Just before I saw Andrea for her third session, I received a call from Andrea’s family physician.

He didn’t think there was an underlying medical condition behind her stomach aches.

“There’s a lot of tests that I could do,” he said. “But I’m reluctant to proceed with further testing—especially invasive testing—until we got find out what’s going on with her emotionally.”

Andrea’s doctor asked me to update him as we worked on her anxiety and to let him know how he might help the family.

I was stunned that a medical professional would consult with me about anything. In truth, I wondered if I was capable of being a good counselor for Andrea.

My supervisor liked the work I was doing but I still felt like a fraud.

“What makes me think I can help Andrea and the other clients I’m seeing?” I wondered.

Today this feeling—common among medical interns, newly licensed registered nurses and counseling interns like myself—is known as the imposter syndrome.

I’d need to get over this feeling before I could help Andrea.







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A week later, I saw Andrea again.  I was glad that she came for a second session.

I took this as meaning that I hadn’t messed up too badly during the first session.

Fortunately, I had a daughter in the same grade as Andrea, so I had some idea of the academic and social challenges faced by eighth grade girls.

After the first session with Andrea and her mother, I was almost certain Andrea’s stomach aches were related to anxiety.

My first clue here was that Andrea’s stomach aches were worse on Sunday nights and Monday mornings—and were less severe towards the end of the week,

Stomach aches also began to disappear by midday, when she occasionally agreed to go to school.

None the less, not only as a counselor-in training, but also as a mom, I knew medical conditions—as well as emotions conditions—could cause stomach aches.

I certainly didn’t want to overlook a medical issue.

I began the second session by meeting with both Andrea and her mother.  I asked them to have their family doctor check to see if there was a medical cause for her stomach aches.

An anxious frown shrouded Andrea’s face when I mentioned a doctor visit, but she reluctantly agreed to have her mother set up an appointment.

I spend the second part of the session with just Andrea.  She’d already missed almost three weeks of school.

I knew the longer Andrea stayed home from school, the harder it would be for her to go return.

What would make it easier for her to return to school?

And what was behind her school phobia?



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My first client at the Mental Health Clinic was an eighth-grade girl who dreaded going to school.  In fact, she complained of stomach aches on most school mornings.

I met with both Andrea X (not her real name) and her mother together for the first part of the session.

Family history showed that Mr. and Mrs. X recently moved to Fort Collins from a small town in Nebraska, where Andrea had gone to school with the same students since kindergarten.

Andrea’s mother was a homemaker who gave piano lessons in her home.  Andrea’s father worked as a supervisor in the electronics industry. The couple had one other child—a daughter—who was adjusting well to third grade.

Andrea and her mother agreed that while school work didn’t always come easily to Andrea, she was a hard worker and usually held a B average.

After meeting with Andrea and her mother, I met with Andrea alone for the second half of the session.

I wasn’t sure how to start the session, so I took a shot in the dark and asked Andrea about the Disneyland logo on her sweat shirt.

Although Andrea initially appeared uneasy after her mother left the room, once she started talking about the family vacation at Disneyland she seemed to relax.

There was so much I wanted to learn about Andrea so I could help her. We seemed off to a good start.  At the end of the session, she agreed to see me again the next week.

What was behind Andrea’s reluctance to go to school?


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In this column and subsequent columns, I will share my perceptions of working in the mental health profession. Names and identifying information—such as race, gender and ethnicity–have been changed. Names of colleagues have also been eliminated.  Any resemblance to persons living or dead is purely coincidental.

The first part of my internship consisted of sitting in on therapy sessions conducted by skilled clinicians. “Do you mind if Mrs. McCullough sits in on our session today?” Mr. J, or Mr. A. or Dr. B. would ask their clients.

No clients objected. I guess I looked harmless enough.

As I watched these skilled therapists at work, I wondered if I would ever be able to come close to matching their level of expertise in helping clients.

I was also impressed with the courage it  took for these clients to make the decision to improve their lives by going into therapy in 1972.

Today psychotherapy has gone main stream. In some cities and town, there are as many therapy offices as there are restaurant.

Therapy is available online, on Skype, as well as in office settings.  In 1972, being in therapy was something one whispered about. Something kept in the closet.

But in 1972, options for therapy in our area, options for therapy were limited to the two psychiatrists connected to the mental health clinic and to one or two licensed psychologists. The mental health clinic was the hub of treatment.

In the next column, I finally get my feet wet with a client of my own.



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Memories of my first few days as a psychotherapist-in-training at the mental health clinic were heady, exciting and vivid.

I began this aspect of my training on a gray, cold day March on 1972.

I remember meeting two bright Ph.D. candidates—new interns also—who clearly had more clinical experienced than me.

They would become good friends and mentors.

I recall being invited to sit in on a clinical staff meeting during that first week.

“What in the world was a staff meeting?” I wondered.

Even though I’d been in graduate school for two years, my world was still small, constricted, naïve.

A lot of my general knowledge about life came from my own limited life experience.  More information trickled in from TV, books and conversations with friends.

My young adult life had been honed on Leave It to Beaver, Father Knows Best and The Brady Bunch.

No staff meetings there.

Then there was All in the Family, and Mash. A little more enlightening but no staff meetings there.

I could see that a great divide yawned between housewifery and the business/professional world.

Once again, this was new territory.  I soaked in every bit of its wonderful newness.

At the staff meeting I saw that the mental health clinic staff was made up of two part-time psychiatrists, one psychologist, two social workers and a couple of occupational therapists.

I’d never met a real-life psychiatrist.  Dr. P an Dr. K were handsome, cordial and welcoming.  Not at all like Sigmund Freud.

Readers, what were your first business or professional experiences like?

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I didn’t sleep well before my first day of work.

It had been 16 years since I’d worked outside the home. As a 1950’s housewife, my life revolved around my husband, four daughters and neighborhood coffee klatches.

It was a world that I slipped into easily. I was married at 21. Four wonderful babies came along in the next nine years.

But now I was taking a new and scary leap.  In 1972 not many women with families chose to work outside the home. In my friendship and family circle, I had no role models.

And—what made it especially difficult—was that my Mom didn’t approve of my working as a psychotherapist. I think at some level we always want our Mom’s approval.

Fortunately, my husband Bill supported me in as I went forth on this venture.

On the eve before my internship, I laid out the clothes for my first day at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic.  I wanted to make a good impression.

Oddly enough, I remember exactly what I wore for my first day as an intern psychotherapist.  I chose a glen plaid suit—not a pant suit—a navy blue blouse, navy high heels.

And—a little shaky in my heels—I was off to new territory.



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The session with my supervisor Ann snowballed downhill.

“I’ve wasted three years working for my Masters,” I said to myself as I sobbed in her office.

I went on the think, “And that doesn’t count the thousands of dollars in tuition, books and child car. And the cost of time away from family.”

Ann handed me a tissue, and I tried to settle down.

She waited a while and then said, “You were one of our better counselors, but you don’t seem to realize this.  We can’t let you graduate with such a low opinion of yourself.”

We were both silent as her words sank in.

She let her words sink in.

“Was I really a decent—even a good—beginning counselor?”

Then Ann said, “My one critical remark led you to tears. You need to be stronger.”

Looking back, I can see she hit the nail on the head.  But then, I just wanted to get on with my internship.

“But what about my internship at the Larimer County Mental Health Clinic?” I asked Ann.

“Here’s what we’ll do.  Get permission from your supervisor at the Mental Health Clinic to record your sessions.  Then get the same permission from each client.”

I breathed a sigh of relief.

“Once a week we’ll go over the tapes and evaluate them.”

Ann and I agreed to this plan.

In one week, I would start as an intern at Larimer County Mental Health Clinic.

I was both excited and scared.






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My immediate supervisor’s name was Ann.  She was a step ahead of me in grad school—thus qualified to assess my progress as a counselor-in- training.

Lively and outgoing—impish looking with her short gray hair and a petite figure—Ann she looked unusually stern as I stepped into her cubby hole of an office.

I hadn’t had much contact with Ann throughout my weeks of training—she viewed all my sessions behind the one-way mirror—but never said much—so I wasn’t sure what she wanted.

She waved to the chair in front of her desk.  As I sat down, Ann got right to the point.

“Well,” she said.  “You had something to say in that last counseling session, and you said it. You weren’t listening to what Cindy had to say.”

Being a good listener is one of the hallmarks of a good counselor or therapist.  At my final session with my client Cindy, I’d decided to give her a few pointers for ongoing roommate problems.

And so I did.

Talking—instead of listening—was one of the unforgivable sins—the high crime—of new counselors. What had I been thinking?

Ann did not look happy.  “Next time, keep your mouth shut and listen,” she said curtly.

At this point I burst into tears.  All the pressures of the last few years—taking the step to go back to school—poured out as if they had a will of their own.

I couldn’t stop crying.

Was the word “failure” stamped across my forehead?





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Dear Readers: This is the 16th episode of the series: Help, I Want To Get Out Of The Kitchen. If you are new to this series, you may want to start with Chapter One–If They’d Had Hamburger Helper Back Then. Thanks for reading.


In spite of sleepless nights and neurotic angst, I finally found myself on the last leg of a Masters in Psychology, Counseling and Guidance.

One of the key tools in training counselors is the one-way mirror—sort of like what you see on Law and Order reruns.

It works like this—any undergraduate student taking a Psych 101 class can gain extra credit by signing up to be a “client” for a Would-Be-Counselor.

My first client was a slim, blond freshman named Cindy (not her real name.)

Cindy and I met once a week in a counseling room.  A microphone hung from the ceiling.  On one wall was a large one-way mirror.  On the other side of the mirror was my supervisor and five or six of my fellow grad students. They observed and tape recorded my counseling sessions with Cindy.

Cindy was advised that she and I were being observed through the one-way mirror and she was fine with this.

Cindy’s main counseling issue was that she had difficulties with her roommate–not an uncommon problem for students living in a dorm on campus.

I saw Cindy for 10 weeks.  I didn’t get any feedback on how I was doing, so I assumed things were going OK.  O—until my supervisor called me into her office where things quickly went south.

Stay Tuned!




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Since the pursuit of over- the- counter sleeping pills was feeling more and more devious, I finally called my doctor for some prescription sleeping pills.

“What’s going on?” he asked.

“Nothing,” I stammered—not daring to say that I had ventured into alien territory.

Even worse, I was part of the “What me worry?” generation of Alfred E. Newman.  I wasn’t supposed to have anything wrong with me. I wasn’t supposed to worry.  Worry seemed like a sin.

My doctor prescribed some Valium—a brand new drug back then. But every time I asked for a refill, he always asked how I was doing.

And I always tried to dodge the answer.

My worry seems absurd in this day and age when women embark on a variety of careers.

But forty-five years ago, wives and mothers who went back to work were usually returning to a job for which they were already trained.  They already had office experience, teaching certificates or nursing degrees.

Sure, I had a college degree in English—but no work experience other than summer jobs—at Woolworth’s and Penney’s.

But here I was—taking a stab in the dark—by embarking on—on what? What in the world was I doing?



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