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Clinical psych first year, second thoughts, and fears


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I'm a first year graduate student in a clinical psychology phd program. Ever since I started my program, I began having doubts about whether I chose the right place. My advisor, who seemed amazing during interviews, has not been great. She's an assistant professor, new, and not that confident or nice much of the time. Also, I didn't realize this at the time, but I'm worried that since this is such a CBT focused program, I'll have a hard time getting an internship on the East Cost (where I want to end up in). I know that since I'm just a first year, I should worry about internship too much, but I guess I am anxious about it. I'm trying to tell myself to just focus on the present and not be so worried about decisions I made in the past or that I'll have to make in the future, but my brain won't let go of those thoughts (please don't recommend CBT to me --I'm already in therapy :-P ). I know it's not common (or maybe not that possible) to transfer in the middle of a clinical PhD program, but I keep wanting out of here -- especially since I don't feel like I fit in wonderfully with the students... I thought once I'd be in grad school, I'd have this feeling like, "finally! I'm here!" but it's not coming. Does anyone have any comforting words or advice??? Is there any way to make up on my own for the minuses in my program?

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I'm sorry to hear that you're not liking your program. Hmmm, I would think that if at this point in the term you haven't shaken your negative feelings, then maybe your doubts aren't going to go away, and I wonder about whether you will be able to perform at your best under such circumstances. So are you thinking that you would finish the year and apply to a different program next year? Or perhaps complete your Master's and then switch? The latter would probably make more sense, if you could swing it. You could always come up with a good explanation for switching (such as saying that during the course of your studies you evolved new research/clinical interests, etc). I'm sure it's not easy, but it has been done.

Do you feel that there are pros to staying in the program that outweigh the negatives? Applying to go to a different program would require a lot of work, so I would only do it if the situation between you and your advisor was really bad and beyond resolution. You have to be honest with yourself: is this person horrible or is she not living up to some ideal that you imagined? My boss (a clinical psychologist/research scientist has said to me that you don't have to like your advisor, but you have to be able to respect him/her. Does she provide an adequate amount of guidance/mentorship?

Another thing you might consider is staying in your program but switching advisors. You could try to do that this year or wait until after your Master's. I'm not sure how that would work out, but I would probably try this option before dropping out of the program. You might want to talk to the graduate program advisor or director (not sure which is more appropriate) about some options if you are really serious about moving on.

Lastly, you might consider talking to her. I know this might be difficult, but if your other option is to leave the program, then I think it wouldn't hurt to at least talk to her about what's bothering you and seeing if she's open to doing things differently.

I'm not sure what to say about the focus of the program you are in and your future internship. You just need to ask yourself if this is really something worth switching programs over, aside from the issues you are having with fit.

Anyway, I hope it works out.

Good luck!

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Thanks for your message :-)

i don't think my advisor is a terrible person. Our personalities are just not really matching. I think we're both trying, and I do think that I could learn from her.The area of research my advisor is in is a pretty good fit, so it's mostly out personality mismatch. I guess I'm just nervous about the future and whether things will work out. It feels like there's so much pressure. I'm at a research institution, but after seeing how it is to be an academician, I'm pretty sure I'm probably going to stick to clinical work. I feel like on the one hand I know exactly what I want -- I want to be a psychologist and I know I can be a good clinician. On the other hand, part of me is confused. I want to contribute to the field in a bigger way than just practice, but I don't want to be a professor. I know what population I want to work with (BPD), but it would be nice to have some general training with additional populations or in additional areas. But, sadly, I don't think my program offers it. I think that when I decided to go here, I mistook "rigidness" for "organized", so it's not really how I expected it to be. Probably the best thing would be to finish my time here and then go from there, but it's hard for me to really put the feelings and thoughts of not liking it here or feeling like I'm not a great fit out of my mind. Maybe I just need to work harder at that...

I just want to be happy and good at what I do, but I seem to be too frightened of the future to actually be happy and make use of what's in front of me...

I really appreciate your input. Thank you. It feels good to have a place to let these thoughts and feelings out.

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Having a solid research background is great preparation in this day and age for clinical work, and you can always do a post doc in an area that is more directly related to your interests. Re: you desire to have a broader impact on the field, that's great...but you have PLENTY of time to figure out how exactly you want to do that. I wouldn't think much about that now. Those ideas have to germinate over time.

I'm thinking that perhaps the personality mismatch with the prof is what has you down, and this is making you feel negatively about the program and your future. That's just a guess. I would suggest you acknowledge your doubts but set a date for when you want to reevaluate the situation, instead of allowing yourself to ruminate about it continuously. That way you can make a good faith effort to make it work and then come back to the problem and see what you think. Easier said than done, I know, but I think it's worth a shot. Usually these programs don't want to grant a terminal Master's but they will if a student has changed their mind about the program. So maybe you could set a deadline for yourself that would coincide with when you would have to let the school know about your plans. Or maybe give yourself until the end of the summer and if you are still not feeling the program/the prof, then plan to apply to different programs in the fall.

I don't think that you will be able to pretend that those feelings/thoughts aren't there, or that you should deny them or blame yourself for not being able to be happy with your situation, but I do think you can deal with those feelings more effectively by trying to put them aside for now and setting a future date for making a decision. That way you can make a real effort at integrating into the program and trying to work effectively with your supervisor despite your differences and seeing where that leads. If you keep trying to make a decision about it now, you will just become frustrated.

Good luck!!! :)

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Just wanted to say that as far as CBT-based programs on the east coast, I know of a bunch off the top of my head, including one that does a lot with BPD/DBT, and those are just in my city, so I don't know that that's a dead-end. CBT is gaining momentum everywhere these days it seems, so I doubt you're limiting yourself in that sense, and getting good training in DBT (which I'm guessing you are, based on what you've said), can make you an attractive candidate.

I think the advice about giving yourself some space and then a deadline to re-evaluate is a great one, as might be talking directly to your advisor, but you probably know best how a conversation like that might go over with her, and if she could take it ok. Is there any possibility that there's someone else within the program you could work with who might be a better fit personality-wise, even if the research match isn't perfect?

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Thanks for the support guys. I guess things aren't as clear-cut as I think they are. I guess it's just hard, cause I was waiting for grad school for such long time, and it feels very anticlimactic, and all of a sudden I feel like I'm not doing well in areas i used to be good at and have to prove myself all over again. It's just rough. hopefully things will look up at some point...

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