As a first-year student at Emmanuel, Cara Stevens '16 enrolled in a child and adolescent psychology course that "sparked a deep interest" within her and set her on a path to a degree in psychology with a concentration in developmental psychology. Following her graduation this month, she will put the skills she learned through her courses, an internship and employment outside of the classroom to work as a behavioral technician at the Autism Behavioral Center (ABC) in Northborough, Massachusetts. There, she will receive training in Applied Behavior Analysis (ABA), the application of behavioral principals to everyday, real-world situations that will, over time, increase or decrease targeted behaviors.
"The child and adolescent development and child psychopathology courses that I have taken will be extremely helpful as I enter a career in which I will be working with children with various developmental and psychological disabilities, specifically related to autism," Stevens said. "Many of the children that receive ABA services suffer from coexisting mental health disorders as well as with autism."
Stevens was initially drawn to ABA because she knew it would give her the opportunity to apply what she has learned as a psychology major to an area in which she is already familiar. A former swim instructor at a Boys & Girls Club and an assistant teacher at a KinderCare Learning Center, she is excited to integrate her academic knowledge and her experience working with children into a new career opportunity.
"When I first went to ABC for an interview, I arrived early and began to observe what was going on in the center," she said. "It seemed to be such a positive environment, as I saw one behavior technician supporting each child and working individually with them to help them engage in social interaction with others. I began to notice aspects of Behavior Therapy that I have learned about in my psychology classes play out in real-life situations."
Stevens also recently finished an internship at Samaritans Inc., a Boston-based suicide prevention and awareness organization that offers 24-hour crisis services by phone, as well as grief support and community education and outreach programs. At Samaritans, she answered calls and provided a safe, confidential outlet for people with feelings of isolation, desperation or other emotional concerns.
"My internship experience at Samaritans has definitely been a challenging one, with many long and emotionally draining days," Stevens said. "Providing emotional support to individuals suffering from some really devastating situations is not always easy, but being the person to be there for them during these difficult times can be tremendously rewarding."
After completing her training in ABA at the Autism Behavioral Center and gaining some experience in the position, Stevens will evaluate whether to continue her education in that field or to expand her career outlook. Through her work at Samaritans, she also developed an interest in counseling psychology and would consider a master's degree program in which she could apply the interpersonal, crisis intervention, active and empathetic listening skills she acquired at the call center.