The decision to pursue a Master’s in Counseling is one I have come to after years of personal, academic, and professional exploration. In my early twenties, I became a paralegal, with the intention of eventually attending law school. After graduating from Cape Fear Community College, I began working at Pennington and Smith, a family law firm that handled divorce, child custody, and financial cases. Over the following several years of work as a paralegal, I learned a few important things. I found the philosophical aspects of the law much more interesting than the technical details of pleadings, trial procedures, and civil rules.
As such, it quickly became apparent that law school was not the right path for me. I also realized that the behavioral and emotional aspects of our cases were more compelling to me than the financial or legal issues. For instance, when I worked with a client, I always wondered what was causing the behavior of each party, whether there were mental health issues involved, or whether the children were getting the counseling necessary to cope with their parents’ divorce. After several years in the legal field, I decided that I was ready to go back to school and finish my education, but I had a new goal in mind.
I decided to study Psychology at the University of North Carolina Wilmington and become a counselor in order to help people work through their emotional, behavioral, and cognitive issues. There are several reasons that I am a good fit for the Master’s in Counseling Program at the University of North Carolina Charlotte and for the counseling field in general. While at UNCW, I have established a solid academic foundation that has helped prepare me for graduate level studies. This fact is validated by my placement on the Dean’s List multiple times while at UNCW and by my 4. 0 GPA.
The courses I have taken in Statistics, Experimental Psychology, Personality Psychology, and Theories of Counseling, have provided me with the confidence to excel in a graduate program. I have also gained experience by completing a Counseling Practicum while at UNCW. As part of the practicum, I volunteered at the Onslow Women’s Center, an organization that assists victims of domestic violence and sexual assault. I have participated in workshops on trauma-informed practice, completed training to become a hospital advocate for sexual assault victims, and assisted with case management and coordination of services for clients.
Working in the domestic violence shelter and answering crisis calls has been an eye-opening experience. Caring for people who are working to heal the wounds of abuse, violence, and sexual assault has inspired me to focus on trauma counseling as I move forward in my education. Research has been another indispensable aspect of my education that has helped prepare me to pursue a career in counseling. I spent two semesters studying romantic relationships with Dr. Shanhong Luo and worked on two research projects, one on financial expectations in relationships and one on reproductive certainty.
I assisted with these projects by working independently and with other lab members to evaluate and code open-ended survey responses. I also participated in bi-weekly lab meetings, discussed topics for future research, and reviewed a variety of scientific literature relating to intimate relationships. In addition, I also worked with Dr. Bryan Myers during one summer session to assist with research on the effects of victim impact statements on capital punishment sentencing.
My focus was on conducting research on relevant laws in all states that allow capital punishment and creating a spreadsheet to track this information. Working with Dr. Luo, Dr. Myers, and the lab members has helped me gain many technical research skills as well as a greater respect and understanding of how psychological research is conducted. More importantly, this experience prepared me to work on my senior research project, entitled “The Effects of Victim and Perpetrator Gender on Perceptions of Sexual Assault.
For this project, I worked with several other students to create an online survey to assess how perceptions of sexual assault, assignment of blame to victims, and recommended sentencing for perpetrators varied based on the gender of both victims and perpetrators. The entire research process, from a lightbulb moment of inspiration, to running the analyses and writing up the report, has made me realize that psychological research is more than just an abstract, academic concept. Research can have a very real role in understanding the cultural norms that guide our society’s perceptions of issues like sexual assault.
In turn, this can help clinicians understand the forces that shape their clients’ worldview and the healing process. My specific area of interest in the counseling field is helping those who have experienced trauma relating to sexual assault, abuse, or violence. I have chosen to pursue the Clinical Mental Health Counseling track because I believe that it will teach me the technical and interpersonal skills to assist individuals who are recovering from complex trauma. Courses such as Counseling Techniques and Diagnosis and Treatment in Counseling will prepare me to understand the symptoms of trauma and related mental illnesses.
UNCC’s courses related to topics such as addiction, multicultural counseling, and group therapy will provide a solid foundation, while the extensive practicum and internship requirements of the program will help me learn to put those foundational skills into practice. The research interests of Dr. Valerie Balog, including women and trauma and gender issues, would be especially relevant to my area of interest. I believe that my interests in the interplay of gender and sexual assault could mesh nicely with the interests of Dr.
Balog and that I would learn a great deal working with her. Also, working with Dr. Pam S. Lassiter on her research relating to gender, sexual orientation, women’s issues, and multiculturalism would help me build a broader understanding of the complex social issues surrounding trauma and recovery. Multicultural awareness is a vital aspect of being a good counselor. After working in different professional areas over the last several years, I have learned some valuable lesson about privilege and social inequality.
As a paralegal, I routinely worked with clients that were middle to upper-class. While they were certainly dealing with hardships, they were rarely in danger of becoming destitute. Now, at the Onslow Women’s Center, I routinely work with women who come into our shelter with nothing except a few trash bags full of clothing and few resources to work with. It is impossible for me to ignore the fact that the clients I worked with as a paralegal were predominantly white, while the women at our shelter are often women of color.
Although I certainly knew about this divide prior to working at the Women’s Center, witnessing it firsthand has reinforced the fact that social inequality based on race, gender, religion, age, or ability is unfortunately still very present in our society. I have realized that, in order to help someone who has experienced trauma or has related mental health issues, I will need be aware that each person faces a complex set of personal and social circumstances. Experiences that result in trauma, such as human trafficking or political violence, take place in many different cultural contexts.
To become an effective counselor and to help people who have had these experiences, I will need to continually work to understand the cultural context in which the experiences occurred, not just the symptoms a client may present. Overall, I believe that I am a strong candidate for the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at the University of North Carolina Charlotte. I have a strong academic record, a wide range of professional experiences, and an abiding passion for helping others who are working through trauma or related mental health issues. Thank you for your consideration of my application.