Monday, March 14, 2016

My Early Interest in Mental Health

Let's say that you just failed to pass a licensing exam and will need to retake it.  You might be feeling discouraged and in need of a little extra motivation.  One way to pump yourself up is to go waaaaaay back and explore why you became interested in this field to begin with.

Mid-1990s, Chicago suburbs: My interest in the mental health field began in junior high school.  I read Reviving Ophelia, a book by Dr. Mary Pipher, which discusses her work counseling adolescent girls who are struggling to thrive in our culture and society.  As an adolescent girl myself, I was fascinated by the case studies.  

I loved reading about the girls’ lives and issues like sexual assault, substance use, family divorces, and eating disorders.  Dr. Pipher’s book inspired me to begin wanting to do similar work as an adult.  I realized today that I have kept this book on all my different bookshelves for the past 20 years.

Still on my bookshelf after 20 years.  (Image credit Kate McHugh Akbar.  Reviving Ophelia and all other books pictured credit to authors.)

Because of this book, I sought to learn more about mental health.  I found an old college psychology textbook at a church rummage sale and bought it for $.50.  To this day, I can still recall reading about Harry Harlow and seeing the image of the rhesus monkey clinging to the soft terrycloth “mother” instead of the wire mother-figure that provided milk.  

I also made use of the library to feed my interest.  I remember borrowing books about arachnophobia to try and understand why I felt the way I did about spiders.

In 8th grade we wrote a big research paper, topic of our choosing.  My paper discussed if individuals suffering from multiple personality disorder (now called dissociative identity disorder) should be held responsible for crimes committed by their alter personalities.  I found this paper in my parent’s house several years ago and it’s hilarious.

At age 14, in the yearbook, my classmates predicted that I would become a women’s activist, while I predicted for myself that I would grow up to be a psychologist or a clinical social worker.  I completely forgot about this until I rediscovered the yearbook in my 20s!  If that isn’t motivation to keep studying for the clinical social work exams, I don’t know what is.  

Come on self, let’s make 1998 Katie’s dreams come true.

That's my story, what about you?  Please share!

You’ve learned about my initial interest in the mental health field.  Come back tomorrow in honor of World Social Work Day to read more about why I specifically chose to become a social worker.

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