(Note: This is originally written as the 2nd part of the Open Letter to Psych Majors. This was originally published on 17 January 2015 but edited for this new post.)
My dear Psych majors,
A few days from now, you will join thousands of psych majors from all over the Philippines as we gather for the Annual Convention of the Psychological Association of the Philippines Junior Affiliates. I remember a few years ago when I attended my first PAPJA convention, I was a young psych major who was full of ideals and dreams.
I remember listening to the plenary speakers, most of them sharing their stories. Their stories made a big impact to a young psych student like me and it, I would say, concretized my dream of becoming a psychologist. I have heard so many students tell me why they took up psychology, their psych stories. So I’d like to share a bit of mine.
Four years prior to my first PAPJA convention, I was inspired by my then guidance counselor and student council adviser to take up psychology. I had the slightest idea of what psychology was back then but I knew, I wanted to become a psychologist.
So I applied in UST and eventually got accepted into the psychology and electrical engineering programs. My parents wanted me to take up engineering, my dad being an electrical supervisor. I defied their wishes and went to enroll psychology. A lot happened after that, but to summarize it: they were not happy.
I transferred to Angeles University where I got exposed to the world of psychology. It wasn’t an easy four years for me as I came to a point when I questioned my decision for taking up psychology. I got frustrated and almost gave up. It was through my exposure in extra-curricular activities that made me love psychology. I became president of the psych society and also VP Internal of the PMHA-Psych Societies Association on Mental Health. Both organizations exposed me to the life of a psychologist. My clinical practicum also made me realizr that I want to work as a clinician so I may be of help to others. Cliché, yes, but it helped me start a new dream. Much more, my professor (Sir Sierra) inspired me to become a clinician because of those many hours we spent talking in the faculty room. I also met Dr. Decatoria, my would-be mentor, when he delivered a training in our school and that was the point when I told myself “I want to be like him!”
I eventually graduated from college and was asked to go to Guam. I knew then it was the family’s way to convince me to take a different path; that when I came back, a business was opened for me to manage. I saw myself losing my dream.
A year after, I told my mom I don’t think I will be happy being a businessman. I asked, pleaded even, that I be allowed to continue with my plans of taking my master’s in psychology. I was only allowed after I went for another stay in Guam.
I was accepted at the UST Graduate School and went on to fulfill a dream. A few months later I joined the Psychotrauma Clinic. Three months into it, I was asked to go to my first assignment/project in Mindanao. I was so afraid then because I had to go to Cotabato and Maguindanao. My parents were hesistant but I was eventually allowed. When I came home, I was so excited to tell them how my trip was but no one seemed interested. I thought, maybe they are not ready to see me in this profession.
3 years and several trips to Mindanao later, I graduated from the MA program. During the solemn investiture of the Graduate School, the then Dean conferred me an award for volunteerism and community service. It was an award that is not included in the program for it was her surprise. Prior to the awarding, she talked about why it was being given. My parents were surprised, not because of the award but because it was the first time for them to hear what I was actually doing in this field.
That changed everything.
From that day on, I saw how proud they are of where I have gotten and who I have become. Much more when I passed both board exams for psychologists and psychometricians in 2014. That was when I knew, I made the right choice to fight for a dream, my dream.
I share this with you because I know some of you are not yet sure why they are in psychology. Some even plan to go to medicine or law or other fields and psychology is just a stepping stone for them. Some even said they took up psychology because it offers a lot of career options after graduation.
Now I reiterate what I said before, Love Psychology. Find your reason to stay in psychology. Grow with and in psychology.
I am not forcing you to stay in this field. I am not even asking to to stay. I am simply asking that you find your reason to stay. If you don’t find it, then I can only ask you to go for your dreams and do whatever makes you happy.
But if you do choose to stay, please love it. Please love what you do. Please love psychology. Do not give up even when it seems to be hard. Fight, even when it seems there is nothing left to fight for.
I ask you as well to help correct people’s misconception of our field. We face a lot of misconceptions. We are all tired of hearing things said to psych majors: “can you read my mind?” “What is my future going to be?” “Will I be successful?” “So, magiging psychiatrist ka?” “Walang pera jan.” “Hindi ka yayaman jan.” Only through our collective efforts can we help others understand what we do and help them appreciate psychology as well and remove its negative connotations. Small actions can lead to big results.
At the same time, I ask that you help in removing the negative stigma attached to psychological disorders and the people afflicted with them. Let us show others how these people should be treated-as human beings.
You can start by avoiding labels. Remember, labels can be dangerous. Let us not allow individuals to be defined by their disorders or problems. You know by now that we stopped calling them autistics, they are individuals with autism. They are not schizophrenics, they are people with schizophrenia.
Much more let us help by avoiding the misuse of these labels and the terms used in the field. You can stop calling your brother autistic for being weird, or your friend anti-social because she does not want to hang out with you, or best to stop calling yourself bipolar because you are moody. Use of these terms as such lead to them being used as a way to bully, marginalize or even criticize. Likewise, it minimalizes the terrible impact of these conditions on the lives of those afflicted with them. These words and terms should not be used as jokes or for fun.
Likewise, I ask you to be open. Have an open heart and an open mind. We have the privilege to listen to peoples’ stories, their secrets, their life. Some may see this as a burden, but it is a gift that you should treasure. Respect the people who share their stories, respect their stories, respect their lives.
I ask you to be open-minded because we live in a fast-paced world. Change is inevitable and we, who are in the forefront of understanding human behavior, should be open to help understand those who are misunderstood. We are to listen to those who are not heard. We have to see those who remain invisible because of how our society has caused all the ills of our world.
I ask that you open your hearts because I ask that you do not give up on your faith in humanity. We live as well on an era where our news is filled with events that make us ask if there is still hope for humanity. While you are not peace workers, we can always use what we know of human behavior in order to help promote peace and a better world to live in for us and the future generations.
As I said in the first part of this note, no matter how bad your patient is or how terrible their past or experiences or problems may be, never forget the good in humanity and especially the good in that person.
Lastly, I ask that if you do choose to become a psychologist or a psychometrician, I ask that you practice with integrity. I have posted several rants about individuals and professionals who do not, as it seems, deserve their licenses because they cannot even adhere to the principle of integrity. Please, do not be like them.
We are all colleagues who share the same goal and mission. We are in no competition and it is about time that we end those. “Let us stop bullying each other”, as my mentor once said. Psychology has been promoting unity amidst diversity and we have already taken those steps, but let us work to continue to remove those unhealthy competitions.
We have our different psych stories. This is mine. It is a story of a dream that I chose to fight for. It is now a story of a journey to help others reach for their dreams.
I ask that you inspire others through your stories. But the question remains, what is your psych story?
Until the next #HugAPsychMajorDay!
The psych prof who made your college life stressful. (But aimed to inspire you)