right before Christmas, so that means it included the election, the difficult holiday season, days getting shorter, and the pandemic getting worse. Additionally, the classes I took were: Assessment and Treatment of Addictive Disorders; Human Sexuality; Trauma, Its Effects and Recovery; and Pharmacology. A kind of heavy courseload emotionally? I was genuinely interested in every single one of these classes, but I also felt a sense of apathy and lack of motivation that was kind of hard to shake, just feeling like I was going through the motions. My advisor said that pandemic/election aside, this is actually a pretty normal feeling at this point in the program—you’re in it, but you haven’t started seeing clients yet, so it just feels like a slog.

I’m psyched and nervous for this quarter. The workload has felt intense the entire time, and every single week, I freak out and am convinced I won’t be able to finish it all. “Has that happened at all yet, Theodora?” my therapist asks. “Well, um…no.” Fine, lady.

But this quarter! I will be seeing anywhere from five to ten clients and having five to seven additional hours of training/supervision each week, on top of the rest of the schoolwork. I’m pretty nervous about the time management aspect of all of this, but I know I will figure it out. The benefit to this being online is that I won’t also be losing commuting hours for my internship/classes, and, uh, that there’s also nothing else to do right now.

A quick note on the classes I’m taking, more for future me than you, but maybe you care? ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

Personality Theories II: Comparative Contemporary Theories: I took Personality I in my first quarter last year, and it was a lot of learning about Freud and his contemporaries who were the foundation of this field. Personality II looks at more contemporary theories, such as humanistic, experiential, cognitive, behavioral, narrative (I’m particularly excited to learn about this one!!), feminist, multicultural, etc. I don’t have a particular theoretical orientation I’m really learning towards yet, so I’m really interested in this class and learning a lot more.

I’ve done a lot of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) myself. It’s pretty common because it’s very evidence-backed and, in some ways, can help you feel better pretty quickly—but it can also feel a little too simple, reductive and formulaic to me sometimes. In treatment, we didn’t follow a full formal Dialectical Behavioral Therapy program, but we used a lot of their tools/worksheets, and it is excellent in crisis/severe situations. For me, I have found a combination of CBT techniques (like learning tools and coping skills) and a deeper psychodynamic exploration of underlying causes.

I’m in a cohort, and we typically take all of our classes together, but I’m breaking out of the cohort for this one to take with an instructor I really like. I’m really bummed to be missing out on his IRL energy. Talk about feeling comforted and understood—this guy is a giant, brilliant teddy bear, and I know he must be an amazing therapist.

Family Systems II: I took Family I last year, and hooooo boy did it bring up a lot of stuff. We had to do journaling exercises and write a short reflection paper nearly every week for that class, and while that part was really emotionally difficult, I learned so much.

I don’t foresee myself doing family therapy down the line (other than in training)—but we all come from families, so it’s important for me to learn and understand more about these dynamics.

Research for Mental Health Professionals: Y’all, I am a nerd and super excited about this one. “We, uh, don’t get that a lot,” my advisor said, when I told him that. Essentially this class is learning how to read/evaluate/explain studies, which is something I’ve been doing in my professional writing for a long time. Most of what I know about this is self-taught, so I am interested to learn even more about how to critically evaluate studies. The class culminates in a lit review on a psychology topic of our choice, and Y’ALL. I love me a lit review.

I am taking this research class instead of a class on domestic violence that the rest of the cohort is taking, because we registered when I was feeling really burnt out and the thought of adding a class on DV when I was feeling burnt out felt incredibly heavy.

I’m also taking three one-credit workshops instead of fourth class here.

Dynamics and Treatment of Eating Disorders: Obviously, writing in this space for a long time, I’ve interacted with a lot of people with current or past eating disorders—or, at least, disordered/unhealthy habits. (I include myself in this, too—I’ve never been diagnosed with an eating disorder but I can also recognize some past habits of mine that were extreme.) I want to primarily work with women in the future, so it is really important to me to learn more about eating disorders. I know they are not just a female thing, and certainly not just a thin white female thing, even if the media portrays them that way.

Therapy As a Career: My long-term goal is to split my time between working in private practice, doing some kind of work that helps those who typically can’t access therapy, and writing. This is a second career for me, and I won’t become fully licensed until I am at least 40, so I want to hit the ground running and do as much career development as I can now and learn about all the options out there.

Compassion Fatigue: Taking Care While Taking Care: Coming into this with my own mental health issues and a history of poor boundaries around work after a decade of working in social media, I know how important self-care is. The true self-care—knowing when to say no, etc—not Instagram bullshit self care. Plus, I know that this is a career that is subject to burnout, so I want to be as cognizant of that upfront as possible and have the tools to recognize and deal with that when it comes up.

So…yeah. This quarter is going to be pretty intense, but good intense.

If you want to catch up from last year, I wrote about my first week last year and also a check-in after the second quarter, halfway through the year.

12 comments on “Second Half of Grad School!

  1. Lisa

    Hi Theodora,
    Thanks for your update. I love reading these proper old school longer blog posts with lots of text and very few images. Maybe I’m in the minority but thank you anyway.

    Just to give a single personal perspective on changing tracks in your late 30s and feeling like you are starting over. I did this too. I’m 42 now and well established in my new career, and while many things outside work have gone terribly wrong (my body is starting to fail me in many and various ways) I do not regret the change for a moment. I am so glad I did what I did when I did it. So keep on keeping on!

  2. Clare

    Sounds like a really fascinating course load!! Love your writing and updates:) You can do it!
    Love your fellow career changer in her 30s

  3. Kayla

    Can’t believe you’re already halfway through. Also I love hearing about the program and how it all works as I’ve had a number of friends change careers into social work or mental health now.

    your former intern

  4. Lauren

    You are going to be tremendous! I can tell from your passion and discipline that you are going to help so many people. Keep looking forward towards the light and the goal – you got this 🙂

  5. Abby


    IT’s me, Abby from the grocery store in Brooklyn:) I went back to school for my MSW when I was 50 and social work is a 3rd career. I am now 54 and couldn’t be happier with the work I do and the path I chose. The only hard part is that there is so much I want to do in this work and I just hope I have the time to do it. I’m excited for you!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      Please refer to yourself forever and ever as Abby from the grocery store in Brooklyn <3 I recognize your email when you comment but I love that you always refer to yourself that way when you comment!! That is so heartening and exciting to hear, and I absolutely feel the same about wanting to do all the things! This morning, my therapist, who's 58, said to me that it's nice that this is one of the fields where life experience is a positive!!

  6. Katie

    I have been a reader for YEARS, but I’ve only commented once (that I remember, anyway): after your mom died to recommend some resources that helped me after my dad died. We have never met or talked, but are never the less, on parallel life paths :). I’m also in grad school for counseling, starting my internship next fall (working with college students), and working on getting back to running with a more flexible mindset (i.e. letting go of the paces that I used to run lol). Anyway, love your writing and get so much inspiration from you and wanted to say thanks!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      oh wow, very similar paths!! And omg, I just went back to look and I do totally remember your comment, especially this part:
      “(I’m super Type A so for the first year I read every single grief book I could get my hands on, figuring that when I was done, I’d be “done” grieving…total eye roll at my past self).” That was 10000000000% me.

      In that same comment, you recommended Claire Bidwell Smith’s books, and I then did some grief therapy with her, so thank you so much for those recommendations. I absolutely adore her, and *her* experiences that led her into becoming a therapist certainly influenced me, too.

  7. Anne

    I just wanted to say that it sounds like you’re going to be an amazing therapist. I know the clinical rotations must be difficult – and time-consuming! – but think of how much you’re going to learn. Wow.

    Also? You’ll turn 40 whether you do this or not. And you have more than half of your life ahead of you, most likely. Why not spend the time doing what you love?

    Finally, I’ll second Lisa’s comment about the “old school” blogging. I. Love. It. Thank you for being true to you!

    1. Theodora Blanchfield Post author

      thank you!! <3 re: "you'll turn 40 anyway" — I don't know if I ever blogged about it, but I was thinking moderately seriously about going back to school to become an RD when I was 27, but the whole thing would have taken four years, and I was like BUT I'LL BE IN MY THIRTIES by the time I'm done! I was comparing myself to friends whose careers were on the rise and I was afraid of starting over... but I do think things like this happen for a reason...and I did think that way, that the time will pass anyway, when I decided to do this.

      re:old school blogging—I think part of the reason I lost my blogging mojo was because of all the things you suddenly had to do if you wanted your blog to keep growing. SEO, always being on IG, etc etc. And working at Daily Burn, I worked a lot on our editorial site, too. So I knew exactly how to optimize every post on here...and just didn't want to. But I miss having this outlet so trying to write more! Whatever that means.


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