Why would an architect of 25 years who was very happy in her career decide to switch gears and become a mental health counselor?
“Everyone asks me that question and I don’t have a fantastic answer,” laughs Megan Miller, Licensed Social Worker (LSW), Licensed Master Social Worker (LMSW), who recently joined the clinical team at Nutley Family Service Bureau (NFSB). “I still truly value architecture, but certain experiences in my life led me to think differently about what I should be doing for other people. I do think there’s a connection between my work as an architect and a clinician as far as the importance of environment.”
In architecture, Megan points out that she was designing built environments for safety, function, and beauty. In therapy, she is also working with environmental factors, such as the family system, the community, and the social environment. People develop a sense of self by interacting with their environment.
“We all get imprinted with messages about ourselves and our capabilities, some of which aren’t true because there are flaws in our environment,” Megan said. “But we can be true to ourselves in therapy. I can help people examine barriers in their lives and understand what’s external and internal. As they learn more about themselves, they start interacting with the world a little bit differently.”
Megan followed up her master’s degree in architecture from Columbia University and bachelor’s in architecture from Tulane University with a Master of Social Work from Rutgers University – Newark. She completed her first internship with a public defender’s office in an adult drug court and requested that her second internship be in a correctional setting.
These are extremely physical, restrictive environments. Even access to basic human needs like daylight is restricted. It was very important to Megan to learn how to provide mental health services in that environment.
“People in these settings are treated uniformly using assumptions based on their worst actions,” Megan said. “Part of my role as a mental health counselor was to kind of hold up a different mirror to them and help remind them of other aspects of themselves. This would allow them to see themselves more fully and inhabit that fuller sense of themselves, which is very challenging in a correctional setting.”
After graduating, Megan worked at the Paterson Healing Collective. She especially values her experience providing case management and mental health support for members of the local community who have been impacted by violence.
While Megan will see clients at NFSB who are facing a wide variety of challenges, she hopes to continue counseling clients who have been impacted by experiences with the justice system, environmental challenges, and trauma. She’s very excited to be practicing at a community-focused organization like NFSB.
“NFSB has such deep ties in the community, and there are so many ways to help people,” Megan said. “Nobody is turned away, which is very important to me. Clients always feel supported and heard. I love that NFSB has listening sessions to truly understand the needs of the community, because community members are the true experts in their own conditions.”
Megan is grateful for the opportunity to provide counseling services with an agency that is so closely aligned with her vision. She believes the following quote from James Baldwin perfectly encapsulates her approach to counseling:
I am what time, circumstance, history, have made of me, certainly, but I am also much more than that. So are we all.