Tia Rodriguez is a coffee-lovin’, “Gilmore Girls” watchin’ mother of three who is also a graduate student working towards a master’s degree in clinical counseling with the ultimate goal of becoming a mental health counselor.
Tia began her college career studying psychology because she wanted to help people who struggle with mental health issues.
“I got my undergrad in psychology because I like studying the brain and why people do the things they do [and] what motivates behavior,” Tia says.
Like most medical fields, many routes are available to students entering the psychology field, including research, psychology, therapy and counseling. Tia’s goal is to work as a mental health counselor in a clinic with an emphasis on psychotic disorders.
“I didn’t want to be in a lab all day and put probes on people’s heads,” Tia says. “I wanted a more humanistic approach: talking; being close and intimate; really getting to know that person, what their lives are like, who they are and why they came to me; [and] really changing lives.”
Initially, Tia wanted to focus on patients with eating disorders because of her personal experiences. Tia almost went down the path of having an eating disorder during high school, but she was able to pull herself out. As a result, Tia would like to bring more awareness to the issue.
“There’s not a lot of people that talk about it,” Tia says. “That’s not something people really address: what goes into having that and why people go through that.”
However, no clinics in her area concentrate on this issue, so she is hoping future opportunities will guide her down the right career path for her.
While working towards her bachelor’s degree, Tia and her husband also worked on growing their family. After five years as a part-time student, Tia completed her bachelor’s degree and began working towards her master’s as a full-time student. She has been in graduate school for the past two years and has one year remaining.
Graduate school has brought its fair share of challenges for Tia. Still, she has had fantastic college professors who provide their students with highly beneficial insight into the field.
“I’ve had some great professors who have implemented their real-life stories into the lessons,” Tia says. “They are all counselors, and most of them have a private practice. They’re always telling us their personal experiences without going into details to protect privacy. They tell you what it’s like out there.”
Tia’s substance abuse professor had a significant impact on her.
“My substance abuse professor works mainly with the homeless and LGBTQ communities and those with substance abuse problems,” Tia says. “I got the most out of his class because he was so honest. He helped change my mindset about people on drugs or addicted to alcohol.
“Don’t think of a druggie as somebody who’s a bum or living on the streets. No — there’s a reason why. Everyone has a reason for what they do. And they’re here to get help.”
Tia’s initial judgmental thought pattern stemmed from her childhood because her father died from alcoholism when she was a child.
“As a kid, I didn’t know what was going on,” Tia says. “But now I’m more aware, so I wonder what he was going through. No one talked about it. No one reached out for help. If someone had reached out, he might still be here.
“Putting a label on someone, an alcoholic. My professor changed that whole mindset for me. Everyone goes through their own problems. We don’t know why they started doing drugs or something like that. We need to know the whole person. That’s not all of who they are.”
Starting in the psychology field, Tia does have a few concerns.
“I wear my heart on my sleeve,” Tia says. “I’m concerned about separating my feelings and not projecting them. It’s all about the client, but still, you have to be empathetic and caring. What if I take all that home with me and it starts affecting me? Especially if I have a client that’s suicidal and I hear that they ended their life. Will I take that personally? Is there something more I could have done? That’s where I’m going to struggle.”
Currently, Tia is finishing her final class before starting her first internship. Tia is also studying for the National Counselor Examination licensing exam — a test that takes more than three hours to complete and consists of 200 questions. She plans to take the exam in October.
Of all the courses Tia has taken, she enjoyed the classes that focused on abnormal behavior and substance abuse the most, as well as the course about wellness for counselors, a new class focusing on the mental health of counselors.
Time management and self-care were the primary obstacles Tia has faced as she completes her degree.
“Until maybe last year, I didn’t practice my own self-care,” Tia says. “I was too busy taking care of everybody else. I figured if I had time to sit, then I have time to do a load of laundry or something like that.
“I started going downhill. I had to go into therapy and get a counselor for myself. It was just too much. Now I know self-care is important — it’s not selfish. You don’t have to give yourself permission to just sit down. Now, that’s something I practice every day.
“How can you take care of other people if you can’t take care of yourself? What good is that to your client?”
Tia, who has been a mother for 13 years, views her role as a mother as part of her purpose.
“I would feel so empty if I didn’t have them in my life,” Tia says. “I wanted to be a mother first. They give me something to strive for. I want them to be proud of me.”
What Tia loves most about being a mom is “the little things: when they laugh, when they experience something new and seeing that joy on their face.”
Tia takes great pride and joy in being a mother to her children, but it is as challenging as it is rewarding.
“When you become a parent, nobody gives you an instruction manual,” Tia says. “You’re just thrown in the lion’s den.
“It’s a full-time job for the rest of your life, 24/7 you don’t get a break. I’m a mother who will always worry if I’m doing it right. Should I be doing something better? But when you see them accomplish something or have confidence in themselves, you know you are having an impact.”
Throughout Tia’s struggles in college and momming, her primary source of inspiration is her desire to succeed and positive affirmation from others.
“A few times when I thought, ‘I can’t do this. I just want to quit. This is too hard,’” Tia says. “I tell myself, ‘No, you’ve gotten this far. You’re almost there at the finish line.'”
Right now, Tia is focused on completing internships and passing her licensing exam. Still, she looks forward to time with her family as well, such as her family’s first Disney cruise and renewing her wedding vows while surrounded by her children.
For other women looking to become clinical counselors, Tia has this advice: “It’s important not to give your whole self up. Otherwise, you will lose yourself. Take time to practice self-care and wellness because you matter too.”
Check out Tia on Instagram!