While pursuing a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology, I had the opportunity to hold an internship position at the State Mental Hospital of Allentown, P.A., and more recently, the John F. Kennedy Mental Health/Mental Retardation Center of Philadelphia. Much of my current leadership experience comes from managing group therapy sessions focused on current events, problem-solving, and life-planning for clients in these mental health facilities.
The tremendous diversity between group members at JFK due to cultural and ethnic differences was only compounded by the varying degrees of cognitive ability and mental illness diagnosed in all of them. In a room of 15 to 30 people for any given session, I stuck out like a sore thumb. I know from subsequent conversations with many group members that on my first introduction, many of them were thinking “how is this white girl from the suburbs, with her nice clothes, sheltered upbringing, and expensive education, EVER going to relate to us?!” And yet, by the end of my time at both institutions, this sentiment had completely vanished. Although I was practically still a stranger, clients felt comfortable sharing intimate details of their lives with me. They respected and looked up to me, despite the fact that I was the youngest person in the room. They felt understood and accepted by me, though our socioeconomic positions were far more than disparate.
One of my strongest qualities as a leader is adaptability. Without sacrificing my true character, I am flexible in such a way that allows me to effectively communicate with and relate to individuals and groups from all walks of life regardless of our differences. I empathize with people, gaining their trust and acceptance. Although empathy is often used synonymously with sympathy or compassion, when I speak of it, I refer to the capacity for true understanding of another’s perspective and frame of mind. Once I see a situation from another’s viewpoint, I am better equipped to...
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