- Nina Johnson
Program / Year
Master of Arts ’20
Marriage, Couple, and Family Therapy
Portland: current; past 7 yrs: Chicago; born: Richmond, KY; where family lives: Eugene, OR
What led you to enroll at Lewis & Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling?
Superficially, I was looking to use Graduate school to come back to the Pacific Northwest, but I was really drawn to Lewis & Clark specifically because of the social justice focus, my interview with Lana Kim, and that the application process seemed to put so many social justice concepts into play especially re: gender identity and pronouns.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your chosen field of study?
My path to this program was formed by a desire to help people, and I saw the mental health field as a home for my natural instincts and passions. The mental health field needs diverse perspectives, especially queer and harm reduction based perspectives like mine. I am really drawn to the systemic and relational approach that the MCFT program offers and building skills in holding multiple systems in the room when conducting therapy and in the rest of practice.
What does social justice mean to you?
Social justice means persistently striving to include underrepresented and marginalized voices and experiences in my work. I know social justice for me includes learning where my privileges lie in order to offset the power I hold; taking up less space where needed; listening to experiences that are not my own; and being aware of my own biases and mitigating the negative effects of them.
How do you hope to apply your social justice education in your chosen career?
I want my work to consistently include a social justice lens. I want to think of different ways to bring equity in relationships into the therapy room. I see my role as a therapist as that of an activist as well. It is my job as a mental health professional to see and take in the overarching experiences of my clients and advocate for them in the larger system, whether that means case management or policy work, or getting involved in the surrounding community. Social justice in mental health is seeing everything as a mental health issue, and every systemic issue/oppression as my business to make others aware of, get involved in, and/or make some noise where I’m needed.
Where have you been working/interning as a student, and what does that work entail?
I’m not at the intern level yet. But I will be starting a GA position at Lewis & Clark’s community mental health clinic in May. I will be working with the other GAs to handle administrative and logistical work in the clinic, including taking over the phone assessments for clients seeking therapy, maintaining the supportive office systems, and overall supporting the Director in running the clinic day-to-day.
What is the most fun part of your program?
My cohort is pretty awesome and supportive. I haven’t really had a problem finding and establishing good friendships in this cohort, which I’m thankful for.
What is the hardest part of your program?
Time management - staying on top of my readings.
How would you describe your graduate school experience in one sentence?
So far my experience is a lot of self work, and pushing personal growth through discussion and writing papers.
Who has been your most influential professor, and why?
It’s hard to say since I’m just finishing my first year, but I really liked having Teresa McDowell my first semester. She’s warm and welcoming and seems to think about multiple perspectives. She seems to have really put in effort to keep herself up to date on social justice issues, stay humble and still be rooted in her experience. I can’t wait to have her as a professor again!
What is a unique perspective you bring to your cohort?
I am not unique in having professional job experience before entering the program. But my experience is in working as an admin for a training program, so I learned a lot of continuing education material and perspectives on mental health from current experienced professionals that I bring with me into classroom discussions. I also did about two years of advocacy work at my former agency for improving care for transgender participants, and I try to consistently include this population in how I think about structures and systems and their impact.
What career will you be pursuing after graduation? Did you intend for this to be your career path when you enrolled?
I’m not 100% sure yet since it feels like I just started. My shooting-for-the-stars goal is to some day be a part of an alternative health care collective and possible social enterprise that incorporates community-focused healing.
Describe an "ah-ha" or "right-turn" moment you have experienced here - a time when your perspective, opinion, outlook, or goals changed suddenly due to a specific experience.
It’s not really and “ah-ha” moment, but I have had moments in mock therapy in the classroom and during practical skills practice where I feel like I am truly connecting with my “client” and doing deep work and that feels really good.
What do you think of Portland?
I like Portland. I spent some of my teenage through early twenties in Oregon so I’m familiar with the area. I like the change of living in a smaller, quieter, slower city than Chicago. Although the gentrification that is rapidly changing this city, forcing people into homelessness, and edging out already small communities of people of color, concerns me.
Anything else you would like to add about your family, background, plans, etc.?
I’ve come a long way since growing up in Kentucky! I feel like being in this program is still only one aspect of who I am. Elsewhere I am an artist and maker - I tend to have several projects going on at once, often working towards making something for others or to make my space more of a home. I am also interested in some day looking into incorporating Nutritional Psychology into my practice. There are so many studies happening right now around the gut-brain connection and how our diets affect our mental health and vice versa that I find fascinating.