Alumni Spotlight: Edna Olivares Gómez

“I had to get out of my comfort zone and get a different perspective of things,” confessed Wright Institute's Counseling Psychology Program graduate Edna Olivares Gómez. “My time at the Wright Institute gave me so many more tools to think about situations, understand the clients, connect with the clients, and conceptualize cases in a different way.”

Edna was born and raised in Mexico City, Mexico, where she lived with her parents and her little sister. Her favorite activities as a child were playing with her sister and cousins, dancing, and playing board games. “My parents really valued education because they came from a very humble background, so they wanted my sister and I to have tools to be prepared for life,” she recalled. “My sister and I attended private schools that were bilingual, so I started learning English when I was three years old.”

Therapy was a common topic in Edna’s home when she was growing up because her father was a therapist. “Around my house, I would hear things about it and I thought it was very interesting to think about how people behave and think about things and connect with others,” she reflected. As a child, Edna was very sensitive and emotional, which she had considered to be a bad thing until her father helped her see it in a different light. “I remember my dad telling me when I was little that I was very sensitive and that it was an amazing thing,” she recalled. That was all it took to change her perspective and lead her towards a career in psychology.

For her undergraduate studies, Edna attended University of the Americas in Mexico City. “It was a small school, like the Wright Institute,” she shared. “I like small environments because you get to know the professors and it’s easier to learn.” Edna graduated with a BA in Clinical Psychology in 2007, which allowed her to become a licensed therapist after completing and defending her dissertation. An undergraduate degree in Mexico is much more focused than in the United States. “If you're going to be a therapist, it's just that, so you go deep, you learn all of that curriculum in order to be a therapist,” she explained. Because of this focused undergraduate curriculum, Mexico doesn’t require graduate level studies in order to become a licensed therapist.

After graduating from University of the Americas, Edna began working as a Mental Health Clinician at Psicoaprende. In this role, she provided therapy to children and adolescents aged six to eighteen. “It was hard, but I appreciated it because they gave me the chance to practice and learn how to handle different situations,” she recalled. “They trusted me to do the work, so I'm very appreciative of that.” Edna described the experience as intense but great, noting that she loved working with the kids, but was a little intimidated by the parents at first..

In August of 2009, Edna opened her own private practice in Mexico City, where she provided therapy to adolescents and adults. “I really liked that the space was mine and everything was under my control, but it was so lonely,” she shared. Edna found having a private practice to be pretty unpredictable, with frequent cancellations for vacations and school breaks. She also didn’t enjoy the behind the scenes work involved, like advertising and billing. “It was a lot and I don’t necessarily miss it,” she admitted.

Edna was an Elementary School Counselor at the Anglo American School of Coyoacan from 2009-2011 and a Middle School Counselor at the Atid School from 2017-2018. Overall, she described working in schools as awesome and difficult at the same time. She loved getting to see the kids in their own environments and examine their interactions with other students and teachers. “There was so much more information that helped me understand how to work with the clients than when it was just them and me in the room,” she recalled, “and it helped me understand their development and the connections they were making with the systems around them.” Elementary school was a difficult age group for Edna, but she found that working with middle school students was a much better fit. “My favorites were the kids who always got in trouble,” she confessed. Being there for students who were struggling during those difficult transitional years was very rewarding.

From 2011-2015, Edna worked as a mental health clinician at a non-profit Social Health Dispensary in Mexico City. She described this as one of her favorite work experiences because of the freedom they had. “I got paid almost nothing,” she admitted, “but I was just doing it because I loved it and I really cared about being there.” She worked there part time and had very limited slots for therapy, so her biggest challenge was trying to serve as many people as possible with her limited availability.

In 2016, Edna immigrated to the United States and settled in the Bay Area with the plan of studying here for a few years, then returning home. “I wanted to have that experience of seeing things in a different way and learning different things,” she recalled, “but I had no idea that it was going to be that hard.” Edna found herself a bit lost, trying to learn about types of licensure offered in the US and the requirements for each. Edna began attending open houses for all of the psychology graduate programs in the area, trying to find the right fit for her, and discovered the Wright Institute. “The Wright was very clear about who they were targeted to - people who really want to do the work,” she shared. “This work is not a hobby for me. This is such serious and sacred work and I need to know that I’m in a place where people are taking it that seriously.” At the open house, Edna was impressed by the clear structure and organization of the Wright Institute, along with its small size. Edna enrolled in the Wright Institute’s Counseling Psychology Program in the fall of 2016.

The happiest memories Edna has of the Wright Institute center around the friendships she formed, particularly with one classmate who has become her best friend and who she considers to be her family in California. “It was a coincidence that there was another girl from Mexico City starting the program at the same time,” she recalled. At first, this connection didn’t mean much to Edna, but the two quickly became close friends. She needed someone who understood her language because, despite learning English since the age of three, Edna realized that she didn’t think in English and hadn’t practiced Psychology in English. “Having her there as support was amazing and I love her,” she gushed.

Edna’s biggest challenge at the Wright Institute was the culture shock, realizing that this was a “different world with different rules.” Despite the fact that everyone was trying to support her, Edna felt lost and incredibly lonely. Not only did she have to learn the cultural differences between herself and her classmates and clients, she also had to learn clinical language in English and the laws in California. Even little things like class times took some adjusting. “I would get to class at 9:02 or 9:03 and everyone was already seated and taking notes,” she laughed. “At my old school, you had fifteen minutes just to show up and talk about your day. Here, if they say 9:00, the class starts at 9:00.” It was a difficulty and traumatic experience of acculturation that Edna didn’t anticipate.

During her time at the Wright Institute, Edna really enjoyed her classes and professors. “The professors were so prepared and they were clearly there because they cared about and believed in what they were doing,” she shared. “They took it very seriously and had very high standards, which I loved.” A few professors that really impacted Edna’s education were Dr. Clarke, Professor Dunlap, and Professor Godfredsen. She also really enjoyed her Group Counseling class with Professor Rubin. “Group Counseling was so helpful and I learned so much,” she recalled. “Before I hated working with groups, but now I see how powerful it is and I love working with groups.” Overall, Edna is so grateful for everything she learned at the Wright Institute, especially about community mental health and social justice, sharing that she now has the knowledge and tools she needs.

In her final year at the Wright Institute, Edna worked as a mental health intern at Albany Middle and High School for her practicum. She had a great experience there, but noted that it was very different from working in schools in Mexico. “I loved it because I was able to do therapy there,” she shared. “In Mexico, you can’t do therapy in schools, so I was just doing consultation and crisis intervention.” Edna also considered it a great opportunity to learn about and connect with the issues that teenagers are facing today in California.

Since graduating from the Wright Institute, Edna has been working at the Portia Bell Hume Center, a non-profit community mental health center. She started there as a Mental Health Clinician in 2018, working in their school-based program. Edna had nothing but positive things to say about her experience working at the Portia Bell Hume Center and was clearly impressed by their commitment to hiring a diverse staff to best serve their diverse community. “It’s real that they appreciate differences, so that's amazing to me,” she shared. “I can see that the people who work there are people who care, who take the work very seriously, and who are there because they believe in what they are doing.” Another element of working at the center that Edna loves is that everyone has supervision, regardless of their position or experience level. The focus on growth and improvement for employees at all levels is something that really appeals to her.

In 2021, Edna became a Clinical Supervisor at the Portia Bell Hume Center and this fall, she became their Director of Training of the Masters Program. “I love training because I really believe that we need to have people with super high standards and very high expectations that really care about the work,” she reflected. “I like learning from the trainees, hearing their experiences and their points of view, and continuing to make an impact.” Her passion was clear as she described her role in guiding, protecting, and helping her trainees. This is the first time that the center has had a training director dedicated to MA trainees, so Edna is excited to develop the program. When she needed help connecting with schools, she reached out to Wright Institute Field Placement Director, Stuart Lee, who was happy to connect her with his counterparts at other institutions. “Stuart is amazing!” she exclaimed, “Even though I already moved on with my life, I can still go back to the Wright Institute and ask for help if I need something.”

Edna advises current and prospective students to “make sure you want to take on this commitment because it’s not easy. It requires so much energy and empathy and it really drains you.” She also reminds them that it’s difficult to help someone else before doing your own work and many therapists need therapy for themselves before entering into the profession. “To me, this work is sacred,” she shared, “and we need to make sure we are okay with taking on the responsibility.” Being a therapist isn’t for everyone, but it’s clearly a perfect fit for Edna.

Edna CafeIn her free time, Edna enjoys listening to podcasts, spending time with friends, and watching TV. “My favorite thing in the world is to go get Starbucks, walk outside, and listen to a podcast,” she confessed. “That’s what makes me very happy!” Edna’s favorite podcast is “Armchair Expert” by Dax Shepard. She also enjoys true crime podcasts from time to time, but shared that she saves those for the daylight hours. Her favorite TV shows are reality shows like “The Kardashians” and “Love is Blind.” “At some point, I just need to not think about anything serious,” she laughed. Edna also enjoys going to coffee with friends and sitting and chatting for hours.

Looking to the future, Edna hopes to stay at the Portia Bell Hume Center long-term. “I just want to grow the program for MA trainees and grow more programs,” she exclaimed. Among the new programs she’d like to grow is a program for newcomers to the United States, especially children and adolescents. She described their experience as being “like they’re on a different planet with different rules” and she strives to provide them with the support they need during what can be quite a traumatic transition. “That’s my passion,” she shared reverently, “I really care about that work.”