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Idaho State University

ISU student finding her niche

By Chris Cole, Kasiska Division Marketing Assistant | May 18, 2020

Master of Counseling student earns Idaho Mental Health Counseling scholarship

ISU student finding her niche
Erin Miller

POCATELLO – To call Idaho State University student Erin Miller a free spirit would be an understatement. Originally from Texas, she did not grow up wanting to be a counselor. She considered wildlife biology and physical therapy, but ultimately got her undergraduate degree in exercise physiology. 

It wasn’t until she did a semester abroad in Romania, volunteering for an orphanage, that she found a marked interest in counseling.

“That opened my eyes to the range of human experiences and emotions,” Miller said. “It was pretty impactful, seeing the family dynamics of mental health.”

When Miller, currently a second-year student in the ISU counseling master’s program, encountered an experiential therapy known as wilderness therapy, it lit a fire in her.

“I ended up working at a wilderness therapy program in Arizona for a year. That was incredible,” she said. “It was life-changing, and it was my first exposure to experiential therapy as well.”

In wilderness therapy, clients spend seven to nine weeks backpacking through a specific area, meeting with licensed counselors regularly.

“Every night we’d have a fire circle, and somebody would pick a deep topic we’d all speak on,” Miller said. “We’d have individual sittings with clients and ask about their journey and see how we could help them.”

From there, she continued to travel, living in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. That was when she decided to give counseling a go and enrolled at Idaho State University.

“I have a passion for personal growth and healing. I also love sharing in the journey with other people and helping people on that kind of journey,” she said. “I also love finding metaphors and parallels between life and the activities you’re involved in, and gleaning lessons from that.”

Christian Chan, assistant professor in the Department of Counseling, says he thinks Miller was a good fit to an already established program.

“Erin has demonstrated an exceptional level of depth and growth as a student within our program,” Chan said. “Aside from her accolades, she outlined an important vision for her career by merging her studies together with best practices, theory, experiential interventions, and adventure-based modalities. She is capitalizing on her previous professional experiences to culminate in a broader range of contributions to the community as a professional counselor.”

Miller’s passion helped her as she applied for and was awarded the 2020 Idaho Mental Health Counseling Association Scholarship. The topic for the scholarship application was about integrating technology into a therapeutic relationship, something that will be helpful to Miller as she continues to explore how she will help future clients.

Miller wrote about the importance of technology in her education. She says it’s been important in connecting the Idaho State campuses, and has been especially helpful during social distancing due to COVID-19, as they have been able to meet via Zoom. She also discussed the privileges to having access to technology in the program.

This is another way Chan says their department encourages students to learn and grow.

“My colleagues and I, as faculty in the Department of Counseling, prioritize student-centered and community-centered perspectives to ultimately create an engaging learning experience, to form strong mentoring relationships, and to richen the training of professional counselors for their service to a myriad of communities,” he said.

“I don’t know if I have a specific population I want to work with, but I definitely would lean toward the adult or older adolescent population, and incorporate experiential therapy,” Miller said. “A big chunk of my heart is in the wilderness, but I’d love to branch out to art therapy or animal-assisted therapy. Every couple years, something catches my eye and I go after it. Someday, it would be really cool to have my own little business doing shorter wilderness retreats.”

Chan says Miller is a wonderful addition to the program.

“I am so proud of the efforts cultivated by the Department of Counseling and how we intentionally train students,” Chan said. “Through our core dispositions of mindfulness, empathy, engagement, integrity, curiosity, reflexivity and cultural humility, students cohesively connect their learning on best practices, ethical standards, and culturally responsive practices. Collectively, the Department of Counseling has carried a legacy of success and leadership within the counseling profession, which amplifies an impact on the state of Idaho, nationally, and globally.”

Chan also said Miller is looking at many successes in her career if she continues on this path.

“I feel incredibly honored to work with her as her advisor, instructor and university clinical supervisor,” he said. “Although I can speak about Erin's high level of performance in the department, I want to highlight Erin's ability to create strong relationships with colleagues, community members, and clients. A combination of these factors leaves Erin with a promising career ahead of her.”

Miller says she has grown during her time at Idaho State University, and learned more about herself in the process while still being able to utilize her life experience into her education.

“We have to practice counseling on each other and practice being a client, and be vulnerable with each other, which I think helped me,” she said.

Miller also says she has enjoyed the diversity she’s experienced in the masters of counseling program.

“I’m kind of a little tree-hugging hippie on the inside, and when I came to the program I thought everyone would be like me,” Miller said. “Counseling is about life, and I think everybody who’s come to the counseling program has a wealth of knowledge from their own life to draw upon.”