Mary Olk

Mary Olk

Major:  Psychology
Year of Graduation: 1982
Graduate school: Ph.D. in Counseling Psychology from The University at Albany, State University of New York

Current Job Title/Name of Organization:
I am currently self employed as a Personal and Professional Development Coach.  I work with people who are in transition of some kind, who are carefully crafting life/work on their own terms.  Currently, I do most of my work with individuals and groups over the telephone.  I host classes over the telephone and I also train people who are interested in becoming successful coaches.

What path did you follow to arrive at your current job?
After I completed graduate school (around 1990), I began working as a psychologist in a private practice setting.  I provided individual therapy, family therapy and group therapy.  As part of my job, I also worked as an Employee Assistance Counselor helping people get connected to community resources for medical, psychological, spiritual and financial problems. I developed a consulting service, consulting with businesses on people related issues.  I provided workshops on change management, stress reduction, anger management and sexual harassment.  I added Personal and Professional Development coaching to my services around 1997 and I began training people to become coaches in 1998. I really enjoyed having my own business, working as a psychologist, business consultant, trainer and coach.  When we added children to our family, I realized that I wanted more time with my family so I retired as a psychologist and business consultant.  I have continued to work as a coach and a supervisor for coaches in training.  

What advice/suggestions would you have for students who might be interested in your career?
Get some experience!  In my case, I was able to work as a research assistant and a teaching assistant while I was still in college. From that experience, I got a taste of the demands of graduate school.  While I was in graduate school, I was able to work part-time in a variety of mental health settings - a University Counseling Center, a community mental health center, a program for youth at risk, and an adolescent inpatient CD treatment center.  Each of these settings gave me a taste of what a psychologist would be doing and helped me see what it was that I liked to do. 

What skills are important in your field?
Being a good listener, being able to connect with people quickly, empathy (able to feel and be with others' feelings) without sympathy (feeling sorry), the capacity to see the resourcefulness in anyone, curiosity, compassion, ability to say things that people don't like to hear and ask hard questions at the same time you are providing support, wisdom to know when to offer advice and when NOT to offer advice.

What is the most satisfying/rewarding part of your job? What's the most challenging?
The most rewarding part of my work is seeing the changes that others can make with a little bit of support and accountability.  It is thrilling to celebrate success with all of my clients.

The most challenging part of my work is being an entrepreneur - managing my business.  None of my training as a psychologist or a coach taught me how to run or manage a business!

What activities/experiences were helpful at CSB/SJU (and elsewhere) in preparation for this career?
I received a great deal of support and encouragement from my psychology professors.  They provided the opportunity for me to be both a teaching and a research assistant.  They encouraged me to pursue a career in psychology and even strongly recommended that I get a Ph.D. They wrote terrific letters for me and contacted colleagues at the schools I was interested in.  CSB provided a faith community for me as I stepped into adulthood.  I was able to stretch and grow in my faith. My faith and trust in God has helped me to be confident in all of my career adventures.

I have had to actively seek business training as an entrepreneur.  I have learned how to do accounting, marketing, networking and I finally have an assistant who does most of my internet work.