Student Spotlight: Izzy Smith

"It's taken me a long time to figure out what is right for me," says Izzy Smith, "but I knew from the first day I started grad school that I had made the right choice." In her first year of the Wright Institute Counseling Psychology Program, Smith has had to juggle both in-person and at-home classes. She has excelled with both and has also found the time to co-lead a BIPOC student affinity group.

After growing up in Florida and Missouri, Smith moved with her family to the Bay Area to start high school. She later graduated from San Diego State University with a degree in International Security and Conflict Resolution. She had chosen her major in college with the goal of opening a nonprofit after graduation, but was met with financial realities that held her back. Smith went into the professional world looking for the fastest way to pay off her student loans while contributing to a company that shared her values. "I found a project management job in the tech industry," recalls Smith. "That role was very relationship-based; I was talking to people and helping them accomplish their goals."

After two years in the role, Smith wasn't finding the fulfillment she was looking for. "I thought that some form of business studies would be the easiest way to learn how to run a nonprofit so I could help people, but it didn't turn out that way," she says. "I felt like I wasn't doing the type of work I was meant to be doing."

"Since I was in high school, I've wanted to find a way to help people," says Smith. "I reflected a lot on what I liked about my work, and came to the conclusion that I wanted to be working one-on-one with people," she says. That discovery led to an interest in the world of mental health. Smith had a connection with the Wright Institute that made applying to the Counseling Psychology Program a natural fit. "I've known [fourth-year Clinical Psychology Program student] Joshua Chow for some time, and he talked to me about how he came to choose the Wright Institute," she recalls.

Chow shared some of the advice he gave when Smith asked him about the Wright Institute. "I shared with Izzy that there's no such thing as a perfect graduate program, but what sets the Wright Institute apart is its mission to make the world more equitable and socially just through educating clinicians who aim to do the same," he says. "For example, the professors who identify as women of color are always working to ensure that the training needs of marginalized students are being met as best as possible."

Having known Smith since high school, Chow knew that she would be a natural fit for the field of mental health. "Through her volunteer work, I have witnessed an immense loyalty to people and willingness to listen deeply, bringing in a sense of curiosity about a person's sociocultural identities," he says. "Her own journey as a multiracial, Southeast Asian, queer woman will undoubtedbly come forth to help others shine around her. She's going to be a huge success in the field because she is so naturally loving and caring that it emanates off of her."

Along with her first-year classes, Smith is enjoying the experience of co-leading the BIPOC student affinity group alongside DEI Office Assistant Elizabeth Montes. "I'm so grateful for the synergy that the two of us have developed as leaders," says Smith. "It's so important that communities are given the space to be able to build up and support one another, and I think it's so special that we are able to hold a space for BIPOC folks here at the Wright Institute."

The experience has opened Smith up to the possibilities of connecting with her fellow students in other ways. While the continuing stages of the COVID-19 pandemic have made holding in-person events difficult, she looks forward to future chances for her cohort to co-mingle with the other cohorts going through the Counseling Program.

As a relative newcomer to the mental health field, Smith has learned quite a lot from her first two semesters in the program. Some of the most important lessons have come from outside the curriculum. "Although I have lived experiences of mental health challenges, I'd never had a professional therapist before starting the program," she says. "Learning and self-development can come from many different sources, and I realized that getting into my own therapeutic relationship would allow me to learn much more about myself than I could on my own."

Getting a therapist of her own was a decision that Smith felt was many years in the making. "When I was in high school, I had a lot of challenges. But to my parents, I probably looked like a kid who just liked to break the rules," she recalls. "My parents never considered putting me in therapy during my most difficult times in high school. I doubt they even were aware it was an option."

Smith feels that a societal stigma around mental health challenges kept her from getting help when she needed it most. "If it had been more normalized at the time to have a therapist to talk to, I might have uncovered some of the reasons I was skipping classes and using substances in the first place. Instead, I had to manage on my own," she reflects. Smith is glad that conversations around mental health struggles have evolved in the years since she left high school.

"The most valuable lesson I've learned in graduate school is that this career path is the right one for me. It can be quite unnerving as a career transitioner to not know whether you've made the best decision," reflects Smith. She attributes part of that realization to the comfort she feels within her cohort. "We have a fantastic group of people in a cohort, and the cohesion between us is outstanding. I feel truly at home with them," she says. After questioning so much about her path in the years after college, Smith has found a path she is confident in.

After spending so much time moving to different parts of the country as a child, Smith has also found a home in the Bay Area. To her, it comes down to the people she meets in this corner of the world. "I think there's an open-mindedness here that I haven't seen in other places," she says. "There are so many different types of people, and so many opportunities to support various causes."

Smith is looking forward to spending time at her practicum site, Crisis Support Services of Alameda County. Her main goal for the year she will spend in practicum is to gain a better understanding of what populations she wants to work with. "I know I will be working with youth in school, older adults in their homes, and also facilitating grief groups whileat Crisis Support Services," she says. "Through the opportunities I'll take on and the experiences I'll have, both at Crisis Support Services and beyond, I will be able to figure out exactly where it is I'm supposed to be in this field."

After she graduates, Smith wants to open up a private practice while continuing to work in community settingsso she can quickly accrue hours towards MFT and PCC licensure. She'd also like to pursue some methods that will take her future clients into different therapeutic settings. "Long term, I'd like to couple up my personal interests with my professional interests," she says. She has some ideas on how to do that.

"I love the outdoors, and I love hiking and camping," says Smith. "How cool would it be to participate in youth programs where you're taking kids who have challenges with anxiety and depression, and get them out in the wilderness in peer groups?" It would be a fitting future chapter in her career - helping teenagers that are facing challenges similar to the ones she faced when she was in high school. Now that she's found a career she can call home, Izzy Smith can accomplish that and so much more.

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.