As I go through the things in my office, looking for meaningful things to write about, my eyes rest on my diplomas.
The first is the least consequential, but it’s the one I’m the most proud of. It’s my Bachelor of Science degree from Empire State College. Empire, a SUNY school, is the most innovative concept to ever come out of an educational bureaucracy before online learning. Students get their degrees largely by independent study. The college hooks you up with an expert in your subject area and together, you plan how you’re going to study it and how you will demonstrate your learning. I had field experience, read books, and wrote papers; but I attended very few lectures and no symposiums with other students. I also never lived in a dorm, played frisbee in the quad, or experienced other aspects of college life. I wouldn’t have minded lectures and symposiums, but I was living in a rural area and this was in the days before the internet; so they were inaccessible.
Empire was the ideal choice for me because, not only did I live way out in the country, but I also had a family and a sawmill business. The college allowed me to enroll and dis-enroll frequently to accommodate my busy times. It also allowed me to claim two years of college credit for extensive learning that occurred before I started college. You see, when you live in the sticks with no internet, no TV and, for many years, no electricity, you do a lot of reading.
I started to go to school because I was sick of making little pieces of wood out of big pieces of wood in the sawmill, but I didn’t know what to major in. Therefore, I started out studying literature because that’s what I loved. Invariably, as many students of literature can attest, people started asking what I was going to do with my degree, so I switched it to counseling. The story of how I came up with that will take another post.
I began working in the counseling field even before I got my degree and was a full-fledged therapist long before I finished my masters, which is supposed to be the ticket to entry into the profession. I could do that in a rural area because there was such a crying need that they took anyone. Still, I knew a master’s degree would be necessary to progress and, as Empire had no appropriate graduate program, I prepared to do a lot of driving.
I began my studies at Mansfield University in Pennsylvania, majoring in rural psychology, but when I got a therapist job that brought me further from Mansfield, I was able to transfer to Alfred University.
My second degree, Masters in Education with an Emphasis in Counseling is from Alfred. Here it is.
I can’t really say I was trained at Alfred. I was really trained on the job, in clinics by people profoundly impaired by mental illness and frustrating addictions. There should be a sheepskin for that.
I seriously considered getting a PhD, so I could have another diploma to put on my wall, but it has limited usefulness to a counselor. I might have wanted one, so I could teach; but when you have a non-traditional academic background like mine, you can’t assume you’d enjoy academia.
After Alfred, I did some post-grad work at the Family Therapy Institute and learned all about substance abuse treatment from another SUNY program in Brockport. If I ever find those certificates, I’ll put them on my wall. I also don’t have documentation on my wall for the hundreds of conferences, workshops, and other brief trainings I’ve completed, but here’s a picture of the folder I keep them in.
I keep the Empire and Alfred diplomas up because some people look for them and would be worried if they weren’t there. People like their therapists to be well educated. I’m proud that I have them, especially for the fact that I was the first in my family to get diplomas, but do I really think they’re important? I think it’s important that a therapist knows a lot of things, has experiences, and can talk intelligently. I also think it’s necessary that a therapist take the profession seriously and not just start doing the work without considering how to do it well.
If there was a way, you could tell that a prospective therapist knew a lot of things and took their profession seriously without looking for diplomas on the wall, I would take it.