I cannot recall a consistently happier time in my life than the present. I am being given the opportunity to exercise a wider range of my skills than ever before. Acceptance of limits in some areas has afforded new freedom in others. I seek the help of the MAC program to channel this transitionary energy into vocational stability.
The more responsible we become, the more options we create, and the more power and freedom we gain (Nakken, 2000, p. 45).
All my life I have had a cloying feeling I should be working in a helping profession. My mother was—and still is, to some degree, as she approaches ninety—a psychiatric social worker. My father fostered in me facility with the written word. He also offered a model for leading groups—for he seated his prep school English class in a circle and imposed the rule, “No one speaks twice till everyone has spoken once.” Both parents encouraged me to follow my heart—perhaps more accurately described as following whatever stimulated the most dopamine in my brain—which proved to be music. While their marital squabbles cast me in the child-inappropriate role of “peace-maker,” I was probably more successful in bringing peace to the family through my classical guitar practicing. I observed and sought to understand my parents’ issues getting along so that I might steer a course toward greater harmony in my future life.
Taking personal responsibility . . . means that we must help, mainly by example, others in their struggles to get closer to . . . principles [of betterment] (Nakken, 2000, p. 45).
Even though my primary focus as an undergrad was on the creation and performance of music, I had developed a social conscience that prompted me to get trained and certified as an elementary school music teacher. It was another thirteen years before I pursued work using that certification—as it fell in my lap throughout my early adult life to teach guitar lessons in various locations (to “support my habit” as performer and composer). When my first marriage gave rise to a move from Boston to Western Massachusetts, I had to start afresh, and began a series of episodes teaching in preK-12 classrooms. My social conscience, having spawned my activism in social causes, reasoned that I was making the world a better place through offering students artistic skill and discernment. How could people with art in their souls exploit and defile the earth and its peoples? But while it was more stimulating leading groups of young people in song than it was giving individual lessons, it was also more stressful. Conflicts I experienced with administrators—appearing in retrospect to stem from a difference in values—along with the resulting difficulty getting hired for new situations caused school music teaching to seem less and less what I was meant to do. Today, all the same, I am thankful for my experience implementing curriculum, while managing student behavior, in my work as a treatment group leader.
Apart from what I did for a paycheck, I always sought to better understand human nature. I kept an ear out for the better idea that would lead me away from inner misery and toward greater compassion for and knowledge of myself and others. Somewhere, miles away, my second wife was doing likewise. As God would have it, she and I did not meet until I was 45. She then determined, from lay sermons I had posted at my website, that I had done a fair amount of work on myself (“for a man”) and merited serious consideration. This inner work I credit to Re-evaluation Counseling, psychotherapy, a smattering of New Age modalities, and Christianity.
When we allow our higher, or spiritual, principles to be our ultimate authority, we participate in our own ego transformation (Nakken, 2000, p. 47).
I have been bestowed a unique skill set, along with a unique collection of passions, and am now being called to be more of who I am. During my years in the classroom and the private teaching studio I sought to bring out the best in students. Only a certain percentage of them demonstrated or developed musical aptitude. I often found myself wishing I could expand my role, beyond the confines of music instruction, to directly address my students’ emotional issues. Around twenty years ago, a few friends suggested that I should consider becoming a professional counselor. A short time later, a family therapist we were seeing encouraged me with his story of going for an MSW after working construction some 20 years. It was not until two years ago that I began a serious effort to manifest this idea.
Attending Tacoma Community College brought me in closer contact with a segment of society I grew up mostly separated from. The experience brought a feeling of “coming home to my people” and prepared me to interact more comfortably with those who experienced less privilege than I. I felt a new surge in resonance with the Gospels of Jesus. As I further engaged the Twelve-Step program, through teaching treatment groups and Al-Anon membership, I came to identify with Bill Wilson’s discovery that ongoing sobriety depends upon reaching out to others. Though I have never been chemically dependent, I have come to understand that my emotional sobriety, as well as spiritual growth, are contingent upon my taking an active role in the healing of others. When one has something that would benefit others and does not share it, the soul aches.
I began with the chemical dependency focus because I needed to “get my feet wet” in Human Services and CDP looked to be a shorter route than MSW or MHC. It was only after working for a time at Recovery Centers of King County that I could envision deriving satisfaction and developing competence, and thereby overcame my fear of working in a non-music profession. As with music teaching, however, my operating range is limited. My CDP boss admonishes, “We don’t do mental health!” Of course, we do—much as a neighborhood auto mechanic attempts to do the specialized work of a dealership.
How might I best assist this client in front of me to heal this hindrance to his or her well being? The tools of CD provide a great start, but I want every tool I know laid out on the workbench—and to get the old tools sharpened or updated. Additionally, the low pay scale for CDPs and changes in public health funding have prompted my supervisors to recommend that their counselors enter the mental health field. I still need perhaps 400 hours of client-contact time to complete CDP licensure requirements.
How, then, does the MAC program fit my objectives? I am enrolled in Psychopathology for the upcoming term to cover the one WAC competency not included in my TCC Human Services Certification. Spring semester will improve my commute, as it puts my two courses, along with therapy at the SMU Counseling Center, on one day, reducing my weekly SMU drive time from four hours to one. I initially thought to work toward MFT licensure, but Gina P. was suggesting to us recently that MHC may be more pragmatic. My participation may also be said to help the MAC program meet its objectives, as I contribute a lot of life experience to my class discussions and have assisted project cohorts with expository writing.
As the MAC Admission Requirements note, “in our profession we deal with the reality that some highly trained practitioners are nevertheless ineffective, or worse, harmful as therapists”—serving to remind me that some of my tools may be needed by cohorts along with coworkers. We each have figured out a piece of the puzzle that someone else would benefit from knowing.
To practice spiritual discipline is to believe in the future
(Nakken, 2000, p. 51).
I feel fortunate to have entered the Master’s program at SMU in particular because of the expressed emphasis on self-awareness and self-care. In my younger years I built a foundation of musical technique through which I will always seek to express myself artistically. Rather than continue to seek the recognition for it in the way I have in the past, I see my music as the primary component in my self-care as a counselor. Relegating my master’s degree training to avocational status is both humbling and liberating. (Though I do confess to having a plan for videotaping my latest compositions to serve as an entry point to a few appropriate concert venues). Even the guitar lessons I teach on weekends—albeit necessary to supplement my meager CDPT income—contribute to self-care, by engendering the sense of familiar competence that comes through utilization of my music pedagogy skills (and by not requiring paperwork!). The MAC program’s emphasis on self-care also further justifies my daily yoga and thrice-weekly swimming routines.
God has placed me in the right place at the right time and, so far as I can tell, made His will known. It is only left to me to strip away those last vestiges of my ego that hold me back, to get out of my own way, and believe in the future.
Nakken, Craig (2000), Reclaim Your Family from Addiction: How Couples and Families Recover Love and Meaning. Center City, MN: Hazelden.