New faculty profile: Jennifer Preston, Ph.D.

JPreston - New faculty profile: Jennifer Preston, Ph.D.

 Jennifer Preston, Ph.D., NCC, LPC, is one of Saybrook University’s new faculty for the MA in Counseling program (formerly known as MFT).  She joins the community from Minnesota State University, Mankato where she served as a professor for masters and doctorate level students for the last nine years.

Dr. Preston discovered that there is often overlap in the skills of a good teacher and of a good clinician, and that she had the ability to bridge from one to the other.  For example, she worked for several years serving high-risk populations in various settings prior to obtaining her doctorate in counselor education.  This work included serving traumatized youth in shelters, where each session could easily be the last with any particular client.  She observed that being able to be really present, to really listen, and honor what some call small successes, laid a foundation for future gains in awareness and success for these clients.  In Dr. Preston’s experience, many helping professionals would have missed these small successes, having expectations of what the success should look like.

Dr. Preston found this to be similar to the demands of a graduate degree. Many institutions require a degree so the clinician is certified to serve clients, but becoming a good clinician, therapist or even researcher requires understanding and competence well beyond the academic theory.  Obtaining her doctorate allowed Dr. Preston to expand her contribution as an agent of change by translating this capacity to attune, guide and relate to her students’ journeys of professional development.  She has used her abilities to help her students increase their awareness of themselves and their clients through both academic theory and exploration of skills. In this way, Dr. Preston guides students to discover their unique capacity to contribute while gaining stamina for continuously honing and shaping themselves into better clinicians.

Dr. Preston has discovered that Saybrook’s mission and core values are strongly aligned with her own values and professional identity.  She brings her passion for advocacy, and skill in working with the whole person within the traumatic experience.  At MSU, Dr. Preston shared her expertise in the many facets of these interrelated areas through courses in substance abuse, multi-cultural counseling, crisis and trauma, and gender-related issues.  Dr. Preston will bring her love of and experience with these issues to any course she teaches, because the need for these courses permeate so much of fundamental theory and practice.

But she understands something even more vital:  studying the theory often reveals growth potential in the personal aspects of professional development. Studying the theories can activate leaps of awareness of who one needs to be in order to use the theory well.  “Take a student who does not know why a certain class matters,” she describes[JP1] . “Let’s say a class in multi-culturalism, and a student from the dominant culture comes to understand there are even cultures within the dominant culture.  They’ve awakened to something new, and that new awareness of themselves and others changes their relationship to the world around them.” She adds, “Teaching students to advocate for their clients, then hearing about how it actually went–those moments are very rich.”

Dr. Preston’s passion for and accountability to the graduate student’s journey of professional development makes her a good fit for and welcome addition to the Saybrook community.  Recognizing that there is no clear separation between personal growth, academic accomplishment and development of professional identity is vital, but how does she help students synthesize this into who a therapist should be?

She describes three basic components to this alchemical process:  “The first thing I think about is just be really open. Often as clinicians we have assumptions or guesses about what things mean to a client. Really reigning that in to be truly available to what that person is actually saying is key,” she says. “Second, be really curious. Genuinely curious.  And third, be able to be honest with yourself. Attending to [your] internal dialogue, being grounded in who you are but able to be fully present to the other person is so essential. This includes being honest about when you feel vulnerable or are struggling,” she concludes.

These are the key ingredients Dr. Preston finds useful in guiding students to become excellent scholars, helping them awaken to the multidimensional nature of their own world, and assisting them to grow more aware of the rich variety of worlds expressed through the lives of others around them.  Accomplishing this balance often seems to be a process of encouraging and nurturing small changes with each student she encounters, but for her, this is the joy of the journey.