Laura Bryan Furman University Alumni

Laura Bryan '93

— Site Director and Associate Professor, Marriage and Family Therapy Program at Pfeiffer University

“My clients are the most amazing survivors I have ever met. They have endured hardships many think only exist in nightmares, and they are coming to therapy because they believe –hope –life could be different. Although it is often hard work, it is a sacred honor to join them on that journey.”


Personal/Professional Journey

How did you find your way to where you are today? Share a little about your professional journey.

I was a psychology major at Furman, spent a summer interning at the local psychiatric hospital, and started volunteering with Crisisline during my senior year. After graduation, I was hired by Crisisline and answered phones for two years. I realized I would need a further degree to pursue any career path that interested me, so I began to look at graduate school. During the search, I received a brochure about a Marriage and Family Therapy doctoral program in Texas. This field spoke to me, with its focus on relationships and strength rather than mental illness and deficits.

I decided to pursue the program and loved my time in graduate school – the classes, research, clinical experience, professors, and students. By the time I finished, I wanted to stay in academia. After a couple of years earning my license as a marriage and family therapist, I became a visiting professor and then as a clinical administrator for a marriage and family therapy program. After a few more years in Texas, a faculty position opened in North Carolina. I started as a clinic director and now serve as a site director, administering a marriage and family therapy program, teaching and supervising students, and seeing clients. My education and experience, including what I received at Furman, helped me achieve my goals.
What inspires you?

I am often asked if my job as a marriage and family therapist is depressing – listening to clients’ disappointments and heartaches – or if I grow tired of teaching. In reality, it is quite the opposite. My clients are the most amazing survivors I have ever met. They have endured hardships many think only exist in nightmares, and they are coming to therapy because they believe – hope – life could be different. Although it is often hard work, it is a sacred honor to join them on that journey.

My students inspire me with their optimism and determination. Graduate school has not gotten any easier, but pressures and stresses are constantly increasing. Still they come, and struggle, and question, which makes me want to stay, and struggle, and question.

Within the field

When providing advice for professional development, what are some tools or resources one should consider?

I was lucky enough to enjoy the invaluable influence of peers and mentors. When you are in graduate school or a career, you will be surrounded by other people interested in the same things, but that does not mean they are all equally beneficial for you, personally or professionally. Be open to all people and experiences, and yet be attentive to those who support and challenge you. Look for people who are positive and motivated, those who will help keep you honest and grounded. You want to be around people who are kind, and those who will tell you the truth. In a field like mental health, it is tempting to become cynical and jaded, so you need reminders that life is full of love and generosity. Find people who are living examples of those traits.
How would you recommend someone interested in the same career/vocation pursue a similar path?

It is important to do your research as there are many options in mental health, but they will not all fit your perspective or provide the opportunities you want. Talk to people who are actually doing what you want to do in the future, uncover their likes/dislikes and what they did to follow that path. Explore the state and local associations of the field in which you are interested. If you think you have a passion for something, find a way to try it. You do not have to go straight into graduate school – it might be worth your time to look around.

What are some challenges you face in your industry?

The need for mental health, while often recognized, is seldom supported and first to be cut.

For someone just getting started

What do you wish you would have known getting started in your field?

While I attended school to become a licensed marriage and family therapist, getting the degree is just the first step. Do your research and choose the field that is right for you. Take advantage of all the opportunities that come your way as a student. This is the time to try many different things – different approaches, different populations – because there will not be as much time once you are out of school. I wish I had said yes to more opportunities and focused more on the experience than the finished product.
How could Furman help with getting someone started?

Any opportunities you have to experience working with people in the community are invaluable. There are some things and some feelings that just do not happen in the classroom. Get a job, volunteer, take an internship position – the experience will help you know what you do and do not want, and it looks great on your graduate school application!

Furman University

How has your liberal arts background shaped your career path or supported your success?

Having exposure to a wide number of fields and different ways of thinking is good preparation for the real world, and invaluable if you want to be involved in the mental health field. Be curious, be critical (in a constructive way), be open to what the world has to offer, and find the value in what you see. Even though I did not think so at the time, I find myself referring back to things I learned in non-psychology classes.
What are other courses you took or you wish you would have taken that would also add value in your career?

Although I took Spanish at Furman and even did the semester abroad in Spain, I have let my language skills lapse. Being fluent in Spanish would open many doors.


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