I have always loved people and their feelings. My family told me that I did not make a sound until I turned two years old, because I spent so much time sitting and watching other people. As a kid, I felt drawn to television and video game characters who used magic to heal others, like Katara from Avatar: The Last Airbender and Yuna from Final Fantasy X. Though I did not have the words for it then, around the age of eight I sensed that I wanted to be a psychologist when I grew up, if not a writer. My then best friend in high school and I loved playing amateur psychoanalyst, such that we would spend hours talking about our peers and our families and fictional characters and their emotions, their relationships, and what drove their behavior.
Flash forward to now, over a decade after I started high school: I provide therapy*, and I feel guilty about it. I only feel guilty about it because at times I wonder if I should do more to prevent and fight systemic injustice, on a broader level instead of an individual level. With so much racism, sexism, homophobia, and all other forms of oppression in the world, should I pursue a career in organizing, public policy, or some other avenue that may help prevent the infliction of harm in the first place? By focusing my efforts on helping people to help themselves on an individual level, am I complicit in the perpetuation of social injustice?
I can sit with these emotions and thoughts without judging them. I breathe in through my nose, out through my mouth, and I notice them. I think to myself: you know, I could drop out of my PhD program right now and do my best to switch careers into policy work or organizing if I wanted to. No one is pointing an emotionally constipated man gun at my head and forcing me to study psychology. I’m not sure if I could afford a career transition, but I could always spend some years saving up and change jobs later. When I sit with these thoughts and feelings, I realize though – I don’t want a career in policy work or organizing. I want to be a psychologist.
I want to be a psychologist because I still love people and their feelings. Sitting with people – or video chatting with them, in the age of Coronavirus – and processing their emotions, relationships, and lives overall feels like pure and utter magic to me, even when it’s hard. I love talking with the students I mentor about how they feel about the research process, about their ideas and hopes and dreams. I even enjoy research, as long as it’s about gender and race and how those identities influence mental health. Of course, I love people and their feelings outside of work too. One of the best things I did for myself in the past month was reread sections of A Little Life while listening to “We Belong Together” by Mariah Carey and sobbing my eyes out.
I do think psychologists have a responsibility to advocate and agitate for social justice. Our healing work in and of itself can be part of the revolution. At the same time, especially as someone coming from a counseling psychology program, I believe that we must go beyond the therapy room to fight for change. I’m committed to providing feminist therapy, researching oppression and resilience within marginalized communities, mentoring underrepresented students, and learning how to organize. As second wave feminists said, the personal is political. While I’ve always been most drawn to the personal, I’m leaning into the political as well.
Anyone else reflecting on their life decisions during this global pandemic? Have you ever doubted your chosen career path (or general life path because careers are just one part of life and potentially an unimportant one for some), and how have you coped with that? Random shout out to my grandmother who taught me a lot about nurturance and compassion – if I can pass along what she gave to me to at least one person or a few people I will feel fulfilled. Until next post!