Ask Dr. P. | Should I see a psychologist / counselor?

Ask Dr. P.


How do I know when I should speak with a psychologist / counselor?


In short, anytime you need help with your feelings and/or your behavior.


Any of these signs is a good reason for reaching out to a professional:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or anxious a lot of the time.

  • Having trouble concentrating on schoolwork, having difficulty with eating or sleeping, or very worried about a personal problem.

  • Experiencing uncontrolled bouts of crying, unexplained periods of sadness, or crying for no reason. These behaviors are signs of depression that often require professional assistance.

  • Getting angry easily or being hostile to your friends or family.

  • Drinking heavily or using drugs regularly.

  • Feeling overwhelmed by studying. Study skill assistance, that is, help with time management (how much to study and when), how to take notes, how to take tests, and how to read a textbook, may be sought at a university counseling center.

  • If a roommate or teacher recommends it. Often, a respected friend or mentor sees things in us that we are not aware of.


Seeking professional help is one of the smartest things you can do.

It doesn’t mean you are crazy, weird, or immature, but just plain wise. If you lived in New York City, for example, seeking professional assistance would be a sign of your sophistication, not mental instability. I say that because attitudes about seeing a psychologist or a counselor vary depending on where you live and on your family’s cultural values. Regardless of geographical or familial attitudes, seeking professional help is a very worthwhile pursuit. 

Talking to a counselor is one way of sorting out your problems and gaining a new perspective. Very often, the very act of talking to an objective person (a sounding board) reduces some of the tension and you can gain clarity.

When problems overwhelm us, they are difficult to see clearly.

The problem feels lost in a fog or a sea of contradictions and seems unsolvable, when realistically the problem needs to be reframed or thought about differently so it can be approached more rationally. 

For example, if you are anxious about failing a course, the anxiety about failing can be overwhelming and blind you to some productive solutions, such as talking to the instructor about your difficulties with the material, getting a tutor, or dropping the course before the deadline. Similarly, if you are having roommate problems, learning how to communicate more clearly without defensiveness can be very helpful. Communication strategies can make the difference between ongoing conflict and peaceful resolutions.


Going to talk to a psychologist/counselor is almost never a mistake.

At the very least, it will be a new experience. At the most, it will be a life-changing event. If your problem is minor, it will be solved quickly. If more major, it will take more time and persistence. Know that all the material from counseling is confidential and is not available to the rest of the university, unless you give permission to release any of it.

The very act of going to see someone for help is a sign of your courage and determination to grow and change in positive ways.

Being “open” versus “closed” to new experiences is a positive personality trait that has been correlated with all sorts of other positive outcomes, such as creativity, friendliness, and overall success in life, so developing openness is decidedly worthwhile.


I’m Dr. Geraldine K. Piorkowski, a clinical psychologist who has been practicing psychology in a variety of settings for over 50 years. Throughout the 80s and 90s, I was the Director of two University Counseling Centers (Roosevelt University, Chicago; and the University of Illinois at Chicago), where I worked with college students, many of whom were the first in their families to go to college.

In addition to my work in university counseling centers, I was Chair of the Psychology Department at Roosevelt University, and Supervising Psychologist in several medical schools, psychiatric hospitals, and mental health clinics over the years. I am also the author of two books on romantic love; Too Close for Comfort: Exploring the Risks of Intimacy; and Adult Children of Divorce: Confused Love Seekers. Since leaving the university setting in 2001, I have been in private practice seeing clients, most of whom are successful professionals but are struggling with some aspect of their personal lives.

I was the first in my family to go to college.

A new Ask Dr. P. column will be published every Wednesday


Hello 2018. Goodbye Excess Baggage.


The turn of the calendar offers an important reminder that the time we have to achieve our goals is limited. Like a hot air balloon, if we're going to soar higher, we’ll have to drop a few sandbags.

We have to make space for the things we want.

Between college, work, family, and social life, college students have a lot going on. Challenges in these areas will undoubtedly come up for all college students, but more complex and demanding situations can arise for first generation college students.


We have to be prepared for whatever life throws our way.

Excess baggage works against your ambitions. It can be found in our physical things, environment, habits, and even people close to us. It’s that pile of clutter on your bedroom floor, your poor habit of oversleeping your alarm clock six days out of seven, and that friend or family member who discourages you from achieving your goals.

Let go in your own way.

Getting rid of excess baggage looks different for different situations. At times, it can be more figurative than literal. That family member who always has something negative to say will always be family, but you have the power to decide whether or not you’ll let it affect you emotionally. The type of baggage you carry with you will also affect how you’re able to move on. For example, a poor habit of waking up late may respond well to a new alarm clock, determination and a habit tracker, while letting go of other habits or feelings can be a lifelong process and may even require the help of a therapist.


Start fresh in 2018 by asking,
what can i let go of right now?

Let go of dead weight and position yourself to achieve your goals with these 3 steps -



Prepare to detox by visualizing your goals and writing them down. Keep things simple by honing your goals down to your top 3-5 priorities for the year, then put a huge star next to the one that’s most important to you. Take some time to reflect on your goals. Why are they important to you? What does your ideal future look like? How do you feel?



Uncover roadblocks that might get in the way of your aspirations. For items within each category listed below, ask two questions: (1) Will this help me achieve my goals? (2) Will this be present in the life of my dreams?



Clothes, books, papers, knick-knacks, promotional items, photos, office supplies, and the list goes on. Keep what you use, purge what you don’t. The real test? Marie Kondo, author of The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, suggests you only keep things that spark joy. However, don’t throw away your textbook for this semester’s Anthropology class just because it doesn’t bring you joy! Things that serve a function and help you achieve your goals should be kept… until the last day of class :)



Think about your home environment and how it makes you feel. Consider your bedroom, workspace, kitchen, living room, bathroom, and outdoor areas. How do you want to feel in those settings, and what can you change to make them better? Are you oversleeping because your curtains are black? Upgrade to a lighter set that lets the morning sunlight in. Does your roommate play loud music late at night? Talk with them about it. Is that pile of clutter present in the life of your dreams? Say farewell.



Your habits build your life. Whether or not you’re successful in reaching your goals depends on your habits. What do your daily habits look like right now, from the moment you wake up to the second you fall asleep? What’s going well or not going well? What can you do (or not do) everyday that will set you up for success? Don’t forget to take care of yourself by building in habits like eating well, exercising, and getting 8+ hours of sleep. Looking for a way to hold yourself accountable? Download a habit tracker app or habit tracker PDF.



Will your current job help you achieve your goals? Sometimes a job is functional, where the money is a great fit but the work doesn’t align with your future career. Other times, the skills you gain outpace compensation by a long shot. Many people want the perfect fit between money and a job they love, but here’s a reality check - it’s a long-term goal that you’ll spend much of your career working toward. You’ll likely compromise on money and experience at different points throughout your life. Not getting either? It might be time to start looking into other options.



Warm-up’s over. Hands down, this category is the most important but can be the most difficult to tackle, especially when it comes to family and friends. Is anyone in your life continuously passive aggressive, negative, or mean? Do they only act in their self-interest? You won’t be able to flourish if you give them real estate in your head. If it’s a friend, you might reconsider the relationship. If it’s a family member you love, consider where they’re coming from. Listen. You’ll probably find that they have unresolved pain, fear, or insecurity in their own life. Once you understand their perspective, you’ll be better positioned to create some emotional distance. Strengthen your support network by surrounding yourself with people who are supportive of you and your life goals.

Note: Letting go of relationships can be even harder if you don’t have a strong base of people to begin with. If you keep following your goals, trying new things, and putting yourself out there, you’ll find your people. Prepare now by making a list of the qualities you’re looking for in friends. This will help you subconsciously keep an eye out for new people who meet your criteria.



Love the people and things that have helped you get this far. Take the time to accept that circumstances change. Let go of the things that no longer serve you. Make the physical, mental, and emotional space you need to grow so you can set yourself up for success. No one else is going to do it for you.



Don’t wait until next January to run through this process again! Make an appointment to have a quarterly or biannual meeting with yourself to evaluate what’s helping you and what’s hurting you. Things change. Interests change. Ambitions change. Life circumstances change.

Remember to stay in the present. It’s easy to get caught up in the exciting future you have planned, but don’t forget to be grateful for where you are now. Life is a journey. By the time you “arrive,” you may not even realize it; you’ll be working on even loftier goals :)


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective


End Your Day with this Simple Self-Reflection

by Andrew P. Minigan

Ralph Waldo Emerson captured well the importance of personal growth and not sweating or overanalyzing the small stuff when he wrote,

"Finish every day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities, no doubt crept in. Forget them as soon as you can, tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely, with too high a spirit to be cumbered with your old nonsense."

- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Each and every day will come with “blunders and absurdities” of all shapes and sizes, and there is value in thinking through them, processing them, and if possible, taking a step forward.

What is something you’d keep from your day - a highlight?

What is something you’d throw away - a difficult moment?

These are two questions I have posed to myself, friends, roommates, and significant others for the past five years. In fact, I have every day’s “keep” and “throw” over the span of a couple years documented in a journal. These questions have served as a way for me to make self-reflection a habit—to think on the day’s events as I decompress and prepare to move onward to the day ahead.

“Keeps” and “throws” began on a whim. One Sunday night during my sophomore year at the University of New Hampshire, my roommates and I reflected on our keeps and throws from the weekend. It became a Sunday tradition, and before I knew it, even the more reluctant roommate (looking at you, Luke) chimed in with something he would keep, and something that he was eager to learn and grow from. Nothing was too insignificant or heavy for the discussion, and it was a space for all of us to talk about our inner rumblings.

Years removed from my cozy Durham digs, I now continue my “keep and throw” practice for a few minutes every night, either talking through them with my girlfriend, texting a friend, or jotting them down in my journal before bed.


The Benefits of Self-Reflection

Self-reflection, like ending one’s day thinking about the day’s events —the good, the bad, the ugly— can be a simple yet extremely powerful practice. Pausing for reflection helps you make meaning of experiences and engage in perspective-taking. It can be restorative for you to revisit moments with a clearer mind and some distance. (Perhaps that person who bumped into you on the way to class was having just as lousy of a day as you.) Through self-reflection and journaling, I’ve learned how to grow from both my keeps and my throws. Growing from throws is very different than wallowing in them; it’s productive.

Be Deliberate

Writing in a journal isn’t a silver bullet, and one reflective practice doesn’t transform your well-being overnight, but reflective practices should be deliberate. Your days in college can be hectic and over-scheduled, and it’s easy to postpone things and not carve out time for yourself. By ending each day with my “keep and throw” reflection, I built a practice that was enjoyable, didn’t take up too much time, and could be done collaboratively or on my own. I was able to be intentional about my reflection, and deliberate practice led to routine. I now regularly reflect on my own life, my relationships, my work, and my growth. I think through what I would do differently in certain situations, what I understand better than I did previously, and what was beyond my control. As a result, I think I’ve become a more thoughtful and patient person.

Develop Your Own Simple Self-Reflection

What is something that you could do to integrate space and time for simple self-reflection in your life? What would you keep and throw from today?


Andrew P. Minigan writes on education, human development, and psychology. You can learn more about his work here and follow him on Twitter @AndrewRQI.


Self-Care During College: How To Take Care of Yourself


Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health.”

It’s easy to think of self-care as self-indulgent or selfish, but it's important for well-being. Self-care is not about indulgent purchases or extravagant self-pampering; it’s about taking care of yourself.

Taking care of your mind, body, and spirit will give you the energy you need to flourish, rather than scrape by on empty. When our energy drops, our health and well-being can suffer, which can affect other areas of our lives.

With a hectic college schedule, self-care can easily drop by the wayside. Make self-care a focal point of your daily and weekly routines by incorporating the following #selfcaretips.


10 tips for taking care of yourself during college


1. Sleep 7-8 hours per night


All-nighters are tempting, especially during midterms and finals, but avoid them at all costs. When you don’t give your body the rest it needs, your cells don’t have the chance to replenish their energy.


2. Drink water!


About 60% of your body is made up of water. Your body needs it to function at it’s best. Daily recommended water intake from the MayoClinic: 15.5 cups (3.7 liters) for men and 11.5 cups (2.7 liters) for women. That’s more than the previous recommendation of eight 8-ounce glasses of water per day!


3. Practice a daily routine


In college, your schedule is packed and new things can come up throughout the day. Establishing structure through a daily routine provides a sense of familiarity and comfort. It’s reassuring to know there are certain things you can expect throughout the day, especially when everything else can seem so hectic.

As a part of your weekly schedule, write down regular mealtimes (for example, breakfast at 7:30am, lunch at noon, snack at 4pm, dinner at 7pm) and regular sleep times (for example, 10pm - 6am). Take a shower first thing in the morning to help you wake up, and come up with a comforting bedtime ritual (maybe you read or journal for 20 minutes every night before you go to sleep). Stick to your daily routine as much as possible!


4. Eat well


Lean protein (chicken, turkey, tofu, beans and legumes), greens (kale, brussel sprouts, broccoli, spinach), veggies, and whole grains are where it’s at! We like chocolate cake, pizza, and cookies, too, and it’s so easy to reach for these things in times of stress! The purpose of eating is to nourish your body, so you have the energy you need to take on the world.

Also, try your best to avoid caffeine from coffee, tea, and soft drinks. We LOVE coffee, but caffeine can increase feelings of anxiety, including jitters and a racing pulse. For people predisposed to anxiety, these side effects can contribute to feelings of panic. It’s especially important to limit caffeine intake during midterms, finals, and on days you’ll be taking an exam or giving a presentation.


5. Get cardio exercise


Not to look good at the beach, but to feel well :D Heart-pumping cardio exercise (circuit training, jogging, running, cycling, etc.) has numerous benefits: it relieves stress, improves heart and brain health, decreases fatigue and depression, and helps you sleep better. Aim to get at least three 30- to 60-minute sessions in per week. There’s a reason it’s called a “runner’s high.”


6. Be social


Living in isolation from others can take away from your health and well-being. Humans are meant to live in communities. It’s easy to forget that when you have readings, papers, and problem sets on problem sets due. Fit in a social activity once per day, whether that’s grabbing coffee or lunch with a friend, attending an event on campus, or calling a friend or family member. For introverts, this might feel like it’s impeding on your “me time,” but you’ll be grateful you took the time to connect with others on a regular basis during your college years.


7. Help others


Care for yourself by caring for others. Life has greater meaning and purpose when you take the focus off of yourself and bring joy to someone else. Share a word of encouragement with a friend, say hi to your neighbor, volunteer at a local charity, help a classmate who is struggling in class, listen to a friend who is having a hard time, or cook dinner for your study group. Helping people will also improve your communication and leadership skills that will be valuable throughout your entire life.


8. Breathe mindfully


Practice one of the following techniques regularly. They’re also great for destressing in the moment.


9. Express gratitude


What are you grateful for? Expressing gratitude through your thoughts or a journal is scientifically proven to improve physical and psychological health, reduce aggression, improve sleep quality and self-esteem, and increase mental strength and resilience. Even during a challenging season of life, you can always find something to be grateful for, even if it’s really small. Need some inspiration? Check out this list of 100 things to be grateful for.


10. Spend time in nature


Restore your mind, body, and spirit by spending time in nature. Go for a walk or bike ride, take in the characteristics of the seasons, and breathe in the fresh air. Don’t have access to a park nearby? Buy a few small plants and spend time tending to them.


Incorporating these self-care tips into your daily and weekly schedules will help you live a balanced life, which will help you put your best foot forward in college. Remember, it takes time for changes to your routine to become a habit. Learning about and practicing self-care is a lifelong pursuit.


Did you find the info above helpful? Have additional questions?
Let us know in the comments below!

Can’t Focus at College? 5 Ways to Get Back on Track


I have SO MUCH STUFF going on between home and college, and I’m having a hard time focusing on my studies.

When I get to the library and sit down to study, I THINK ABOUT EVERYTHING BUT MY COURSEWORK. When I walk across campus, instead of mentally preparing for my next class, I think about things that are bothering me.

I feel like I’m drowning in my thoughts, and I’m worried it’s going to affect how well I do this semester. What do I do?


“Where focus goes, energy flows.” - Tony Robbins

Most college students have a hard time staying focused at one point or another, but it can be especially hard for students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds. Things going on at home might need your attention, or you might think they need your attention. On campus, maybe you’re stressed about an upcoming exam, finding a job, weekend plans, or who you’ll sit with at lunch.

There are hundreds of things that could take your attention away from your studies, but

Maintaining focus is a prerequisite for achieving your goals. When you lose focus, you lose the energy you need to nurture the momentum that will get you there.


What ifs, should haves, worries, fears, and negative self-talk are enemies of your goals. Ruminating on them is not only tiring, but it robs you of your focus.

The following tips are guaranteed to help you get a handle on your thoughts, renew your focus, and get back to your studies and #lifegoals.


5 ways to get focused and back to work:

1. Recognize that focus is a choice

Focus is a choice that you have to actively make day in and day out. Most of the time, it’s not going to happen naturally. Even if you wake up feeling focused and ready to concentrate on your work on Monday, there’s no guarantee you’ll wake up feeling the same way on Tuesday. Not to mention, you never know what could come your way midday. This means you have to decide to focus. Then, you have to make that decision over and over and over again. Water your decision on a regular basis and watch your focus grow.


2. Tap into the WHY behind your long-term goals

Think about what you want to achieve over the course of your life. Take a few minutes to run through this exercise: (1) Visualize your most important goal, (2) Think about why it’s important for you to achieve that goal, how you’ll feel once you get there, and how you’d feel if you didn’t make it. Tapping into the emotions behind long-term goals will give you the focus you need to surpass many of the challenges you encounter. Plan to run through this process on a daily basis for at least three - five minutes.


3. Get out of your head

When your thoughts are running a mile per minute, you can stop them in their tracks by getting out of your head and into your body. Exercise is a great way to get oxygen and feel good hormones flowing. For best results, go for 30-60 minutes of heart-pumping cardio at your campus gym, outdoors, or complete a workout on YouTube. A walk is another good option, even better if you incorporate a walking mindfulness meditation. If you’re in the library or a tight space (e.g., your dorm room and the weather is terrible), do some jumping jacks, stretch, or walk around a bit. The mind-body connection is real.


4. Come back to the present moment

Often when we can’t focus, we’re not truly in the present moment: we’re stuck in the past or anticipating what might happen in the future. Where are you right now? That’s where you need to be. Get there by taking a few minutes to center yourself. On a piece of paper or in a journal, write down a description of your environment, what you want to focus on, and why it’s important. Or, close your eyes and focus on your breath, noticing each inhale and exhale. Bringing awareness to your breath for as little as 15 seconds will bring you back to the present.


5. Take action right now

It’s easy to tell yourself “I can’t focus” as an excuse for not getting work done. Change your thought patterns now by getting started on the task at hand. Make mini goals in 5-minute increments. Start with easy tasks like opening your book, reviewing your notes, or taking a look at project instructions, then transition to 5-minute increments where you’re actually doing work. Once you start, you’ll find it’s not as hard as you thought it would be to get into a groove.


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective

Have other tips for getting focused?
Share with the community in the comments below!


"Am I Supposed To Be Here?" When You Feel Like An Impostor On Campus…


Everyone here seems smarter than me, and they’re so confident.

Did my university make a mistake?

Maybe they meant to send my acceptance letter to another person with the same name.

Did I just get lucky?

Maybe I’m fulfilling the university’s diversity quota.


Am I really [good / smart / confident] enough to be a student here?

As a college student, thoughts like these are not uncommon, especially in your first couple of years. For students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds, thoughts like these can seem particularly alienating. Am I the only one who feels this way? The answer is no!


There’s actually a name for feeling this kind of self-doubt. It’s called the imposter experience, or impostor syndrome, and it’s defined as “a false and sometimes crippling belief that one’s successes are the product of luck or fraud rather than skill” [1]. About 80 percent of people have the imposter experience at some point in their lives, according to social psychologist Amy Cuddy [2], which means you’re definitely not the only one who feels this way.

In this article, we run through five strategies you can use to get back on your feet.


How to overcome feeling like an impostor on campus:

1. Acknowledge Your Feelings

The first step in working through a challenge like this is to gain a full understanding of your feelings and why you’re experiencing them. It’s easy to dismiss feeling like an imposter as a fact (“I’m not as smart as my classmates”), rather than digging into the details. Take a minute to ask yourself why you feel this way and to reflect on the facts. You might think to yourself, “I’m not as smart as my classmates because [insert explanation here: my high school was terrible, I haven’t studied anthropology before, etc.],” but remember that you were accepted to college based on real measures of your past performance: academic scores, test scores, extracurriculars, community service, and past work experience. The facts don’t lie; you already passed the bar.


2. Remember What You’ve Already Accomplished in Life

Think back to your past performance. How did you get to where you are today? Reflect on your success and own it. Chances are, your greatest achievements were also some of the hardest to overcome. You might have doubted your ability to accomplish a particular task or goal when you first started, but you did it. By the end, you felt on top of the world. What strategies and values helped you get there? These are the same strategies and values that will serve you well as a college student.


3. Don’t Compare, Connect

When you find that little voice inside your head comparing you to that fellow classmate across the room, I hope you remember these three words: don’t compare, connect.
— Dean Michael D. Smith, Harvard College

It’s easy to fall into the trap of comparing yourself to classmates. You might think to yourself, “WOW, that person… 
...dresses like they just came from a photoshoot.”
...speaks so well.” so well-traveled.”
...already started a nonprofit organization.”
…[insert other amazing feat here].”

Your brain might follow that up with, “MAN, I…
...dress like a slob.”
...speak like a mouse.”
...have never been to another state, let alone another country.”
...didn’t even do all my homework in high school.”
…[insert other potentially embarrassing thing here].”

Comparing yourself to others can cause you to feel bad about yourself and your accomplishments. What many students don’t realize in that moment: often times, the classmate they’re comparing themselves to has had similar thoughts, either in this class or another class. It’s human nature, and it’s not limited to students who are the first in their family to go to college or from limited-income backgrounds.

Comparing yourself to classmates can also make you hesitant to talk to those individuals you put on a pedestal. However, one of the greatest opportunities that college brings is the ability to connect with fellow students from diverse backgrounds. Take time to say hi, connect over something in the class (“Did you see the salad in Professor X’s teeth?!”), ask them what they’re studying or what they like to do for fun. You may be surprised to find you have more in common with them than you thought. In the words of Michael D. Smith, “Don’t compare, connect” [3].

Finally, if you feel like some of your comparisons are directly related to being the first in your family to go to college or from a limited-income background, remember that you’re not the only one with a background like yours and that other first generation college students on campus may feel the same way. It can be beneficial to talk through your feelings with friends on campus who come from backgrounds like yours to know that you’re not alone. 

Don’t know other first generation or limited-income college students on your campus? Join the Propeller Collective Community, a private Facebook group.

4. See the Challenge as an Opportunity

Things on campus that didn’t seem like a big deal before can start to feel threatening when you experience doubt about your abilities. Understand that you might have a harder time asking for help when you need it or experience a stronger desire to strive for perfection. However, this is an opportunity for you to continue improving your skills and understanding of yourself. Recall point #2 above: based on what you’ve already accomplished in life, you already have the tools you need to take this new challenge head on.


5. Be Thankful for Where You’ve Been and Where You’re Going

Expressing gratitude is one of the best ways to overcome negative thoughts like those that come with self-doubt. Take a couple minutes to reflect on what you’re grateful for, write it down, and think about why you’re grateful for that particular thing or experience. You can do this right in the moment when you start to feel negative feelings creep up to keep negative thoughts at bay. Doing it on a regular basis first thing in the morning or right before bed is also a great way to start or end your day on a positive note.


Kori Crockett
CEO, Propeller Collective

Have other tips about how to get over feeling like an impostor on campus?
Share in the comments below.


De-Stress with Mindfulness


College can be stressful at times, even more so as a first gen or limited-income college student. It can be a challenge to stay on top of every aspect of your life.

Heather, a mindfulness facilitator and certified yoga instructor, will take you through a mindful breathing and visualization exercise so you can become more present in the moment. Take this opportunity to de-stress and relax. ⛱

After watching, you’ll be able to take on college with increased determination and a calmer mindset. 💪  🌈  😎