When she began her master’s in social work at BYU, Beth O’Brien already had a clear vision of what she most wanted to accomplish: to provide emotional support to postpartum women navigating the mental health challenges that are common to new mothers.
She knew personally how much it helps women to have high-quality postnatal care. As a mother of six, O’Brien experienced firsthand the difference between not having and having appropriate support for postpartum challenges like depression or anxiety. “The difference was life-changing,” she recalled.
Working in childcare settings for 20 years, O’Brien also began to understand that the best way to support children was to support their parents. “It seemed so unnecessary that in new parenthood, it’s culturally inevitable that we feel like failures and that we’re so isolated,” she said. “It’s contrary to how families thrive. And so I’ve been passionate about supporting families, specifically mothers, ever since.”
That sense of purpose took formal shape through BYU’s master of social work program, where for the past two years O’Brien has studied, taught and interned to develop her skills as a therapist.
“I have loved absolutely every second of graduate school,” said O’Brien. “I was so scared—as a single parent with ‘mom brain’ and several kids still at home, how would I ever possibly go to graduate school? But it was thrilling.”
The unique internship opportunities BYU facilitated have been a highlight of her experience. O’Brien interned for six months with the Green House Center for Growth & Learning, where she took on her own caseload and practiced in a range of modalities, including trauma therapy, play therapy and art therapy. She also interned with New Roads Behavioral Health, where she focused on the core skills of dialectical behavioral therapy.
“I feel like my toolbox is enormous because of these internships,” O’Brien said. “I have a wealth of resources to meet clients where they are and try to help them.”
“Beth is passionate about helping others and understanding social issues,” said BYU social work professor Stacey Shaw, for whom O’Brien worked as a teaching assistant. “Beth worked wonders as a TA, assisting hundreds of students to find meaningful volunteer opportunities and navigate practice-oriented questions.”
Through the internships, teaching and BYU coursework, O’Brien solidified her personal philosophy of good therapy, which will ground her work going forward.
"I think some of the greatest therapeutic impact comes from spending time with somebody without judgment."
“It’s part of my job to know the details of my client’s circumstances and have tools to help them, but the foundation is just showing up, being ready to connect, being with my clients in their pain and being guided by the Spirit,” O’Brien said.
O’Brien attributes her success in graduate school to the academic and emotional support she received from her professors, whom she called “phenomenal.” She also credits the generous financial support she received from BYU’s single parent scholarship and Marjorie Pay Hinckley internship grants, as well as the Live Your Dreams Foundation, which showed up on her doorstep last December with a decorated Christmas tree and cash to buy presents for her kids.
“It’s a tough road, but I’ve been so well supported in reaching my goals,” O’Brien reflected. “In addition to the miracle of the money, it’s the feeling of not being alone and not having to white-knuckle my way through these hard experiences. It’s inspired me to give back once I’m on the other side of it, and I’m really looking forward to that.”
When she graduates this semester, O’Brien will join a clinical practice near her home in Springville, Utah, where she will teach workshops for new mothers and fathers as well as provide counseling for children, adolescents and adults.
“The fact that I can support my family with a meaningful job that still allows me to focus on raising my children, it’s just a dream come true,” she concluded.