Updated on November 14, 2018
Discovering My Calling as a Psychotherapist
It took me forty years to figure out what I want to be when I grow up.
Despite having spent many years in several jobs, I never thought I was someone who would have a Career with a capital “C.” With my undergraduate Communications/English degree, I tumbled into the graphic design and publishing world, largely because I liked to read. At some point, though, I lost interest in the release of the latest version of Photoshop.
For a while I pursued things I loved. I loved to cook, so I taught cooking classes. I worked out a lot, so I became a personal fitness trainer. I loved to write fiction, so I wrote fiction. I enjoyed all that, but none of it for me was sustainable. Something nagged at me, telling me there was something else I was supposed to do.
At the age of 40, I took a hard assessment of my life. I reviewed all I had done to try to find out what sparked me. As a cooking instructor, I empowered people to take risks. As a fitness instructor, I worked one-on-one with clients in their homes, finding out what motivated them to change, and listening to some very personal stories. And as a writer, I analyzed how the past shapes a person. In other words, I explored psyches.
I decided to give psychology a try. I was nervous when I first sat down in my Psych 101 prerequisite class. I was afraid that—like many other things I’d attempted—I might lose interest. But three hours later, I walked out of that class feeling for the first time in my life that I had a direction, that I had a purpose, that I had—surprise, surprise!—a Career.
My time as a grad student at Notre Dame de Namur University solidified my commitment to becoming a therapist. It was at NDNU that my purpose turned into my passion, particularly during what was then a year-long psychopathology class taught through a psychodynamic/psychoanalytic lens. I know psychoanalytic psychotherapy isn’t for everyone, but it aligns with how my mind works. It was extraordinarily helpful to me that my practicum class also used that lens. I was challenged in the best way, and I was able to learn from other newbies as we took deep dives into our cases.
As someone who is math-challenged, I was awash with relief when my graduating class became the first to have the choice of a capstone project or a thesis. I chose capstone: no statistics! But I didn’t slack. I wrote a 100+ page review of the research in my field to develop a new treatment for complicated grief. I submerged myself in this and emerged sometime in the final semester of my program, blinking in the light. My thesis advisor, with his encouragement and humor, made sure that I did emerge, and that I produced a project that I can be proud of.
I’m nearing the end of my status as an Associate MFT (I’ve recently completed my 3000 required hours of training!). Some associates stay at the same agency or position for their entire pre-licensed tenure. There are many advantages to that—stability, developing deep working relationships, perhaps the ability to see clients long-term. Maybe it’s just my nature to jump from one experience to another. I changed internships each year.
As a trainee, I counseled kids at a K–8 school, and I also worked at Mission Hospice doing grief therapy. The grief work introduced me to clients with anxiety, depression, substance issues, relational problems, trauma, and personality disorders. Working with those clients gave me the confidence to apply the following year for a position at the Women’s Enrichment Center, an intensive outpatient program, working with women with multiple diagnoses who’d suffered (most of them) from several traumas. It was intense, tiring, frustrating, and one of the most rewarding experiences I’ve had as a therapist.
The following year (last year), I took a position at the counseling center at the College of San Mateo (CSM), where I continue to work. CSM provides as close to a private-practice model as you can get without actually being in private practice. I have my own office, I set my own hours, my clients vary in age from 18 to 58, range in presenting issues from “I just broke up with my girlfriend” to complex trauma, severe depression, suicidality, social anxiety, life transitions—really, almost anything.
In July of 2018, I also began working in an actual private practice, which has been a wonderful learning experience that will help me launch myself once I pass my clinical exam (oh, yes, I will!) and hang my shingle. Having worked with underserved communities, I also want to continue to provide treatment to those who may not be able to afford typical therapy rates. In addition, I hope to be able to teach psychology classes, both because I love to teach and because I want to be witness to that potential student who, like myself, walks out of Psych 101 having finally found his or her passion.
MaryBeth Lorence graduated from the Master’s in Clinical Psychology program at Notre Dame de Namur University in 2016. She currently works at a counseling center and has a private practice. She is also a participant in the 2018–19 fellowship program at the Palo Alto Psychoanalytic Psychotherapy Training Program (PAPPTP).
For more information on Notre Dame de Namur University’s Clinical Psychology program, please visit the website.