Each year, our counseling psychology students spread out across the Greater Seattle Area—and in some cases, the world—to intern at a variety of organizations. It’s one of the first opportunities for students to step into their future vocation.

We met with Alicia Shepherd to talk about her internship at FareStart (through Sound Mental Health), a local nonprofit that helps people transform their lives through job training in the foodservice industry, and her number one recommendation for prospective MACP students.

What initially drew you to The Seattle School?

I was looking for something different, and The Seattle School was definitely different. I had known about Dan Allender’s work, through his books and hearing him speak, and got interested. And, I’ve always been drawn to the West Coast. It took me a long time to figure out what I wanted to do. I’m a massage therapist, so I went to massage school when I was 19 and that opened the door to holistic health and well-being—and I was looking for the thing that I wanted to do. It was actually when I started going to therapy myself when I was in college that it all sort of clicked for me. So, since I became interested, I began looking for good therapy programs and found The Seattle School.

In what ways has your story impacted, shaped, or inspired your studies?

The thing that I love about this school is they really ask us to put skin in the game. It’s really hard to go through this program and not have it touch your story in a lot of different ways. So, constantly things in my story that maybe I haven’t looked at in a long time or looked at in a particular way have come up, and it’s been really incredible to have so many people hold different parts of my story with such care and love. That’s been healing personally, and it allowed me to grow that capacity in my work with my patients going forward.

What breaks your heart and how are your studies informed by that kind of shattering?

I think loneliness is the number one thing. I can’t remember the quote, but Mother Teresa said something like, “The worst illness out there is loneliness.” I really think that’s true. Being in a space where people are here and can see you and can hold parts of your story that you haven’t been able to look at has been really healing. I take that with me into my work with my patients all the time. So much of what I see, no matter what the diagnosis is or what the presentation of symptoms is, a lot of times comes back to loneliness, whether it’s a broken relationship with others or a broken relationship with themselves. Learning how to, it sounds really cheesy, but be friends with yourself. Love yourself. And then be able to love other people, too.

Can you describe your current internship, including your title and daily activities?

My internship is with Sound Mental Health, which is a large community mental health organization. There are a lot of different departments in Sound Mental Health. My internship is really cool because I’m in this one small sliver of it doing a partnership with FareStart, which is an adult culinary job training program for adults who are coming out of incarceration or homelessness. So, technically I work for Sound, but I’m kind of like a rogue agent being at FareStart. I get to do one-on-one therapy, so part of it feels like more traditional, private practice. But I get to encounter a lot of people from all across the board. Things from being involved with the legal system, a lot of substance use-related stuff, and trauma. All age ranges, all different walks of life.

Do you have any impactful stories from your experience at FareStart?

I’ve had this happen a few times, where I’ll think about the first time I met with a client and how they came in, and then in just 5 to 10 sessions later, being able to see a huge change. I hear them say things like, “When I first came here I didn’t talk to anyone, and now I am making friends.” One of my clients said, “I never thought I would be able to do anything besides make $8 an hour for the rest of my life. Now I see myself doing really big things and being in a leadership position. Now I know that I can do these things.” It was in there all along, I just had to go for a ride with them. To see that shift in them in such a relatively short period of time is incredible. I feel very lucky and astonished that I get to do this work.

How has your time at The Seattle School prepared you for this internship?

I’ve borrowed all of these things from different professors in different classes, and even interactions with classmates in practicum. That all shapes who I am when I sit with my clients in session. If I hadn’t done the hard work myself and struggled through it, and sat with my own heartache, there is no way I’d be able to do this with my clients. Sometimes I hear things that are shocking and are heartbreaking and very difficult to sit with. And if I didn’t learn how to do that at school first, I wouldn’t be able to do it at all. I have this wealth of theory, and all of that is very, very important in giving me something to work on, but it’s that plus the experiential learning bit, the two of them together, that gives me a leg to stand on when I’m sitting with clients.

What are your hopes, dreams, and desires as they relate to your future vocation?

Because of my massage therapy background, I really love bodywork. I would love to find some cool ways to combine mind and body, especially as it relates to trauma. My dream or my goal is that I’d love to do a group practice with other practitioners, other therapists, and have some bodywork as well, to be able to provide a space that integrates mind and body a lot more. I also love teaching and leadership, too, so I’d love to do workshops or classes.

Can you talk about the impact of the community during your time at The Seattle School?

I met some of the most creative and amazing people during my time here. Not just my classmates, but my professors, too. I highly respect and value my professors. To have them to learn from, but then also my colleagues, my classmates. To talk about ideas with, outside of class. Or, now that we’re all in our internships, it’s so nice to have a community of people that are going through it, too, that I can say “I had a really tough day today. Have you ever dealt with this?” and they get it. Absolutely crucial. This community, for me personally and now as I’m shifting into the professional world, they mean a lot to me.

What advice would you give someone who’s interested in attending graduate school?

Go to therapy, go to therapy, go to therapy. Do your own therapy first. That’s my number one recommendation for people that want to do this work. I didn’t really know what I was getting into until I got here, honestly. And that’s what a lot of people say. Also, talk to people that are doing what you think you might want to do. Sit down with them and ask them how they got there, what it’s like, and could you really see yourself doing it? Ask about the nitty-gritty, day-to-day stuff. If you don’t like doing paperwork, then maybe mental health is not the right place for you. Things like that you don’t think about. Ask somebody who’s been doing it a while about their experience.

When I first got here my first year, I was really struggling to adjust. I had moved across the country from Florida. Something I wish I would have known was to reach out. Ask for help. It’s been so helpful to form relationships with people that I can go to now and say, “Holy crap, I don’t know what I’m doing.” Or, “I’m really freaking out about this,” and have someone to listen. Going to graduate school feels like “I’m in grad school. I have to have everything together. I have to know what I’m doing,” and that’s really not the case. This is very messy sometimes. So expect the disruption and the messiness, but also know that it’s okay to ask for help.