Alumni Interviews

Meet some of our Contemplative Psychotherapy & Buddhist Psychology graduates:

Roxana Magana-Moisa, Class of 1992

What work have you done since graduation?

The day before I graduation, I was hired at the Boulder County Safehouse as a bilingual women's counselor. In that position, I worked the crisis line and did individual and group counseling.

Three years ago I was hired as the director of the Safehouse shelter program. Now, I supervise our staff and interns, I give outreach presentations on domestic violence and our services, I collaborate with other agencies in town, I facilitate case review and staff meetings, and I still do some counseling with monolingual Spanish speakers.

Do you find your work fulfilling?

Yes, absolutely. I have an opportunity to address the bigger picture of society and all its "isms" ?heterosexism, sexism, racism, and such. The goal of our work is not only to help women and children in need of safety and support, but to get the message out to society to people see the connections between these "isms" and the violence that's done in our world. We try to get people to look at things like this and to teach them the importance of advocating for others and speaking up in the face of discrimination. I believe that that's what's going to make the world a less violent place.

What stands out for you about your time as a student at Naropa that most prepared you to work with others?

Well, there's always a place for practice in this world that is so fast paced and crazy. A good strong practice is essential to being able to stay clear-headed. I find Tonglen [a particular meditation technique that is included in the program's curriculum] important for dealing with trauma. You have to be able to work with the intensity and let it go. Tonglen practice is good for that.

Also, what stands out is that I learned how to be with people. It sounds like such a simple concept, but really it is a tremendous gift. Basic attendance skills are wonderful to have. I learned how to be with people because I learned how to be with myself. This was a critical aspect of my training at Naropa. It is essential to being productive and helpful to others. In my work supervising others I notice that the people who struggle the most have not learned to be present with themselves.

Is there a particular course you took that influences your work today?

My most memorable class was Group Process. That experience marked the beginning of my awareness about how to be in a group. The training in group dynamics that I got at Naropa transferred to my work at the shelter and gave me a base of experience that I continue to build upon today. Every day, I think about things like this that I learned at Naropa. They come up because they're so relevant to my work. I can speak out against a racist remark or a homophobic remark?and that is essential to the social change we're seeking? because of what I began to learn at Naropa.

Do you have any words of wisdom for prospective students?

For starters, be aware of when you're breathing and when you're not. This is such a simple thing, but it's really powerful.

One thing that I want people to know is that the training in the MA Contemplative Psychotherapy program may not always be what you would get at other schools, but what you learn at Naropa is just as important and maybe even more important. You can read a book anywhere, but to know yourself is a very important thing, particularly when you're working with others. Learning is a lifelong process. The opportunity to get to know yourself is priceless.

I have nearly completed another master's program in counseling education, a degree that I wanted to earn so that I could work in the schools. My experience at this other program is that it doesn't spend nearly as much time helping students to look at their own issues. It may offer some class work for this purpose, but not nearly to the degree that Naropa does. That's where contemplative training stands out. I don't think you can get training like that training anywhere else. What Naropa offers really is special. I decided on Naropa because I wanted more than a degree. I wanted something for me.

Anything else you would like to add?

I think it might be interesting to add that as a native of El Salvador, Central America, I found Naropa to be welcoming to students from other countries and backgrounds.

Carole Flemming, Class of 1989

What's your latest work?

Currently, I'm a Geriatric Counselor and Case Manager with the geriatric team of Highline West Seattle Mental Health Center in Seattle, Washington.

What work have you done since graduation?

I've done so many interesting things since graduating. I was a part of the Boulder County Mental Health Center's Emergency Psychiatric Services Team. I had a private practice in Boulder from 1990 to 1999, when I moved to the Seattle area. I also worked on several care teams, doing Windhorse work, serving chronically mentally ill and geriatric clients.

I've also worn an array of administrative caps within the MA contemplative psychotherapy department. I've been administrative director, internship coordinator and admissions committee chairperson. I've taught Psychology of Aging as member of the adjunct faculty and I've directed the Maitri Program. I've also been a Group Process leader. I've worked in other areas of Naropa as well, as the admissions committee chair for Transpersonal Psychotherapy Department and as an adjunct faculty member in the Religious Studies Department.

Have you found your work life to be fulfilling?

Yes. Yes. Yes. I particularly enjoyed the admissions committee work I did at Naropa for both the Contemplative Psychotherapy and the Transpersonal programs.

In general, the positions I held in the Contemplative Psychotherapy department were the most rewarding of my life and the most challenging. I find working with elders and end-of-life issues to be very meaningful to me at this point in my career.

What stands out for you about your time as a student at Naropa that most prepared you to work with others?

All of it. I mean that. All of it. If I have to mention a few aspects, they would be: The view of Intrinsic Health presented in the program. That view of unconditional health guides and informs every aspect of my work, especially as I work with frail, ailing elders.

Also, being together for two and a half years with the same people, with nowhere to hide and with no escape. The intensity of that was great preparation for staying with the intensity of working in difficult situations and with difficult clients ? and for living life altogether.

What else stands out for you?

The mindfulness/awareness practice of shamatha/vipashana, in helping one to settle down and appreciate the simplicity of presence and the importance of bringing that quality to relationships and to our interactions with others.

Also, Maitri Space Awareness Practice, which facilitates the recognition of and the appreciation of different styles of expressing neurosis and wisdom in the world and the workability of those styles.

The faculty, who seemed genuinely to care about the development of each student as a distinct individual, also stand out in my mind.

Can you speak about specific clinical tools you learned in the MA Contemplative Psychotherapy program and their relevance to your work?

Yes. I have a particular appreciation for the discipline of Body/Speech/Mind presentations [a technique used chiefly for case presentations and clinical supervision] and the dreaded process notes [a form for recording psychotherapy sessions] which have the effect of providing a clearer picture of what is going on with a client with for oneself. Doing those notes kept us honest. Even though I don't do process notes in that form anymore, I still remember to be mindful of the subtleties of any interaction, and of the information inherent in any experience of being with another.

Any words of wisdom to share with prospective students of the program?

This program, which is dedicated not just to the acquisition of knowledge, but to the development of wisdom in each student, is supremely challenging. I did gain certain knowledge about how to be helpful to others who are suffering mental and physical distress. However, the most precious aspect of my education in the program has to do with what I learned about being willing to be present in the moment, to be open to the experience of the moment and to be fearless in bringing myself to the moment. The experience of my life, whether as a therapist, as a friend, as a mother, as a partner, or as a stranger is fresher, richer, more vibrant as a result of what I learned in my training in the Contemplative Psychotherapy program. It cost a lot of money, but what I received is beyond price.

If you decide to enter such a program, stay with it.Take the whole ride. I have known students who were sorry they entered the program, but I have never known a student who was sorry to have finished it. There is a journey to be made here and it contains a progression; without completing the progression one cannot experience the fruition of the journey. Completing this training is the most satisfying accomplishment of my life and has had a powerful impact on all of my subsequent work.

Wren Fritzlan, Class of 1987

What work have you done since graduation?

I've been working with people who have persistent and severe mental illness at various sites within the Mental Health Center of Boulder County. Presently, I'm the team leader at Friendship House.

What does your job involve?

I do all of the team's clinical supervision, I provide therapy to the clients, I do case management for each of our clients and I'm responsible for all of the administrative aspects of running Friendship House.

Do you find your work fulfilling?

On a personal level, the work I'm doing is good for me in that it allows me to be helpful to others. I seem to have a talent for working with clients who most people find impossible to work with at all. Part of the reason for this, I think, is that I grew up in a family that has developmentally disabled people in it and I grew up in a Christian church that had a very strong service ethic. The work I'm doing now lets me express these parts of myself. In that way, I'd say that my work is very fulfilling.

On a societal level, I feel that I'm helping in an important way. At Friendship House we have created a treatment environment and a home environment for our clients ?all in one? which is much more cost effective than a hospital setting. I have the opportunity to work with mentally ill people in the least restrictive way possible, and to help train others to do the same, which makes the work very satisfying.

What stands out for you about your time as a student at Naropa that most prepared you to work with others?

I studied with very good teachers, including the people who created the Windhorse model to begin with. Friendship House is the fruition of their work. I learned so much about basic attendance and working with my mind at Naropa. Some of those teachers aren't there anymore, but Friendship House still provides an environment for students to have a clinical experience doing basic attendance.

How does Friendship House figure into the education of contemplative psychotherapists?

The answer to your question is two-pronged. For one thing, students who work at Friendship House learn that basic attendance has a clinical component, it's not just hanging out with people. It's about working within community, working within the environment in order to reflect brilliant sanity.

Second, two contemplative psychotherapy faculty members, Karen Kissel Wegela and Bob Unger each volunteer their time to support the team in looking at our work with the clients. We do Body, Speech, Mind presentations, just as they're taught in the Contemplative Psychotherapy program, which enable us to get away from psychological jargon and to talk about how we feel as we work with particular clients.

The Body, Speech, Mind form gives us the space to talk about our feelings honestly, no matter what they are. We don't judge our feelings, but by talking about them we discover what we need to know about transference and exchange, and that helps us to be helpful to our clients.

What stands out for you about your time as a student at Naropa that most prepared you to work with others?

The Maitri Program stands out, because it taught me how to work with my own mind and it taught me about recognizing basic goodness. In this system it is easy to lose touch with whether we're 'being helpful' or not to our clients. At Naropa, I learned how to think about that question in a way that encourages me to stay open to what 'being helpful' might mean in any given moment. This makes it possible for me to do my work without losing my sense of purpose. I can enter any situation knowing that I can be helpful, because I can relate to myself and to others by trusting in basic goodness.

At the Maitri retreat I also learned to love myself and to be kind to myself, which is the foundation for basic attendance. This carries directly into my work, because instead of seeing clients first and foremost as mentally ill people, I see them as family members, as workers, as students, as whole people, whoever they are, but not just as being mentally ill. I am able to see all aspects of who they are and to recognize their basic goodness.

What do you most value about your Naropa training?

I think that the value of the Naropa program is the opportunity to learn about how one's mind works. This is effective because it's the only mind we have to work with.

Can you speak to how your contemplative training is helpful to you when you're working in a mainstream mental health setting?

Sure. Here's an example: In the medical model, where working with the other person's mind is the focus, there's a danger of 'having to know.' When we get into that position, there's a trade off. We risk playing games or having a power trip over the person we're supposed to be helping. What I learned at Naropa is that I don't have to know everything. I don't need to come up with something just to make me feel like I'm doing my work. I can be honest and say, 'I'll do my best, but I?m not sure that I can fix this.'

In meetings with other team leaders about budget cuts, sometimes I will offer tidbits of feedback from discussions I have had with residents of Friendship House. Sometimes other team leaders are inspired by how open I am with residents about budget concerns. I don't see any reason not to bring them along. The funding crisis is more about their lives than it is about my life. There's a tendency in the medical model to withhold information until we feel diagnostically accurate.

Any words of wisdom to share with prospective students?

Reflecting on my own journey, I'd urge prospective students to prepare carefully for what they're setting themselves up for financially, in terms of loans and financial aid. Look closely at the realities of making a living once you've graduated so that you know what you're getting into.

In general, are you glad that you completed this program?

I'd say that I'm very glad I completed the MA psych program. There have been a few things that I've had to learn on the job that I didn't learn as a student, but what I've learned at Naropa I can't learn anywhere else. The rest I can learn anywhere.