My dear psychology majors,

We all have our reasons for deciding to take up psychology. For most of us, this reason is the desire to be of help to other people, by understanding them.

For some of us, it is the desire to understand one’s self. As one author puts it, there is at least one issue behind every psychology major’s decision to take up psychology. That can be a personal issue, something about your parents, friends, or loved ones. It can be a hope to find answers and solutions to those issues.

For others, they were left with no choice or perhaps they chose what is easy. “Psychology has no math.” But by now, you know that psychology is not easy. Much more, you know that we have a lot of math.

Whatever your reason is, I just ask you one thing: LOVE PSYCHOLOGY.

I know it is a tall order, but please do. It is not easy to love a field that requires you to memorize every part of the brain and its complexity. A field that asks you to put meaning to tons of data in statistics. A field that asks you to make human life a whole lot better.

But please do. We need people in psychology who will love it. Who will love what they do. Because only through that can we truly be of service to everyone. After all, we are accountable to all of humanity (Decatoria, 2014).

For whatever your reason for entering psychology is, I just ask you to find your reason to stay and to pursue this field.

My dear students, as you go along your four or more years of studying psychology, you will learn.  You will learn from books, from journal articles, from seminars and workshops, from PAPJA, from your clinical internship, from your industrial internship, from your educational/counseling practicum, from your professors, from your classmates, and from your lessons.

Yet, allow me to tell you now that what you need to learn in psychology are not all found in the books or even in the classroom. Psychology’s greatest lessons will be revealed to you through experience, through curiosity, through asking, through exposure, and through your own daily lives.

In most cases, you will learn the hard way. The painful way. So please be open and let yourself learn, no matter how painful and emotional it can get. Allow yourself to grow in psychology and with psychology. 

Here are a few things I have learned, and I hope you take them as unsolicited advices.

First, the people we love the most are that ones we cannot help. Ethically, we should not have dual relationships: a patient is a patient; a loved one, a loved one. You have to draw the line between your profession and your personal life. You are a friend to your friends and not a psychologist, the same way you are a psychologist to your patients and not anything else. You are a family member: a son, a daughter, a parent, a sibling. Do not cross that line. You may push it and bend it, but be careful because it is a thin line and it can break anytime.

In some situations, the people you expect to help you won’t help you. “You are a psych major, you can solve your problems”, they say. They too would think that we can be our own psychologist, and at times we have to tell them that sometimes, all we need is a friend.

You will have to deal with people you don’t like. You would have to understand everyone, even when you come to the point that understanding is the hardest thing to do. At one point you will realize that when someone does something that hurts you, you stop asking for apologies and you seek answers to understand why they did hurt you. And sometimes, that, too, hurts. Just keep understanding.

You will learn that everything you need to know are not always found in books. Most of what I have learned, I learned them outside the classroom. Go out of your comfort zones and experience psychology in your life. Just be careful not to psychologize everything.

At one point, you will have to relearn everything. Because you will learn that what you know is not what it is in real life and you have to unlearn things. One concrete example was when DSM-5 came out; we have to forget everything we knew from DSM-IV-TR. This is also true when you start your internship or start your work. Psychology is so complex and broad that every day is a new time to learn. You will soon find out that as much as you try, there are things that can never be learned. Be open.

Failure is important in success. When you make mistakes, you will learn. Don’t be afraid of mistakes because if you focus too much on perfection, you will not be able to do your job. Life is not an acheivement test. 

You will learn that you are not supposed to cry. You will learn how to prevent yourself from crying. Yet, you will still cry. In our line of work, we deal with humanity’s worst experiences. You will deal with emotional experiences and it is not always easy to avoid letting our emotions get in the way. Being emotional in a therapy or counseling session does not make you a less of a professional but it tells you how to be a better one.

There will never be enough time to do everything you want to or need to do. You will also know that not everyone can be saved or helped. One day, you will remember those lives you’ve touched and those you haven’t. You will smile at the thought of someone you helped go through depression, just as you will feel bad about not being able to help another.

Lastly, in this field, the life we live may define the kind of professional we will be. It asks us to deal with our own issues and conflicts before we deal with others’. 

Yes, it is difficult to be a psychology major. But trust me, it is a fulfilling experience. So I leave you with this:

Find your passion and let it direct you. I have always been proud to say that I have found mine. Psychology is my passion. It is not just my bread and butter (trust me it isn’t haha), it is in my blood. It is in my heart. 

I always believe that the worst thing that can happen to someone is grow old and not find their passion, what can truly make them happy or, in Maslow’s term, be self-actualized. So find yours and let it guide you. You will never be lost and you will never have to force yourself to do something you don’t like. It makes everything easier, too.

Find a mentor. Mentorship has more benefits than what normal classroom interaction has. Find one and work with them, learn from them. Don’t be afraid to ask them for tasks that could help you learn. Be it a simple help in a topic they are researching or serving as an assistant to their lectures or seminars.

I am grateful to have found a mentor who helped me learn and become who I am today. I did simple tasks for him like making a PowerPoint for a talk he will do (only to find out during the seminar that I will be the one to actually deliver the talk), to researching data for his research, to big tasks as planning a whole training program. He was not my professor then and not even my boss, but I wanted to learn so I chose to learn from the best. At times he would make me do things I am not that ready for or confident enough for, like when he made me conduct the training for an intervention method of which he was the expert. I said no and that I was not ready but he said “If you don’t try, how will you know when you are ready?” He had been an inspiration and his respect to what I do and what I have done and his trust and belief in me opened opportunities for me. I really wouldn’t be where I am now had it not for his mentorship.

So find a mentor, find someone whose work and interests are the same as yours. Work with them and let them challenge you.

Always remember the good in humanity. No matter how bad the problems of your patients are or how evil they seem to be.

Never forget the child in you. Always remind yourself of that child.

Volunteer. It can help you learn.

Ask questions. Challenge ideas. It will help you understand more.

Experience. Go out of your comfort zone. Make the world your playground. Face your fears. Widen your social network (and this is not just Facebook, twitter or Instagram). Meet people, meet psychologists.

Specialize in an area. Focus on what you are interested on and specialize in it. Do not be like the others who are “jack of all trades, master of none”. Yes, knowing a lot means more opportunities, but quality is much better than quantity. 

Read. Yes, I did say that not all answers are found in books. But read. Read. Read, read, read, and read more. You will know why when you start to read. As one of my undergrad professors would say “sleep with the authors, lie in bed with them”. Yes, he meant their books/works.

Lastly, psychology may not be the best field out there, but make it your best. Make it the best. Be your best.


The Psych professor who made your college life stressful.

(Originally posted 10 July 2014 on Facebook.)

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