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A Mental Health Mission: Emily Farnum '02

Emily Farnum '02

A Mental
Health Mission

Emily Farnum ’02, a psychotherapist with her own private practice, didn’t always know that she wanted to pursue a career in wellness and mental health. She says her career path unfolded in unexpected ways, but she was able to chart a path to success by knowing the value of keeping an open mind and taking risks.

One of her transformative moments occurred during her junior year at MBS, when the School started its girls ice hockey program. “I had never played before, and a few of my friends decided we should try it. It was an amazing experience that forced us to ‘put ourselves out there’ even when it was embarrassing and we were falling all over the ice—building grit and resilience!” she said. “This was certainly a step in helping me sit with and tolerate being uncomfortable. This skill absolutely translated when choosing my career path and especially in clinical training.”

At MBS, Farnum also enjoyed playing lacrosse in the spring, field hockey in the fall with coach Pam O’Connor, and participating as a Peer Group leader, which allowed her to “get a taste of dipping my toe into the helping profession.”

In the classroom, she recalled being inspired by history teacher Tony Daur and French teacher Renee Pritchard as well as math teacher Jean Dodsworth, who “worked to have us try our best even when things were rough.”

She later attended St. Lawrence University, where psychology and sociology classes piqued her interest in the field. After graduating from college, the thought of more schooling seemed daunting so she took a job in political event planning in New York City. “I remember telling my parents that I was never going to graduate school,” she said. “Well, it was a good life lesson to never say never. The novelty of my event planning job soon wore off, and I wanted something different for this next chapter.”

Two years later, she applied to Columbia University School of Social Work. While she was completing her master’s degree, she was placed in an internship at Bellevue Hospital in the Crime Victims Program. “It was again something I never would have chosen on my own. I remember being disappointed that I didn’t get my first or second choice placement doing more traditional inpatient behavioral health work,” she said. “It turned out to be the best thing that could have happened to me. I was exposed to working in busy New York City emergency rooms and did really interesting trauma work.”

This led to her first job at New York Presbyterian Weill-Cornell Hospital, where she continued working after graduation. She later enrolled at the Institute for Contemporary Psychotherapy, where she completed a two- year post-master’s program in psychodynamic psychotherapy. “So much for no more school!” Farnum laughed.

After her first daughter was born, she and her husband moved to Connecticut where she soon opened a private practice.

“The most rewarding part of my job is the privilege to sit with people at some of their best and worst times,” she said “People always ask me, ‘who do you see in your practice?’ My answer is always the truth—‘people like you and me.’”

In the future, Farnum hopes to continue to find balance raising her three children, forging deeper connections with those around her, and learning more about her profession and the world.

If she were to give today’s students a piece of advice, it would be to put down the iPhone more frequently. “One study I talk about frequently is the Harvard Happiness Study. It is one of the longest longitudinal running studies we have exploring what makes a ‘good’ and ‘happy’ life. The resounding evidence is the power of human connection as the key to finding joy,” she said. “My advice is to use this evidence to make the big decisions in these next stages of your life.”


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