Ireland Experience

My time in Ireland was an experience I will remember for the rest of my life. My global theme is “Culture and Politics.” My time in Ireland better informed me on this topic because of the tense relations with the UK, and immigration in Europe. I also learned more about the most powerful political systems other than the US living in Europe, and close to the UK.

My experience taught me more about life in the USA through the people I met, and through my experiences in and outside the classroom. I had one roommate who grew up in Russia, and another from China. Those superpowers are often at odds with the US, so it was interesting to hear their perspectives of my home country, and learn about how they grew up and how they hoped to live in the future. In the classroom, I took a class called Politics of Northern Ireland which was so insightful and sparked my interest in the normalization of otherism in a community and how it can make that overall community less prosperous and accepting. I also took multiple non-required Irish Culture classes such as Irish archeology.

My time in Ireland also helped me to develop as a leader. It was an interesting social landscape to navigate. I went straight from Ireland to an internship in DC and was able to transfer my knowledge to a very different situation. I learned to be sure of myself and to know when to bend and when to assert myself. I also learned to find my people and empower them and myself rather than changing to fit in with the larger group.

Some questions I have now are mostly related to what it would take to live full-time in the UK or Europe, and what my future education looks like as far as a master’s degree or working.

Mental Health: Exploring Mental Health Through Art Therapy

Unlike many members of the GLI family who go abroad, I chose to complete an internship locally (Polson, MT). For my internship, I shadowed Erika Weber, a licensed clinical social worker (LCSW). Erika works with her clients using various forms of therapy, but one form that especially caught my interest was art therapy. Before I reached out to Erika, I already had a small interest in art therapy and little knowledge on how it worked and what benefits came with it. However, being that I major in psychology and minor in art, art therapy has been on my radar for potential career options. Before knowing what I wanted to do for my internship I knew I wanted to complete it locally and shadow someone who specializes in therapy for mental health. This is where I came across Erika and Boule Sophia LLC. Through Psychology Today, I found a description of Erika’s work and that she practices independent from an agency. While working privately, Erika created Boule Sophia LLC, which translates to ‘Counsel Wisdom.’

During my internship, I sat in on a few therapy sessions with Erika’s clients. Because of how private therapy is in nature, Erika had clients who felt comfortable with an intern sitting in sign a consent form and additionally give Erika verbal consent. If a client ever felt uncomfortable with me present, I would leave. In addition to the consent form, I was forbidden to discuss any specific details about clients, such as age, name, or place of work, etc. Basically any identifying factors that could potentially out a client. This is all protected under HIPAA. This is also why I won’t be posting any photos. While sitting in on therapy sessions, I was permitted to take notes. Erika taught me how she, as a LCSW, takes notes. When taking notes, I would write about body language (crossed arms, shaking, touching or messing with nearby objects, etc.), mood and affect (affect being that a client’s mood matches their expression. For example, a client expressing they’re sad and crying. Affect and mood don’t always match. A client can say they’re sad but be smiling, affect does not match mood), memory (if they can retain past events), and orientation (this includes awareness of where they are, awareness of the situation they are in or why they’re in therapy, and diagnosis). Other than taking notes, Erika and I worked on creating a therapy group which focused on self-care and the betterment of women while using art therapy and exercise. Each week had a different exercise along with an art therapy activity that fit with the exercise and theme of the week. For example, one week would be focusing on mindfulness. The exercise for that week would be yoga and the art therapy activity would be a soul collage. Another week would be self-care, which would be creating an inside me outside me mask (how we perceive ourselves inside the mask vs how others perceive us on the outside) and cardio. In some sessions, Erika utilized art therapy. For example, a client was in distress. Erika introduced them to sandtray therapy, which is a form of art therapy. The client would run their finger through the sand, or mold it into shapes while continuing on with the session. This was proven to work for the client as it began to calm them down. Another client created a collage using images and text that resonated with how they felt towards their spouse. The client would then create another collage of their spouse at a later time. The two collages were starkly different, one even containing bitter words such as control.

As previously noted, Erika practices privately. I learned that there are many steps to begin practicing privately. Firstly, it is important to have your degree as well as a business license. After that, signing up for multiple health insurances is important. Not every client has Medicare or BlueCross. Some health insurances are easy to sign up for; however, some require additional information and specifics of what therapy you’ll be providing for your client. After sessions, health insurance is important because this is how you’ll bill the client and receive payment unless the client pays themselves. It’s also important to have plenty of money saved up once you begin to practice privately. Some health insurances take months to mail or fax you your payment. Additionally, they may even take a few dollars off your payment depending on what type of payment they give you (typically when given cards). Lastly, getting your name and services out there. This could be placing an online ad or making cards and handing them to hospitals and other therapists. Additionally, developing relationships with hospitals and other therapists helps you gain clientele as they can refer clients to you. Practicing independent from an agency comes with its pros and cons. Firstly, the pros. Pros include creating your own schedule, taking on clients when it best works for the client and you, having flexible hours in case a client has an emergency session, and deciding whether you want to rent a space or work from home. While there are pros, there are also cons. Cons include no internet connection. Erika provides therapy in person and also online through Zoom, BetterHelp, and Telehealth. If Erika or a client cannot connect to the internet, then the session cannot be held. More cons include privacy. Erika works from home and often has clients that visit her house for sessions. Occasionally her family is home as well which raises concerns for privacy. Practicing from home raises questions about safety. If a client is known to be harmful to themselves or others, meeting with them in-person can be dangerous. Recently, there has been a report where a therapist was tortured and beaten by their client during a session which took place in their own home. Clients who know where Erika lives could potentially visit her at any time, even during her off hours present problems and conflicting with the safety of her family. Unlike working for an agency, Erika does not have resources or materials for specific problems. For example, a client was struggling with alcohol addiction; however, Erika does not have the authority or resources to help out that client other than make a referral to an addiction specialist or place the client on a waitlist for rehab. Agencies on the other hand have those resources.

During my internship, I was presented with some challenges. The biggest challenge was actually the therapy sessions themselves. Clients who felt uncomfortable having an intern sit in on their session would have me leave, clients would often no call no show, and occasionally clients cancelled minutes before their session began. Some clients would run late, making their therapy session run slim if another client was booked afterwards. Erika has described having days where all but one or two clientele cancel, resulting in a major loss of income. Another challenge is how small of a town Polson is. The population is relatively small and you’re bound to run into a client outside of work. One thing I noticed was how there was a lack of mental health providers in Montana. Some of Erika’s in-person clients traveled hours just to meet with her once a week. Another issue I noticed were mental health stigmas. A client had been prescribed with Seroquel, which is often used as a mood stabilizer in low dosages. The client’s spouse had done some research and learned that Seroquel is also used as medication for individuals displaying psychopathy. The client’s spouse then came to the conclusion that the client was a psycho hence why she was taking Seroquel, not to stabilize their mood. This lack of knowledge or misconception spreads misinformation about mental health and further enlarges stigmas around mental health. Another stigma I noticed was that Erika’s clients were white and native women with a few exceptions. Generally, women report experiencing more mental distress than men; however, men do not always seek help for mental disorders. This could be deeply rooted in the old belief that men should not display emotions or seek help. Unrealistic gender norms create stigmas towards mental health.

Despite the challenges I faced, I learned a lot more about therapy. I learned how to deal with a client who has suicidal intentions, especially when in a rural area and / or when practicing privately. I also learned how to file and fill out a medical request relief form for a client who needs time off of work for mental reasons, so long as the client continues therapy. This is the first internship where I was able to sit in on sessions, as I had not done that prior. It was a lot more different than I expected. Some clients were difficult to get a response out of whereas some belittled or ridiculed Erika during a heated conversation. Towards the end of my internship I used some art therapy activities on my younger siblings. I utilized an art therapy card deck, which is used when dealing with clients who shut down, refuse to speak, or are overall difficult. The cards contain four subcategories, 1. control 2. responsibility 3. safety and 4. relationships and connectedness. Each card has a different art activity centered around topics such as mindfulness or how to better control anger / rage. Overall, my internship went well and I had connected with Erika and her clients. This internship was an opportunity for me to get an early look into what a potential career would look like for my interests and major. I would recommend my experience to anyone else interested in art therapy or learning the basics of practicing therapy privately.

What Does “Pura Vida” Actually Mean?

This summer, I had the wonderful opportunity to complete a three month physical therapy internship in Costa Rica. I volunteered in two locations, the first being a day center for elderly adults and the second being a more traditional physical therapy clinic. The mornings is when I would volunteer at the day center helping the seniors with whatever they needed, giving an informational talk about a certain health topics that seniors face, leading group exercises, and shadowing the physical therapist that would come once a week. At the second clinic, I would shadow the same therapist every day, helping to set up and take down the treatment room, running therapy machines, and just generally doing anything the therapist needed. This internship matched very well with my global theme and challenge. The theme I chose was public and global health and the challenge was to witness the impact of physical therapy and whole body wellness on kids with disabilities in areas other than the United States. Unfortunately, because of the recent pandemic, the project I originally signed on to did not happen, but I was able to work in a therapy clinic instead. In this way, I was able to both see how physical therapy impacted people of all ages in Costa Rica and compared it to the US. The thing is, this internship was way past global themes and challenges. It was a time of personal growth, specifically in the realm of the phrase “pura vida”.

View from my host house in Naranjo, Costa Rica

The first thing you learn about Costa Rica and the people who live there is that going with the flow is their way of life. There is no strict schedule, and stress appears to be very low. This was completely different from what I came from in the US. My anxiety was at an all time high, as I was stepping into a completely new country alone, but after staying three months, my view on life has completely shifted. I realize now it is because Costa Ricans recognize humanity and they place it above most other things. Everything from bus schedules to doctors appointments are almost never on time because peoples experiences are placed above. This actually played a big role in how the clinic conducted their business. Although the therapist was often late to his appointments (the patients never cared), he would always ensure the full time was spent with them. Also, if the patient complained of another injury during the appointment, he would treat that injury. I saw the balance between humanity and professionalism, something that I hope to incorporate in my life as a future physical therapist.

Me running a therapy machine in my afternoon clinic

I think that “pura vida” can be applied to both my global them and challenge along with my day-to-day life. To me, “pura vida” reminds me to look for the humanity in situations. Arguably, humanity is what has formed the theme public and global health. As a member of this theme, we are trying to find answers to health problems around the globe, hence helping humanity. My challenge was already humanity based, just specifically in physical therapy. It does raise questions about how different physical therapy is across the globe, and if it is humanity based as it seems to be in Costa Rica. I know I will consistently use “pura vida” in my day to day life because it means so much more than go with the flow.

Me on beach at Cahuita National Park

A Community of Kindness: Volunteering in Barcelona

After two years of a global pandemic, countless applications, and plans being reschedules, I am so pleased that I have had the opportunity to spend the summer of 2022 in Barcelona, Spain as my Beyond the Classroom Experience for the Franke Global Leadership Initiative. I currently have three weeks left of my experience, but I have learned more, experienced more, and met more people that I ever thought possible in just two months.

While in Barcelona, I have been working/volunteering for a non-profit called Fundació Enllaç, a foundation that works to help, advocate for, and create a community for the older population of adults who identify as members of the LGBTQIA+ community. This foundation holds events for those members who are looking for community, they have created a volunteer program to check in on and provide companionship for the older members, and they participate in events to raise awareness about LGBTQIA+ issues. As a member of this team, I have had the opportunity to participate in community events all around the region of Catalonia, spend time with volunteers and members of the foundation, and learn the day to day operations of a non-profit, with a specific emphasis on community outreach and social media. I have also learned the cultural norms and practices of Spanish business, as well as how to work with amazingly diverse groups of people, both with and without a language barrier. 

Through this position, I have been relating my experience back to my global theme of Technology and Society alongside my global theme which focused on how social media and upcoming technology can be used to reach populations that often go unnoticed, or who are less accessible by traditional means of social media outreach. As a foundation with a specific interest in the population of older adults, outreach can be hard, especially when many members of the LGBTQIA+ community are susceptible to higher levels of isolation and mental illness that may make it hard for them to engage in or seek out community. I spent the last year working on my GLI capstone project, “Mitigating the Damaging Effects of Covid-19 Isolation in the Elderly,” that was very similar to this theme, and helped a lot in my understanding of what goes on in the community of older adults. This experience gave me a first hand look into the importance of community and outreach within this population, as well as how hard it is to reach them, especially when Instagram, Twitter, and Tik-Tok are not known platforms that this population prefers to engage with. That being said, I am currently working on a team trying to update and invigorate the presence of this foundation to reach all members of the Barcelona community, and therefore use word of mouth to spread our mission and activities to those less reachable by technology, as well as optimize Facebook and WhatsApp as platforms that the older population is more comfortable with. 

This experience has exposed me not only to the cultural of Spain, but countless others as I find myself in a global city full of amazing people. I have had the opportunity to engage with city culture (something I am not familiar with coming from a small town in Kansas and moving to Montana), the culture of specific groups of the LGBTQIA+ community, refugees, immigrants, and people from countries across the world as well as places across the US. One of my first days here, I had the opportunity to sit in on a meeting of members of Fundació Enllaç as well as a foundation that worked with LGBTQ+ youth and another that worked with refugees with the goal of creating an event to give all of these populations a chance to connect. I sat in this little conference room, looking around and it hit me just how crazy it was that I was there. I was sitting in a room with people who could not have been more different than me, listening to them talk about issues and ideas that I had never even considered in my life. This isn’t a great description, but I can still feel myself sitting there and looking at all these peoples who were from different countries than me, spoke different languages, had different genders or sexualities, people who were torn from their homes or forced to leave everything they once knew. People who had experienced things that I will never know. And they all had the vision of creating something better for those around them. They wanted to help. That was awe-inspiring to me. I have never felt more optimistic or proud to be a part of something, not only as a part of that organization but as a part of the future of our world, a part of the next generation. 

I could write for pages and pages about my experience here, but the most important thing to note is that this experienced has changed me in ways that I will be forever grateful for. I have been a part of an incredible community of kindness and hope. Being here is hard. Away from family, friends, and everything familiar. But it has been amazing, and I wouldn’t trade my experience and the people I have met for anything else. 

This is me and my coworker at a community event in a little neighborhood of Barcelona
Here’s a another picture of some of my amazingly kind, passionate coworkers/fellow volunteers
This is the view of Barcelona from Park Güell