Get to know Katherine Tarnoff, MFT - Core Faculty, Counseling Psychology Program

Shayna Quilty (SQ): You started at the Wright Institute as a student. How did you find out about the Wright as a prospective student?
Katherine Tarnoff (KT):
I was working in advertising before I transitioned into the counseling field. After working for an ad agency for a few years, I started to want something more substantial out of my career and an opportunity to connect more honestly with people. I realized I would need to change fields if I wanted to make that happen.

So I began exploring other career options. I heard about The Wright Institute through an acquaintance and it is the only place that I applied-- I’ve never second-guessed or regretted the decision. The environment immediately felt welcoming and open with opportunity.

SQ: How did you decide to explore a faculty position?
When I was still a student in the program, one of my professors invited me to be a Teaching Assistant for the Multicultural Awareness & Sensitivity class. Before that, I had never thought of teaching. I loved being a Teaching Assistant and getting to know the students. At first it was more about the class itself than about teaching, but after I did that for a few years, I really liked the opportunity it gave me to stay connected to the Wright community and people starting out in the field. Several instructors coached me to try teaching another class. I taught Family Therapy, and two years ago I started teaching Community Mental Health and became a member of the Core Faculty.

This career path definitely wasn’t pre-meditated in my case, but it all makes sense now.

SQ: What keeps you engaged in teaching?
I really like seeing people who are eager to do this work. I also feel protective of the field, and I want clinicians to be well-trained and ethical, as well as conscious of others’ needs on a deeper level. I want our clients to meet with people who are creative and capable of navigating cultural diversity dimensions. With the classes I teach, I hope every student comes away with a real understanding that everyone they meet has a different story to tell.

Teaching also balances my clinical work, which is often focused in trauma. It’s enlivening to see folks entering the field. It continues to inspire me to work with people who are changing their career paths just like I did.

SQ: Why is the MFT license the best fit for you?
I think the MFT license is well-respected and well-known in California. For a while, I considered pursuing a doctoral degree because I felt like it would come with a certain amount of esteem, but not having a doctorate hasn’t made a difference for me when it comes to getting clients or having a professional reputation that I feel confident about. I’m able to do everything I want to do with the MFT license and was able to prioritize learning counseling skills directly applicable to the work during grad school.

SQ: What has been your most memorable moment at the Wright?
During our Community Mental Health class this summer, we often focused on the theme of creativity in recovery. One evening, we had an Oakland-based organization called Beats, Rhymes and Life come for a guest presentation. We spent a lot of the evening learning about the organization’s mission, which is to inspire healing and support with youth through hip hop therapy. Then we got to practice some of this therapy ourselves. It was really beautiful to see so many students engaged in creativity that evening--to be inspired to think outside the confines of what we might see as traditional therapeutic approaches and learn firsthand that student interests, and the interests of their clients, can be at the forefront of their care. We also had a few freestyle sessions going that were pretty great!

SQ: How else do you spend your time?
The past few months, I have been learning how to be a mother to my newborn son. His presence in my life has really changed everything. I also love to run trails around the East Bay, and I enjoy going to see live music with my husband. We also have two gorgeous cat daughters that I enjoy immensely; I love cats. I am also a supervisor at Bay Area Community Resources, a school-based agency in Richmond, and I have a private practice in Berkeley where I work mostly with children and families.

SQ: As a graduate of the Counseling Psychology program at the Wright Institute, what advice would you give to current students?
Make this time yours. Invest in learning, remain open to new ideas, inspire yourself with creativity and finding your own voice as a clinician. If there’s something you’d like out of your education that you’re not currently getting, ask for it. And, begin learning about self-care now. Really understanding and practicing boundaries around work and prioritizing time to take care of myself, even in small, simple ways, has been such a sustaining part of my career.

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.