Alumni Spotlight: Andre Jackson, Class of 2019

Jackson"It took a lot of introspection and exploration for me to figure out what I wanted to do," says Andre Jackson, "but once I started to feel the connection to the mental health world, everything fell into place."

Before coming to the Wright Institute Counseling Psychology Program, graduating in 2019, and embarking on his journey as a clinician, Jackson spent time in a few different careers. His first career was in studio art. "I really loved it, but I never had the courage I needed to become a professional artist," he says.

After "floundering," as he puts it, as a professional artist, Jackson worked as a florist, which turned into a career as a landscape designer in Los Angeles. "I spoke with and worked with a whole lot of people who were willing to spend a whole lot of money on their homes," says Jackson, "and that felt very superficial. I felt that there was much more that I could do to help people."

As he was searching for more meaning in his work, Jackson reflected on some of his personal skills. "People often commented how calm I made them feel when talking to them," recalls Jackson. He knew he had a skill for listening to people and their concerns, and felt he could be a good fit for a graduate degree in psychology. All that came next was deciding where to pursue that degree.

"Because my undergraduate career ebbed and flowed and was so disjointed, I wanted a much more straightforward graduate school experience. I was looking for an intimate setting, and a school that offered both racial diversity as well as diversity of thought. In my conversations with people, the Wright Institute kept coming up as a place that could offer what I was looking for," says Jackson. For someone new to the psychology field, he also felt like the Wright Institute's program built a strong foundation for a future career.

Jackson spent his second-year practicum at The Stonewall Project, a treatment program of the San Francisco AIDS Foundation. After graduating in 2019, he moved on to Homeless Children's Network, which gave him the opportunity to work with children ranging from the ages of 4 to 17. "I didn't think I would enjoy working with children, but it turned out to be a great experience," Jackson says. "I came to understand the importance of providing services at a young age, which really made me feel like I was making a long-term difference in the lives of these children."

During the pandemic, Jackson moved back to his hometown of Los Angeles to take care of his mother, who is living with dementia. In becoming her caretaker, he is getting experience that no community health organization or private practice could give him. "When I started in this field, even before my mom had dementia, I wanted to work with the elderly community, because many deal with involuntary life transitions as they move into that stage of their lives," says Jackson. "In general, I want to work with people who are dealing with life transitions, which can of course bring issues of depression and anxiety."

Jackson sees some parallels between the elderly community and the transition age youth (TAY) community, which is the other population he primarily wants to work with. "The TAY community is just entering adulthood, and all the challenges that come with that. On the other hand, the elderly are in many ways leaving adulthood and returning to childhood, completing the cycle," he says. While he is interested in a variety of age groups, Jackson sees the life transitions at these two points as the challenges he is drawn to help people manage.

While he is caretaking for his mother and accruing his hours towards licensure, Jackson is staying connected with the Wright Institute as a teacher's assistant (TA) for Multicultural Awareness and Sensitivity (MAS), a first-year course in the Counseling Psychology Program. Even though he is living in Los Angeles, Jackson was able to join remotely as a TA when classes were being held online due to the Omicron wave of the COVID-19 pandemic. "That class is one of the most important for the work the students do as future clinicians," he says, "and I like being able to help them navigate it."

As a discussion-based course, MAS is much more dependent than other classes on the students' collective willingness to engage with the material. "When I took the class in early 2018, my cohort was pretty uncomfortable with fully diving into some of those necessary conversations," recalls Jackson. "There can be a number of reasons why people hold back in that setting. Sometimes students don't want to upset the other students in the room with them, or sometimes they don't want to be judged. However, reckoning with their feelings around privilege and rank is an exploration that can be an invaluable tool in their development as clinicians."

In the years since he took the class, Jackson has seen a shift in the students' engagement in MAS. "I think the past two years of pressing social justice work and conversation that's been happening around the country has contributed positively to the nature of the conversations inside MAS class," he explains. "I love seeing where those ideas and thoughts come from in our future clinicians."

Right now, Jackson has a position at Westmont Counseling Center in Los Angeles. In the summer, he'll be moving along with his mother from Los Angeles to Sonoma County. Jackson is almost finished with his hours towards licensure, and recently passed the Law and Professional Ethics (LPE) exam. "Passing the exam was a real feather in my cap personally. I've always struggled with standardized tests, but I did it!" he says. His goal is to be licensed by the end of 2022.

Jackson is also a fellow for the Minority Fellowship Program of the American Psychological Association (APA). He's also served as one of the mentors for the Psychology Internship Program in the Wright Institute Clinical Psychology Program, working alongside Faculty Member Anatasia Kim, PhD.

"I've really enjoyed mentoring those young people who are interested in psychology and are often first-generation students," says Jackson about his work in the Psychology Internship Program. "I want to encourage them to do their best, and give them the knowledge that I can about the field of psychology, because we-need more diversity in the field in order to facilitate more inclusive and compassionate care for communities that have been marginalized and excluded from engaging in addressing their mental health."

Beyond earning his MFT licensure, Jackson has big goals for how he wants to use his degree. He has a vision to open a community center - a physical place for people to use the power of community to be more in touch with their well-being. "People could come together to organize in groups for a movement, for a support group, for a presentation about issues affecting the community, for an art class," Jackson says. "There are a lot of amazing community centers out in the world, but I want mine to help people realize the agency they have when it comes to their mental health."

Jackson's goals aren't limited to his professional aspirations in the world of mental health. As an artist, Jackson finds great solace and a real sense of self care in the process of creating. Whether gardening, cooking, painting, carving wood or being in nature, Jackson finds the process in working with living organisms insightful and transformative. It helps to keep him grounded which in turn supports his practice as a clinician.

As a clinician, Jackson wants to continue seeking out opportunities in community mental health and teaching alongside striving to build his own private practice. As a naturally curious person, he wants to spend time in both worlds so he can continue to expand his knowledge around relationships and the process of living through adversity.

While they don't seem to bear much resemblance on the surface, Jackson's previous careers have actually helped him adapt to his career in mental health. As Jackson puts it, working as a personal florist and a landscape designer helped prepare him for the filed of psychology "In those professions, I would meet with the clients, and then listen to what they wanted. Once I saw the space they wanted me to work on, I'd develop my vision for the work. It was like making an assessment, giving a diagnosis, and creating a treatment plan in therapy, just for a very different subject," he laughs.

In understanding the human condition, Jackson often refers to the plant world to help inform him about environmental and structural components that inform the growth and wellbeing of plant material. "Listen, a plant's expression will reveal itself at some point, when it is experience optimal or adverse conditions; below and above the soil," he says. "The lives of people are very much the same." With his ability to relate to people and his passion for the wellness of others, Andre Jackson is determined to make his mark in the field of mental health - the career that is truly right for him.

Click here to learn more about the Wright Institute's Master of Counseling Psychology (MA) program.
Click here to learn more about the Wright Institute's Doctor of Clinical Psychology (PsyD) program.