For Dickerson, It’s All About Counseling Students to Success
Even though Argosy University, Atlanta assistant professor Asha Dickerson, Ph.D. was only 20 years old when she graduated with her B.S. in psychology, she has a strong sense of what life is like for her adult students, many of whom are decades older than her.
“As a divorced mom raising an 11-year-old and a 7-year-old, I know how full and demanding life can be,” Dickerson says. “I get what it’s like to keep color-coded work, school and kids schedules in order to keep it all together. That’s one of the reasons I have such respect for people who choose to return to school to pursue an advanced degree and a new career direction. It’s not always easy, and it’s always worth it.”
Dickerson, who specializes in Family Counseling in Substance Abuse and Social and Cultural Diversity, says her goal is to help develop students who can thrive in the real world.
“I want to see my students be effective and successful,” Dickerson says. “I want to help them develop approaches and techniques that prepare them to make a difference, whether they end up working in a hospital program, a mental health agency, or in private practice.”
One of most important lessons counseling students must learn, says Dickerson, is one that can’t be taught in the classroom: finding that delicate balance between caring and caring too much.
“One of my professors at the University of Alabama-Birmingham taught me something years ago that I’ve never forgotten: ‘It’s not about you,’” she recalls. “Counseling is a field where you connect with your clients on a very personal level, yet you can’t take it personally. I’ve learned that while you can and should care, you can’t claim credit for their successes and you can’t assume responsibility for their failures. Setting boundaries and working to achieve a sense of balance are essential. If you don’t, you’ll never sleep at night.”
Having worked for child protective services in Alabama right out of college, Dickerson knows firsthand the practical challenges—and the potential heartache—of the work she trains students to do.
“Many therapists work with the ‘worried well’, people with no diagnosable illnesses, but I’ve always preferred getting in the trenches and working with people who are living hard lives and looking for a way to make it better,” Dickerson explains. “Early in my career, I worked mostly with clients between the ages of 14 and 21, so many of them were aging out of the system. I’d say 85% of my cases were drug and alcohol related. I learned to identify the root of the problem, which is the family. Drugs are an escape, and if everything in your life is going wrong, I can understand that you might want to be numb. You can place a kid in foster care in a mansion with the nicest people in the world, but what happens when he or she is returned to their family? Nothing is likely to change in a family unless the parents change. Not everyone makes it, but when you work with a family and you see positive, lasting changes, it’s incredibly satisfying.”
Dickerson, who earned her doctor of philosophy in Counselor Education and Supervision from Auburn University in 2014, comes from a family of achievers. Her parents were both school principals. Her identical twin, Aisha, is an epidemiologist and postdoctoral research fellow at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, specializing in Autism Spectrum Disorder and other neurodevelopmental disorders.
“My sister and I have the best kind of sibling rivalry,” says Dickerson. “We spark the best in each other and have been each other’s biggest supporters for as long as I can remember. We’ve even begun working on research projects together. Aisha and I joke that we were born into competition. So far, it’s served us pretty well.” ###