Overcoming Educational Challenges on the Way to a Career in Psychology

“He makes it look so easy!” “Her performance appears to be effortless!” How many times have you had thoughts like these while watching someone complete a difficult task with grace and precision? One of the hallmarks of a true professional (in any category) is that they have overcome great challenges and used difficult experiences to perfect their performance. What everyone sees is a flawless demonstration that seems simple, but in reality, it took overcoming many hurdles to make it look easy.

Succeeding in the field of psychology takes time and dedicated effort. For those who stand at the bottom of a steep mountain of tasks to be completed, it may look like those who have already succeeded did in fact have it easy. But that is never true--there have always been challenges to those who have aspirations; they just aren’t obvious. We talked with 2 of our experts and asked them about the educational challenges they faced on the road to accomplishment.

Tamara Hill Expert Child TherapistTámara Hill, MS, LPC-BE, is a counselor who works with parents, caregivers and troubled children. Her focus has been on children and their ability to function in all aspect of their lives, in spite of behavioral and mood disorders. Her work has received national as well as international recognition and is the topic of numerous articles and industry-related publications. Hill appears on radio broadcasts around the world and is the author of, Mental Health in a Failed American System: What Every Parent, Family and Caregiver Should Know. We talked with her about her educational journey and asked her to share any hurdles she might have experienced. Here is her answer:

The hardest part of my educational experience was trying to understand how much of myself to give to the field and how much of myself to preserve for myself and family. My educational journey led to temporary burn-out. I was tired by the time I graduated and was almost completely done emotionally and physiologically by the time I began my first job as a therapist to a child, adolescent, and adult mental health program. Once I recognized how difficult it is to secure treatment for people in severe need of services, I became discouraged. I came into this field under the impression that services were easy to attain and that if you want help you can get it. But experience and close-up encounters proved me wrong. There's a lot of politics and negative dynamics in the field, and if you're not careful, all of it can burn you out. However, I wouldn't trade it for anything because it was just what I needed to see how serious my career choice really was.

Carolyn EsparzaCarolyn Esparza, LPC, is a specialist regarding the psychological trauma families experience when a loved one is suddenly incarcerated. For over 30 years she has been involved in helping both prisoners and families find healing and mental health. Esparza has done absolutely everything within her power to assist those touched by the pain, especially the children. She started a nationally known not-for-profit, “Community Solutions of El Paso,” founded the annual “Prison Family Conference,” provided prison counseling, assisted the justice system in mental health assessments, and recently, published a book. The Unvarnished Truth about the Prison Family Journey is, according to its publisher,: “One frantic call from the local jail catapults an entire family on a frightening journey that no family would wish to travel. Their traumatic journey encounters endless frustration and infuriating madness from which there is no escape. Millions of Americans are traumatized by the mass incarceration in this country. This book is an exceptional resource for prison families, as well as those serving them in the fields of criminal justice, education, ministry and mental health care.”

Esparza’s challenges became apparent even before she enrolled in college. Although her dream was to become a social worker, her parents were adamantly against it and refused to pay her college tuition unless she chose another career. She appeased them by majoring in English. Shortly after graduating with her bachelor’s degree, Esparza married and started a family. Four children and a geographical move later, Esparza still wanted to be a social worker. She went back to school and finally emerged with the MSW she had dreamed about for so long. Interestingly enough, her challenges in college were ones that no one would have imagined. With the years of parental disdain for her desired career, one would assume that something akin to mental anguish would be the culprit. Instead, her struggle was as simple as 2+2. Well, almost.. Quite unexpectedly she shared with us the following:

Whenever asked why I waited a dozen years to go back to school for my master’s degree or what the greatest challenge was in obtaining my degree, in all honesty I reply, 'Math!' Most people chuckle at that response, but it really is the truth! I often say, 'If it has a number in it, I’ll get it wrong! I think I have math dyslexia!' If I didn’t need to balance my checkbook or figure out how much I’m paying for one lemon, when three cost a dollar, I would almost never use math.

Thankfully, all four of my children are whizzes at math; I actually call them if faced with a mathematical dilemma! But I never did well in math classes in high school or college. In fact, with crocodile tears I literally begged my algebra professor for a 'D!' And, thankfully, he literally gave me that undeserved 'D!' If he hadn’t I would have assuredly failed the class. Therefore, the thought of returning to graduate school to obtain my Master’s degree in social work was almost terrifying, because I just knew I would never be able to pass another math class!

Over the years I’ve often heard others with the same excuse for not furthering their education. They are terrified of math, and fearing they will fail just won’t even try. In my case, when I learned the social work research class would suffice for any math requirements, I enrolled!

It’s amazing! It wasn’t easy, but when math becomes a necessity for understanding and communicating something you’re deeply interested in, and more so when math becomes a necessity for achieving a career you’ve longed for, suddenly that impossible math isn’t so impossible anymore! Without shedding one tear, I actually made a 'B' in the required Social Work Research class!