Friday, November 4, 2011

I'm a Wellesley Girl: Part I

That's right. I'm a Wellesley girl.

I recently had a short exchange with the Public Conversations Project on Twitter. I had commented on a tweet about the Open Circle Program saying that my brief work with that program was an unexpected and influential agent of change in my doctoral work. They asked me to say more about that influence. I'd be happy to, but in order to do so we need to rewind a few years. The work I did with Open Circle was neither the first or last association I had with Wellesley College, the Wellesley Centers for Women, and the Stone Center.

The 2000-2001 academic year was my second year of doctoral work. I survived through the various vicissitudes of relocating to New England from the Midwest, leaving an already active career in psychotherapy, learning how to be a student, navigating my way through a particularly challenging cohort of doctoral students, finding a mentor and advisor, and completing my first training practicum.

The prior year I got my nose knocked out of joint looking for a practicum. I figured this was going to be easy. I'd earned a masters degree two years prior, worked as a psychotherapist for the two years before starting my doctoral program, and worked for nearly five years before that in a variety of mental health related roles.

I also had never interviewed for something that I wasn't later offered.

You know how this story is going to end, right?

I interviewed at just about every college counseling center that was within a commutable distance. I was turned down for every single one of them! I was horrified, demoralized, and also just plain pissed off. I finally did secure a practicum. It was a good one--in fact it was an excellent one.

I digress.

So I went about my search for my second training practicum in the same arrogant way (tempered, a bit, with the previous years' experience). Of course I'll get a practicum. How could I night, right?

Yes. You know how this is going to turn out. Everyone turned me down again. What the heck?

All wasn't lost. I really had my hopes set on doing my training that year at the Stone Center Counseling Service at Wellesley College. Not a problem at all, right. A man, working at a women's college, in a counseling center staffed by women that had never had a male psychology trainee (or from my knowledge, a male trainee of any sort). This is a wise thing to set my hopes on, right?

Who would have thought they would take me on. They did. My life changed. I was the first male psychology trainee, ever. In my training year another man, Stephen, became the first male social work student trainee, ever. They figured they would put us together so we each could have someone to talk with.

So just exactly what so was special about being a man at Wellesley College? It was subtle, it was profound, and it was totally unanticipated. For the first time in my life I discovered myself completely surrounded by people who were different than me. For the first time in my life I found myself a minority. I was a white man surrounded by a sea of women from around the world.

In that sea I found myself. Peggy McIntosh showed my my invisible knapsack of white male privilege and power and safely helped  me unpack it (really now, could it be all that invisible when there were only two men carrying them around?). Unpacking that knapsack didn't hurt. It was freeing. I found my power and started to learn how to spend it wisely.

In that sea I found my courage. Judy Jordan, who always seems to find a pencil tucked in her pulled up hair, consistently noticed my courage. She showed me that it is an act of courage to sit with every patient. It is an act of courage to pay close attention to everything that happens in a room. It is an act of courage to allow myself to be moved and effected (or is that affected--or both?) by the experience of my patients.

In that sea I found my confidence. Robin Cook Nobles, my supervisor who brought just a little fear into my heart by the sound of her fast paced rustle in the hall way, demanded with her ever-attentive mind that I offer up my best--and never doubted that it was possible.

In that sea I found I found fearlessness. Lisa Desai, my supervisor who showed  me how easy it was to encounter differences of race, faith, gender, or sexuality with my patients and how easily and gently it can be spoken about.

Any mention of my first year as a Wellesley Girl is incomplete without mentioning the endless love and support of Ann and Gail, office assistants, candy-enablers, and confidants. They helped me figure out how not to be so scared of the rustle of Robin coming down the hallway (she's actually not scary at all, promise!). Their collective compassion taught my as much about therapy as my supervisors.

Writing this today I'm discovering this is more of a meditation on gratitude for what was offered so freely to me. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the students. You came into my tiny office and sat down in those ridiculous orange chairs. You let me into your worlds as I learned how to let you into my world as a psychology-trainee. The gifts that I carry most of all from this first year at Wellesley College are those gifts you gave to me. The gifts are many: three come to mind right now. An undocumented person who struggled to make a better life for herself, a survivor who finally found someone would would believe her story, and another student who challenged me to think about what it means to be a woman. Each of these three young women, in their own different ways, showed me that psychology can transform.

So that's part one of being a Wellesley Girl. Come back again later for parts two and three.

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