What I learned in grad school that you really need to know.

As I type, I am six days from walking across the stage at the Sun Dome in Tampa to shake hands with the University of South Florida’s president and to accept my master’s degree in rehabilitation and mental health counseling. After 20 classes (60 credits) and three counseling internships in nearly four years, there is only one succinct way to sum up what I learned in grad school:


Some of it applies solely to people who’ll work as counselors. Some of it applies to everyone.

Here are four of my favorite parts of the latter:

Don’t pamper your kid. It is okay to let a kid work. He or she spills milk on a high chair tray? Hand him or her a sponge and have him or her help you clean. In my human growth and development class, I learned that in children whose parents do everything for them or whose parents otherwise shield their children from work or stress, the part of the brain that buffers it doesn’t fully develop. If you want your kid to turn into an adult who can handle stress, you have to let your kid experience stress. According to Alfred Adler, “pampered children often grow up expecting others to care for them and so do not develop their own resources.”

Be open to experience (and to not deciding to do stuff solely to impress somebody else).¬†According to Carl Rogers, “healthy and fully functioning people (are) those who are open to experience, appreciate and trust themselves, and are guided by an inner locus of control rather than by an effort to please or impress others.” An inner locus of control says “I am responsible for me.” An external locus of control says “other people and/or my circumstances are responsible for me.” You’ve got a heck of a lot to lose when your happiness (or your esteem or your success or your value) depends on people or events you can’t control.

Close the gap between your expressed values and your manifest values. Expressed values are what you say you value (i.e., “I believe TV is a waste of time.”). Manifest values are what your actions imply you value (i.e. you watch TV for five hours each day). When there are discrepancies between what you say you value and what you actually do, the odds of feeling fulfilled are really low. According to one of my text books, “Our success in leading lives that are congruent with our values is strongly connected to the meaningfulness of our lives.”

Tear down your walls. Boundaries are good. Walls are not. In authentic relationships (all kinds), we stretch and grow. In isolation, we wither. Nobody says it better than my textbook: “People who avoid closeness with others and live isolated and circumscribed lives may believe that they are protecting themselves, but in reality, they are preventing their growth and actualization.”

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All quotes in this post come from the second edition of Theories of Counseling and Psychotherapy: Systems, Strategies, and Skills by Linda Seligman.