Mariah Lefeber On Preparing the Next Generation of Therapists

Kristi Cash White: I'm excited to introduce to you my first guest for the podcast, my good friend, Mariah. Mariah Meyer LeFeber is a PhD candidate, a dance movement therapist, a licensed professional counselor, and a counselor educator. And native Midwesterner, she graduated with a degree in dance and psychology and then went on to earn her master's degree in dance/movement therapy and counseling.

She's currently a PhD candidate in leadership with a specialty in counselor education and supervision at the University of the Cumberlands. Mariah has worked extensively in the field of dance movement therapy, serving groups and individuals, presenting internationally and supervising dance movement therapists.

Mariah currently teaches in the master's of arts in counseling program at Multnomah university in Portland, Oregon. I asked Mariah to join me in discussing how the pandemic has impacted higher education. Most specifically how she is an educator is preparing counselors and training to join the field at this difficult time in our world.

Thank you for joining me today as my first guest; I'm really excited to talk to you. I've really been interested in this topic - the idea of how are new and emerging in the pandemic? I can't imagine starting my career right now while things are so chaotic.

Mariah Meyer LeFeber: I can't either. the idea that some of the students that I work with are graduating, having primarily only worked via tele-health.

Kristi: Right.

Mariah: It is mind-boggling to me as someone who tele-health did not even exist when I went through my counselor training program,

Kristi: That's right. Would they even practice with other students live?

Mariah: I think it depends on the program. I think some program's classes are also fully online. The program that I teach in, yes. They have been in person with peers. So they have had that body to body experience in the classroom and with peers, [00:02:00] but a lot of them, their internships have been fully virtual.

Kristi: I had not even thought of that. So they have not sat in the same room with a client.

Mariah: Yeah. So how do you teach about sitting with a client over zoom?

Kristi: Well, how do you? What have you had to adjust in your teaching?

Mariah: Yeah, that's an interesting question. The program that I teach full-time in pre COVID, sometimes in my house, we joke and we call it old world, which was a funnier then than it is now. I feel like two plus years later. But it was a fully on-ground program, so everything we were doing with classes in person. And simultaneously I've been working on this doctorate in counselor education and supervision in a fully online program. And so I was having this experience personally of understanding online pedagogy and being online and even TA-ing through that experience. And yet, all my work lived experience was on ground, [00:03:00] so when we had to pivot so fast, we had three days and our classes were online and I felt a real thankfulness and advantage over a lot of my other colleagues at the university, because I was like, "Oh great; I got this."

Mariah: how to translate and can we do this in breakout rooms? And certainly it was difficult, but I felt like I had a framework for it.

Kristi: Yes.

Mariah: For a lot of people, I don't know that was the case. It's really been like a messy hybrid, a messy flexibility.

Kristi: Yeah, absolutely.

Mariah: It, it feels like messy flexibility because like we've had to be flexible and yet, it be exhausting to, to be like, okay, Who's online today? Who's in person? How am I accommodating

Mariah: styles in class? And so it's been lot of just that then I think something that's interesting is that I think before the pandemic, I would have like, Nope not teaching in an online program because I really, my [00:04:00] background is dance therapy.

Kristi: Right.

Mariah: I want to be in the room with people. I want our bodies to be together and moving together. So for me, it's challenged me to think outside the box a little bit.

Kristi: Because in counseling, the whole foundation of it is, being across from the person and that whole body language and interaction of being in the room together. Teaching somebody how to do that and to use those same skills through screen it's different endeavor.

Mariah: It's a very different endeavor. I think my students know that because my background is dance therapy. Sometimes I laugh because I think about my training. We often had class in a dance studio with big, large pillows, and we sat on the floor. There were no tables, like it was a very different kind of experience. And now that I'm in this more traditional counseling program, they're used to me saying I can tell you're tired, everybody stand up. We're moving around for a little bit before we get the next thing. I think for awhile at the beginning of [00:05:00] COVID that I sort of shut that down a little bit cause I just was like, how do I make this transition? And then once I figure it out oh, this is we're in this for awhile. I started to be like, well, I got to do it online. And I'd be like, all right, stand up wherever you're at, push your chair away. We're going to move for a minute before we come back to the screens.

It has been like, actually, we can do this and we just have to figure out a a new path.

Kristi: It's you lose one of your senses, You have to like, have your other senses develop more fully in order to really have that experience. And we've kind of as therapist and teachers and supervisors have lost of our senses, which is being in the same room together.

Kristi: And so now we've had to figure out how do you adjust to that? So you can still sense what's going on.

Mariah: Yeah, the sensing. And I think a theme that I think has come up a lot with people I've spoken to is the missing of the reciprocal energy, [00:06:00] I'm going to call it because there is this sense of two bodies being in the same space where you just physically it's like that brain to brain, body to body connection that is just different when you're in literally different physical spaces. And when you're not together and sensing that with all the five senses. So I do miss that. I teach an undergrad psychology class and I forgot the energy of all being there in that learning , and then we were, and I was like, oh,

Kristi: oh, just drink it in.

Mariah: Yeah, to just be together and in COVID I had transitioned some of their assignments to discussion board assignments, and so then last fall, I said, well, here's the deal if discussion board works for you?

That's great. And if you're a verbal processor, we're going to meet once a week and have a coffee discussion. And can choose what works for you.

Kristi: Nice.

Mariah: And I was amazed that over half the class, every week came to the discussion group because I think that they were just [00:07:00] craving that

Mariah: feeding off of each other. And that, that being together, it's do you have symptoms? Where are your masks? Yeah. It's not like without effort, but the effort felt so worth it.

Kristi: That makes me think about this now we've been two years - so you've had entire cohorts now who have just been been online.

Kristi: notice anything different about the motivation of people coming into the field or the, I don't know. What they're looking forward to what they're grappling with anything different about these cohorts.

Mariah: That's a really good question. I mean, I will say that our cohort that started during the pandemic was just smaller than normally. And I think that's part of just everybody's dealing with all these transitions. I think that think that was reflected around the nation in higher education.

That was part of what happened. And now this season we have a larger cohort and I think also people are transitioning to online. People are just learning differently.[00:08:00]

Mariah: In the particular program that I teach in it already attracts a lot of second career students. We have night classes once a week, it's made to be a format that's accessible. So it's very common for me to have a lot of my students who have a lot more life experience than I do. They're older than me and they're coming to this as a second career. And so actually for that, hasn't shifted a lot for my particular program because we already have this sort of niche of attracting people who were coming in just at all different life stages. Because of that access of the online classes that there's people pursuing it, who maybe couldn't have before, which I do see as a real perk, the online accessibility is oh, I couldn't move or make an in-person cohort, but I can do this.

Kristi: That is a good thing t hat's come of this. So the thing I keep thinking about is how do you prepare these [00:09:00] students for being counselors in a pandemic? Because right now we are seeing burnout from counselors along with all the other helping professions. We want them to have longevity. We don't want them to get out there and burn out within a couple of years. how has that part of your teaching changed? How are you trying to prepare people for the mental health struggle of being a mental health caregiver?

Mariah: For me, the question is not just, how do we teach students to do this? It's like, how do we learn to do this ourselves? I think it's layered question because we haven't been able to say, well, first how to do it. We just jump into the deep end, right.

And be like, how do we hold this? How do we hold that we're going through the same things as our clients. And not let our countertransference just totally take over because we're like, yeah, we're living in a pandemic too. For me, honestly, a lot of it has really honest [00:10:00] modeling and I that to my supervisees and I think that to students, but in, in the therapeutic relationship we can't air our own stuff and our own struggles. And so really making the supervision space and class space, a space to really get into talking about, what does it feel like to be living the same reality as your clients? And the self care piece becomes really tangible.

I think it has to become tangible because otherwise the burnout is so real. So some is like adjusting my pedagogy. Like literally, how do we do self-care in the class? How do we start with five minutes of grounding meditation or a little bit of movement, is something with my theoretical orientation I would have done anyway.

But I think that it really became clear. we need this. Sit in this space together name where we're at today. And then we can go into learning content.

Kristi: right. It's not a [00:11:00] luxury anymore, 'it's essential..


Mariah: It's if you want to do this work, you have to figure out what it looks like for you to care for yourself. So I think that this generation of counselors is going to understand self care sooner and deeper.

Kristi: hope so.

Mariah: I hope so too because they it's just necessity because of the climate right now.

Kristi: Yeah. A lot of times when people hear self they think a bubble bath, you, something like that. When you think self care, like in the deeper sense of self care, What do you think for you? And we can, obviously, this is going to be different for different people, but what's that real piece?

What keeps you going?

Mariah: Yeah, I think just, just came to mind as you were asking the question, but I think just for myself, it's like what feeds your soul?

Cause I like to joke about hashtag self care, and that's

Kristi: got

Mariah: myself a fancy coffee, nice love it. [00:12:00] Took


Whatever is.

But like those things are great and I'm not dissing any of that, yet it has become such a cultural thing, to talk about that.. And me, it's what feeds my soul and makes me feel more whole as a person. And again, this is like my own tendency, but what makes me feel connected to my body, to my internal experience, connected to my own emotions, my own inner experience and self care for me is carving out the space to say where I connect to me or maybe I connect to myself by connecting to others. And that like real deep soul work and connection.

Kristi: yeah, absolutely. And piece others. Feels more essential now.


So for generation of therapists? You mentioned find self care maybe sooner than

Mariah: rest of

Kristi: us did. [00:13:00] I have anxiety for them if I think about it too much, just because, or concern I should say for them, because they're coming into the field during a really hard time. What is your hope for where they're going to land?.

Mariah: Yeah, that's really hard, there's so much comes to mind and think that they would be able to sort of figure out. And none of us arrive, we never arrive at understanding

Kristi: care

Mariah: and avoiding burnout, and all things, they would feel really comfortable in the journey of like always asking how can I care for myself in order to care for others?

And that would be, just a way for them to engage. I think that a hope and also a necessity is that they'll have a different kind of flexibility. Than other generations of counselors. I that there hasn't been choice in that. And yet maybe that can be reframed as a kind of gift that, that they will have that just [00:14:00] inherent ability, because they've had to say,

Kristi: well

Mariah: turns out when you have symptoms we can meet on tele-health, like just there's a lot of beauty and flexibility in that.

think. that I always for my counselors, pandemic or not. It's just that they real feel comfortable in the messy area. Cause I think we. We, I also personally, I think a lot about the danger of binary thinking

It black and white thinking in a CBT orientation or anything, but just like things are one way or things or the other. And so much culture, in the world right now is challenging us about the danger of this kind of binary thinking. That, you know, that there's this way or there's that way. And there's not this complex middle. I have a colleague who's very dear to me who always says, well, the answer to most ethical questions is it's complex and it depends. And I think, answer to most questions [00:15:00] and I hope some resilience and ability to be in that gray area is born out of this very whoa time.

Yeah to learn and learn how to be counselors. And so really comfort with the discomfort of that not knowing.

Kristi: And so being able to help this next generation find comfort in that.

Kristi: man, that's a, yeah, that's a gift.

Mariah: Yeah. And a challenge. Right. Like sometimes I just want somebody to be like, I know when the pandemic will end, give me a timeline and answer or whatever, and we have to learn how to live and find care for ourselves in that unknowing.

Kristi: Yeah. That's probably good for our field anyway. Right. Because just because mental health is fairly ambiguous,

Mariah: Yes.

Kristi: of ways. And so just to develop more flexibility of thinking and resiliency around [00:16:00] trying new things and being able to stand back up,


That is a great thing to wish for the next generation of therapists is to be able to bounce back. To able come back when things have been hard.

Mariah: And time will tell, right? We don't really know yet,

Kristi: oh, it's going to be so interesting to see. In all areas of how this has affected our children, we're seeing churches are having big impacts, through the pandemic. And, how is this going to impact counseling we move So in general, in, as you look at the counseling field, what do you think about things that this field needs to learn to adjust to or learn to look at with a new lens? Where do we need some big adjustments in our view?

Mariah: Yeah, well, I think the one thing that has adjusted that I'm curious to see about how it [00:17:00] sustains is people are talking about mental health more than they did before the pandemic.

Kristi: Yes.

Mariah: They're talking about the importance of mental health, about the importance of mental health workers, and so I think that there's a lot of greatness about the fact that. Through our pain through our suffering. So that's not great but through this collective pain that we've encountered, we are talking more about taking care of ourselves and taking care

Kristi: Uh,

Mariah: And and I think that is. That's something that has come out of it that I hope sticks.

I think that's like my hope and my fear all in, at the same time, like we've noticed, we've seen like this matters and then like, how does it pan out? Does insurance start to, value mental health and pay people what they're worth to do work or do we start to support employees to, to get their mental health care needs taking.

Health care givers and to support their own mental health. So I think there's an opportunity there [00:18:00] because we've really seen it highlighted what the need is. And now we have to see what happens with that opportunity. If it changes the face of how we look at this for, for the long-term or if we go back to how we thought about it in old world, or just how it shifts.

Kristi: Yeah, the next generation of people the and young adults of our culture, we're already, I think,

Mariah: Yes,

Kristi: more open

Mariah: right?

Kristi: about mental health. So hopefully that is a trend that will,

Kristi: learning from them and we'll continue to move forward. Now we are, our field is understaffed, right?

There's just, there's not enough mental health workers out there. I don't know if you're a part of this conversation or process at all being in your program, but how do we recruit more quality mental health practitioners into our field?

Mariah: That it's complex and it depends.

Kristi: [00:19:00] Ah, good answer.

Mariah: one thing that's coming to my mind is that one really difficult thing is that it's important that counseling programs are very comprehensive. It's like what an honor and what a charge to be guiding another individual's experience of how they see the world, through, through mental health practice.

And so I think it's so necessary. Like we often talk about in the program I teach in yeah, but we need that. We need that class to be three credits too. And we need that class to be more credits and there's just not enough, so see how much there is to learn and to know about the human experience.

So on one hand, it's so important to have that in-depth rich training. And on the other hand, like that's really hard. It's really expensive to have that in-depth of a training it's really it's really expensive. It's really tying, you have to do these clinical internships, which thank goodness we have to do clinical internships, but.

Mariah: What have [00:20:00] you have to support a family or what have you, there's a certain amount of access in that and being able to this education. Those are like two very different things to hold. Like we need to have this comprehensive training and yet who's able to get of training so they can do this

Kristi: Exactly.

Mariah: work. And then there's all conversation of yeah. And then representation. Right. Because if we don't see people like us represented in the field, what makes us think that it's something that is for us. Those are what I think the issues are. And I don't think I have any answers,

Mariah: but I think that some, sometimes online learning is becoming an answer to that because it's more accessible and maybe more affordable.

And I think that. I would love to see, in the same way as. , that like schools are able to give people like full full scholarships to get, to go to school. That's just not as common in the counseling world that people are able to get funded, to do the learning and [00:21:00] do the schooling they need to do the work.

Kristi: I should have looked this up before I mentioned this, but there was some legislation going through in Oregon. Where they were trying to have funding for supervision, for childcare. So somebody can go to classes and just this kind of holistic view, because it's not, like you said, it's not just can I afford the classes.


Kristi: to take time off of work to do this? Can I get childcare to do this?

Mariah: Yeah. Who's going to take care of my kids when I go to night class who, you know so much that's involved in that. So I guess there's so many barriers, anything that we can do to help increase access. I think because we do, we need more mental health clinicians. So how do we make that possible?

Kristi: Do you guys talk about advocacy at the masters level? As far as helping legislation get looked at.

Mariah: Well, I get to teach the advocacy class in our, program, which is actually not a CACREP requirement to learn about advocacy, but you don't have to have a specific advocacy class, but [00:22:00] I loved like developing it and teaching it. And actually one thing that I do with my classes, I bring in someone who works for a local nonprofit, who does full-time advocacy work at our state legislator in Salem.

And we talk about so we talk about. What does it mean to advocate for public policy? And he talks about how can you write letters? How can you be involved in this? And we also talk about an advocacy. I'm starting to, like geek out, but like the levels of advocacy, right? Sometimes we're advocating, we're personally, sometimes we're advocating the community or the system.

Sometimes we're advocating at a more policy level and most of the time, because we're human, we can't do all of those things simultaneously, but can we use this advocacy lens to to frame out what we're doing.

Kristi: So important, such important work.

Kristi: Well, Mariah, I really appreciate your time and I love this conversation. I do think about this next generation coming up a lot and just have a lot of concern and hope for [00:23:00] them. I just want them to, to just find joy and success, and peace as they enter this field.

And so I think about you and others who are charged now with helping train them and teach them and what a joy and a burden that is right now, especially. So thank you for the work you do. and thank you for joining with me today. It was a great conversation.

Mariah: I think it's a great idea.

Kristi: Thank you.

Back to top