New Youth Connections, New York
(Note: Names have been changed for this story)
I went to a psychologist when I was 12. I’d been having migraine headaches since I was 9, and nothing seemed to help. A doctor suggested the headaches might be psychosomatic – which is when a mental issue affects you physically – and sent me to a psychologist.
Dr. Joan, the psychologist, asked me lots of questions. She asked how I felt about my family members, if I’d been in love, how I was doing in school. I thought she could find out everything about me just by asking questions, and it scared me.
So I acted rude. I’d answer her with a yes or no even when it wasn’t a yes or no question. I didn’t tell her what was really on my mind, like how I felt depressed about my future.
One day, I was upset because my grandma had wrongfully accused me of breaking the living room window. That afternoon, Dr. Joan asked me gently, “Well, Erica, how was your week?”
She seemed to notice that something was wrong. I hated that I couldn’t hide anything from her. “Do I have to tell you every single thing happening in my life?” I said.
“Well, if there’s something you want me to know, it’s OK if you want to tell me,” she said softly.
She was so damn nice it got on my nerves. “What the hell is wrong with you?” I said. “Why are you talking like I’m retarded?”
Instead of getting mad, Dr. Joan calmly took advantage of my outburst to try to help me deal with my anger. She explained how I could react differently when I’m mad. She suggested that I talk to the person who upset me to get a better understanding of how they feel.
I thought what she said made sense. I tried everything she suggested and it helped me to get along better with people. I was fascinated by the way Dr. Joan found a way to know many things about me without me having to reveal them to her.
I wanted to know more about people, too. And I wanted to have that self-control that Dr. Joan appeared to have. I began asking her more about her job. She didn’t mind explaining to me how she had become interested in psychology, what she liked about her job, and what her fears were.
But it wasn’t until a month later when I was lying in bed thinking about my future that I realized I wanted to help people for a living.
In the morning, I was so excited to tell my family, but their reaction wasn’t what I expected.
First I went to my grandma: “Mami, I think that I want to become a psychologist.”
She laughed and looked at me. “You have something bothering you?” she asked.
“No, I feel great,” I said.
“Then why do you want to become a psychologist? Those people are crazy. They all have mental problems. That’s why they become psychologists.”
I didn’t understand. I wasn’t crazy. I just wanted to help others face and work through their emotional problems. I wanted to know what happens in people’s minds, what makes them so alike and at the same time so different. I thought that maybe my grandma just couldn’t understand because she was getting old. But my father reacted the same way.
And at school, my teacher said, “You can’t even deal with your problems. How do you think you’re going to resolve other people’s issues? After the therapy, they’d be crazier than they were before!”
I felt so disappointed. They were supposed to say, “That’s great, go for it!” But everybody I talked to thought that being a psychologist meant that you must have problems yourself.
I realize now that the people who discouraged me saw emotional problems as something shameful. They seemed to think that only a weak person needs psychological help.
But life is full of daily obstacles, and not everybody can handle them alone. All a psychologist does is help identify problems and offer help solving them. I don’t think that people can solve their problems by ignoring them.
Having people discourage me challenged me to really question myself about what I wanted to do. Their opinions almost cost me my dream. But, in the end, they only made me feel more strongly about my future career.
© 2007 Youth Communication/New York Center, http://www.youthcomm.org.