McQueen“Something that I feel really resonates with me at the Wright Institute is the power of community,” shared Erin McQueen, a second year student in the Wright Institute’s Counseling Psychology Program. “To be in one place with one group of people for a period of time, and to move through that experience together can be really supportive.”

Erin was born in Connecticut and grew up in Livermore, California, not far from Berkeley. She attended a mixture of public, private, and charter schools for her PreK-12 education in Livermore. When Erin was in 2nd grade, she experienced a traumatic brain injury and spent a few years being homeschooled while she was undergoing rehabilitation. “It was challenging,” she recalled, “and I think that, early on, I developed a quietly adaptive orientation.” As Erin went through this experience and the challenges of readjusting to school afterwards, she gained a deeper appreciation for the resilience of life and value of community, which has stayed with her to this day.

For her undergraduate studies, Erin attended the University of California at Berkeley, but began her undergraduate experience at a local community college. “I didn’t really know where I wanted to land,” she reflected, “so I gave myself time to explore what I wanted to study.” During her time in community college, two classes in particular stood out for her: Introduction to Anthropology and Introduction to Women’s Studies. When she transferred to UC Berkeley, she decided to double major in those two disciplines. “Bringing an intersectional lens to both of those topics felt so important to me, both personally and professionally,” Erin shared, “and I think that laid the foundation for the work I'm doing now as a counselor.”

As she was leaving Berkeley, Erin had a plethora of theoretical and conceptual information and was seeking a way to apply the themes and frameworks she had studied and “move from theory into practice.” After graduation, she began to volunteer at Bay Area Women Against Rape (BAWAR), founded in 1971 as the first rape crisis center in the country, as a Sexual Assault Counselor on their call center hotline. “It was really influential to train there and be able to serve survivors of sexual assault, their loved ones, and families,” she reflected, “and hopefully make a positive impact in the community.”

From 2020-21, Erin worked with the Mental Health Association of San Francisco (MHASF). Initially, she was hired as a Peer Support Counselor, answering calls on their “warm line,” helping people with “lived mental health challenges access reliable, consistent support.” She enjoyed this role, but it quickly transitioned as the COVID-19 pandemic arose and lockdowns began. At that time, MHASF received funding through FEMA to coordinate a COVID-19 response line called CalHope. Erin was trained through FEMA’s crisis counseling training program and shifted into the role of COVID-19 Emotional Support Line Counselor, which she described as “more crisis-oriented, responding to emergency situations people were going through.” She was later promoted into the position of COVID-19 Emotional Support Line Coordinator, where she supervised the line’s counselors and peer support team. “It was really eye-opening,” Erin shared, “Everywhere you look, compassion fatigue and burnout are very real risks, and I think as a supervisor, I was able to help resource our team of counselors in a way that felt really gratifying.”

Ultimately, Erin decided to “buckle down and go back to school for psychology” because she found the work she was doing in the field very “interesting and powerful.” When she was researching graduate schools, she was drawn to the Wright Institute’s Counseling Psychology Program because it is very strengths-based and community-oriented. Erin appreciated the collaborative nature of the interview process and found that the values embodied by the Wright Institute were in line with her own.

During her time at the Wright Institute, Erin has made connections with several of her professors. One of her favorite courses was Counseling Theories and Techniques with Dr. Clarke. “She set the tone for what we were to expect throughout the rest of the program,” Erin reflected, “and really instilled a lot of hope in me.” Erin also loved Family Therapy I with Professor Dorsey, who she found to be “so engaging and empowering.” Professor Dorsey was one of Erin’s professors during her only semester on Zoom, yet Erin still described her as “captivating, engaging, and able to meet students where they are.” The most valuable lesson Erin has learned at the Wright Institute is “the power of warmth, of presence, and of being with somebody.”

“This work, in general, and this program, specifically, asks a lot of us. It requires a lot of academic and personal work,” Erin shared. “That can be really challenging but also very gratifying and eye-opening.” She has sought out a variety of coping resources throughout her time at the Wright Institute to help her balance her practicum and classes, but has found the overall experience to be one of growth. The challenges of the program helped Erin recognize the importance of community and inspired her to want to give back.

In her second year in the Counseling Program, Erin applied and was selected as a Student Mentor. Erin’s happiest memories at the Wright Institute have been her own orientation day and this year’s orientation day, where she served as a mentor. “I wanted to offer support to my peers and incoming students who are orienting to the landscape and figuring out what this journey is going to look like for them,” she reflected. Erin’s favorite part of being a mentor is connecting with her fellow students and normalizing their experiences. The part of the job that she finds most challenging is not having all of the answers. “There’s a hunger to get in there and fix things and problem solve, but we have to step back and empower the people we’re working with to make those moves for themselves,” she shared.

For her practicum, Erin has been placed at California Pacific Medical Center (CPMC) in San Francisco. In her roles at MHASF, Erin gained her first experience working with older adults. “A lot of our callers were older folks who were isolated, or families who had lost their parents or grandparents,” she recalled, “it really attuned me to the work of grief and loss.” Erin shared that this experience “planted the seed” for her desire to work with older clients. At her practicum placement, she currently works primarily with elderly adults, which she greatly enjoys. “I’ve really appreciated the work and I think, long term, that I want to work with older adults,” Erin shared. “I feel an affinity for the population and there’s a need there.”

At the Wright Institute, Erin has developed strong bonds with members of her cohort. “I think the cohort format is really beautiful in the way that it facilitates connections,” Erin reflected. “As I move toward graduation, I’ll be taking with me some really deep and meaningful friendships and professional relationships.” She explained that she intends for her cohort members to be a network of professional support for her as she enters her counseling career.

After graduation, Erin plans to pursue a career in the field of grief and loss. “I think grief and loss is a big part of the landscape of our human condition and it touches all of us at some point, in different ways and at different times,” she reflected. Erin plans to apply to a few hospice agencies in the Bay Area and other places that focus on care for older adults. She expressed some trepidation about life after graduation, but she feels “the Professional Development Seminar course is designed in a way to really support students through the transition from school into the workforce.” Erin also expressed her gratitude for the field placement department at the Wright Institute, who have guided her throughout her time at the Wright and she trusts to guide her as she heads into her career.

McQueen PianoDespite her busy schedule, Erin tries to always carve out time for her hobbies “in the spirit of self-care.” She enjoys bird watching, spending time in nature, playing piano, and writing music. “Being able to lean into the creative side of my life is really stabilizing and sustaining,” Erin shared. She’s inspired and moved by the work of seventies songwriters like Joni Mitchell, Simon & Garfunkel, and Judy Collins. “I think I’ve always answered to the same calling either as a musician or psychotherapist, endeavoring to connect with people and explore the challenges and beauty of the human condition,” Erin reflected. “They are two different vehicles for the same calling.”