By Madalynn Owens
Maya Williams is a 3rd-year doctorate student in the Counseling Psychology program with a passion for supporting racial/ethnic minority students and their mental health. She began to pursue the field of counseling when she noticed in her own social circles that often mental health care meant relying on personal support systems.
This past spring, Williams was awarded the highly competitive Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doctoral Fellowship from the American Psychological Association (APA). The fellowship focuses on promoting behavioral health services and policies for ethnic minority groups and increasing the number of psychologists from diverse backgrounds providing these services.
Williams first became aware of a lack of resources for racial/ethnic minority students during the events at the University of Missouri in 2015 surrounding racial climate, workplace benefits, and campus leadership, which led her to pursue a double bachelor’s in psychology and sociology. This helped to fuel her interest in counseling psychology later on. As an undergraduate, her involvement in the McNair Scholars Program provided her with enriching experiences to prepare her for further education. Williams also had a research assistantship at the Family Relationship and Adolescent Development (FRAD) lab that Dr. Nicole Campione-Barr directs. She collected data about family communication as well as completed an independent research project about sibling conflict and problem behavior. “I also really liked working with kids so I thought okay, maybe I’ll work with kids maybe I’ll do something with that,” Williams said.
Williams’ parents both have advanced degrees and encouraged her to go to graduate school when she completed her undergraduate degrees at Mizzou, and Dr. Campione-Barr also encouraged her to consider applying to counseling master’s programs. Williams earned a Master’s of Education specifically focusing on Mental Health Counseling from Columbia University where she worked with Dr. Derald Wing Sue, a prominent voice in multicultural counseling and diversity training. Williams came to understand that “Social justice should be ingrained in everything that you’re doing as a future therapist, as a future counselor. Not only did that make so much sense to me but I realized this is what I want to do.”
As part of her clinical experience during her master’s program, Williams worked at the Bronx Adolescent Skills Center, engaging in individual counseling and group therapy for students. “I really loved that experience of working with these students, mostly young Black and Latinx students,” Williams said. “I thought yes I love being a counselor but I don’t think I’m done yet, I feel like I can do more.”
Returning to the University of Missouri in 2019, Williams started her doctorate in Counseling Psychology. Her focus ties in with her previous experiences, “A lot of my focus and research interest deals with collaborating with communities,” Williams said. “How I can collaborate with communities to empower communities of color and uplift their voices, to focus on their wellbeing together as well as relying on the things they’re already doing in their community.” Currently, her proposed study for her dissertation will focus on the mental health and wellbeing of Black student activists.
The APA Mental Health and Substance Abuse Services Doctoral Fellowship will help to support Williams as she finishes her Ph.D. at Mizzou. Williams said, “This program is great because they’re saying ‘we want to support you and help lessen the burden of graduate school, we’re going to give you some financial support, professional development, career training, and a great community network as well so you can continue to keep doing the things you’re doing.’” And such support systems, as well as other people that share values with her in her program, are some of the things she is most thankful for throughout her educational career.
“It is so motivating to be in a space, in a program, with so many other Black women and be able to have conversations with people who support you,” Williams said. “I’m so thankful to have the support of my peers and people like my advisor, Dr. Lisa Flores, who have done nothing but support me, provide me with mentorship, and genuinely care.”
While her APA fellowship just began at the beginning of October, Williams is looking forward to forging more relationships with her peers and will soon be receiving a mentor through the program to provide advice and help guide her to finishing her Ph.D. in Counseling in 2023.