Get to know Stuart Lee, LMFT - Field Placement Director, Counseling Psychology Program

Shayna Quilty (SQ): Tell me about your history with the Wright Institute. What drew you here, and what makes you stay?
Stuart Lee (SL):
I first arrived at the Wright Institute as a student when changing careers after 20 years in forensic science. I decided to enroll in the weekend program while concurrently working full-time in a crime lab. During my second year of coursework, Dr. Milena Esherick asked for volunteers to assist in visiting and evaluating potential field placement sites, and I was the only one who raised my hand in my cohort. What an opportunity! I really liked the work so I asked if I could continue in a more permanent role. I started part time in 2009 while I was completing my licensure hours and recently became full-time field placement director in 2016.

I love working with Dr. Esherick and the team because they are so welcoming, accessible, and genuinely kind. Staff truly get along and meetings at the Wright feel so much more personable than the ones I was used to from my previous career. That was a huge plus that made me want to stay on board. I am most grateful for the rewarding experience as a student and for the continuing positive experiences in my role in field placement.

SQ: What has been your most memorable moment at the Wright?
One that comes to mind is when I was consulting with my faculty advisor before applying for practicum as a student. I was still navigating two careers and my schedule since I was still employed full-time in my former career. I told my advisor I didn’t have any relevant work experience, and through a conversation with her realized I did have valuable lived and professional experiences and I was ready to make a leap into my career in psychotherapy. We still refer back to that moment as “the crossroads” when I decided to really trust myself to make this huge career shift. Having that confidence and support from the Wright community was empowering and was the turning point for pursuing a career that aligned with my personal and professional characteristics.

SQ: What makes you excited about the work you do here?
In addition to being part of the Wright Institute community of staff, I enjoy collaborating and working with the students on their field placements and maintaining positive working relationships with our practicum agencies. I am honored working with students of such high caliber, hearing their diverse lived and professional experiences, their goals and talking with them about how different agencies can help them achieve those goals.

SQ: When you were working in forensics, how did you decide to shift careers?
Initially I found forensics work fulfilling, examining and analyzing physical evidence, developing and interpreting DNA profiles, testifying in court, and solving cases. After a while though, it became stressful. There was a constant backlog of work and a feeling that I had to be perfect all the time. I realized over many years that I needed a change. It’s scary to go against the status quo and change is anxiety provoking whether it’s positive or not. I read The Gift of Therapy by Irvin Yalom which led me to enroll in the “Careers in Psychotherapy” course through UC Extension that went over the realities of the different licensure tracks. After much self-reflection and introspective work, I decided to apply to the Wright Institute’s Counseling Psychology Program.

SQ: How did you decide to pursue the MFT track?
I was drawn to the idea of being able to work with couples and individuals. I wanted to get out there and do the clinical work sooner without the time and financial commitment associated with other licensing tracks.

SQ: When you were a kid, what did you want to be when you grew up?
Career aspirations included growing up to be a martial artist in cinema like the infamous Bruce Lee, a musician, and anything having to do with cars.

SQ: Can you tell me about a challenge you’ve had to overcome to get to where you are professionally?
The biggest struggle that I’ve had is to learn to sit with uncertainty. My current colleagues, including those who were once my instructors, helped me learn this lesson. It took me a long time to take the leap into this profession because it was so hard to leave the certainty of my former job. I overthought everything, got in the way of myself, and scared myself into inaction until I realized that it was ok not to have all the answers and not to have all the ducks in a row, so to speak. This has helped me both personally and professionally to this day.

SQ: I know that working at the Wright is only one of many hats you wear. How else do you spend your time?
I have a small private practice in Berkeley and find fulfillment working with adults and couples. I enjoy engaging with the puppy energy of my older Havanese, taking walks to burn off stress, strumming on my Kamaka ukulele, and listening to Hawaiian music. My favorite group is Earth Wind and Fire! I also have a very strong passion for taiko drumming, classic Japanese cinema, classic muscle cars, especially first generation 1967-1969 Camaros, and attending car shows. NASCAR is fun and go Warriors!

SQ: If you could give one piece of advice to the students in the Counseling program, what would it be?
Practice self-care and self-compassion. You don’t have to get everything right all the time. Take time to “be” and be present, honor and celebrate the steps and accomplishments on the path to licensure.

SQ: I think we could all use someone to remind us of that every once in awhile. Thank you for the great advice, and for your time!

Click here to learn more about the Wright Institute’s Doctor of Clinical Psychology (Psy.D.) program.
Click here to learn more about the Wright Institute’s Master of Counseling Psychology program.