Tina Gilbertson, LPC
Psychotherapist & Counselor
Tina Gilbertson, LPC, lived in New York and had a successful career in television when she experienced what she refers to as a “personal renaissance.” Her internal quest for fulfillment culminated in the realization that she belonged in the field of psychology. Gilbertson went on to receive a Master’s Degree in Counseling and is now a counselor, teacher, speaker and author.
What made you want to become a counselor?
I was both comfortable with and awed by psychotherapy because I had a fairly long and very positive experience with it as a client. I found myself wanting to “pay it forward” as I worked on my own personal growth. I realized through getting to know myself better that being of service, along with using my inborn aptitudes of teaching and problem-solving, pointed unequivocally to a counseling career. Once I realized that I needed to work with people in order to fulfill my professional potential, I could hardly wait to get started.
Did you always want to be a counselor?
Looking back, there were early clues. I had an avid interest in popular psychology and self-help books as a teenager, and I was thrilled to take part in the first-ever psychology class offered at my high school. Psychology 101 was the first class I signed up for in college. But no one in my family went to counseling when I was growing up. We never even talked about it. Hence it didn’t exist for me as a career option. Mental health professionals weren’t on my radar until I entered therapy as a client, which I did more or less by accident at the age of 30. I was living in Manhattan and working in television at the time. All my TV-producer friends were in therapy, so I jumped on the bandwagon without thinking too much about it, or even having a clue what I was getting myself into. My therapist was an LCSW and she was a terrific role model. Watching her work, and benefiting from it, I wanted to do what she did.
What was your experience with academics?
At 18, I was excited to sign up for Psychology 101 when I registered for my first semester of college classes. I was fascinated by the human psyche. I wanted to understand why we think, feel and act the way we do, and how we eventually become the people we’re meant to be. Unfortunately, my excitement turned to disillusionment as I was exposed to the content of the course. I found most of the material to be surprisingly dry, including Pavlov’s experiments with dogs, the Galvanic Skin Response and the physical structure of the human brain. ‘Somebody needs to study this stuff,’ I thought. ‘But it doesn’t have to be me.’ That was the last psychology course I took in my four years as an undergraduate. I ended up majoring in linguistics.
When I realized almost 20 years later that I wanted to practice psychotherapy, I knew I’d have to go back to school. I decided to look into social work and counseling because both fields offered professional degrees in 2-3 years. This relatively short time was appealing at my age. I had zero interest in conducting research. That fact, combined with my experience in Psych 101, discouraged me from looking too closely at clinical psychology. The counselor education programs I looked at appealed because there seemed to be more focus on the individual than on systems and communities. I realized that all were important, but the work I wanted to do was up close and personal, so I elected to pursue a degree in counseling psychology rather than social work.
(By the way, since my bachelor’s degree wasn’t in Psychology I needed to take the Psychology GRE to enter my program. Pavlov’s dogs were still on the exam, but in graduate school I finally got to study human beings the way I wanted to.)
What were the greatest challenges for you educationally?
The reading load in grad school was heavy, and I couldn’t seem to find enough time in the week to do it all. Most of my fellow students told me they made a conscious decision not to even try to read everything that was assigned. But there was gold in the readings. I wanted that knowledge, so I did my best to read every last word.
In some classes I managed to do all the reading, but it was always by the skin of my teeth. When I started school I had a part-time job. I quit that after the first year because it was just too hard for me to split my focus between work and school, even part time. When I graduated, I was glad I’d done most of the reading. I felt truly educated, and the reading was a major part of that achievement.
What advice would you give someone who wanted to follow in your footsteps?
Do the work you want to do. Just do it. Even if you don’t feel ready, do it anyway as soon as you can. Get any credentials you’re legally required to have, but otherwise don’t wait till you feel qualified. Thoughtful people never feel qualified even when they are. Similarly, realize that no one is likely to offer you a job doing what you love. The odds are against it. I say this as someone who searched in vain for my dream job in the Classifieds for 20 years. If you want to work a particular way -- to set your own hours, to choose your own conceptual framework and work exclusively with your favorite types of clients -- instead of coloring inside the lines that someone else has drawn… Well, then you have to work for yourself. When you’re self-employed there are still lines (i.e., “have-to’s” and “should’s”), but you get to draw them yourself. If you want to write a book, make sure you have a compelling reason to write it. Is there something you really want the world to know, that will take a book’s length to fully explain or illustrate? Be on a mission to share it. That way you’ll be motivated to write even when you don’t feel like it. Whatever you do, don’t write a book just to make money. You might as well try to make a living selling shoelaces; and writing will be drudgery if you’re not doing it from the heart. Think of a book as your gift to the world and give it freely.