- Nina Johnson
Program / Year
Master of Arts ’18
Professional Mental Health Counseling
What led you to enroll at Lewis & Clark's Graduate School of Education and Counseling?
I was looking for a similar school environment to my undergraduate experience at Northland College in Ashland, WI, which was a really supportive place. I also wanted to find a school that was committed to social justice because that is something I have always tried to incorporate into my education and work. Lewis & Clark was recommended to me by my undergraduate advisor a few years after I graduated, and I’m really glad I followed his advice and checked it out! Once I attended the interview, I just felt it and knew that it was where I needed to be during this next phase of my life.
Who or what inspired you to pursue your chosen field of study?
I have always been drawn to helping professions, but my interest in counseling comes from my family’s history and connection to mental health and counseling services. I was able to witness the positive impact that counseling can have in someone’s life at an early age, as well as the ways mental health concerns and life issues can create challenges when left unaddressed. The benefits of therapy were instilled in me from very early on, and I’ve always wanted to learn how to hold that space for others who may gain support or a new perspective from it.
What does social justice mean to you?
Social justice means everything to me. It’s something I carry with me in each of my experiences and the actions I take. It means using the resources and privilege I have to help bring awareness, acknowledge others’ experiences, and create lasting change in our communities and larger systems to ensure better access, support, and treatment of every individual of all identities and backgrounds. It means continually checking in with myself and others I work with to give space for those who are silenced, minimized, and otherwise pushed out and down. It means voting for policy changes, being a part of boards and other groups advocating for justice and equity, and continually advocating for better accessibility to mental health services.
How do you hope to apply your social justice education in your chosen career?
I hope to be involved in different groups and organizations that use their time to advocate for improvements in mental health access, as well as continuing to educate myself on social justice issues and other topics throughout my career. I plan on getting paneled with many different insurance companies to increase my accessibility, while also advocating for improvements in the existing insurance infrastructure. I will use my voice to ensure inclusive and affirming language in paperwork, documentation, and more at the sites I work at or practices I build, and I will continue to advocate for my clients’ needs to ensure that they are getting the best support.
Where have you been working/interning as a student, and what does that work entail?
I completed my practicum at the Lewis & Clark Community Counseling Clinic, and absolutely loved it! I worked with individuals and couples, working with trauma, relationship issues, life changes, etc. I plan on interning with Washington County Center for Victims’ Services in Hillsboro. I’ll get the chance to do more community counseling, as well as domestic violence counseling and counseling in the corrections program.
What is the most fun part of your program?
I would say getting to know my cohort so well and commiserating together during the tough times - we always find ways to keep laughing (and pushing through) even at peak stress levels. I’ve made deep friendships that will last a lifetime, and I’ve loved getting to know so many people. I’ve also enjoyed the creative freedom that we’re given with many assignments to help us really engage with the content. I recently did a presentation where my group made Muppet costumes and ended it all with music & rainbow treats for the class. Not only did I learn a lot during this assignment, but I honestly laughed the entire time we worked on it.
What is the hardest part of your program?
Finding a balance between weekly assignments, long term projects, work commitments, and a personal life. It’s been a struggle, but it has also helped me work on advocating for myself and my needs. Sometimes there’s just not enough time or energy and it’s important to make sure I’m caring for myself so I can keep working hard in all of these different areas of my life.
How would you describe your graduate school experience in one sentence?
I would describe it in one word: transformative.
Who has been your most influential professor, and why?
It’s so hard to choose just one professor, because I’ve had such great experiences with so many. All of the core faculty have been very supportive these past few years and I am grateful to have built close relationships with so many of them. I’m grateful to feel so cared for by many professors, and I’m glad to have a supportive advisor that gives me space to ask many questions and process many worries. I’ve also LOVED learning from the adjunct faculty in the classroom and at practicum. I’ve taken multiple classes with Elizabeth Trautwein and Charles Dickerman, and they have both shared so much from their experiences in the field that has been truly invaluable. I also had Meg Jeske as my practicum supervisor for both semesters, and it was the best experience I could’ve asked for. She is an incredible supervisor, and I felt like I was really able to come into my own during our work together.
What is a unique perspective you bring to your cohort?
I think each person brings in their own perspective that informs the conversations and work we do together as a cohort, and I’m glad to share my lived experiences with my peers. For me, I bring in my interests in rural communities, grief & loss, end of life issues, and more. I also bring in my experiences from growing up and living in the upper Midwest, growing up in lower SES family, living in both city and rural communities, well as my experiences in the work I’ve done with different populations and communities.
What career will you be pursuing after graduation? Did you intend for this to be your career path when you enrolled?
I will be continuing to pursue my LPC licensure, as well as doing some additional work to get my CADC certification some day. I also plan on getting further training and education related to grief counseling. I hope to do community counseling agency work, maybe even finding an integrative health setting, while also likely moving towards private practice as the end goal.
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.
One of the moments that sticks out was when I became a representative for the Graduate Student Union Network (SUN) and joined the Student Health Advisory Board. I got to experience my voice actually being listened to and informing decisions for all of the students at Lewis & Clark. It showed me that it’s not only okay to use my voice in institutional settings (which used to be intimidating), but also that it’s necessary to do so in order to create change.
What do you think of Portland?
Portland has been a really fun city to live while in this program, because of how much there is to do and explore here. I love all of the different types of foods I can try, all of the friendly neighborhood cats I can pet, and how each area of town has a different feel to it. Plus the plants are out of this world- I’m surrounded by so many lush, colorful flowers every single day. I also love being so close to the coast! I’ve made it a goal to go once a month, and this has been so restorative and refreshing throughout the year. While I don’t know if I’ll live in a city forever, Portland has been a great place to be the past few years!
Anything else you would like to add about your family, background, plans, etc.?
There have been many times in my life where I didn’t think I would make it to graduate school, so it has been the biggest achievement in my life to be here in this program, doing this work. I’m so grateful for how much I’ve learned about this profession, but also for the intense personal growth I’ve experienced during this journey.