Student Spotlight: Morgan Booker

Morgan“I think I always was interested in psychology and was fighting it for years. The real question is: what made me switch to theatre when I knew in the depths of my heart I wanted to be a therapist?” asked second-year Wright Institute Counseling Psychology Program student Morgan Booker. “I didn’t want to be someone who studied the human condition. I wanted to be interesting. I wanted to be fascinating to others. I think after a while I just let go of trying to be the most interesting person in the room and decided to be who I really am.”

Morgan grew up as an only child in Oakland, California. “My K-12 education was rocky,” she shared. “I was a kid who had a lot going on internally.” From Kindergarten through 9th grade, she attended small religious schools. Starting in 10th grade, Morgan attended the Oakland School for the Arts. “I found some freedom there, but still dealt with a lot of struggles,” she recalled. From a young age, Morgan showed an interest in and talent for writing and acting.

In 2015, Morgan earned a BFA in Theatre Acting from the California Institute of the Arts. She loved her time there and felt like she was finally taking steps toward her goal of becoming an actor. During her undergraduate studies, Morgan realized that she enjoyed what she referred to as the “deeper parts of the theatrical experience.” She loved being part of a community of artists more than her time on stage. “I love the process more than creating a product,” she reflected.

Morgan attended the City of New York University School of Professional Studies from 2017-2019 and earned a MA in Applied Theatre, which focuses on applying theatre to the community, schools, and other spaces. Her thesis centered around women healing from sexual trauma and was inspired by the book The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van Der Kolk. “I found an example in the book where performance was important to women experiencing sexual assault and it was really beautiful,” she recalled. “The women all created their own artistic expression and shared it in an exhibition together.” Morgan’s thesis is the perfect example of how applied theatre and therapy overlap.

During her time in New York, Morgan worked as a Youth Activities Specialist at a startup called Plato Learning in Brooklyn. In this role, she led live action role plays with kids based on Greek and Norse mythology. “It was a lot of running around with sticks,” Morgan laughed, “but it was great!” This wasn’t her first time working with youth, but it’s certainly one she won’t forget.

From 2018-2020, Morgan worked at Seeds to Flowers Inc. in Brooklyn as a Program Manager, where she created support circles for young women in local high schools. “The fun part about working with nonprofits in New York is a lot of them are startups,” she reflected. Seeds to Flowers was a startup led by a woman who was looking to continue the work she started during her thesis. Morgan partnered with her to decide which schools to work in, develop the curriculum, and hire and train MSWs to lead the groups.

Morgan worked as a Program Manager at the Young Women’s Freedom Center in San Francisco from 2020 until earlier this year. She joined them at the start of the pandemic and helped to reinvent their program in a virtual format. Part of her role there was to assist young women who were previously incarcerated or in foster care in “cultivating the fullness of their identities” because those circumstances often feel like their entire identity. “I would remind them that there are other parts of you that are valid and beautiful and it was really fun being able to break a lot of those stereotypes and barriers that people had,” she recalled. “One thing that kept coming up was that it’s hard to be able to see the fullness of your identity when the system has completely labeled you.”

During her time working at Seeds to Flowers and Young Women’s Freedom Center, Morgan found that she kept “accidentally doing therapy” and realized she needed to change her path. “I remember being like, oh my gosh, I got the wrong degree,” she laughed. Morgan frequently had young people tell her that they hated therapy, but would go if she was their therapist. She told herself that if she heard that from three students, she’d go back to school and pursue her MA in Psychology. It didn’t take long for that to happen, so in 2022, Morgan enrolled in the Wright Institute’s Counseling Psychology Program.

As she entered the Wright Institute, Morgan brought with her many relevant skills from her MA in Applied Theatre and her previous work experience. “I think that theatre in general is a study of the human condition, but you embody it in a different way where it shows up in you,” she explained, “but in therapy, I feel like it shows up in the way that you experience your clients.” As a talented actress, Morgan is a natural at role plays with peers and clients. Her work at Seeds to Flowers and Young Women’s Freedom Center led Morgan into the field of therapy and provided her with on-the-ground experience working with young people. Morgan had spent years in denial about the fact that she should be a therapist, so when she finally started on that path, she hit the ground running.

Thinking back on her time at the Wright Institute thus far, Morgan shared that her happiest memories are of engaging in role plays in her classes. “There was one in particular that I did with a friend of mine that was just hilarious,” she recalled. They were both able to improv and use humor in the role play and had a great time. Morgan’s toughest challenge has been overcoming the systemic problems that made her reluctant to pursue a career in therapy. “I’ve seen there’s an extra pipeline that we don’t talk about, which is the school to 5150 to prison pipeline,” she shared. “I’ve seen kids get a 5150 and have that come up on their record and show up places later on.” Given that mental illness is stigmatized in society, especially for people of color, this can be very damaging. “My biggest challenge has been accepting that I am choosing a path that is part of that damaging system,” she admitted, “I don’t want to cause any damage or harm and I also don’t want to compromise myself.” Thankfully, Morgan is finding that it’s possible to participate in that system in her own way, focusing on those who the system often leaves behind.

Morgan has grown very close to her cohort since they began their studies together last fall. “We have a fun thing where we say we’re the best cohort,” she admitted. “It’s not to say that we’re better than everyone else, but just to say that we have a really positive way of relating to one another.” Morgan’s opinion is that the cohort model works best when the cohort members aren’t afraid of conflict. “The fun thing about my cohort is that we try to find problems,” she laughed. “We're like, ‘let me start something’ and then we're all so open and honest with each other that we’re able to talk about it.”

During her time at the Wright, there are two professors who have had a huge impact on Morgan: Professor Jenna Robinson and Dr. Sahil Sharma. Professor Robinson was Morgan’s instructor for Multicultural Awareness and Sensitivity. “Just the embodiment of Professor Robinson in that space gave me hope,” Morgan reflected, “that you can be a clinician and still be true to yourself and still really deeply care about people.” Professor Robinson dove deep into the curriculum and left a huge impression on Morgan. Dr. Sahil Sharma taught Morgan Diagnosis and Empirically Supported Treatments during her first term at the Wright Institute. Morgan had seen the dangers of overdiagnosis in her previous work environments and in her own past. “When I was a kid, as a black woman in these United States of America, I was given every single diagnosis under the sun,” she shared. “A lot of it could just be attributed to neurodivergence or to PTSD, but a lot of times folks don't get to know people truly and fully to be able to make a diagnosis.” Dr. Sharma made clear to his students that a diagnosis doesn’t define a person. What Morgan took away from the course was that a diagnosis is “something that you use in insurance and billing, something that could really help somebody, and also something that could really harm somebody, and you have to hold all of those things at the same time.” These two professors shaped Morgan’s first year and she is very grateful to have been in their classes.

This year, Morgan is doing her practicum at a community based organization called Berkeley Youth Alternatives. She loves the people she’s met there and considers it the best possible practicum site for her. “I love the way it runs and I love that our milieu is an after school program because that's right up my alley,” she beamed. “I get to experiment a lot and try a lot of really fun educational interventions.” Morgan works with kids ranging in age from 5 to 17 and really enjoys working with all of them. “The way they see the kids there as whole human beings has really resonated with my own way of seeing people in the world,” she shared. “It gives me hope! If we can continue to cultivate places where kids aren’t just numbers and we talk to them like they’re people, then the world would be a much better place.”

Morgan has served as a DEI Fellow during both of her years at the Wright Institute. As she begins her second year, she aims to change views about conflict among students in the program. In Morgan’s opinion, it’s important to allow room for conflict and provide spaces for repair. “I think that there is a power in having transparent conversations as a cohort and it helps folks as clinicians,” she explained. “A lot of stuff comes up surrounding race, class, and the different ways we experience the world.” If conflict in a cohort is just ignored, it can result in severe ruptures, so Morgan hopes to offer restorative justice circles and other spaces for resolution. Another goal that she has for this year is to expand the Counseling Program DEI Office’s social media presence. “I like asking deep questions about how we can engage with technology,” she shared. “I think that being able to get the Wright Institute’s face out there more is another way of increasing the diversity of the folks who are coming in.”

Morgan HalloweenThe most valuable lesson Morgan has learned during her time at the Wright Institute is to show up honestly and fully. “I’ve learned that you have to unapologetically bring all parts of your identities and the identities of your culture into the space,” she reflected. “Taking that risk brings representation that is needed in deeper conversations and humanizes those that are marginalized in this field.” While the focus of the Counseling Psychology Program is learning how to work with others, Morgan learned that you’re also exploring your own existence and what you bring to the group.

In her free time, Morgan enjoys art, writing, and video games. “I am really into video games, especially role playing games that have deep psychological aspects to them,” she shared. Above all else, Morgan considers herself an artist. “I look at everything as an artist first, that is my core,” she explained. “Then I’m a therapist, which is informed by my artistry.”

After graduation, Morgan plans to continue on to pursue her PhD or PsyD in Psychology. “I want to continue and focus on research and political conversations surrounding this field,” she shared. “I want to challenge the status quo of what we think psychology is and focus more on liberatory methodologies that are not always put in the forefront of our intervention strategies.” Morgan is considering continuing her studies at the Wright Institute, but isn’t sure yet. Regardless of where she chooses to pursue her doctorate, Morgan noted that, while what she’s learning at the Wright Institute is just the beginning, it’s an excellent foundation for her continued studies.