Nurturing Growth Personally and Professionally
Every student seeking a graduate degree undergoes a period of doubt about the challenges they anticipate encountering. For some, pursuing an advanced degree poses a financial risk; others are wary of how prior academic performance may impact their educational journey.
For Brandon Lux, a graduate student entering his final semester in Marywood’s Clinical Mental Health Counseling program, it was no different.
Diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder in his mid-twenties, Lux combatted similar doubts when considering his return for an advanced degree.
"I was not always the best student...I struggled a lot to understand myself and to connect to other people before my diagnosis."
A graduate of Misericordia University’s Applied Behavioral Science program, Lux was looking to expand his earning potential and find a career that helped him make a difference in the lives of others.
"Working with people seemed interesting to me," he said. "It felt good. It felt right to work in a profession that values compassion for people and wanting to see them become better versions of themselves."
Discussing his options with his fiancee, Haley O’Brien ’17, the Jim Thorpe native found Marywood.
"I didn’t think I had many options with my bachelor’s degree to make a good career for myself." Lux said. "It was a professional necessity that I went back for my master’s degree, and, through talking to her, I felt Marywood would be a good fit for that."
Originally an early elementary education major at Misericordia, Lux returned to his interest in serving school populations upon enrolling at Marywood. He initially chose the university’s school counseling program before switching to clinical mental health counseling.
"The program was better paced, and I took a big interest in the classes," he said. "I really liked the hands-on classes where we learn how to apply what we learn to the counseling field, like advanced counseling techniques, psychopathology, and LGBTQ counseling. I was able to excel in those courses and learn how to become a better counselor."
While Lux was aware of his prior performance in the classroom when he enrolled at Marywood, his story did not follow the same trajectory. Rather, Lux looks back on his time in the program as a time of growth.
"I came to Marywood still immature, still naive about what it was like to be a professional...I had a hard time in the past fitting in with other students and maintaining my GPA. To come to this program and to be able to fit in with my classmates and maintain a good grade point average felt good," Lux said. "I’ve grown into a serious student with the capacity to be a professional counselor. The way I address clients and the ways I look to improve my skills have really matured, and I think I have grown a lot."
This change has not gone unnoticed by the faculty in Lux’s department.
"I've watched him blossom over the past few semesters, from being a rather reserved, shy-seeming student to someone who demonstrates skill and confidence in his clinical courses and who appears to be believing in his abilities more and more," said Kevin Snow, Ph.D., an Associate Professor in the Psychology & Counseling Department.
He has acted as Lux’s advisor throughout the program. "We connected early due to having a similar sense of humor. He has demonstrated excellent clinical insight and is usually the first one to speak up in class to share his insights into his cases, to offer clinical support to other students, and to share his growing insight into himself. I have the utmost confidence that Brandon is well on his way to becoming an excellent, skilled counseling clinician, who will remain committed to our field's highest clinical standards and ethics and be someone who focuses on self care and continued growth as a professional…I like him all-around as a person and am excited to see him grow even more once he's graduated from our program and is working as a professional counselor full-time."
While growth for himself and for his clients is the crux of Lux’s story, it also poses a challenge for the budding clinician as he winds down his first internship experience—counseling students with autism at Misericordia University.
"The hardest part is that there is no way to prepare for the wide range of issues people come in to seek help with. It definitely takes some practice to get better at it and deal with the diverse experiences that the clients are bringing in. It takes a lot of practice and supervision," Lux said. "I have a hard time separating myself from trying to solve my client’s problems. My natural instinct is to try to solve the problems I’m told about, but I’m getting better at pushing that away and letting them be the voice that solves their own problems."
He has also been able to see the effect his future profession has on the lives of others by watching the journey of one client in particular, who was struggling with emotional symptoms related to his diagnosis.
"It wasn’t easy for him," he said. "But I was able to sit with him and counsel him in a way that helped him a lot. I’ve been able to watch him make a lot of progress in the three or four sessions I’ve seen him through. While I think it’s mainly due to him, it made me feel good that I could be a support for him, keep him going forward, and help him see the progress he was making."
As Lux prepares for his final semester and looks forward to facing the journey ahead of him, he leaves students considering a graduate degree with this advice:
"Take your time and think about what your interests are. With a graduate degree, you have some options as far as what you want to do. It doesn’t have to match your bachelor’s degree. Talk to people and talk to the professors at the university, and try to get a good feel for your passion and what you want to do. If something feels right, it probably is."