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Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Managing the Letdown

So, it has now been about 3 weeks since I took my test and passed,  becoming an official "Marriage and Family Therapist." The day after I passed, I emailed my once supervisor to tell her the news. Her response, along with hearty congratulations, included the following words: "don't be dismayed by the "post-par-tum depression" that often comes after a huge accomplishment that you prepared so long for." 

This idea took me by surprise, and I quickly dismissed it into the "well-meaning warning of something that happens to other people" category. Until a few days later, when I knew what she was talking about. 

3 YEARS of preparation. A total of 8 MONTHS of studying and preparation between the two tests. And then, success! And what do you know? Nothing else changed. All the stress I was still experiencing from other areas of my life did not dissipate. My job was still hard. My present options were still limited. And to top it all off, I was super exhausted and emotionally bankrupt. I was struggling to be emotionally present in sessions and struggling to stay on top of the workload that had blossomed while I was studying. 

Thankfully, I have a kind and wise husband who expected this (he is irritatingly good at predicting what things are going to be hard for me). He summed it up really well, saying something like this he folded laundry and I multi-tasked at crying and making the bed: 

"People get disappointed because they have delayed gratification so long that they expect everything to get better all at once. Things do get better, but its a gradual improvement. Getting your license isn't making as much immediate change as you would like, but its making a lot of long term changes which will improve your life and mine. Maybe things feel the same today, but you will be reaping the rewards for years to come." 

Can you see why I married him? Since that tearful conversation, I am beginning to be more like myself again- less anxious and on edge, and more emotionally present for the people around me. I have also gotten to start going back to the gym, something that hadn't happened since I started the testing process. I am feeling my energies freed up to work on other things, and I have a spring in my step again. Best of all, I'm not as aware of myself because I'm not always having to self-monitor my negativity. I went hours this weekend without having to introspect anything:). I'm sleeping better, and don't seem to "need" to eat sweets to feel better. 

Long term, there will be huge benefits. In the short term, I am getting a pay raise and my picture up in the office. Not too shabby for my first 28 years:). 


  1. Carolyn- You're right, it is hard when you accomplish something like this. I wonder how Anthony and I will feel when the house is finally done. He always says things will be better when the house is done...but I am a little skeptical. I know from weight loss that even when you reach your goal and you're really happy to reach it, you are still you and your problems are still your problems. They don't just go away just because you lose weight, finish the house, get licensed, quit your job, or have a baby.

  2. Part of it, I think, is that critical and stressful life events serve as a distraction from daily difficulties. My life was so all about the test that I wasn't paying attention to other things which were actually still going on around me. Now, they bother me again because they have my attention. Big problems are easy to blame:), and make the rest of your life seem less challenging, except of course, when it isn't:).

  3. Congratulations! I've been out of school for almost 4 years, and have met all my requirements to be licensed, except for taking the test. I just keep putting it off and then feeling bad about myself for procrastinating. Heh. I do understand the let down though. I had it big time after I finished grad school. I had been working towards becoming a therapist for about 8 years (with undergrad and grad school), and suddenly I was lost. I had been in school for 24/25 years of my life non-stop, and it was all a shock to my system. Add to that a terrible first job where I didn't manage to help anyone, and I became pretty depressed.

  4. Thanks Michelle! You are going to do just fine on your exams. Typically if you have been working in the field, you have already gleaned a lot of the information you need.

    It was very weird at first to go from school stress to work stress. School stress comes in spikes, and then there are periods of easement. Work stress comes in waves, and there are no periods of easement, just periods where its somewhat less stressful. It took my body a while to adjust to this shift. I kept wondering, "When is Spring break?" "When is Christmas break?" "When is summer break?" Now I do fine, unless its actually Christmas, Spring, or Summer break for everyone else (most people in my family are on the school schedule since they are teachers), then I'm pretty distressed because they are all playing and I'm not. But I'm sort of used to the stress now and don't keep expecting to get to rest. Instead, I think I just operate on 75% most of the time because I have to reserve energy to make it in the long haul. I take short breaks when I need them throughout the week, and I try not to feel bad about it because I have to take breaks if I am going to make it the next day and the day after that.

    Isn't it amazing the letdown of actually working in the field? You mentioned your terrible first job. Its like the new therapists always get the worst situations to work in (I think the seasoned therapists know what situations to avoid and have the choice to avoid them), and it really is traumatizing!!! "In shock" was probably the best term for how I felt when I first started seeing clients. I was easily overwhelmed by their emotings (I still am several times a week:()and I was quickly overcome by a great sense of helplessness. Since then, with the help of good supervision and a lot of introspection, I've learned to better distance myself emotionally in order to actually be of help to the families. I've also learned how to keep from taking them home with me(most of the time!).

    I often feel that perhaps I should have picked a career that was easier on the emotions, because I so often want to escape from the experiences I end up sharing with the people I see (empathy comes too easily to me. But I know in my heart I never would have gone any other way. I prayed through every choice I made about my education and career, and I know God guided me here. I also know I have the tendency to always push and push and push myself until I've reached the hardest level I can manage- and then I whine and complain and wonder why I'm so stressed:}. Its not my nature to settle for "good enough," so here I am, in a challenging and soul wrenching calling, determined to continue to do meaningful work in the lives of others, whether I like it or not.

    But the beauty of it is that I'm always getting to move forward. Getting the license was just one way in which I keep on improving, and keep on reaching the next level in order to achieve my goals. I hope you decide to go for yours soon, its very validating, even if it is very draining. I think most important things in life are very draining, and there's no real way to escape that.