I met with a student last week who was struggling with severe test anxiety. She had flunked her first English test and attributed it to her nervousness before the test. As we talked I learned that she had studied hard for the test, done well with her homework, but then got extremely nervous the night before (and day of) the test. I asked her about the negative messages she might be giving herself about her abilities. She immediately responded that she internally said awful things to herself about her chances for success in the class.

So…I whipped out the inner critic, defender and guide concepts and we talked about them!! [see On Course, Chapter 2] I gave her a sheet of blank paper and divided it into three areas that we titled critic, defender and guide. I asked her to write a few of the messages from her critic. I asked her to write the same for her defender and her guide. I encouraged her to write as much as she could from the guide’s voice. Then we talked about the importance of allowing her guide a bigger voice and space in her internal dialogue. I gave her a “homework” assignment to read her inner guide script at the beginning and end of her study sessions and then at night before she went to bed. She left my office and seemed willing to try this.

Well, the great news is today I saw her for a follow-up appointment and she was like a different student. She had since received an A on a English test and a B on a math test. She told me the guide script had really helped her and that she was reading it daily. She also said that her attitude about school had really changed, she was motivated and excited to get up in the morning. She said (this is the best part) “Now I know that I can learn.” I practically cried when she said that because she took this exercise to heart and used it in such a profound way.

I felt so good about this opportunity to see one of the On Course strategies work so well for this student. I just had to share it with all of you. I plan to use this strategy again with others.

–Sally Sharbaugh, Counselor, South Puget Sound Community College, WA

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