By Gail Mallimson May 11, 2017
When Karen Martin first visited CIIS in 1987, she was struck with a sense of wonder. As a full-time stay at home mom, the peacefulness that pervaded CIIS' campus in the Haight Ashbury district was a revelation. The building's high windows, old oak floors, and the ringing sounds of meditation bells made the space feel sacred, and she felt touched by the openness in her classes and the inspiring faculty. She began to believe that her inner spirit had finally found the outer community it had been yearning for.
It had been years since Karen attended school, and she worried that she wouldn't fit in because she was an older student and a parent. Once she started classes in the Integral Counseling Program (ICP), she was surprised to find that she felt totally accepted, and became galvanized to transform herself and pursue a second career helping others. After graduating with an MA, she began accruing her hours in nonprofit and agency work, eventually earning her license in 1999. As a psychotherapist she worked for both the counties of San Mateo and Santa Clara, with clinical lead and assessment roles in various departments. She attributes her ability to work with people of diverse backgrounds to her training at CIIS, where she learned to accept people and recognize their individual realities.
One of Karen's fondest memories of CIIS took place when her arranged childcare for the day fell through. Without other options, Karen brought her daughter Amanda, then about three and a half years old, to Vern Haddick's Personal Growth and Healing class, which broke out into small groups for discussion. Amanda sat next to her mom and listened as the students went around in a circle and shared their relevant experiences. To everyone's surprise, she piped up when it was her turn, telling the group about the dynamics of relationships in her favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon.
Although she has heard this story several times, Amanda doesn't recall being in Vern's class. She does remember her mom talking about her career in mental health, which had a big impact and inspired her interest in helping others. After college, Amanda's first job was in a wellness center, where she met social workers who encouraged her to pursue a career in Community Mental Health. Applying to CIIS seemed like a natural next step, and she began her coursework in CIIS' Community Mental Health (CMH) Program in 2011.
Amanda's experience at CIIS was quite different from her mother's. Her interest was not focused on her personal spiritual life, but on changes within the mental health field that addressed the lack of care for those who could not afford private therapy. The CMH program enabled her to become aware of and critique the homogeneity in the mental health field, and to reflect on the ramifications of her own privilege. Many of the key experiences she had at CIIS were in spaces that weren't always held by professors, but by other members of her cohort, several of whom she retains strong relationships with. She graduated in 2013 with a powerful feeling of awe of her colleagues and a determination to work on systemic issues through addressing oppression in her career as a mental health practitioner.
Today, Amanda works with youth in the foster care system in Fred Finch Youth Center"s Visiting Therapist Program. She's accruing hours towards licensure and is a new parent of a daughter, which has inspired her to consider future work in maternal mental health. Karen retired in 2012, and is the full-time care-partner to her husband, who has Young Onset Parkinson's Disease. She too has become inspired, keeping her MFT license active so that she has the option of doing caregiver-related support or private practice. Karen is also an active CIIS alumni and donor and a proud grandma!
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