It is our pleasure to spotlight some of our distinguished Family Institute alum! Our first spotlight is on 2006 graduate Heather Bates.
Heather graduated from The Family Institute’s Marriage and Family Therapy program in 2006. Prior to getting her master’s degree she graduated from DePaul University with a major in Psychology. After graduating from The Family Institute she worked for a DCFS contracted program for substance exposed infants and in an outpatient community mental health center. She is currently in private practice in Evanston & Northfield and is an affiliate therapist at The Family Institute.
We asked Heather a few questions about her experiences at The Family Institute, her current career path, and how her time in our MFT program impacted her life as a clinician.
TFI: What brought you to The Family Institute for graduate school?
HB: I knew I wanted to get my masters in Marriage & Family Therapy because I connect with systems thinking. I narrowed it down to a couple programs and said that if I got into The Family Institute that I would go there because I thought (and still do) it is the best program in the country. Luckily, I got in!
TFI: What are three words you’d use to describe your overall graduate school experience at The Family Institute?
TFI: When you think about your experience here, what stands out the most?
HB: The classes and readings were incredibly valuable; however, what really stands out in my mind was the focus on experiential learning. I thought it was brilliant how they were able to give us a solid enough foundation to start seeing clients as early as November of the first year, and from then on apply what we were learning in the classroom in our sessions with clients. It really made the classroom work feel relevant and much more interesting, and ultimately made us more effective clinicians.
TFI: How would you describe your first experience seeing a client? Did it change over your time as a graduate student?
HB: I was SO nervous before meeting with my first client! I probably went over the initial paperwork 100 times before meeting with him. But after the session I remember thinking, I did it! And it wasn’t that bad!
After that I was able to calm down a bit and slowly gained more confidence in my abilities.
TFI: Tell us a bit about your current practice and career.
HB: I’m currently in private practice and have been for the last four years. After graduating I worked in a community outpatient mental health clinic and also for a DCFS contracted program doing in-home therapy. Both jobs were great experiences and I was ready to transition to private practice after about three years, as it was difficult for me to work with such a large system.
Private practice is a great fit for me right now as I’m enjoying the flexibility of being in charge of my own schedule and I find the work to be very rewarding.
TFI: How does your Family Institute graduate school experience impact your current position?
HB: Tons! It is my foundation. I got incredible training and felt very prepared to launch into the real world after the hands-on experience and phenomenal education I received.
Beyond that, I’ve made wonderful connections with my old professors and staff at The Family Institute and frequently utilize them as resources if I’m stuck on a case or need some suggestions.
TFI: How would you describe your transition from graduate school to your current career?
HB: The most difficult transition was getting that first job. I felt prepared and as though I had quite a bit to offer but convincing others of that was tough. I was not aware that many people had not heard of an MFT degree so I spent quite a bit of time explaining that my degree with similar to that of a counseling degree or social work degree. Once I got that first job it was easier to navigate, but getting my foot in the door was hard. It took a lot of phone calls, a lot of “informational interviews,” and a lot of networking.
TFI: Do you have any advice for people considering The Family Institute’s MS in Marriage and Family Therapy program?
HB: I may be biased but I think it’s a great program and, depending on how you want to use it, has great career potential. If I had to do it over again I would attend The Family Institute’s MFT program without a doubt.