Clinical Mental Health Counseling Faculty Dr. Eric Jett: A Faculty Q&A
Dr. Eric Jett didn't enjoy academics, and when he found a passion for mental health counseling in college, he thought he would spend his career helping his clients. Now he finds himself working in higher education, helping to train the next generation of clinical mental health counselors at Southern New Hampshire University. Recently we asked him to share his thoughts about teaching, the importance of education and more as part of SNHU's Faculty Spotlight Series.
Tell us a little bit about your professional background.
Professionally I have worked in the field of mental health now for 19 years at various levels. I have been a mental health support staff member and a case manager. Then in 2010, I graduated with my master's in mental health counseling and began my career as a mental health counselor under supervision.
In 2012, I obtained my license as a professional counselor. During that time, much of my work as a counselor was with children and adolescents doing a lot of trauma-informed work in helping them cope with past negative events. I also during that time was continuing my own academic journey working on my Ph.D. in counselor education and supervision. In 2015, I made the transition from being a program director at a mental health agency to working at a university as a core faculty member in a graduate counseling program.
What led you to academics, and in particular, SNHU?
Honestly, I never had an initial pull to academics. But at the time I was finishing my masters, the university I was attending was launching this Ph.D. program in counselor education and supervision. I had really enjoyed my master's program, and what piqued my interest about a Ph.D. was that I saw faculty who enjoyed their careers. They had a passion for guiding the next generation of counselors, and all I could think was how great it was to love a profession so much that you wanted to teach it.
I spoke with several of my faculty about the potential of going into academics, but there was one faculty member who did not say “think about it.” Instead, she gave me the directive of “you need to do this.” She knew I loved counseling and had a passion for the counseling profession, and I am very grateful that she did not let me talk myself out of continuing that academic journey because here I am today, and I love academics.
SNHU really became my professional home when I heard that they were creating this online graduate counseling program. At the time, I was at a different university that was a very traditional land-based program. I knew who the associate deans were at the time the SNHU program was being developed. I knew their work in the field of counseling and academics. That really highlighted that SNHU knows the importance of having the best in the field create a program. I saw a lot of opportunities to be part of something that was going to be a maverick in changing how we do online counselor education, being led by some of the best. I knew I had to be part of this experience, and I applied. Here I am, and I am extremely happy to be part of the SNHU family.
What drew you to this field of study? What keeps you excited about it?
Counseling is an amazing profession, both at a practitioner level and at an academic level. What really drew me to this field was the sacred journey that it creates, not just for the people we work with but for ourselves as professionals. We learn so much about who we are in this field and how to not just listen but truly connect with others. It is also a constantly changing and growing profession, which means there is always something new to learn. That is what keeps me excited, I never get bored with what I do as a counselor or as an educator. It is always new, it's always fresh, and just when I think I have finally got it, a new experience happens that keeps me in awe.
What do you find rewarding in your position as full-time faculty?
There are so many rewarding things in my position as a full-time faculty member. One of the most rewarding to me is sitting at graduation and seeing the student who doubted themselves in those first few terms walk across the stage. In May 2019, our program had our first cohort get to walk across the stage at graduation, and it was really a surreal experience. This was a group of individuals who trusted us, a brand new program. They chose to come here, and now we were getting to see them graduate and welcome them as colleagues into the profession of counseling. That is such an amazing, rewarding experience.
Can you think of a particularly impactful or eye-opening moment as a faculty member?
Our program has a unique course that students attend, which is residency. Students attend residency twice in our program, and these are two times where we get to see our students physically in person as we all come to New Hampshire for a week to practice counseling skills.
Those residencies are always impactful for me as a faculty member because they are a week where people become genuine in their passion to be a counselor. These weeks are taxing because they are a full week of almost 8-hour days practicing skills and hearing feedback from your instructor. But I am always honored by how our students are willing to trust us, as faculty, with not only the development of their career but their own life events. But really (what) is impactful is seeing the connections people make not only with peers but with us as faculty. It is an eye-opening experience for anyone who has never been to a counseling residency before.
What advice do you have for students interested in pursuing their counseling degree? How can people stand out in this field?
My advice for any student interested in pursuing their counseling degree is to do it. Understand that it will be hard at times; you will need to do a lot of self-reflection and discovery. I tell my students all the time that they thought going into a counseling program would be learning to work with others, but really you learn to work with yourself.
You will learn more about yourself in a counseling graduate program than you realized even existed. But to stand out in this field, you have to be real. As counselors, counselors in training, all we have is our integrity. Our name and who we are. Being genuine in this profession, in this academic journey, makes you stand out, and it is what will make clients want to come and see you.
What, if anything, did you not expect from your career path?
I never expected to be here today in academics. I hated school with a passion. I think today if you were to go back and ask my high school teachers if they thought I would have a Ph.D. and be teaching in a program, they would probably laugh. But what I found in this career path is there is always the support from colleagues to take the next step, climb a little higher, and to go the path that is best for each person individually.
As a counselor, I never expected people to be so honest with what is going on in their life. As counselors, we create a safe space for our clients to talk about some of the hardest things that have gone on in their life. I never expected that work to be so sacred, and what I mean by that is truly being honored for a client to let me hear their experiences. It takes a lot of courage to be vulnerable and talk about the hard stuff that has happened in one’s life. It really is sacred work.
What do most people not understand about working in the counseling field?
I believe most people think about counseling as a way to help fix what is going on in others’ lives. What most people do not understand about working in the counseling field is that as a counselor, my job is not to fix or problem-solve. I’m there to help guide my client to find their own truth. I tell my students all the time that our clients know their truth, but it's kind of like a lawn during the fall. You know the grass is still there, but it gets covered up by the leaves. As counselors, our job is to help our clients find the tools to sweep those leaves away and find their truth that has gotten covered up. We are the compass for the journey of healing that our clients are on.
How have you found ways to effectively connect with students online?
Our program is very unique in that I’m not sure there is a way to not connect with students online. We are utilizing technology that allows us to see our students every day in the classroom as they submit video discussions. We see our students in person at the residency. I think those who created our program really had intentionality that we would be an online program that connects with our students. But as faculty, we have to carry that intentionality also. I go into every course with the idea that I want to know my students; I want to connect with them because one day, they will be my colleague in counseling.
What do you enjoy doing when you’re not working?
When I am not working, I am a homebody for the most part. I read a lot; I love fantasy and escape type books. You put a Harry Potter book in front of me, and I can get lost in it for hours. I have my four amazing pugs that keep me busy. But I also travel as frequently as I can. I am a huge Disney fanatic, so you can often catch me planning that next Disney World escape when I have those free moments.
What are one (or two) books every student in the counseling program should read?
One of the books that I really recommend for students in a counseling program is “The Encyclopedia of Counseling” by Howard Rosenthal. It’s just a great resource book that can really help students prepare for their licensure exam that comes down the road after they graduate.
The other book that I highly recommend is “The Gift of Therapy” by Irvin D. Yalom, M.D. It is a phenomenal story of an individual who learns to have a love and passion for the profession of counseling. Dr. Yalom talks about his failures as a counselor, his discovery of himself, and how he learned from every client that sat across from him. It’s an amazing book.
Why is education important to society as well as to you personally?
Education is what makes us question how things can get better; what is the next new thing that can happen that will create social change. When I think about education in general but also for me, personally, I always find myself going back to (Jerome) Bruner’s theory of education, which I feel is often overlooked. Education, regardless of how structured a program is or how standardized courses become, remains a personal journey. There is a power in this experience moving from steps in getting a degree to becoming something symbolic that holds meaning based on personal experiences. For me, education will always be not about fulling the needs of others, but fulling my own needs and maintaining that there is always something new and exciting to learn.
Joe Cote is a staff writer at Southern New Hampshire University. Follow him on Twitter @JoeCo2323.
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