Norja Cunningham, PhD Candidate

Marriage and Family Therapy PhD
"I like the inclusivity [at AUNE]. Everyone feels that they have a piece and a place in the community."

From a Reverence of Family Comes a Career

Norja Cunningham is in on the ground floor of AUNE's Marriage and Family Therapy program.

Norja Cunningham's lifelong dream has been to pursue a career as a doctor. Today, at age 28, she's both an adjunct faculty member in the Department of Applied Psychology at Antioch University New England (AUNE) and a doctoral candidate in the Marriage and Family Therapy program.

"It's a great opportunity," she said. "I really like the idea of being a part of history, of being in on the ground floor of a relatively new program. Not only do I learn, but I can bring my own skills and suggestions to the program."

Norja has spent nearly a decade in school to train for her chosen profession. She earned an undergraduate degree from Trinity College in Connecticut, and an MS in Marriage and Family Therapy from Central Connecticut State University. When her program director at the latter told her about AUNE, she immediately applied for acceptance into the MFT doctorate program.

At AUNE, she has performed clinical work at the Antioch Couple & Family Therapy Institute and supervised master's degree students. For two years, she served as a research assistant to Dr. Walter Lowe, reviewing literature and background information for his study on the best ways to service veterans and families. She also assisted Dr. Amy Blanchard, helping to secure grant funding for research on perinatal care and postpartum depression. In 2009, as a second year doctoral student she began to teach courses in the Department of Applied Psychology including a seminar in social and cultural diversity and an ethics and professional development in marriage and family therapy class.

"AUNE prepares you for all aspects of being a doctor," she said. "The program is unique in that it gives three semesters of supervision and infuses social justice into all its courses. When I leave, I'll have many options. If I decide to teach, I'm prepared to teach. Or, if I choose, I'll be able to supervise, do clinical work and research. I'm well prepared."

All in the Family

Norja credits the support of her close-knit family for much of her success.

"I have strong beliefs in family and education," she said. "I really value those things. I come from a close family environment where helping others is very important. My mother and aunt/mentor have always supported me. I greatly credit them for helping me become who I am today."

"My aunt is my life coach," she said. "She told me to define myself in just three words. For me, they are: God, career and health-career having to do with education, and health having to do with relationships. A lot of my resilience comes from having the right people in my life, who keep reminding me to steer in the right direction."

Medical family therapy is one of Norja's primary fields of interest. "We look at what's going on biologically, or with the body; psychologically, which is mentally; socially, which is relationships; and spiritually. It's very holistic. ! All of us work together. It's a comparatively new field."

Her future doctoral dissertation will focus on medical family therapy. She's working toward becoming a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and supervisor, and anticipates receiving her PhD in May 2012.

"By the time I receive my doctorate, I will have been in college for ten straight years," she said. "I can't believe that ten years have gone by. I'm grateful to be able to see the end of my program. Last summer I finished all of my coursework. All I have left are my internship and dissertation. It's exciting.

"AUNE has been a good fit," she said. "I like the inclusivity. Everyone feels that they have a piece and a place in the community."

-November 2010