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Question
I'm currently at a really low spot, and I don't know how to handle it. I'm 22 and in my first year of my master's in mental health counseling. I'm an excellent student and I've never had an issue with a professor before. Right now, I have a professor that has appeared to be grading my character instead of my work. In my opinion, she has been discriminating against me and my contributions to class are met with animosity and discouragement. I fear her due to the names I have been called by her: cynical, insecure, oppositional, self-entitled, etc. Due to this, I feel it has impeded my education dramatically and that I haven't gotten what I've needed out of this class. I brought this to the attention of my department chair and she asked me to write this teacher an email explaining my feelings, and to send it back to her for feedback, and then to send it to this professor (nina). My email was approved, and I sent it. Shortly after I had a meeting with the vice president of my school and this teacher where I was torn to shreds, and not even heard. The vice president was not objective and it was simply used as an opportunity to say negative things about me - including attacking me for the email I sent to Nina which my department chair approved. I believe my department chair wanted to teach me how to deal with situations like this, but now all I've learned is that I shouldn't address concerns. In this meeting, I said how I was fearful of Nina and they wanted me to defend my emotions and kept saying "Well you don't look scared."

I want to be an excellent therapist someday. And my other professors have had nothing but kind words for me and they believe I can do it. My motivations for the classes that I'm in with this professor has diminished completely. I've been crying for six hours straight because I don't know if I should take their feedback to heart or not. In the meeting Nina said I had no ability to reflect (although my department chair sees that as my best quality), that I think I'm better than everyone else, that she has no idea why I'm in this field, etc. I only have two weeks left with this professor, but I don't know what to do.

My department chair promised that she had my back and that I wouldn't get hurt, and I did get hurt and have heard nothing from her. I think I may have gotten her in trouble as well because when I said the email was approved by her they were very angry about that. I feel like an absolute terrible person, and I have a history of depression/anxiety. I don't know how to make sense out of what happened and go forward.

How does a person decide if the negative things said are valid and I to change, or if they should be dismissed? It's hard to discount a vice-president and a person with 2 PhD's (Nina)I need help making sense of this. Thank you.

Answer
Chantell,  There's an old saying that those who can't, teach;  those who can't teach, teach teachers. I guess the same goes for counselors as well.  I can only imagine how many lives this professor would be ruining if she were out there doing to clients what she's doing to you.  What is it about human nature that 100 people can say positive things to us but it only takes one negative comment to throw us off track.  You said that most of your professors believe in your abilities and capacity to do the work - you believe that you have those abilities and capacity.  Isn't that how you ultimately decide whether something is or isn't valid?  If you told me that the majority of your professors have doubts about you, then I would probably suggest it's time to find another line of work.  That obviously is not the case. I'm also surprised and dismayed that someone that you trusted and who said she'd have your back, collapsed like a cheap tripod.  Just because someone has a title and an advanced degree doesn't make them right and certainly doesn't make them an expert on you.  Finally, at 22, just starting a career path, you'll have much time and experiene to learn and grow as a counselor.  This is one of those learning experiences. Smart people use these events - even if they are negative - to learn from and add to their tools.  Hopefully it will sensitize you to how your words may affect your clients and what does and doesn't work.  Meanwhile do what you need to do to pass the course.  The Greek philospher, Hericlitis, said that it's not the event that happens to us; it's how we think about the event.  The question is how do you frame these events in a way that will be helpful to you in the present and in the future?  Joel

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Joel Simon

Expertise

General questions about counseling, psychotherapy and mental health.

Experience

Over 30 years as a therapist, clinical supervisor and solution-focused trainer. I've worked in a variety of settings including adolescent day treatment, inpatient psychiatric hospitals, community mental health clinics, and hospice. Further information is available on my website: www.0to10.net

Organizations
A founding member of the Solution Focused Brief Therapy Association, Academy of Certified Social Workers, Board Certified Diplomate in Clinical Social Work, Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW) in New York State.

Publications
Co-authored "Solution-Focused Brief Practice With Long-Term Clients in Mental Health Services: I'm More Than My Label." Authored: "Solution-Focused Practice in End-of-Life and Grief Counseling" Several articles published in professional journals including 2 with Insoo Kim Berg. Further details are available at www.0to10.net

Education/Credentials
Masters of Social Work (Yeshiva University 1978). 5 years training in Transactional Analysis, certified in Advanced Ericksonian Psychotherapy and Hypnosis with the New York Society (NYSEPH), Advanced training and advanced supervision seminar in solution-focused brief therapy with the co-developers of the approach, Insoo Kim Berg and Steve de Shazer

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