Clare Josef-Maier walked the Seattle University commencement stage at Seattle Center’s Key Arena in June of this year as one of our new 2013 alumni in the MA in Relationship & Pastoral Therapy degree program. A few weeks before she received her diploma, we sat down with Clare to document in a shareable form just a corner of her interesting story. Clare’s journey to the mental health and counseling field started at a young age. Her father was a Lutheran church pastor and her mother was a midwife. She frequently attended pre-natal visits with her mother where she began to notice the impact and role her mother’s presence could have in supporting those she visited. Clare recalls those moments of observing her mother and shared with us: “That’s the way I saw my spirituality moving in me — presence with people.” Clare began to sense that she had a deep-seated desire to contribute to the lives of others as she observed her parents’ modes of vocational service. After her undergraduate degree was completed, Clare joined the Lutheran Volunteer Corps, serving as the Outreach Coordinator of Earth Ministry, a faith-based environmental nonprofit, where she worked with faith communities to build environmental stewardship into their values and goals as faith leaders. Clare says that she was drawn to the Master of Arts in Relationship & Pastoral Therapy at Seattle University’s School of Theology and Ministry in light of this draw she had to care, counseling, and community. In her discernment process she sought out local pastoral counselors, learned about their experiences, and discovered a real draw to work in a therapy setting. Being a newlywed herself, and entering a new life stage of family life, Clare felt personally motivated to focus professionally on the value of self-care and self-compassion of the therapist. She deeply desired to help people develop a sense of agency while balancing work and family. In Clare’s experience, self-care and life integration has been the steepest learning curve, but the most rewarding. Clare shared with us: “Self-care is introduced early and often in the school’s MA in Relationship & Pastoral Therapy program as a key aspect to the work because therapy requires a monumental amount of stability in the therapist.” Clare’s journey of self-care has taken her to taking up dance again after many years. She began a Jazz and Hip-hop fusion dance course of which she says “you have no choice; you have to ‘get out of your head’ if you’re going to dance!” She credits these commitments to self-care as key to her continued work. Informed by her experience with Camp Erin and her time with her mother, Clare aspires to work with young adult women. She wants to create a space for them to feel supported and safe. She works hard at being a nonjudgmental presence where they can explore and perhaps for the first time discover who they are. She describes what she does as “sacred work.” During her time in the degree program, Clare worked with Lutheran Counseling Network, through which she had the unique opportunity to meet with clients in a church building (Central Lutheran Church in Everett), though many of them may not have a faith or religious connection. In addition, she met with students through Covenant House on the University of Washington campus. Clare has seen both individuals and couples in session, receiving referrals from pastors as well. She greatly valued her experience with Lutheran Counseling Network, which she says “exposed [her] to a social ministry organization of the church that held the ethics of the therapeutic practice with great integrity.”Clare shared with us: “My favorite work has been with young adults, age 11-35. It is very powerful to walk with individuals in that age range, many of whom are going through life stages of discovery, learning who they are in the world, and what dreams they have for their lives.” Clare was introduced to Camp Erin through Providence Hospice, where kids and teenagers that have lost a loved one can come together out of their isolation to begin healing in a non-traditional setting. Clare was a clinical lead for two teen girls cabins. She recalls how quickly the girls bonded with one another and with her, as they were allowed to be vulnerable, share authentically, process their loss and communicate their grief in a safe place. Clare recognized through that experience the importance of community in moments of personal change —people who allow you to experience what you need and create space to communicate feelings and experiences. “As a part of the degree program, when we are working with our clients, we were required to see a therapist of our own. My therapist asked me the question: ‘What is it about this demographic [women age 11-35] that draws you to working with them?’ The thought that sprang to my mind was about safety. I desperately want someone in these girls’ lives who can be safe for them. Adolescents and young adults are vulnerable people; this is the age where their developmental task is differentiating and developing their sense of agency — who am I in the world?
Our culture is not a very safe place for that formative task. To have someone who can be a nonjudgmental presence and who can really affirm and empower that process is crucial. For parents, it’s difficult because they’re often tasked with other forms of creating safety and protection for their children — they’re busy being parents, which they should be.” Recently, Clare has also become a “Big Sister” to an 11-year-old girl through Big Brothers Big Sisters, which is an opportunity she says to “not be a therapist” and just be herself — to relate in a different way. Her education and training in development at the school are solid foundations in doing that well. Clare is now employed by Lutheran Counseling Network, and continues to see clients at both Central Lutheran Church in Everett and University of Washington. For more information about the MA in Relationship & Pastoral Therapy, visit here. For more student stories, visit here.
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