As Laura Abraham ’12 sits in her office at True North Therapy in Findlay, she can very tangibly grasp the idea of coming full circle. When she looks out of her office window, she sees what was once her freshman dorm at University of Findlay, serving as a daily reminder of the place where she spent four years of her life, growing from a small-town girl with a burgeoning set of views about the world to a college graduate with a clearly defined path.
Abraham grew up in Chardon, a part of northeast Ohio, the daughter of parents who were both teachers. It was quietly expected of both her and her brother to go on to some sort of collegiate study, and, as a high school student at a “very small” school, she began looking for a college that was also small, but not too small. “My brother is three years older, and he went to a state school,” she said. “There is certainly nothing wrong with that for the right person, but I weeded that idea out pretty quickly. I felt like, if I went to one of those, I’d be an absolute fish out of water.” Through a college and career fair at her school, she was made aware of UF, and it seemed like a good fit – not too far from home, but not right around the corner – so she visited Findlay’s campus.
Having taken a couple of psychology classes at her high school, Abraham knew well what her intended coursework would look like. What she found during her visit with Findlay, and, more specifically, its psychology program and people, was well beyond the “selling the school” approach that she had experienced both for herself and had heard about through friends’ visits to various colleges. Findlay, she explained and its emeritus professor of psychology John Malacos, Ph.D., who, at the time, was chair of the psychology department, were very clearly more centered on her individual well-being and education than her simply being another body in a classroom chair. “He was already focused on what my next steps would be after a bachelor’s degree,” Abraham recalled. “He showed immediate interest in my passions outside of the classroom, sitting down with my parents and me and having a conversation about all of this stuff before I was even thinking of enrolling. That gave UF a definite edge.” To sweeten the pot, UF afforded her more scholarship and invitation to scholarship competitions than any other college; so much so, she said, that she was set to get a private school education at a lower cost than a state school. “My parents’ saving habits were great,” she added, “but you can never argue with more affordable.”
Her excitement in those first few days on campus was met, however, with more than a tinge of nervousness. Once her parents left, Abraham found herself alone, not knowing anyone at UF at all. It was daunting, but it didn’t last long. Due to her previous discussions with Malacos, the knowledge of her passion for music was passed by him to [former UF professor of music] Mike Anders, and she was able to audition for the show and concert choirs, and to eventually get auditions for musicals and plays. “Within that first semester,” she said, “I was able to meet so many people with similar, and familiar, interests.”
Encouraged to take classes to critically think, Abraham immersed herself in academia as well, looking to expand her horizons from the small-town experience she had lived up to that point. “My goal was always to tax myself as a student,” she said. “I wanted to learn all that I possibly could, not just check off classes for my major.” She took philosophy courses, multicultural courses, and religion courses, among others. “I maxed out every single semester and probably took UF for a ride with the education they gave me,” she quipped. “I took courses on upper-level Buddhism,” Abraham added. “It was a transformative process to learn about faiths outside of the one I had been raised in.”
Abraham graduated from UF with a bachelor’s degree in psychology and went on to graduate school for clinical mental health counseling. This fall, she will be celebrating the three-year anniversary of opening the True North Therapy private practice with her husband, Brian Guerriero and colleague Jayne Williams, all of whom have specialized training and are independently licensed therapists. These therapists use a person-centered approach to mental health counseling, founded in principles like trauma-informed care, positive psychology, and cognitive-behavioral therapy, with individual providers’ expertise in additional areas, such as Guerriero’s specialty in kinesiology and sport psychology. “We have four providers with specific backgrounds in supporting both individuals and families in our community with their mental health and emotional wellbeing,” Abraham said. “I strive to create a welcoming environment, where individuals can establish their goals and outcomes for our work together by identifying their ‘True North.’ To help them navigate toward this, I provide clinical guidance, supportive resources, and focus on how the individuals’ needs are being met and experienced.”
Thus presents an interesting juxtaposition between her experience at UF and the methods with which she and the others at True North work. In much the same way as she was guided to and through her academic career at UF – carving her own path with some encouragement and expertise from faculty and staff to light her way – Abraham is now caring for her clients; and it’s not a similarity that’s lost on her. “When I can literally look out my window and see what was my first home away from home, and realize that our office is exactly one block from what was the UF psychology house, I have warm and fuzzy feelings for sure,” she said. “For four years, I stopped at the traffic light by the building where our office now is established. At our practice we create a caring, meaningful space so that others can grow, which is not unlike the experience that I shared at University of Findlay.”