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Don't like Cohort + Anxiety


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Hi everyone!

First time poster because I was so mad I just typed in something to Google and found a similar thread. So now I'm going to post mine. I liked reading the opinions of people who are also in grad school about these things. 

I'm posting because I really don't like my cohort. I'm in my first semester of a Master's program for Counseling. I love the area and the school, but I really can't stand a number of my classmates and some of them are in all of my classes.

One girl talks about herself all the time (a trait I'm trying to learn how to deal with. I'm in a counseling program, so I feel like sometimes the answer could be "you wanna be a therapist? you gotta get used to not liking people." which is true. But we're all full of imperfect human emotion and this is one of them.). Even my professors have begun to notice it. But there's about a quarter of the people who love this girl. Then there's another group who are the "judge-y intellectuals". They always pop in during discussion to assert their stance on the subject and are always laughing about things that no one else knows about. I went through all of undergrad facing people such as this. I know how to deal with people and I'm a pretty laid back person who tolerates most personalities. I don't know if it's this particular group of people or what, but I can't stand them.

I have made a few friends so that's helped. But just tonight, I got an email from a professor about a presentation I did recently. It was her feedback. But she also included ALL of the comments that my classmates made on their grading sheets. Some were nice. One in particular has me steaming, though, that said that I clearly didn't do as much as my partner for the presentation (which simply isn't true at all) and others said it didn't seem like we knew the material. I just don't understand it. I'm still steaming about it and will probably have a clearer outlook on it tomorrow. 

I suffer from anxiety, especially presenting in front of people. I wish wish wish I could be good at it, but after 20 something odd years of living, I just haven't gotten there yet. On that day, I pulled through on the presentation. After my presentation, my professor started talking about "Can people with mental illnesses still be therapists?" and her conclusion was basically, "yes, but you have to have your shit together." I broke down. I had to step out of the class and had my first panic attack in a year in the bathroom. 

I'm so mad at my cohort situation, but I'm also wondering if I need to take more time off before really starting grad school. And also figure out if this is for me (i've been considering other vocations). I'm considering that I may need to drop it for now and resume my education later. (I graduated early from undergrad and gave myself 6 months off.) 

Does anyone have any thoughts or advice? Any similar situations? I'd love advise for handling harsh criticism.

Thanks for reading my rant!

 

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4 hours ago, southcat said:

I suffer from anxiety, especially presenting in front of people. I wish wish wish I could be good at it, but after 20 something odd years of living, I just haven't gotten there yet. On that day, I pulled through on the presentation. After my presentation, my professor started talking about "Can people with mental illnesses still be therapists?" and her conclusion was basically, "yes, but you have to have your shit together." I broke down. I had to step out of the class and had my first panic attack in a year in the bathroom. 

I'm so mad at my cohort situation, but I'm also wondering if I need to take more time off before really starting grad school. And also figure out if this is for me (i've been considering other vocations). I'm considering that I may need to drop it for now and resume my education later. (I graduated early from undergrad and gave myself 6 months off.) 

Does anyone have any thoughts or advice? Any similar situations? I'd love advise for handling harsh criticism.

Thanks for reading my rant!

 

I am sorry to hear the hard time that you are going through. Just like you don't find everyone likable, there are people who just don't like you, no matter how well you have done. It is not necessarily your fault. Please give yourself a pat on the back for finishing the presentation, given your anxiety of public speaking. I am fine with public speaking, but I am anxious with other things, so I can relate to the apprehension you went through. Take comments that are constructive, e.g. replace a wordy PowerPoint slide with a diagram, but don't take those harsh and untrue comments personally (e.g. you put in less effort than your partner). I know it is easier said than done, especially when those people are toxic. One of my PhD advisors is the type who accuses students of not putting in any effort whenever she thinks their work is not to her expectation. So I can totally understand how frustrated and angry it is when others neglect your effort. But then, grad school is full of criticism, so you really need to find a way to not get that affected. For me, I had secretly liaised with my other PhD advisor to do a postdoc in his lab (He is heavenly to work with), so this hope at the other end got me through the last few months of my PhD. 

Your professor is insensitive by saying that "people with mental illnesses need to have their shit together to become therapists". In my opinion, having experienced a mental illness can be helpful for a career of counselling, because you can relate to the struggles of your clients more easily. Having said that, I think her comment was not intentional and targeted at you though, because she should not know that you suffer from anxiety. 

I am not sure whether you see a counsellor for your anxiety. If so, it is not a bad idea to book an appointment to talk these through. If not, maybe you could go to your school's counselling centre. Regarding dropping off or not, your graduate advisor would be the best person to talk to, as he/she has seen cases like these before. 

Hope this is of help. Feel free to post back or PM me. 

Edited by Hope.for.the.best
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20 hours ago, southcat said:

I suffer from anxiety, especially presenting in front of people. I wish wish wish I could be good at it, but after 20 something odd years of living, I just haven't gotten there yet. On that day, I pulled through on the presentation. After my presentation, my professor started talking about "Can people with mental illnesses still be therapists?" and her conclusion was basically, "yes, but you have to have your shit together." I broke down. I had to step out of the class and had my first panic attack in a year in the bathroom. 

I'm so mad at my cohort situation, but I'm also wondering if I need to take more time off before really starting grad school. And also figure out if this is for me (i've been considering other vocations). I'm considering that I may need to drop it for now and resume my education later. (I graduated early from undergrad and gave myself 6 months off.) 

Does anyone have any thoughts or advice? Any similar situations? I'd love advise for handling harsh criticism.

Thanks for reading my rant!

1

Contact your school's disability resource center (or whatever the like organization is called where you go to school). Obviously, we don't know the entirety of the situation, and intentions could potentially be misconstrued, but it's at least possible that if what she said was targeted at you, then she could be breaking the ADA (at least if you live in the United States, though I'm sure other countries have similar laws). 

I was recently diagnosed with Panic Disorder while in graduate school, and I don't think I would have survived without my school's DRC. In fact, it's escalated to a point this semester that if I don't lean upon them I think it's unlikely that I'll complete my degree.

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  • 3 weeks later...

Your professor comes across as highly judgemental and unprofessional to me. I think if I was in your cohort due to my anxiety I would've been triggered and left to the bathroom as well. Just because she does not personally suffer from mental illness, does not give her the right to publicly criticize or state her opinion like that to a classroom of students. I would honestly report her to a dean or whoever her higher ups are so that she can be alerted to be more sensitive in the future when stating HER personal opinions/feelings to her paying students. People with mental illness and any other disability can do whatever career they choose so I don't see why she felt the need to randomly speak on that. Definitely report her and also check out your schools EAP services. All universities have services they are able to provide to students don't be afraid to reach out and get some help so you can succeed and prove that professor wrong. Also you are highly capable of earning your degree, don't stress her comments. She is one of the many negative nancys you will encounter on your grad school journey. Just remember these people won't matter in 10 years when you are a successful counselor.

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I'm not sure that the professor made the comment about mental illness because of your presentation or if it was just unfortunate timing. Being nervous while publicly speaking doesn't mean one has an anxiety disorder  -- many/most people fear public speaking, which means that she may not have even considered your presentation to be a sign of anything more than that. So unless she specifically called you out or told you personally it was a problem, I would not link the two.

In my experience, it is common to discuss whether people with mental illnesses can be effective counselors. We discussed it in  several of my undergraduate psych courses. And I think there's a good reason for discussing it. If one is treating a client with a similar struggle as one's own, one can over identify with the client. This can cloud judgement and lead to a variety of issues in the counseling relationship. I was told it is common and recommended for counselors to go for their own therapy from time to time to help with managing not only the emotional exhaustion of the job, but also to sort out any personal struggles of their own so they can keep them out of their own clients' sessions. Perhaps the professor didn't have a great deal of tact in discussing this sensitive issue, but it is important to discuss.

The question is whether she said anything that explicitly links her comments with your personal situation. Does she know  (ie, did you share with her or in class) that you struggle with anxiety beyond public speaking? Even if she does, it doesn't mean she couldn't bring up that topic if it is normally discussed at some point in the class or program. If she used you explicitly as an example or spoke to you about it after class, then that is a problem. However, whenever we hear negative things that apply to us, we have a tendency to think they were directed at us due to our own insecurities, and that is rarely the case. So if there was no clear expression that she mentioned this *because* of you, I would take it as a poorly timed but useful piece of advice to be aware of the problem of over identifying or bringing your own problems into therapy, which was passed on to you by someone with little tact.

As for your cohort, I think you need to work out why they bother you so much. We will always have to work with people we don't like, and as you said, you may spend a lot of time with clients you can't personally stand. But consider that many grad students feel insecure about their capabilities, especially early in the program, so maybe the girl who talks about herself does so out of nervous habit or because she wants people to like her  (whether her strategy is successful or not). People who are very judgemental also are typically hiding insecurities and trying to put others down and exerting their own "better" stance to make themselves feel better. I think everyone struggles with something. So maybe it's just a matter of trying to see through their fronts. Or maybe there's another reason they're getting to you. But at some point you need to focus less on how pleasant your instructors and peers are and focus on your own health and development. You said you have some friends, which is great. Enjoy your time with them. Laughter is a great way to deal with the pressures of grad school (or anything for that matter). You'll eventually find a rhythm that works for you.

Edited by Meraki
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I'm sorry you're having such a rough time. During orientation, my school talked a bit about how hard the adjustment to grad school can be and compared it to culture shock. I've been finding it helpful to remind myself that it will get better if I keep at it!

I suspect that your cohort will bother you less as you spend more time with them. Not, necessarily, because you'll learn to like everyone but because you'll start to find people you get along well with and won't care as much about the students you aren't close to. You'll get a sense of whose feedback is meaningful on what topics and who you can ignore. Grad students feel a lot of pressure to perform well and stand out from the crowd, and some people try to do that by talking too much about themselves or by being overcritical of others. 

While you're waiting to get a sense of your cohort mates (who you can trust, etc), focus on your professor's feedback. If there are comments from students that particularly worry you, go to office hours and ask for her opinion on them. If you are having trouble with presenting, go to her office hours and ask if she has any suggestions about improving. You may find that your anxiety doesn't bleed through as much as you think it does! Also, talk with the other members of your group to make sure they feel you're contributing enough. If you're graded on that aspect, they're the ones your professor will ask for feedback.

In terms of your professors comments, I would echo Meraki. If they were directed at you, that was inappropriate. However, the advice is still valid. I'm not training as a therapist, but as a researcher, I have to be constantly considering my personal bias about my projects. Some of my professional work intersects with some of my personal baggage, and I know I have to be extra careful about that. This is even more relevant for someone training to be a therapist. If you aren't already seeing a therapist yourself, this might be a good time to establish that relationship. Based on some friends' experiences, it's not uncommon to require students to be in therapy while they do their practicum, anyway.

Final note on the presenting thing - One of my professors recommended Toast Masters as a way to get comfortable with public speaking. It's something that will probably continue to be an important part of your professional life, so it's worth investing some time now to build the skill!

Keep your chin up, and remember that it's a process! This will all feel so much more comfortable in a few months.

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