Student Spotlight: Adam Brown

"I think that most of us who are drawn to this field simply want to help people, and do good work for society. That ethos certainly reflects how I want to live my life."

Midway through his second and final year of the Counseling Psychology Program, Adam Brown came to the Wright Institute in 2019 after nearly a decade working as a journalist in the diabetes field. Brown, who has lived with Type 1 Diabetes since he was 12 years old, has a passion for helping others who also live with the condition.

"I've always had a love of helping people cope with this chronic disease," Brown says. With an interest in the field of psychology and some encouragement from a few diabetes psychologists he knew, he decided to make a change and pursue a Master's Degree in Counseling Psychology. When looking into programs in the Bay Area, the Wright Institute stood out as a good fit.

Brown was interested in the weekend program because it would allow him to continue his journalism job during the week, but he was also drawn to the Wright Institute's motto - to "educate clinicians to society." The message of focusing the work on others, and on society as a whole, resonated with Brown. "It takes a certain desire to help humanity to go into this field," says Brown. "I don't think most of us go into it for the money."

Brown attended the Wharton School of Business at the University of Pennsylvania, where he earned a degree in marketing as well as a degree in Healthcare Management and Policy. "Marketing is a lot like psychology, but with a business lens," says Brown. "I had the opportunity to add a Healthcare Management and Policy concentration, which was very useful in my years working in healthcare journalism."

Over the course of a decade, Brown wrote thousands of articles about various issues in the world of diabetes, as well as helpful tips for living with the disease. "I went to medical conferences all over the world, talked to healthcare professionals, listened to earnings calls, and interviewed some of the smartest minds in the world of diabetes technology and digital health," says Brown, who wrote for Close Concerns and the non-profit organization, The diaTribe Foundation.

In 2014, Brown published a list of 22 factors that affect blood glucose, which became by far his most-viewed column. He expanded the list to 42 factors in 2018, and published it in a colorful PDF.

"I think that piece resonated with so many people because it captures the complexity of how frustrating it can be to live with diabetes," says Brown. The process of compiling that list of 42 factors - in a condition so often oversimplified to food, exercise, or medication - reminds him of the complexity and ambiguity that are ever-present when working with clients in the world of mental health. "I could probably make a similar list of at least 42 different factors that can affect mental health," says Brown. "In this program, we learn to appreciate that context is critical. That was such a big lesson of my time working in the diabetes field. We must embrace complexity, uncertainty, and ambiguity, rather than trying to pin everything on one singular cause. That often takes the blame off people and can unlock marvelous solutions."

In 2017, Brown wrote and published a book, Bright Spots and Landmines. It's a personal telling of his journey with diabetes, alongside hundreds of effective diabetes tips, questions, and shortcuts. Bright Spots and Landmines is free to download, or can be purchased on Amazon, where it's priced at cost. Over 225,000 copies have been sold/downloaded to date, with the vast majority offered at no cost to readers.

As he continues to move forward in a new, exciting career, Brown continues to see that the lessons he learned from his years in journalism can be applied in a variety of ways to his work with clients. "When I was writing in the healthcare industry, I had to track themes over the course of long periods of time," he says. "That sort of process is similar to what we do as mental health providers. We try to figure out what someone's trajectory is, what themes and patterns are prevalent, and how to help them along their journey."

Brown would sometimes pen controversial articles about companies, which he would send over for comment before publishing. "If they felt we were off base about something, they would tell us why. It almost always made the piece better," says Brown. "Just as in the work I'm doing now, none of us who are making an assessment ever have the whole story. You have to have humility when operating as a clinician. There's always something else to learn about somebody. I'm constantly surprised!"

Upon starting his second year in the Program, Brown decided to become a student mentor. He meets regularly with a number of first-year students to help them get acclimated to the Program. The mentoring work comes naturally to Brown, as he is meeting with students whose position he was in just one year ago. "It's having accurate empathy," he says. "I know what it's like to apply to practicum, or to adjust to taking classes on Zoom. I try to bring that perspective and remember what my mentees are going through."

Brown is also one of two leaders of the Counseling Psychology Program's Disability Inclusion Group, an affinity group for students to explores the experience of living with a disability, including those that are both visible and invisible. "We create a space where people have a shared identity, and just gather to chat about what it's like to live with a disability," says Brown. "It's reminded me of just how varied the experience of disability is. I have type 1 diabetes, which has its own challenges, but others in the group have their own unique sets of challenges - some similar, some different."

For his own practicum, Brown chose to work through San Francisco's Richmond Area Multi Services (RAMS), which, among other programs, provides mental health services at wellness centers in San Francisco high schools. Brown is currently working at the wellness centers for Balboa and Wallenberg High Schools, though all services have been moved to telehealth in the last year.

"I won't lie, telehealth has presented its challenges," says Brown, who has found it more difficult to get clients with all services taking place online. Typically, he would be stationed at just one high school with a full caseload. Brown recently added a second high school placement aiming to fill out his caseload. Despite the obstacles, he is making the best of his practicum, and gaining valuable experience working with high school students and their parents in a time where telehealth is more important than ever.

While he's spending quite a bit of time with high school students now, Brown doesn't want to limit what populations he might ultimately work with. "After graduation, I hope to apply to a variety of associateships and see where the chips fall," he says. In the long term, he sees himself returning to the fields of diabetes, chronic disease, and disability.

"Right now, I'm still learning my way around the mental health field, trying to learn how to use the skills and theories. I already have all this experience with diabetes, and I'm looking forward to combining the two one day," Adam Brown says. "I think beautiful things can come from the combination of two fields."


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