The first thing one notices about Mark Coston is his warm, authentic demeanor. Even in our interview, he soon tired of the spotlight, and began asking thoughtful questions about the interviewer’s own Phillips Graduate Institute experiences. It was clear that this curiosity in other peoples’ thoughts and perspectives made Mark a natural when it came to practicing psychotherapy. And yet, as he shared, his professional career had taken many twists and turns to get to this point.
It started when he enrolled in college at Cal State Northridge. According to Mark, he was fascinated by the study of psychology, both personally and professionally. However, in considering the course workload involved, he decided instead to pursue a major in computer science and graphic design. While that path lead to success in advertising as an expert in Flash & HTML5 animation, Mark often reflected on this former academic interest. Indeed, he had several friends who went on to pursue their Master’s of Marriage and Family Counseling from Phillips, and his own mother’s career in clinical psychology were frequent reminders of “the road not taken.”
“Art and computer science were pragmatic choices,” Mark explains, “But I’ve always been fascinated with people’s inner workings. They always have reasons for the things they do. I discovered I have a talent for bringing those to the surface, and it started with learning about my own reasons first.”
It was while seeking out psychotherapy for himself that Mark realized how well suited he was for the profession. In processing his own emotions, it sparked interest in helping others do the same. After one orientation with faculty at Phillips, he knew the program was a fit for him. His therapist encouraged this passion for helping others, and planned to writing a letter of recommendation and help him through the admission process. Sadly, the therapist passed away suddenly, leaving Mark at a crossroads, without the support of their meaningful therapeutic bond.
“I knew I wanted to take this journey at Phillips, but I didn’t think I was going to have to do it without him. We worked together for about six years, and he became such an important figure to me. My sincerest hope is that I can one day be that kind of figure for someone else. I just have the instinctive feeling that Phillips can help me get there.”
Upon enrolling, Mark found himself interested in multiple treatment modalities. CBT and the ways it can be used in combination with other psychotherapeutic perspectives have particularly resonated with him, he says.
With a COVID-19 lockdown sending all graduate students online, Mark reports there have been unexpected benefits to the new program.
“With online conversation, client’s are often inviting you into their personal space. You may get to encounter their pets, meet their family, or see what provides them the most comfort. In a therapy office, people bring themselves into your environment. But Telehealth allows them to invite you into theirs.”
Halfway through his Master’s degree program, Mark continues to work at in advertising while studying full time. Although busier than ever, he continues to excel at both.
“This program is rigorously challenging, but the faculty genuinely want to see you grow and expand. It’s so inspiring,” he offers. “I’m learning things I have always wanted to learn and getting closer to becoming the person I’d like to be. It’s given me reason to get excited about my future. And who doesn’t want that?”