Mark Roberts, MA CandidateClinical Mental Health Counseling
Changing Careers, Changing Lives
Senior National Guardsman Mark Roberts joined the military immediately after graduating high school in 1974. He was a young man eager to see action and disappointed when the Vietnam War ended in 1975, before he could serve there himself. Now, thirty-five years later, a more tempered man is preparing to leave military life behind and looking forward to beginning a new career as a mental health counselor after he completes his master's degree in Antioch University New England's Clinical Mental Health Counseling Program.
I arrived at the Prime Roast Café in downtown Keene to interview Roberts and met a tall fellow dressed in desert fatigues, sporting closely cropped hair. At first glance he definitely looked like someone you'd appreciate having next to you in a modern-day foxhole. Yet his manner was completely relaxed, friendly, and open. I asked Mark how he found his way from a teen enthusiastic about fighting in a war to a full-grown man eager to tend to the inner emotional world of others.
The question made him smile and he offered an admission of his own. “Well, I did have much more of a gung-ho mentality when I was younger. I used to be one of those people that thought, 'gee if you have a problem just deal with it! What do you need a shrink for?'” Mark shook his head in amusement as if thinking back on that younger, more naïve version of himself. Then he became more serious and goes on to describe a period of seminal change in his life that led him to his present endeavor.
Grieving Father Welcomes Opportunity to Help Others
Ten years ago, Mark was working as a librarian at the Fall Mountain High School in New Hampshire when his son died in a car accident. “Justin had gotten involved with drugs, primarily marijuana and drinking, and he got behind the wheel when he shouldn't have and it killed him,” said Mark. This is the sort of pivotal event that will change anyone's life, but for Mark the next thing that happened was completely serendipitous as far as he's concerned. A position opened up in the National Guard for a program specialist in Keene. Although he didn't understand exactly what it was, he applied and got the job, only to end up working with young people in trouble.
Two things happened almost simultaneously to Mark. He went through the harrowing process of grieving for his son and began helping at-risk teens avert tragedies of their own. Mark told me, “When my son died I just wanted to crawl into a corner and have a pity party, but people were constantly coming into my life and that forced me to expose my grief. Just talking about it was very therapeutic.” When he began working with troubled teens and their parents in Keene he heard their stories “and once again saw how simply being able to talk to someone, anybody who was willing to really listen, was incredibly helpful.”
In 2004, Mark traversed a third pivotal experience while serving in Iraq with his transportation unit. They spent a year seeing a lot of the country as well as combat action. He observed that some members of his squad gravitated toward counselors that were sent to the units. Some of the soldiers wanted to talk about a mission or trauma they had experienced and Mark saw the value of that support firsthand. When he came back from Iraq Mark also took advantage of counseling to deal with some of his own trauma symptoms.
Iraq Experience Casts Light on Counseling Career
“I came to see counseling as a highly worthwhile profession. I started thinking it was something I'd like to do professionally,” said Mark. “I also knew that being deployed was hard on my family and I didn't want to put them through it again. It was time to retire from my military career and this seemed like a natural transition.” When he returned to New Hampshire Mark looked into graduate psychology programs. “I heard a lot of extremely positive comments about Antioch when I talked to people in the community and the therapeutic community. They were right. The program is excellent and everyone has been terrific. There is also a lot of openness at Antioch. Whether I'm 'that army guy' or just 'Mark' I always feel welcome. I have already recommended it to others and will continue to do so. It all just came together. When I graduate I would like to work as a counselor specifically in the substance abuse field.”
Mark Roberts said he rarely mentions his son, though he thinks of him everyday. He added, “When I look back now it seems to me that even if Justin hadn't died I still would have found myself on this path, working with others and helping them find good lives. I hope I can make a difference. I think I can.”