Graduate & Doctoral Programs
Lauren Wood '18, '20 PhD-MFT
PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy
Being a Catalyst for Change
For Lauren Wood ’18, ’20, furthering her education is more than a pay increase. Wood uses Mount Mercy’s PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy program as an opportunity to grow as a learner and therapist.
MMU: Why do you want to be in a helping profession? How did your passion in marriage and family therapy begin?
LW: I was originally a school teacher and when we moved to Iowa for my spouse’s job, I had the opportunity to try a new profession. Jobs that provide someone with purpose and meaning tend to reduce people from feeling burned out and undervalued. Being a therapist allows me to support people in creating hope as a catalyst for change, which might one day bring about a better future for that patient and hopefully a better world to live in.
Being a therapist allows me to support people in creating hope as a catalyst for change, which might one day bring about a better future for that patient and hopefully a better world to live in.
MMU: What population do you want to work with? What draws you to that population?
LW: Though my degree allows me to see all ages as patients, I specialize in working with patients who have been diagnosed with medical conditions. My largest patient population is working with those who have been diagnosed with breast cancer or other general oncology diagnoses. I also work with patients who have chronic pain, Alzheimer’s disease, POTS, and Ehlers Danlos Syndrome. I have worked with cancer patients since 2005 in various forms and after having a cancer scare in 2016, I knew this was an underserved population and still is. I do not know of others working with this population in Cedar Rapids at this time.
MMU: What attracted you to Mount Mercy’s PhD in Marriage and Family Therapy program? What was your motivation for pursuing a doctoral degree?
LW: This question lead to a recent phenomenological study done by my cohort, which is currently being published. The answer is there is a small population that has a passion or a love of learning for continuing education. I loved my experience in the MFT master’s program and I knew I wanted to further myself as a clinician and potentially become professor. I was so thankful that Mount Mercy started their PhD program because I have three small children and Mount Mercy’s programs allow you to work, raise children, and further your academics.
"I was so thankful that Mount Mercy started their PhD program because I have three small children and Mount Mercy’s programs allow you to work, raise children, and further your academics."
Lastly, in the master’s program I discovered a love and desire to conduct research studies, and since the PhD program is so specialized and supportive, it allows you to study and specialize in areas of your passion. I am currently about to start my dissertation on breast cancer and already have two follow-up studies planned. This research not only impacts professionals in the Cedar Rapids area, but also hopefully others working with patients who have been diagnosed with a medical condition.
MMU: How are you building your skills in and out of the classroom? How does the faculty’s experiences and research impact the program?
LW: This program allowed me to specialize on a specific area of study. I have chosen medical family therapy. Being specialized allows me to utilize medical family therapy services in the Cedar Rapids community, which is an underserved population. I am constantly learning new research that I can apply in my practice and share with fellow therapists, share with the primary care physicians that refer to me, and share with the medical oncologists who collaborate with me on the patient’s care.
I have been very blessed with the faculty at Mount Mercy because they understand my goals, allow me to establish goals for myself and my practice, and work to support me, as opposed to other university systems that are not student centered. Each of the faculty members have been to a program designed not to be student centered and learned that they could do things differently and better, and I have benefited from their experiences.
I am constantly learning new research that I can apply in my practice and share with fellow therapists, primary care physicians, and medical oncologists.
MMU: How do you see yourself using the skills you’re building in the program? The program incorporates clinical hours—how has this impacted your experience?
LW: With the skills, new techniques, and research that I have learned in my experiences, I have started two new groups designed to reduce chronic pain and support breast cancer patients. These groups are one-of-a-kind as they are based on the latest evidence-based research. The skills I learned in the PhD program have allowed me to clearly establish research designed to support this patient population further.
The clinical hours in the program are very different from the master’s program, as they are designed to further individual practice and mastery rather than learning new techniques. I have been able to take these new skills and utilize them in my practice, which has help me further my career.
MMU: What’s the biggest challenge you’ve faced so far? How did you overcome it? How did Mount Mercy support you during this challenge?
LW: The biggest challenge I have faced in the PhD program is myself. People who are drawn to a PhD program are perfectionists and overachievers. These people are anxious by nature, which leads to worry and stress. Learning that I am not in the program to be the best or to be perfect, but to become better and grow as a provider has been a game changer. I have learned to better pace myself and to work smarter not harder to accomplish tasks. My leadership skills are growing tremendously at this time and learning to lead others has taught me to better support myself.
"My leadership skills are growing tremendously at this time and learning to lead others has taught me to better support myself."
MMU: What was one class or lesson that stuck with you? Why do think it impacted you? Is there a specific person or program that has made obtaining your degree easier?
LW: All of the classes have been beneficial, which speaks highly of the program. All of the professors have formed a supportive relationship with me that fosters and models a strengths-based approach, which has been a tremendous support. I know the professors want me to succeed as much as I do. They make themselves readily available for any questions and work to support me in achieving my individual goals.
MMU: What’s one piece of advice you would give to future PhD students?
LW: The point of a PhD is to better oneself and specialize in an area of interest. If you are trying to achieve a PhD for any other reason you will not reach your full potential. A PhD is hard, but isn’t anything hard worth achieving? There is a reason that only one percent of the population have a PhD and it is worth being proud of yourself if you accomplish it.