As an undergraduate, I felt like I had my future all worked out. I would complete my pre-med degree, go to medical school, complete my residency and then move to Paris to practice obstetrics. I had two major influences in that career choice – The Cosby Show (it was the show of my youth) and my French teacher, Madame McCullough who had spent her adolescence and college years in France. Well obviously, I had not shared my entire career outlook with my career and guidance counselor; and with no one to talk me out of it, I was off!
Well, sort of. After major stumbling blocks in the first series of Biology courses (i.e., barely passed), it wasn’t until I took the Biology research course and easily passed it, that I realized a different future might be better suited to my skills.
I landed in Psychology and was fortunate at my small liberal arts school in Ohio to have a very passionate, yet colorful faculty who really awakened a new curiosity in me for understanding human behavior. During my junior year, I worked toward meeting our university’s community service requirement and my advisor located a family in need of behavioral therapists to work in their home, with their 4 yr. old son with Autism. This was an exhilarating experience. We were essentially carrying out non-aversive behavioral modification, 8 hours a day, 5 days a week.
During that experience, I spoke in depth about my desire to be a therapist and do work similar to what I was carrying out with Mikey. But I also wanted to work with the family and to help with their adjustment. This is when my advisor introduced me to what seemed to be a perfect match: rehabilitation counseling. Admittedly, I had never heard of this discipline before, but I was intrigued. As my undergraduate career came to an end, I applied to graduate programs in rehabilitation counseling and after having several interviews; I landed at the University of Illinois-Urbana.
There under the tutelage of Dr. John Trach, I learned about the limitless possibilities for persons with disabilities; supported employment and natural supports; transition services and fortunately had plenty of hands-on experiences with individuals with disabilities throughout my program – I was in love! It didn’t take long before I became an eager advocate for persons with disabilities and their families/support systems.
I completed my master’s degree in 1997, sat for my CRC in 1998 and completed my doctorate at Michigan State in 2001. Seventeen years after my first entre’ into the field of rehabilitation counseling, my work and dedication to the field has become meaningful for me in a significantly different way. In 2012, my first child, Kennedy, was born with Trisomy 21. We learned of her diagnosis just as we entered our 2nd trimester, and as it is for most parents, it was a jolting experience. However, it was my background and experience working with and advocating for individuals with T21 and other disabilities, which affirmed for me that Kennedy would be just fine and would live the highest quality life possible.
I don’t know if my career path has “come full circle”, but I do know that as my professional and personal paths intersect; I have a renewed vigor in insuring that the professionals who provide services to folks with disabilities are highly competent, aware, knowledgeable and share that dedication to their chosen profession as rehabilitation counselors.
Chandra Donnell Carey, Ph.D., CRC is an Associate Professor in the Department of Disability and Addiction Rehabilitation at the University of North Texas. Her research interests include multicultural counselor competency in rehabilitation counselor education and practice; psychiatric disabilities and rehabilitation outcomes; and multicultural clinical supervision practices.