My Biggest Take Away From Earning a Psychology Degree

I’ve always been fascinated by the mind. From growing up watching Criminal Minds and wanting to be in the BAU to endless true crime documentaries, I was constantly trying to understand the inner workings of the most twisted minds. Why? For the longest time, I didn’t know, but a book I read recently put it all into perspective (TY Book of the Month). I’ve spent my life obsessed with unpacking broken minds in an attempt to understand my own.

I became a psychotherapist because I was fucked up. That’s the truth-though… The motivation was purely selfish. I was on a quest to help myself. I believe the same is true for most people who go into mental health. We are drawn to this profession because we are damaged – we study psychology to heal ourselves. Whether we are prepared to admit this or not.

THE SILENT PATIENT by Alex Michaelides

Now, don’t be alarmed. I’m not some psychopath out for blood. My affinity for the mind has been a way for me to come to terms with my own brokenness. As humans, we are drawn to tragedy. It’s a form of reassurance. You see tragedy and you’re grateful it’s not yours; that you are safe from that state of pain and suffering. For me, plunging deep into the darkest minds and the saddest news stories was a form of reassurance. It let me know that although I was often depressed and anxious beyond function, at least I wasn’t THAT broken. At least I had my head screwed on tight enough that I’m wasn’t running my car off a bridge or trying to blow up a gas station. As morbid and insensitive as that sounds, it’s the truth – my truth.  

So naturally, after realizing that the BAU is nothing like how it’s presented on TV and Agent Morgan isn’t real 💔, I decided to pursue a degree in psychology.

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So you ask: After four years of learning some of the most fascinating theories, did majoring in psychology help me cure all the madness in my head? No. There is no cure for the madness in any of our heads. There are only steps we can take to ease the symptoms, and majoring in psychology did just that. It helped inspire me towards a path of healing. It made feel okay about who I was and the mental struggles I face daily. I helped me understand my mind, and why I feel the way I feel when I feel the way I feel.

Of all the things I learned, there’s one thing that I credit with helping build the foundations in me that encourage my daily pursuit of mental wellness, and oddly enough I didn’t learn it in class.

I had a roommate who was also a psych major and was probably just as obsessed with the mind as I was. We would constantly geek out over things we learned in class, and eventually turned the theories we learned into little inside jokes – pointing them out whenever we observed them in our daily lives. F**king dorks, I know. One day she came home and said she learned about this theory known as Cognitive Reappraisal. It sounds really complex and slightly annoying, but it’s actually really simple.

Cognitive reappraisal is an emotion regulation strategy that involves changing the trajectory of an emotional response by reinterpreting the meaning of the emotional stimulus. This process involves two parts: a) recognition of one’s negative response and b) reinterpretation of the situation to either reduce the severity of the negative response or exchange the negative attitude for a more positive attitude.

WIKIPEDIA

Essentially, Cognitive Reappraisal is a fancy way of explaining how to find a silver lining. You take a bad situation that’s causing you stress, anger or fear, and you flip your perspective. You ask yourself: What are the positive takeaways from this? How can I see the best in this situation?

This quickly became an inside joke amongst the girls in the house. Whenever we were presented with a shitty situation and started to go down a path of negativity, one of us would snap and point at the other and say “Hey! Reappraise!” We would then quickly try to pull out all the positives we could. Most of the time it was silly things that were probably a stretch, but it made us laugh and helped us move past whatever anger or frustration we were feeling at the moment.

Andi and I circa 2017

What started out as a little inside joke, eventually became an essential tool in helping me manage my anxiety and depression. Whenever I would start spewing negativity into the world, I would picture that finger pointed directly at me and Andi’s voice saying “REAPPRAISE!”

Now, I’m not saying it was perfect. I didn’t kick my mental health issues to the curb with a couple of reappraisals. I’m only human and there were more than a handful of times when shouting reappraise inside my head didn’t work. Like I said, there is no cure – only healing and recovery. I’m also not saying you should brush off every negative experience with a quick reappraisal. You and I both know that I’m a firm believer in embracing both positive and negative emotions, but there’s a difference between experiencing negative emotions and having a negative attitude. Negative emotions come whether you want them to or not, but your attitude towards them is something you have control over. You can choose to find the silver lining in whatever adversity you’re facing. You can choose to change your attitude and alleviate your negative emotions. That is what it means to “REAPPRAISE”.

So there you have it – my biggest takeaway from earning a psychology degree. I’m still an emotional mess screaming “reappraise, dammit” at myself in the bathroom mirror, but I’ve developed an understanding of why I am the way I am and discovered ways to be at peace with who that is!


Disclaimer: I am not a licensed medical professional. My advice comes from personal research and experience. If you are looking to make any major changes or need medical advice, please consult your doctor.

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