Dr. Sheila Graham (Baltimore, MD)
Career: Psychologist & Associate Director of University Counseling Center
1-How did you become a professional in your current field? I received my Bachelor’s degree from Amherst College and began my undergraduate career as a Black Studies major. In these courses, I was drawn to learning more about the impact hundreds of years of oppression has had on the strength and resilience of members of the Black Diaspora. After taking a class on the Social Psychology of Race, I decided to double major in Black Studies and Psychology. At the time, becoming a licensed clinician required a Ph.D., so I applied to a graduate program at Columbia University that was renown for its focus on cultural identities and cultural competence. It would also allow me to get my Masters and Ph.D. all in one. The program took 6 years to complete including a year of internship anywhere in the country. I completed my internship at Towson University’s Counseling Center and have been living and practicing in Baltimore ever sense.
2- What is a quality that makes you successful in your career?
The primary tool a psychologist has in doing therapy is ourselves. Being a Counseling Psychologist, therefore, requires constant work on yourself as a person and a willingness to grow. There are aspects of this that I both love and feel exhausted by at times. Doing therapy has helped me become a person who is genuine, transparent, authentic, and empathic. These are qualities I have come to appreciate in the personal relationships I’ve built throughout my life as well. There are also days when I wish I could show up to work and not have to focus on how I’m feeling. I cannot imagine who I would be today if it weren’t for the skills I’ve learned and people I’ve met in this field.
3-What 3 tips would you give someone struggling to reach their goals?
1. Reflect on who the goal is for: There are times we are struggling to meet a goal because we are doing it for someone else. Although making others happy can be a significant factor in achieving our goals, our heart needs to be in it. There were several times in graduate school when I didn’t think I could make it to the end, the factor that got me through the entire time was how much I wanted to be able to support the people in my community through struggles similar to the ones my family and I had had.
2. Find people who support and uplift you: Many people have questioned my ability to reach the goals I’ve set for myself. Despite their uncertainty, they were there to help me through the journey. There will be times you doubt yourself and will need others to support you through those moments.
3. Engage in self-compassion: Not to be confused with self-pity, having compassion for ourselves is something many of us struggle to do. It is the ability to recognize challenging emotions, difficult circumstances, and painful realities. To empathize with the experience, we are having and acknowledge the struggle. Moving forward is easier to do when our suffering is acknowledged, not just by others, but by ourselves.
4-Name the top 3 goals you achieved?
1. Getting my Ph.D.
2. Becoming a parent and partner.
3. Having a career consistent with my values.
5-What inspired you to reach your goals? I was an emancipated minor at 16 y.o. and I knew I had to get an education to survive. As the daughter of a mother who was a single-parent, an immigrant and who struggled with her mental health, I didn’t have someone to show me the way or catch me if I fell. I stayed away from drugs and alcohol for fear of what they would do to my goals. School and school-related activities were my focus throughout middle school and high school. I was proud to be a nerd and surrounded myself with people who also took school seriously. I am grateful for their support and encouragement throughout my journey. I also learned how to expand my family. I spent holidays and celebrated birthdays and graduations with the teachers, godparents, and classmates that traveled the journey with me. Seeing their pride in me, filled me with joy and a sense of accomplishment.
6-How did you overcome obstacles to reaching your goals? As corny as it sounds, I remember thinking that failure was not a luxury I could afford. There was no Plan B. Once I set my mind to accomplishing something, I know I will get to the other side.
7-How do you keep your inspiration from decreasing? I stay inspired by my values. I strive for social justice, authenticity, and growth-fostering relationships. I aim to increase awareness of power and privilege and their impact on the continued oppression of marginalized communities. I take pride in bearing witness to my client’s emotional journeys and feel honored to be in their presence. Most importantly, I aim to be there to support others through difficult times because that is the greatest gift I’ve ever received.
To learn more about psychologist visit https://learn.org/articles/What_Does_a_Clinical_Psychologist_Do.html
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This editorial is near and dear to my heart. Some of the challenges Dr. Sheila Graham shared is what I experienced. I also was emancipated at 16 years old. I am still working towards reaching my goals. It is my hope to one day share a story of my success with others as you have done! Thank you.