Skip to main content

Striking a Balance Helps Graduate Student Find Joy and Faith

April 25, 2024

Image of Emma Allen

After years of effort and hard work, Emma Allen (BS ’20) is fulfilling a dream as she studies for a PhD in marriage and family therapy from the School of Family Life.

Originally from Carlsbad, California, Allen came to BYU as an undergraduate and earned a bachelor of science human development with a minor in Spanish. She then completed a master’s degree in couples, marriage, and family therapy from Texas Tech University in 2022.

When Allen considered the next step of a doctoral degree, she recalls thinking that she enjoyed wearing a lot of different hats as she participated in the field of therapy — supervision and mentoring, teaching, client work, and conducting research. She felt that pursuing a PhD would allow her to continue exploring and enjoying lots of “hats” at the same time.

Allen discovered that that despite graduate school being a long-term goal, and the enjoyment of the different aspects of graduate school, it can still feel overwhelming. She admits to being especially challenged by client work, which can quickly become emotionally draining.

To combat these feelings and not let them overwhelm the reasons she really likes her program, Allen works to implement balance in all that she does.

“It can be easy to always be in work mode,” admits Allen. “There is always something I can be working on with academics and seeing clients. Slowing down and allowing myself to take necessary breaks and participate in activities that bring me joy and connection has been vital.”

To balance time focused on her graduate studies with the rest of her life, Allen likes to engage in activities that help her destress and allow her to build relationships with roommates and others friends.

“I prioritize making time for activities and people that bring me joy in life,” she says. “For example, I attend yoga three times a week, go on runs with friends, watch fun TV shows with my roommates, enjoy the outdoors, and allow myself to rest when needed.”

Because she takes time for breaks, Allen finds that she is more productive in the time she spends working on her doctorate and is able to see growth in her abilities.

Prior to beginning her PhD, one of Allen’s biggest apprehensions was whether she could conduct a research project. However, by having a balanced mindset, she has been able to push through the challenges and find ways to apply her creativity and passion to excel at research.

“I have developed confidence and found excitement in learning, applying, and understanding research,” says Allen. “Pushing through my initial insecurity, asking others for help, and putting myself in vulnerable learning situations has been a great learning opportunity for me.”

Allen has seen her confidence in herself grow in many areas — including her faith.

“I am most excited and proud of how much I have developed in my ability to trust myself and work on being more congruent with my emotional, intellectual, and spiritual self.”

Allen’s research focuses on the process of healing from traumatic events and she recently submitted an article for publication. The article explores how people with complex PTSD have learned to heal and recover. She anticipates working on a case study to discover how couples can support each other as they work through trauma.

While such work is fulfilling, it’s not without it struggles. 

“Sitting with clients who have experienced injustice, pain, abuse, grief, anxiety, and addiction has, at times, brought up feelings of anger and confusion with my faith,.” Allen explains.

“To reconcile these feelings, I have found outlets to express and process them with people that I trust.

“Rather than suppressing my anger and confusion, I have learned to reconcile it by becoming an advocate for others and using my voice to respectfully share my feelings. Engaging in critical conversations helps me engage with multiple perspectives, feel connected with others, and engage in the ‘wrestle with God.’”

This ‘wrestle with God,’ as Allen describes it, is another way she has found to balance the emotional weight she helps others carry with her own faith in a loving God. Rather than abandoning her beliefs, she finds ways to grieve with her clients without it overwhelming her.

“There have been many times where I have mourned with those who are mourning and have felt an intense amount of love and admiration for my clients,” says Allen. “Truly listening and sitting with others in their pain and feeling the love that Christ has for all of his children has connected me to so many people and filled me with immense gratitude and joy.

“I feel my study of marriage and family therapy has allowed me to connect with others and see my clients as Christ sees them. Because of my faith in Christ, I try to emulate His qualities in the therapy room and take a loving, curious, and understanding approach as He did.”

In all areas, the process of learning how to keep a balanced life has helped Allen to become the person she wants to be. She acknowledges that finding balance is a process that she’ll keep working on as a student and one that she’ll use throughout her life.

Allen is looking forward to receiving her doctoral hood in 2025 as she completes her dissertation, internships, and mentoring in the upcoming year.

Discover more about the eight graduate programs offered from the College of Family, Home, and Social Sciences.