The day I remember most was the day I was finally accepted into graduate school. I had been rejected from two schools and was devastated thinking “I’m never going to get in.” I recall speaking with my father through tears of frustration, anxiety and fear, he reminded me of the movie Rudy and how the main character never gave up. Of course, that made me cry even more because that was a movie my Dad and I loved. Well fast forward — I was finally accepted into graduate school at California State University Northridge. I felt the most relief I ever felt in my life. I think I read the email several more times to just triple and quadruple check that I really got in.
Once graduate school started, I had another “wake up “moment. This stuff was really, really hard. I thought I was pretty smart. With my first degree was in environmental science and biology, I thought this would be a piece of cake. This thought couldn’t have been further from the truth. Fortunately, I stumbled upon an incredible study partner who was, in my opinion, way smarter than me. To be honest, I felt everyone in my program was. The coursework, the projects, the exams — they presented the most rigorous academic schedule I had ever encountered. I thought “let me just get through this and my clinical practicums will be a piece of cake. Once again, this was a misguided thought.
I had never really worked with children before and my first practicum was at a private practice working with kiddos from ages 2-16. Based on what I had learned in text books and by observing other clinicians, I thought this meant I had an easy road was ahead of me. I had this notion that all I had to do was play with these cute kids and all would be well. Umm, not so much. When I first met my supervisor, she explained to me that she was basically just going to throw me right into the mix of things because that is how I was going to learn. My first “client” was a little girl who had delayed speech. I was advised to make sure to target her goals and use parallel talk and play therapy. I sat down next to the little girl and was planning on playing with her. However, every time I came near her… she ran away. Meanwhile, I am being observed by her Mom as well as my supervisor. The session was approximately 45 minutes. I would easily say that 43 of the 45 minutes was me sweating, literally and figuratively trying to figure out how I was going to get this little girl to interact with me. What was wrong? My supervisor mentioned that my client was able to pick up on my nerves and the fact that I was new. This two and a half year old was basically “working me”. How is that possible? After all I just finished a year of graduate school and I was on my way to being an expert, right? Wrong. I soon found out there is an art form to working with kids, which of course I am still working on.
Once this practicum ended, I felt like I knew less than I did before I started. My next practicum was in an elementary school. I would see approximately 17 children throughout each day, typically in small groups. I had to plan the lesson for each group, submit it to my supervisor and implement it in these back-to-back groups. These children were pretty active kids that somehow picked up on me being a newbie. My supervisor advised me that I needed to get more creative. I did my best to be more imaginative but was told I still need to push the creativity in my lesson plans. I felt as though I was always a step behind. But, somehow I made it through this practicum and moved onto the next one. This was another practicum in a school setting. Some of my clients were more severe at this site. I recall thinking this should be easier, now it was time to refine what I was doing, right? Wrong again! My supervisor had to constantly remind me to target the goals. I was occasionally sidetracked (ok more than occasionally) by trying to keep the kids engaged. I would try and do fun activities, unfortunately I wasn’t always targeting the goals. So now I am supposed to be creative, keep the kids engaged, compliant, target the goals AND keep data. Seriously, how is this even possible?
I finally decided to tackle a marble project I found on Pinterest. I went to the local Do It Yourself Center and talked the employee into helping me put it together. The game involved fastening four pieces of wood together in a square shape and carving holes on one side for marbles to pass through. Once completed, I offered the kind employee a tip, which he refused, and brought the box home to try out. I had purchased marbles and slid one across the table and to my surprise the holes weren’t big enough! Ughh! Thankfully, I am friends with a lovely couple Ruthie and Dave. Dave fixed the marble game and took it to a whole other level and painted a monster’s face on it and made the openings look like teeth. The kids LLLOOOVED it. I left it with my supervisor and she still uses it to this day.
Only one more practicum and I am done. There was only one problem, I had to find an adult practicum and I knew I wouldn’t be able to work. I decided that I was going to have to temporarily move back to the Jersey Shore to be specific, with my parents. I started making my calls and was either rejected or ignored. On one call, I quickly did my elevator pitch and begged for an opportunity and the first thing she said was “how did you get this number?” I explained to her that after numerous calls I was told to call this number. She explained that she was the President of the company I was calling, which handled hundreds of long-term care facilities and I shouldn’t be calling her. I almost hung up my nerves were so raw but I continued listening. She then said “Ok, I’m going to help you.” She offered me a full-time practicum within 30 minutes of my parents’ home.
This practicum was an entirely different experience. My first client was a man who had recently had a stroke, was unable to communicate and only understood URDU. I had to swab his mouth and he hadn’t been able to brush his teeth in days. I tried not to let my emotions overtake me. My supervisor quickly picked up on my sensitivity to everything and basically told me, “You are here for the patients, getting emotional is not helping them, remember that and keep it together.” I felt like I was working in an emergency room with zero skills and was constantly reminded that what I was doing was serious and I could possibly jeopardize my patients’ lives if I wasn’t careful. I made A LOT of mistakes. Fortunately for me, none were life threatening.
My FAVORITE memory was with one of my patients who was diagnosed with Aphasia. He was unable to form coherent sentences and could only say, “Ba bum bum bum ba bum” with appropriate cadence and intonation… just not meaningful words. My client and I did Melodic Intonation Therapy (MIT) on a daily basis. He loved Motown so I always made sure my phone was ready to go with the music he loved. We would roll down the hallways to the therapy room singing “since we been together” we sounded great together. Much of the staff in the building would join in when they saw us. It was a daily ritual that I absolutely LOVED.
After a few weeks of MIT, my client was improving. It was the most amazing thing I had experienced with any of my practicums. I think of him often, I wanted to continue working with him. I was really attached to him and his progress and ultimately, the goal of getting his voice back. Unfortunately, the practicum was over and I had to head back to California to finish grad school, comps and finally the Praxis. This portion of my schooling is a whole other story.
In conclusion, I can honestly say that although my practicums had their ups and downs —I wouldn’t trade any of my experiences. I learned and grew more than I could have ever known or imagined. I realized that treating patients of different ages takes totally different and unique skill sets. All of my practicum environments were rewarding and challenging in their own way. By reading my story, I hope you realize that the efforts to reach your goals can be daunting, but know that your classmates are facing similar struggles and you’re not alone. In addition, remember that all your hard work and determination will pay off in the end.