So today marked the first day of my PhD experience (in Marriage and Family Therapy at BYU). It felt like a pretty big deal even though all we did was sit through a few meetings and get oriented. But I'm starting a PhD! How did I get here? I never thought I'd be pursuing a doctorate. A masters felt like more of a possibility my whole life, but a PhD? That was never for me. Turns out I really like school, and I especially like school when it's about mental health and how to be a more effective therapist. So here I am.
I'll be honest, the entire process of applying for the PhD and getting accepted has felt a little automatic and mindless. I haven't felt a very strong push for what exactly I want to do once I get in to the PhD, I've just gone through the motions to get here. All summer I had conversations with myself and Dave that went something like this:
"Is this really what I want to do? I don't want to do this because it's some goal I feel like I need to achieve to become a complete person. I want to do it for the right reasons."
"What are the right reasons?"
"Well, I think the wrong reason would be to boost my self-esteem, or to convince myself (or anyone else) that I'm good enough and worthy of love. But if I don't want to become a professor, why am I doing a PhD program?"
And the conversation would end there--never resolved. Eventually I got to a place where I was about 95% confident that this program wasn't about convincing myself that I'm enough, but I still wasn't exactly sure why I felt like I should do it. Then about a month ago I gave a lesson in our church (a ward of young single adults) all about pornography and the atonement and how shame gets in the way of healing and progressing and what pornography addiction is really about--how it's emotional, not sexual, and how there is hope, etc. It was one of the most powerful lessons of my life--not because the lesson was particularly powerful (although I think it was for some people), but because it reminded me of exactly what I'm passionate about and it became very clear to me what I need to do in the PhD program.
Dave reminded me that night that of all the clinical populations I've worked with, pornography users are the ones that I consistently maintain hope for, which is unique because most therapists feel more hopeless with pornography than other issues. I think as a church and mental health community, we don't understand the issue of pornography addiction as fully as we need to, and as it stands, we don't have treatments that work. We have treatments that can make improvements, but we're missing something. People who really struggle with a pornography addiction have usually seen multiple therapists and each one has tried something different--usually to no avail--and most of them have ignored trauma and emotional regulation as anything worthy of attention.
I want to work towards figuring out what we're missing about pornography addiction--particularly in the LDS culture where we're ridden with shame about it. I'm nervous because it's going to make for a tough dissertation, and a heavy topic of study, but I'm determined to do my best to help our community figure out how to help couples and individuals whose lives are being ruined by porn. I'm feeling pretty energized and excited about the program now because I feel very very directed by God in this feat, and I think He'll direct me where I need to go with this over the next 3 years. I've have a fantastic mentor who's supportive and happy to help me find the answers I'm looking for, which is not always a given in a PhD program, so I feel blessed and grateful for him.
All in all, I'm relieved to feel like I finally have a direction for my program and confident that I'm going the right way (at least for now, you never know where Heavenly Father will lead you, right?). We'll see how long this energy lasts, since this is all pre-homework, research, and stats classes...but at least for now, I'm feeling like I finally know why I'm here and what I need to work towards for the next 3 years. Wish me luck!