When I flew from the Bay Area to interview for the Counseling Psychology program in Muncie, Indiana in 1985, my only background in Psychology was a master’s degree in Clinical Counseling from California State University Hayward. I was the only one wearing a suit. It was a charcoal gray pinstripe. It was my first time wearing a suit. I was given three separate interviews over the course of several hours. The first two were individual interviews. They were friendly and benign. The last was a group interview with two faculty members, two doctoral students, and one master’s student. In this final, gangbang interview, one of the faculty asked two questions—the first was meant to intimidate and the second to humiliate. “How do you go from being a chef to being a psychologist?” was the first. The second was, “If we accept you in the program, will you cook for us?”
Neither the professor asking these questions nor the others in the group were interested in my life experience, for example, as a child in my elder brother’s experiments in manipulation and abuse or having survived the transition from being a favorite child to living on the margin of the family after a parent’s suicide, about my two years of being homeless or my progression from learning to support myself to getting a bachelor’s degree from UC Berkeley, to the fun I had cooking in restaurants after I got my BA. Nor could any of us have imagined that I would use my doctoral degree to work in mental hospitals with the severely mentally ill, as a forensic expert on criminal cases, as clinical supervisor of 10 counselors and 2 social workers doing crisis intervention in jail, running a program for women transitioning to community living from incarceration, as a Medicare provider to the elderly, as a Medicaid provider to the developmentally disabled, and over the past several years as an evaluator for Disability. (I really did not think I would be able to do anything with my doctorate after it was conferred. I thought I would end up being homeless again and out on the streets.)
Even now, I can see the professor glaring at me and am able to recall everyone in the doctoral interview looking uncomfortable, until my reply to the second question, “I will cook for you on three conditions—first, if I can find the ingredients, second, if I am in the mood, third, if I like you.” Everyone in the room laughed, except him. I was selected seventh out of ten applicants and I added that experience to all the others in my life that taught me about Survival.
It was barely three years before the Ball State interview that I first decided to be a Psychologist. The decision was made instinctively, not rationally. I knew of no good answer to the first of the professor’s questions, how I could conceive of changing my career from restaurants to mental health… but now I know! I had a wealth of personal experience that was not benefiting anyone. So, I took a risk by following an instinctive cord. But I was really just taking my own advice, the advice I offer in The Meaning of Life: A Child’s Book of Existential Psychology. If you follow your cord, I encourage, “Your search can lead you anywhere.” And so it has.
My reflections on my personal and professional history and my training are to show that the greatest part of psychologists’ training occurs, not in the laboratory or classroom, but in the same world everyone lives in and with the same influences that everyone experiences. If it reads like comedy or drama, that’s probably because a human life, any life, would read that way. It is written with the understanding that to survive and thrive, especially if we are to help each other accomplish this, we need to first accept that we live in the same world, with the same but not identical experience, therefore with similar access to information that is all around us. This is the stuff that needs to be examined if we are to understand ourselves and the world we live in. The best use of this kind of information is through questioning and discussion.
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