When you were 17, what did you want to be?
I wanted to be BD Wong from Law and Order SVU - he was a criminal profiler. I used to watch that show before bed, and I thought that was such a cool gig. They'd arrest people and he'd see this other side of the story for a population that was so hated and reviled. He came at it with this compassionate curiosity, and he could read these people almost like a magic trick. I thought, “Okay, I could do that.”
Of course, at the time, I thought I was going to be an award winning videographer.
That was my thing, I was sure of it. I was primarily making documentaries in high school and I loved it. I actually won an award my senior year for a documentary about a first-year paramedic. I went on ride-alongs and captured the experience of being this young person who's trying to save lives and particularly looking at what happens when you lose someone.
But at the end of my senior year, my teacher told me that there were not a lot of female videographers and editors, which in all honesty spooked me. He was really wonderful and definitely nurtured what I was doing, but I think he wanted to be real with me. And I felt that it wasn't going to be a career that I could actually make happen.
So I followed the line of logic. I thought, “Okay, I love video. What particularly do I love about video? Well, I love documentaries. What do I love about documentary work? I like the people. What do I like about the people? I like the stories.”
So I put the two together, this BD Wong criminal profiler and the stories behind these documentaries, and landed somewhere in the realm of psychology.
How did you decide to attend University of Oregon?
Well first I went to Diablo Valley College [my local community college]. I didn't have the grades to get into a four-year college, which was devastating at the time. High school was hard and I struggled immensely. I just couldn't get in the flow that everyone else seemed to be in. Luckily, my mom's an educator and she was really helpful in normalizing the community college process. She told me, “You go for a couple years, get the same education you would at a four-year college, save some money, you'll be fine.
I loved DVC quite honestly, but the hardest part was seeing everyone else leaving and being the one that gets left behind. I think four-year college is more fun than community college even if you're ultimately taking very similar classes and doing the same kind of homework. And it was just me going to DVC alone, so it was very isolating.
Then I went to Santa Barbara City College for a semester. That did not go well, and I really struggled. I caught myself and decided it wasn’t the right choice, so I moved home and went back to DVC. And then I applied to University of Oregon on a whim.
I had never been there, but I was hoping an out-of-state college would take me. Again, my grades weren't that good. I got in right at the end, so classes started two weeks after I got accepted. My mom and I just packed up all my stuff and drove up to Oregon for the first time. I got an apartment by myself because I didn't know anyone there. We set up this apartment and I dropped my mom off at the airport and I remember driving away thinking, “I have to do this. I have to make this work. This is my shot at getting a college degree.”
I loved it. UO was the most amazing experience I could've asked for. I just fit in with the people there in a way I hadn’t in high school or at DVC. I wasn't a party girl; I didn’t want to go to the beach and go to frat parties. I wanted to hang out and draw and paint. I loved the rain. I loved that when you walked into class early in the morning, everyone smelled like patchouli and no one cared about how they looked because you're always getting rained on. I thought, “This is my kind of place.” I felt finally like I was part of something in that little town, whereas in high school and at DVC I didn't.
How did you choose your major?
I met one of my favorite professors of all time at DVC who started me on the track to being a therapist. The first class I took from him was bio-psychology and he brought in this really interesting transpersonal approach. I just thought, “This guy clearly knows what he’s doing.” His wife also taught the general psychology course, so they ran the whole psych department together. I just thought they were so cool.
Transpersonal psychology incorporates different elements of the person, neurochemistry, physiology, and psychology and looking at all sides of the self, which was cool. It felt like a snapshot of psychology, not just general psych or statistics. In all honesty, psychology is the only thing that I was ever really good at and it felt good to be good at something. So I majored in psychology and ended up with a bachelor's of science in psychology.
How did you get from college to where you are now?
So again, school wasn't easy for me. In fact, I was lined up to graduate and I failed my math class. Math was notoriously difficult for me; I took summer school courses every year throughout high school. My brain just doesn't process math. Unfortunately, I couldn't tell my parents right before graduation, so they came up and I walked and I did the whole graduation thing. In the end, I went back home to DVC to finish that last class. I was kind of constantly touching base at DVC.
But getting a bachelor's in psychology was not the goal. You can't really do anything psychology-related with just a bachelor's. So I was very aware that there was this whole other step that I had to somehow get into – graduate school. And school had never been easy for me, yet here I was, choosing a profession that makes me continue my education through my master's.
So I was back at square one, living at home, working at the same job that I'd worked at for the previous nine years, a stationary store called Papyrus. It was kind of a hit to the ego to come back as a changed person to the same place. But I ended up meeting my husband at the Starbucks across the street, so that was cute.
I decided on my way to getting my master's that because my grades from college weren’t that good, I needed to do something to boost that on my applications. So I took a year before I applied and worked at a suicide hotline. It was very intense. I worked the crisis hotline and the suicide hotline, I did Child Protective Services after hours, and we added a veteran's hotline when I was there as well. My boyfriend and I had just moved in together, and he was working these obscene hours for Starbucks, leaving at 3:00 in the morning. And I'd be coming home at 1:00 or 2:00 in the morning because I worked the night shift. We were like ships passing in the night. It was hard.
After doing that for a year, really feeling it out and asking, “Can I do this? Do I have what it takes?” I applied to a couple of different master’s programs. The one that I really wanted was Saint Mary's because they have a fantastic psychology program and it was close which meant I could still live in the area. I did the whole interview process with them and got accepted. They were more interested in meeting with you and asking questions face-to-face, which I felt I could excel at.
Then, on my first day at Saint Mary's, I went to my first class and in the hallway was this incredibly large picture of Dante's Inferno with the fire and everything, and I thought, “I can't tell anybody I'm Jewish.” I wasn’t sure what I was doing there and if it was actually going be a good fit. But what I found was that it was a perfect fit.
It was the first time I actually excelled in school. I went from having a 2.5 GPA to graduating with a 4.0 at the top of my class. That had never happened to me in my entire life. It was this incredible experience of feeling like, I'm doing what I know, doing something I'm good at. It was amazing and incredibly validating. And it was something I was so proud of, because even though school was incredibly hard for me and it wasn't a straight path and it took me forever, I did it.
I finished my program in two years and graduated with a master's in counseling psychology. And then they require you to get 3,000 hours of supervised counseling experience. Then you have to go through the licensing process as well and take a four or five-hour exam on theory and diagnostics and diversity. Once you pass that, you have to take a three-hour exam focused on just law and ethics. And then the moment you pass your exam, they give you your license.
I think when you do work around therapy, you’re really forced to look at yourself and use a lot of your own personal experience to develop this identity as a therapist. I struggled throughout my life with anxiety and I went to a lot of therapists to manage that. Depression was getting a lot of media attention at the time, but nobody really understood what anxiety was. If you said, “I have anxiety,” people would just tell you to calm down. So I was on this mission to learn about and support people with the diagnosis of anxiety. I knew that that was the population I wanted to work with.
So I got my license and I turned 30 and that month I opened my own practice. Now, I'm building my practice and continuing to educate myself and building relationships with other therapists. And I want to get my doctorate at some point. I’ve been on this path for over 10 years, and I'm just now settling into my career and I feel like I've finally arrived.
Looking back, what seems clear to you now?
I wish that there were more people normalizing the experience of going to community college and then transferring to a four-year college, or even choosing not to go to college and doing other things. I had the support of my mother, but I really wasn't getting that from anywhere else. I wish I had known that this experience was not unique to me.
My advice for students going through it is talk to people. At 16 or 17, your world is so small; your world is high school, your world is your town. You kind of have these blinders on and if you can talk to people, particularly people that are older than you, I think you'll find that their stories are more representative of what the actual experience is. Ask people, talk to people, share your experience and don't be embarrassed by your experience. Having that communication with people will let you hear their stories and that it’s all going to be okay.