Roller Coastin’ It: Peaks & Troughs

As I am in the last year of my graduate program, and in the throws of my concentration field practicum, I am recognizing some familiar feelings from my foundational practicum.   Have you ever been on a roller coaster? The two experiences are very similar; it is a great analogy, actually. Are you familiar with feelings of curiosity and expectation, with a smidgeon of fear, while you are waiting in the roller coaster line? Then you get to the front of the line, are led to your seat, and you buckle up; you feel the jerky movements before the coaster takes off and there is no turning back at this point – feelings of excitement, amazement, tons of energy, right? Ascending up to the peak is all gravy; you get to check out the scenery, the wind feels nice on your face, and your breathing is manageable. You hit the peak and say, “oh, snap!”. Next thing you know, you can’t breath, everything is whizzing by, and your adrenaline is through the roof. Actually, your parasympathetic nervous system got up and walked out the door! The mellowing out of the trough and climbing of the next ascension repeats itself.

I liken this entire experience to our field practicum – only there is not much to learn from an actual roller coaster ride. We may learn to eat or scream less the next time we ride; but we don’t learn valuable lessons like how to communicate more effectively, how to have true compassion, understanding the importance of dignity, and how to practice moral courage — these are but a few of the lessons we learn in our practicum as the world whizzes by. When we hit that trough, there is relief, reflection, and much gratitude. On our next ascension, we are yet again amazed by all the new learning opportunities still to be had — because, seriously, we thought we learned everything there was to learn in the first three months of our practicum. Right. Then, we hit another peak; whizzing is followed. Now, we are not just learning rote procedures but applying those clinical skills we have learned — like empathy, authenticity, and avoiding stacked questions (really, I’m not supposed to ask three questions in a row?). Also, we are learning how to be more comfortable with the unknown.

Common CycleWhen I was an AmeriCorps VISTA, I had similar experiences. It was expected, actually. So much so that an illustrative graph was used to represent the cycle of a VISTA service term. I adapted that drawing to represent “The Common Cycle of a Field Placement” (Washington, D.C.: Author). In many ways, it illustrates the roller coaster ride aforementioned. Currently, I am ascending as I am preparing my first full therapeutic group intervention on Core Mindfulness with individuals who are in active recovery from long-term addiction. I am thinking about what mindfulness means to and for me, reading the literature, thinking of interactive ways to gift the information to the group.   When I hit that peak (ahem, next week), I will look at the landscape and say “oh, snap!” and relish in all of the lessons I will learn as the world whizzes by.

Alexis – “the roller coaster rider”.


Corporation for National and Community Service (2012). Pre-Service Orientation: Participant’s Manual March 2012. Washington, D.C.


About AlexisOverstreet

I am a final year full-time student - formerly a part of the Winston-Salem Distance Education cohort. I am originally from Augusta, Georgia but I have lived in North Carolina for many years and now call it my home. My social work interests are advocacy for stigma-free mental health, Substance Abuse Clinical Practice for adults and adolescents, Motivational Interviewing and strengths-based practice, and severe and persistent mental illness. I am also interested in environmental justice issues along with advocacy for consumer rights.
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