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The Courage to Converse: Psychology and Public Health Meet in the Heart

By Sarah Cronin, Graduate Research Assistant — Family Development

I live in two worlds – psychology and public health.

In the world of psychology, I work with individuals as they overcome their deepest pains. My doctoral training has led me to community settings where I’ve served children and families affected by early childhood trauma and attachment disorders. I currently work part-time at a college counseling center where I counsel college students who experience challenges such as acute anxiety, family issues, sexual assault, or severe mental health diagnoses.

My clients are no different than you and I. We are all human. Their pains are our pains – we all have struggles that are hard to talk about, hard to share. We feel shame from our past. I sit with my client’s shame every day in order to help them heal.

Photo credit: iStock by Getty Images

In the world of public health, I work as a research assistant in the Extension Center for Family Development, where sometimes I feel like I’m the only one without traditional public health training.

There are projects where I’m lucky and the topics I study in seeking my degree align with my work at Extension – such as parent education with Parents Forever™ and trauma-informed child education with Healthy Bodies, Healthy Minds, Healthy Learners. Other times, I am learning completely new content to support sound evaluation of our programs, such as with the Latino Financial Literacy Program and the Financial Recovery After Disaster Video Series.

The people these programs serve are no different than you and I. We can all benefit from fine tuning our parenting, gaining financial literacy, and preparing for disasters. I help evaluate these programs in order to assure we are serving our community members to the best of our capability.

A snippet from the video series' impact evaluation results infographic.

These two worlds of psychology and public health are distinct yet interrelated. My time at Extension has shown me the many layers of our existence and the multiple forces that impact our health. After I sit with my clients in their pain, sometimes I go home and think, “Does it even matter?” The complex systems in which we exist perpetuate unhealthy beliefs and behaviors. And not only do I care about the psychological health of the clients I serve, but I care about their holistic, comprehensive well-being. Do those 50 minutes of me sitting and supporting one person make a difference?

If my work at Extension shows me the complexity of influencing individual health, it also shows me the possibilities for influencing public health. Because of the work we do at Extension, I have faith that the work I do with my clients alone in a private room can be maintained when they walk out the door.

Broc and the Green family walk out the door and face complex systems in Broc and the Systems.

When I see the positive outcomes from the evaluations of our programs, I don’t just see numbers — I see my clients. Your hard work serves people I know; people I care so deeply for through my professional work. True, you are probably not directly serving the clients I see, but you are still serving individuals and families; people who have struggles, shame, and grief; people who could end up in my office one day.

So whether I’m drawing from my doctoral training or learning as I go, I am always inspired by both the commitment of Extension educators to do good work and the outcomes that show the positive impact our programs have on our community. I am honored and proud to support the work of FD. I am humbled as I learn from you all.

Thank you for what you do for our community. Thank you for what you do for me.
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