5 Questions with Dr. Fulmer: An Interview with Fifth-Quarter Student Theodora Cunningham

In the fifth and final post of our ongoing series, Dr. Russell Fulmer meets with student Theodora Cunningham to discuss her experience with the self-reflective practitioner component of the program. Cunningham also looks back on her time with Counseling@Northwestern to share highlights and give advice for prospective students.

What have you learned about yourself during the journey that is Counseling@Northwestern?

I am not a person who generally shies away from exploring facets of identity and how they intersect with society, so I felt fairly prepared to engage in the self-reflective practitioner piece of this program at the outset. While my past reflection has certainly served me well, the exploration of emotion as it pertains to identity and oppression has been a deeply valuable and challenging experience that I did not necessarily expect. I have been able to consider my own background, how it shapes my relationship to various emotions, and how that impacts my work as a counselor.

What have you learned about yourself as a counselor?

Simple as it may sound, I have learned that I can be a counselor. As we enter the new quarter, it has been surreal for me to reflect on the reality that this time last year, I had never counseled a single soul. In such a short amount of time, I have had so many new experiences and been impacted by so many important people—supervisors, fellow interns, classmates, professors, and, above all, clients. Each has had a profound impact on me, personally and professionally, and I hope I have also had a positive impact on them. In the relatively short amount of time it has been, I have learned that I do, in fact, have the capacity to do this challenging work; and I have been granted moments of clarity in which I feel confident enough to say that I even do it well.

The final quarter with the program involves a capstone immersion experience. At the capstone, students present a research project of interest. What are your research interests?

These thoughts are quite nascent, but I have found myself becoming increasingly interested in the policy side of providing mental health services to underinsured and otherwise marginalized populations. I have had some more direct exposure to some of the facets of this question in my current internship at a community agency in Chicago, and I am curious to imagine how service provision might be streamlined and treatment efficacy enhanced. I am interested in exploring how the mental health field has adapted—and, likely, can further adapt—its conceptualization of ethics and fair compensation to account for service provision in nontraditional settings.

What has been the highlight of your time with the program?

The most salient memory that comes to me is certainly the group immersion experience. While the anticipation was high entering the conference, I found it to be such a personally and professionally edifying experience. There’s something profoundly comforting in finding that all the professors and classmates we see on screen are also physical beings, and I think that serves to deepen our relationships with one another. I met new people, made new friends on deeper levels, and also gained insights that I know will forever impact who I am as a counselor.

What advice do you have for newly admitted students? How can they best succeed with Counseling@Northwestern?

I recall experiencing a lot of self-doubt and performance anxiety as I began to see clients for the first time during my second quarter of practicum. Waiting in a coffee shop to meet with one of those early clients, I read the first chapter of Teyber and Teyber’s (2017) “Interpersonal Process in Therapy”—the textbook for Methods II. Not knowing what to expect, I was completely taken aback by how acutely that chapter spoke to what I imagined were my own individualized, internal shortcomings. The whole chapter felt like it was written for me personally, but to capture its essence, they shared that, “new therapists need to be patient with themselves and appreciate that learning to be an effective therapist is a long-term developmental process.” Those words were exactly what I needed to hear in that moment, and I hope that they provide comfort to others in a similar way. I believe that success at Counseling@Northwestern comes much more readily when one releases oneself from the expectation of having all the “answers.” Divesting my energy from that expectation provided me with much more room to invest in learning, growing, and providing my clients with the utmost support in the moment. It’s a daily practice that I achieve to varying degrees each day, but it is always at the core of my intentions, and I believe it has served me well.

Unrelatedly, and a bit more pragmatically, new students may benefit from noting that they can control the speed of the asynch videos on the bottom tool bar!

Read the rest of the “Five Questions with Dr. Fulmer” series: “An Interview with First-Quarter Student Gayle Francesca Abraham,” “An Interview with Second-Quarter Student Cory Miller,” “An Interview with Third-Quarter Student Sara Douglas,” and “An Interview with Fourth-Quarter Student Sheila Abichandani.

Citation for this content: Northwestern University’s Online Masters in Counseling program.