TOO MUCH PSYCHOLOGY!

Recently I noticed a newspaper piece dealing with the importance of college internships. The writer noted that these opportunities not only give a student a good feel for the demands and skills involved in a particular vocation, but also provide valuable experience that will look good on the resume’ when searching for that first job. In fact, the article made me remember an occasion years ago when one of our senior psychology majors came to see me about three weeks into her internship working one-on-one with an autistic child.

“How’s it going?” I asked. She replied, “Well, I’m going to see this thing through the end of the semester because the parents really appreciate it when I’m at their home to help out. But one thing for sure, I’ll never look for a job working with autistic kids! It’s not for me. I thought this was what I wanted to do, but now I see that reading about it in a book just doesn’t show the stress and frustration involved. What an eye-opener!”

We chatted some more and we both agreed that even though it was going to be a challenge to stick it out, this was already a very successful internship because of what she had learned about this line of work.

But let me get back to the newspaper article because I’m not blogging about internships. The news writer gave an example of a student who was doing an internship in computer science during the spring semester of her junior year in college. Thanks to the internship the student discovered that she was more of a people-person and didn’t find the CS work fulfilling.

The writer commented: “Imagine the emotional stress of having to find a new career path one year shy of getting your college degree.”

Oh, for heaven’s sake, stop it with the emotional stress garbage! Why does every unexpected event, every challenge to one’s plans, every conflict, every OMG intrusion into one’s world have to be psychologically debilitating? Dozens of times in my classes over the years I called this phenomenon the “psychologizing” of society, and cautioned my students that every personal issue is not necessarily a psychological crisis. Emotional stress my derriere!

I can’t begin to remember how many times a student came to me in the junior year and said, “I’ve decided to change my career plans. I always thought I wanted to be a psychologist, but now I don’t!”

Never once did I reply, “I’ll give the Counseling Center a call so you can deal with the stress and anxiety you must be feeling!” In fact, such a thought never even occurred to me in 41 years of college teaching. Never! My reaction was always along the lines of, “Cool! You’re learning about yourself! That’s what college is all about.”

I remember one particular case that was kind of extreme. A second-semester junior came into my office late in the spring and said, “We have to change my schedule for next fall. I’ll keep Senior Seminar so I can finish my psyc major, but after taking this Principles of Management course this semester I’ve decided I want to apply for an MBA degree after graduation, not a Masters in psyc.” Naturally I reflexively reached for the phone to call the Counseling Center  (JUST KIDDING! LOL!)

I said, “Good for you! Shows you’ve been doing some good thinking lately. The first thing I want you to do is go to the Chair of Bus Ad in the business school and get an advisor in that department. Find out what courses you need at a minimum to be considered a serious candidate for an MBA program, and what ones will be offered next year, including over the summer. I have no idea what they would be so find out at the source. Then get back to me and we’ll work with your business advisor on changing your schedule for the fall and even look ahead to the spring. A summer course may be needed. I agree about keeping Senior Seminar. That’s the last course you need to complete the psych major.”

The student ended up taking two business courses over the summer at a community college near his home. Over the course of his senior year he took 9 business courses, plus psychology senior seminar. Spring of his senior year he applied to three MBA programs and was invited to interview at all three schools.

The interviews went well because, as the he told me, “Once it was determined that I had the business course prerequisites, all the interviewers wanted to talk about was my psych major! They asked me what psyc courses I saw as most relevant to the business world, what did I see as the role of psychology in business, all sorts of stuff like that, just like you said they would. Good thing I was prepared because I really had some good answers, at least I think and hope I did!”

I guess he did because all three MBA programs accepted him. I don’t know how things worked out in the long run because he didn’t keep in touch. Still, to me the lesson is clear: When the best-laid plans suddenly and unexpectedly go off track, your life is hardly over. Emotional stress? Don’t buy into that psychologizing message. Use your resources to adapt to the challenge of change.

Don’t get me wrong. Over the years I had many students who suffered genuine crises in their lives, events that understandably gave them a lot of stress. They needed help getting through those times, and some ended up dropping out of college. I’m not talking about those types of cases. What I’m irritated about is students (and newspaper writers) who take the slightest mishap and turn it into a psychological crisis. And you know why it happens?……Because it’s stylish to “play the psychology card.” Society not only allows this card to be played, but also encourages young people to make the stress, anxiety excuse.

Recently I was talking to a retiree about this and he gave me his story: “My first-semester midterm gpa was 1.3. Good start, huh? Sure I was in the wrong major and a little overwhelmed, but I was also spending a lot of time in the student center shooting pool instead of studying more and going to the tutoring center. Final first-semester gpa? How about 1.7? But you know what? Never did anyone, no friend, no parent, no teacher, no advisor…….no one ever said to me, ‘You should go to the Counseling Center.’

“But a wise teacher said to me before I left for semester break: ‘Why don’t you drop one of those D courses for next semester, maybe Chemistry, and substitute something totally different.” Over the holidays one of my parents casually mentioned one day, ‘You could try sociology. I really liked that in college.’

“What the hell, first thing I did when I returned to campus was see a Dean and drop Chemistry and pick up…………you guessed it, Intro to Sociology. Played less pool, too. Ended up with a C in sociology and a second-semester gpa of 2.7. Also decided that I wanted to take more sociology!” (He ended up as a social worker and eventually Director of a county child-care agency.)

Here’s the thing, folks. No matter what the issue, effective coping does not mean wearing a badge saying “anxiety sufferer” on your chest and seeking professional help. If you’re psychologized see what you can do to deal with your stress. Empower yourself and go into attack mode! Confront the stress and take charge of your life. More on that next time.

 

 

 

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