Growing up, Dr. Sarah Stewart-Spencer knew with a certainty unheard of in most 13-year-old kids that she was destined to become a counsellor.
“In eighth grade, we had to write a ‘Me Book’ all about the things we were going to do with our lives. And I wrote in that book that I would be a counsellor – because I knew it even then,” said Stewart-Spencer, Yorkville University’s newly appointed Dean of Behavioural Sciences.
“For as long as I can remember, people have come to me and talked to me. And they always say the same thing: ‘I’ve never told anybody that.’ So, I just knew helping others was my life’s calling.”
What the Florida native didn’t find out until much later – until after she’d earned both her Master of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy from Virginia’s Regent University – was that she was also bound towards a career as an educator.
“I really did not want to be a teacher. In fact, I remember clearly saying during my doctorate, ‘No, I’m not going to start teaching till I’m at least 75,’” she laughed, noting that, even as she undertook her full-time PhD studies, she was juggling a strong clinical practice, along multiple part-time jobs as a teaching assistant, research assistant, and as an emergency services counsellor.
“At the time, I just wanted to do the work itself. One of my jobs was as a community mental health counsellor responding with police officers to calls about individuals who were suicidal, homicidal, grossly psychotic. It was really intense, but I really enjoyed it.”
Things shifted, however, when Stewart-Spencer welcomed her now-nine-year-old son. She began to question whether or not she should be taking so many risks with a baby at home.
And so it came to pass that well-timed request from a colleague to do some part-time online teaching changed everything for Stewart-Spencer.
“When I first started teaching, it was, like, ‘Oh my gosh! I’m not just helping people one-on-one anymore. Now, I’m now helping multiple people who are going to touch multiple other people’s lives,’” she explained, noting that her teaching career began with a part-time job as an online instructor at Capella University in 2012.
“And that realization expanded my life’s goals.”
Fast-forward nearly 10 years, and Stewart-Spencer is now not only a decade into a successful career as an online educator, but she just accepted a new leadership position as Yorkville University’s Dean of Behavioural Sciences – a role that will give her direct oversight of both the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology and Doctor of Counselling and Psychotherapy programs.
Stewart-Spencer said she was “super excited” at the news of her appointment.
“I feel like I’ve never been with a company that I just feel like I fit so well with. Yorkville has vision, and that’s the kind of place I really belong – one that is always wanting to grow and continue improving.”– Dr. Sarah Stewart-Spencer, Dean of Behavioural Sciences
Since Stewart-Spencer joined the Yorkville team back in 2018, she said the Master of Arts in Counselling Psychology program has already undergone many changes – including strengthened student supports, communication, and the translation of knowledge into skill-based application.
With the Doctor of Counselling and Psychotherapy program, which just launched this past September, Stewart-Spencer said she’s excited at the opportunity to “influence the flow” of such a new credential, as well as the culture that’s being built around it.
“One of the things that’s really important to me, especially with the doctorate program, is that our students realize we’re establishing them as and facilitating them to be our next leaders,” she enthused.
“To have this ability to shape and influence our next leaders in a positive way – I mean, I’m so excited.”
As a published author, journal editor, and long-time licensed counsellor and certified clinical trauma professional, Stewart-Spencer isn’t new to leadership positions herself.
Beyond her academic role, she has served in a variety of mental health capacities – from her experience in psychiatric in-patient counselling as the Clinical Director at James Bentley Treatment Center, to her editing experience with both Therapeutic Speakeasy Quarterly and The Humanistic Counselor, to her numerous speaking engagements on topics such as trauma, therapeutic process and supervision at the local, state, national and international levels.
As Yorkville’s new Dean of Behavioural Sciences, she’s committed to a “trickle-down” approach to her leadership style – starting with the faculty she has the “privilege to care for.”
“Somebody told me once that when you’re managing people, you’re not managing them, you’re managing the way we support and care for them – and that is what I care about. I believe in a top-down approach when it comes to happiness,” she said.
“If our instructors are happy and loving that they’re here, then our students will be able to see that and, even online, it will trickle down to them. Then our students will love learning even more…and their brains will absorb more. And if they become better counsellors, then they’ll be more effective at what they do, which will help even more people. It all just trickles out.”
More About Dr. Stewart-Spencer:
Sarah Stewart-Spencer, Ph.D., LPC, LMHC, NCC, CH, CCTP, completed her doctorate in Counselor Education and Supervision and is currently a Licensed Professional Counselor (in Virginia), a Licensed Mental Health Counselor (in Florida), Certified Clinical Trauma Professional (CCTP) and a Nationally Certified Counselor.
Beyond her academic role, she has served in a variety of mental health capacities, including psychiatric inpatient, community mental health in emergency services, outpatient treatment, program development, and program consultation. She has presented at a local, regional, state, national and international level, as well as, been published on topics, such as trauma, therapeutic process and supervision.
Stewart-Spencer also holds advanced training in Traumatology and certification in Hypnotherapy. She is the Editor and co-founder of Therapeutic Speakeasy Quarterly. This independent, peer-reviewed electronic journal highlights relevant issues, themes, and crucial aspects of the mental health profession. She is also the co-editor of a book series, Metaphors and Therapy: Enhancing Clinical Supervision and Education. This teaching guide breaks though ambiguity in counselor education and training by introducing a variety of metaphors to help instructors and supervisors clearly explain the therapeutic process to new counselors. She is a collaborator with the International Trauma Training Institute.