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Associated Alumni

Reflections on UNB

Joan Wright

When Joan Wright (BA'84, MA'88, PhD'00) looks back on her time at UNB, it is with fondness and appreciation.

“I have three degrees from UNB,” says Wright. “All of them have great meaning and represent my learning and achievement, but they do not speak to the impact that the journey in getting these degrees had on my life.”

Joan grew up in Debec, NB, a small village of 250 people, just outside of Woodstock. Her first introduction to UNB was as a Grade 11 student in 1979.

“A recruiter from UNB came to the school to give a talk. Afterwards, I went to ask him the name of the profession that talked to people. He said, ‘you must mean a psychologist.’ I was impressed with him knowing what I meant by such a vague question, and my decision was made. I was going to UNB to study psychology.”

In September 1980, Wright began her long and rewarding journey to a successful career in psychology and the ownership of two psychology practices.

Here is her story.

One of the first things I did when I arrived on campus, after settling into my room in McLeod House, was walk through campus and find the building where I would spend the better part of my academic life, Keirstead Hall.

My academic travels eventually took me to the office of Dr. Wayne Donaldson to ask him if he would consider supervising my honours thesis. He said ‘yes’. And in that moment, my fate was sealed.

On at least three occasions, both as an undergraduate and a graduate student, I went to Dr. Donaldson to share my great ideas for a study and ask his permission to run them. Each time, he said yes, and each time the study failed miserably.

I finally asked Dr. Donaldson, what I was doing wrong, and he said, 'you have not asked me how to do it right.' That day, I learned the importance of humility, of knowing the importance of when to ask questions, and of recognizing that I didn’t know it all. And above all, I learned the value of a mentor. With a gentle supportive hand, Dr. Donaldson led me down my path, and surrounded me with wonderful colleagues who would eventually become some of the most influential people in my life.

In 1988, I left UNB armed with my master's degree and a sense of achievement.

My first job was in Campbellton, NB, facilitating a program for boys with behaviour problems and no desire to conform to anyone's schedule, let alone someone fresh out of grad school. But thanks to the confidence, skills and mentorship from UNB, I was able to get through that.

From Campbellton, I went on to work with adolescents in a forensic closed-custody facility in Fredericton. It quickly became evident that incarcerated youngsters are really pathologized by their crimes. I conducted many forensic assessments, and was repeatedly struck by the relationship between aggressive behaviour and early dysfunction in social and parental relationships. To help these kids, I ran an anger management program and gave them strategies, and although the teenagers reportedly enjoyed the group sessions, there was no change in their aggressive behaviour.

I wanted to get to the bottom of what was happening with these kids. I wanted to understand why, when you had, what the books said, was a really appropriate intervention, were these kids getting worse?

I had a lot of questions, and looking back on the advice given to me by Dr. Donaldson, I knew where to find help. This led me back to UNB in 1995 to pursue my PhD in psychology.

In the same year, my son Alex was born and I started a full-time private practice.

When I entered the office of Dr. Ann Cameron, I told her that I was a part-time student and I intended on taking the allotted seven years to finish my PhD. She nodded and said, 'yes, we'll have you through in three years.' Thinking she hadn't heard the part about me being a part-time student, I repeated my statement. She repeated her answer. Three years later, I handed in the first draft of my dissertation.

Fast forward to today.

Post PhD, I became certified in bioenergetics, which looks at the connection between the body and mind. This took another five years, 500 hours of training and required me to do 150 hours of my own therapy. But it was worth it and has made me the therapist I am today. It also led me to open MindShift Clinic in 2013 to address the needs of those who are not helped by talk therapy.

UNB gave me everything I needed to become who I became professionally. I will be ever grateful for the knowledge, the experiences and the wisdom that it has given me to be able to go out and work with the people I work with and to mentor those as I was mentored.

Joan Wright was the guest speaker at the Associated Alumnae’s semi-annual general meeting. She is a certified psychologist and the owner of Joan Wright and Associates and MindShift Clinic.

Back to Alumni News Direct - January 2016