Friday, March 23, 2012

Clinical Psychology Graduate School Application : A Personal Statement

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Jessica Mason McFadden
Graduate Program in Clinical Psychology WIU
Personal Statement

It’s a very interesting idea – that there is something we are supposed to do or someone we are supposed to be. That each of us has a destiny. How do you imagine yourself as a baby? Maybe you were a baby in a Police uniform, directing traffic and blowing your whistle from a polka dot blanket on the grass? Maybe you were sitting on a swivel chair behind your grandfather’s desk, wearing a black robe, wielding a mallet and yelling, with drool running down your chin, “Order in the court, order in the court!” I was sitting across from my parents at a kitchen table the color of canned peas, asking them to please stop interrupting each other so that each of them could listen to what the other had to say. I was in the metal highchair, jotting words like “fixated” and “anal-retentive” onto a legal pad with one pudgy little hand and holding up an inkblot in the other. If I was a Baby of Predestination, that would have been me. Stereotypes and destinations aside, sometimes it seems that some of us are well suited from a very young age to do certain types of work in the world. Whether or not there is such a thing as pre-destination, sometimes it seems, to me, that I have been heading down the path of Clinical Psychology my whole life. An interest in Psychology has been a central part of my life for a long as I can remember. Often, I think I came into the world determined to uncover “truth,” discover knowledge, analyze behavior and articulate every element of those processes. I’ve been relentless in my pursuit, even when what I’ve uncovered and discovered has altered my course.
As a young child, I was determined to control and solve my parents’ interpersonal problems. Though I did not have a framework in which I could contextualize my inclinations and behaviors, I was aware of my inquisitive nature. During fights between my parents, I would search their underwear drawers for letters written between them, letters that provided me with more knowledge about the situation as well as an illusion of control over the drama that was playing itself out irrespective of the emotional and psychological effects it was having on me. I played the roles of both case manager and unwanted intruder in the lives of my parents. I did not believe that they were capable of managing their own behavior without outside assistance; and since outside assistance was not utilized, I took on the responsibility of providing it myself. Of course I was a child without information and resources, and so it was an impossible task. But, over time, it wasn’t such an impossible task. Over time, I was able to find some of the answers I so desperately sought. Ironically, it was the process of finding answers that led me away from my original plan to control my parents.
My parents’ marital discord was what inspired me to gather as much information as possible in order to try to present an argument against their behaviors using all of the information that I had gathered. When they fought, I went into high-awareness mode. I took out the notebook in my mind and began writing into it everything I perceived in their words and actions. If my mother called my father a name or my father made a sarcastic remark in response to my mother’s insecure emotionality, I could sense immediately that the way in which they were interacting was misguided and antithetical to the things that each of them purportedly wanted (to engage in mutual love and respect). I knew instinctively the futility of name-calling as well as the punishing and insensitive nature of sarcasm. Unfortunately, I was too young to put it into an intellectual or practical context. Without having any educational background or support, what I was able to do was to try to dismantle the system in which I was living and educate my parents and myself based on what I was able to discover and figure out on my own. My parents were not, ultimately, receptive to my messages of help and informal counseling. Over the years, they have become more receptive – but, as an adult, I do not go into a counseling interaction with them with any expectation or urgent desire for them to transform their lives. If anything, I accept them as they are now more than ever. I recognize that as I child I did not have the resources necessary to offer help. I also recognize that they may not be capable of looking to me for guidance and knowledge because of their preconceived notions about traditional parent and child roles.
It was not until I had access to outside information that I was able to take the inner knowledge and drive that I possessed as a result of my own experience and apply them to another context. It was through the avenue of education and the study of interpersonal relationships through literature that I was able to take the processes that had already begun in childhood and advance them into productive manifestations. I cannot express how empowering it felt to be able to put what I had learned from my experience and self-awareness into a communicative, interactive and intellectual context. Turning my search for knowledge away from my parents’ relationship was a process fundamental to my educational journey. Doing so opened my eyes to an outward world of various search paths and opportunities for growth. As an undergraduate, I grew intellectually and emotionally through the process of writing. In turn, my writing skills improved as a result of the process of interdisciplinary critical thinking. In other words, my thinking informed my ability to write and my writing informed my ability to think.  One of my best qualities as a student is my willingness to consider nuance and multiple perspectives. When I consider an idea or situation, I am able to identify simultaneously major issues and perspectives as well as less-obvious implications. Based on this, I often write about common topics in an offbeat, or unusual, way. When critically analyzing plots and characters, I often explore the intricate details of each in order to paint a dynamic verbal portrait of the given theme of my critical analysis. I am unable to see things through a narrow scope. In the context of my parents’ fighting, I was able to see and attempt to convey the strengths and weaknesses of each parent’s behavior as well as to consider and attempt to convey the root from which each parent’s behavior stemmed.
In the context of my formal education, I used those qualities to study language, literature, and behavior. While I only completed two Psychology courses during my undergraduate education, Psychology was always informally informing my work in other disciplines. In Musical Theatre, it was informing my understanding of character and plot development; in Women’s Studies, it was informing my understanding of feminist theory (the personal nature of feminist activism and the political nature of narrative); in English, it was informing my ability to understand the interactive relationships between language, literature, history, context, and narrative (especially in regard to outsider and ethnic narrative genres). Likewise, my interest in and knowledge of Theatre, Women’s Studies and English will undoubtedly inform my future graduate education in Psychology. For so long, I have been drawing upon my informal understanding of Psychology. It’s been part of my every day life, present in my adult relationship with my parents, in the themes and style of my poetry, in the personal and political reflections of my creative essays, in my critical analyses of the events of my daily life. I have been practicing the work of human services in varying forms since I was very young. In elementary school, I helped and offered emotional and care-oriented support to my family members and to members of my community circles. In middle school, I participated in service groups and informally helped my loved ones. In high school, I offered constructive support to my minority and bullied classmates while I was experiencing my own personal crisis after having come out of the closet as a lesbian to my ill-prepared family. I supported those who were struggling in informal and formal settings (at home, in the community, at school, in organizations, at church) by listening and offering compassion as a way of helping myself deal with my own struggle to find acceptance at home. In college, I did much of the same; offering compassion and listening as well as acting as a leader and contributing ideas of intellectual merit in and out of the classroom.
Toward the end of my undergraduate career, I joined and assumed a leadership position in Western Illinois University’s campus group, Unity, by leading events such as National Coming Out Day and Awareness Week, as well as by participating in panel discussions on important issues. After graduating and while I was pregnant, I completed eighty hours of Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence volunteer training, served as an on-call crisis line volunteer for Western Illinois Regional Council’s Victim Services Program, worked with a group of seniors with dementia at The Elms nursing home, and served as a volunteer for WIU’s Women’s Center, facilitating and planning programs for the University and regional communities. After I gave birth to my first daughter, I began another chapter of my human service experience. I have spent the past four years in the domestic sphere of human service as a stay-at-home mother of two daughters. While doing the difficult work of parenting full-time, I have come to realize a lot about myself. I have, for example, become aware of the many ways that Psychology influences how I think about and articulate my experiences as a stay-at-home mother. It also influences the way in which I articulate and communicate my identity and experience as a young stay-at-home lesbian mother, scholar, creative writer, feminist activist and humanitarian.
The field, or nature, of Psychology has informed my evolving outlook on life; and I believe that obtaining a degree in Clinical Psychology will allow me to, in some way, come full circle into myself and help me along into the next fulfilling segment of my life-journey. I hope for the experience of graduate school to open my mind and further develop my perspective on the past as well as to affect my actions in the present and future. There already exists a pattern in my life of humanism, and a degree in Clinical Psychology is an extension of this pattern. Although I cannot say exactly where the process will lead, I do have some goals in mind for it. I aspire to one-day work with adult women and adult members of the LGBTQIA community in an innovative counseling-based setting. My humanistic outlook will surely guide the types of projects I will complete and work environments in which I will operate. I am open to possibilities, and do not wish to project an end result; however, I do envision myself as someday incorporating my love of literature and writing into my clinical work. For instance, I might work as a counselor in a women’s organization and lead a therapeutic and educational readers’ or writers’ group as one of the ways I contribute to the organization. Or, I might work with women in the custodial system in a similar capacity, using writing and literature as tools to help women help themselves. I am largely of the Liberal Arts and Humanities persuasion, yet I believe it is that very persuasion that lends itself well and can be, if incorporated wisely, an advantage in the study of the Sciences. The School of Liberal Arts and Sciences is one school for a reason – arts and sciences are not adversaries, they compliment one another.
Though I do not know definitively how I want to combine the interests and skills I now possess and will develop during the course of my graduate career, I do know one thing: I know that I will use my work in Clinical Psychology for my overriding goals of promoting humanism and empowering women and other minorities. What I took away from my counseling attempts with my parents was not so much what they gained as how it allowed me to cope, grow and evolve. Whenever I am in a situation with one of them in which I find myself counseling, I carry with me an awareness that I could not have had as a child that the act of counseling itself is not entirely future-oriented. Part of the transformative power of counseling lies in the act itself, in what is discovered and considered in the moment. While I never hope to become a caricature of my childhood self, I do plan to honor who I have been while also embracing the changes throughout my journey of becoming. I don’t believe we ever reach a destination, but I believe embracing who we are at each stage of the journey is a kind of destination unto itself. I believe I am now at a stage in my journey in which I am ready to take my lifelong inclinations and turn them into something different than they have ever been in the past. Studying, being trained in, and becoming proficient in the field of Clinical Psychology seems very much to me like the most natural next step. I do not plan to leave behind the baby in the high chair with the legal pad and inkblots; I am ready to take her with me into the unknown territory of Graduate School, where I hope we will both be welcome.

*I hope to be considered for an assistantship, as I feel it would benefit the goals I have described in this statement. I am very much committed to working hard to fulfill all assistantship requirements. Since being an undergraduate student, I have been a full time stay-at-home parent and have not had a source of income to draw upon for my graduate education. While I am married and supported financially by my partner, I very much hope to initiate an era of independence in my life. Seeking out financial autonomy – through an assistantship and through the career that I expect will follow my graduate education, is a key first step toward that goal.


Karen Billings said...
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Ricky ponting said...

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