Q&A with Mental Health Grad Student Marielle Newton

Written by Susan Helmick, Graduate Assistant for the Graduate College

grad student marielle newton in a red sleeveless shirt with mid-length curly brown hair

As we continue to observe Suicide Prevention Month this September, we sat down for an enlightening interview with Clinical Mental Health Counseling graduate student, Marielle Newton. In this Q & A we explore what motivated her to make a career change and why she chose UC for her graduate school journey. We also discuss the prevalence of poor mental health among students in higher education, how she juggles grad school demands while balancing a personal life and motherhood, and the impact she hopes to make in the lives of those grappling with anxiety and other mental health challenges. 

What initially attracted you to the mental health program at the University of Cincinnati, and could you share the most rewarding and challenging aspects of your graduate journey? Additionally, what are your career aspirations upon graduation?

I was a high school English teacher in Maine and here in Cincinnati for 13 years before deciding to change careers. I already have a master's in Curriculum and Instruction from the University of Vermont, but the prospect of going back to grad school from the professional world was still a huge adjustment. I chose UC specifically because it offered an in-person clinical mental health counseling program. Many programs offer clinical counseling entirely online. I was looking for a more immersive program with a cohort model where I could build a network of other counselors as I jumpstart this second career, and I found it here at UC!

The most rewarding part of my journey as a graduate student so far is my internship. UC starts their internship a full semester before any other program of which I’m aware, beginning practicum in the second semester instead of the third. As a result, I've been offering psychotherapy services to clients since January, which has helped me grow in my clinical skills as I continue to take coursework. It’s been incredibly rewarding to build a therapeutic relationship with clients, watch them grow and heal, and even successfully discharge a few patients in part because of the help I've been able to offer, which has only solidified this as the right career for me.

The most challenging aspect is just balancing all the elements of such a clinically focused program.  I have 4 courses and accompanying papers and assignments, 20-30 hours a week at my internship site offering counseling services, a Graduate Assistantship for 20 hours a week, and I'm also a mom. While it’s hard navigating everything as one of the few people in my program with children, I love the program and everyone in it. 

After graduation, I plan to continue at my current internship site as a full-time counselor specializing in OCD, anxiety, and peri- and post-partum disorders, as well as intimate partner violence. Eventually, I would like to open my own private practice and pursue supervisory licensure, which would allow me to be a supervisor for counselors in training and aligns especially well with my previous teaching experience.

Given the recent surge in research highlighting increasing rates of depression, anxiety, and other mental health issues among graduate students, what factors do you think are contributing to this trend, setting them apart from other demographic groups? 

Dean of the Graduate College Rose Marie Ward and I worked together to develop the Graduate Student Health Survey, administered last spring and being offered every year to gather data on graduate student health. The impetus of this research was the growing data that graduate students are far more likely to experience mental health struggles. We had an unexpectedly high response rate to the survey and are working diligently to analyze the collected data. While there are many factors driving the rise in mental health struggles in the graduate student population, the trend seems to point to an increase in responsibilities, expectations, workload, and competition in research. The "publish or perish" paradigm has increased as research funding has plateaued, compounding the need for students to develop a variety of skills in fields outside of their discipline, including technology/AI, communications, public relations, and even mental health literacy. Graduate students are also not immune to the machinations of the outside world. The difficulty of balancing the requirements to successfully complete a graduate program in the 21st century with scant resources, particularly as graduate student stipends are often below a living wage without supplemental employment, continues to increase.  

In your studies and professionally, have you come across any promising interventions or innovative approaches that show potential for effectively managing anxiety and mental health about which you’re uniquely enthusiastic? 

Innovation in mental health can be a double-edged sword. On the one hand, interventions like TMS (transcranial magnetic stimulation) for depression and OCD, new research into psychedelic-assisted therapy, and continued research into trauma-informed care and multicultural counseling are helping people get better in ways that honor their humanity. More clinicians are being trained in evidence-based therapies like Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), and Exposure and Response Prevention (ERP), which are the primary modalities I use. 

On the other hand, with newfound excitement in the world of mental health (and everyone diagnosing themselves on TikTok) come overused buzzwords, misunderstandings about mental health conditions, and even the potential for destigmatization efforts to backfire and further alienate those facing mental health challenges. We've all heard someone lately overusing or misusing terms like gaslighting, boundaries, or trauma, which can water down these terms' clinical definitions. Paradoxically, the more mainstream mental health terminology becomes, the more these terms may be misunderstood or manipulated, and true mental health concerns dismissed. 

I believe people will eventually benefit from society's increasing focus on mental health as an integral part of overall healthcare. Your brain, after all, is part of your body! Counselors, social workers, and psychologists are starting to be more valued by society at large, and, slowly but surely, people are starting to feel like they can talk openly about their mental health in positive ways.  

Where can people find out more information about your graduate program and the work you’re doing?

Mental health graduate programs at UC are housed in multiple colleges, which can be confusing. The Clinical Mental Health Counseling master's program is housed within CECH in the School of Human Services. The Clinical Social Work master's program is run by the College of Allied Health Sciences, and the Psychology master's and PhD programs are housed in the College of Arts and Sciences. All overlap in important ways and allow graduates to offer very similar (though not exact) clinical services to help patients through diagnosis, therapy, and assessment of mental illness. While I will be a Licensed Professional Counselor next spring, for now I am the Graduate Assistant for Mental Health Programming for graduate students. The Graduate College is partnering with campus organizations like CAPS (Counseling and Psychological Services), the Student Wellness Center, the Osher Center for Integrative Health, the UC Women's Center, and others to promote mental health awareness, trainings, and programs on campus. Interested campus groups or students can reach out to me or to Virginia Dennis, Program Manager at The Graduate College, for more information on what we can offer for graduate students.