Diane SchachterPsychology Faculty
LIOS Graduate College Alumni
Diane Schachter’s career as a therapist can be considered activism by other means.
She’d planned to be a Marriage and Family Therapist after she got her master’s degree. She’d even written her thesis on the communication strategies employed by married and cohabitating couples. But she realized after receiving her diploma that the things holding back many of her patients were social justice issues, not psychological ones: many of the poor couples she saw were unable to get ahead in a world increasingly divided between the rich and the poor.
So she got involved, returning to the neighborhoods in Chicago where she’d grown up – neighborhoods that had undergone tremendous changes – and helped organize.
“I was interested in applying some of those ideas that I’d learned in my graduate studies more to making a difference on the ground,” she remembers. “It was very exciting.”
A behind the scenes organizer, eschewing glamour, she eventually helped document the struggles of the people in these neighborhoods, and helped organize a conference of more than 30 non-profit leaders, from around the country, to speak about funding issues with the chairman of the Federal Reserve.
She sat next to him, at the conference, listening to stories of human misery in America and solutions that would make a difference to countless lives … and nothing happened.
The Fed Chairman was completely unmoved, she realized, stunned – and that was it. Despite all the evidence gathered, nothing was going to change for the people on the ground. No one was going to help them.
“That was a moment where my innocence fell away,” she remembers.
She understood then that while it’s important that people work for change on the big level, this wasn’t for her: she wanted to work for change at the small level, where there are fewer bureaucratic road blocks; where if something needs to be done you can do it. Where you can see the change you make, and talk directly to the people affected.
“So I went back to therapy,” she says. “I put the organizing back in the background, and picked up my work in the field of couples and family therapy.”
Looking for ways to better serve her clients, Diane enrolled at LIOS.
“I came from a very traditional master’s program, which I loved very much, but I felt I knew more about theoretical concepts than how to apply them,” she remembers. “I came to LIOS asking ‘So what?’ and ‘Now what?’ LIOS’ program was in applied learning, and I wanted to learn something that would help me really make a difference. I was hungry to develop as a practitioner.”
She got her wish. “It’s been such a rich experience for me,” she says. “LIOS is all about applied learning, and about walking your talk. Integrity is so important, and that’s what I was looking for. The years after I graduated have been filled with growth.”
After LIOS, working as a Marriage and Family Therapist, she quickly found she’d been right: that she could confront issues of social injustice with her patients, one family at a time.
“Many families are all challenged by the same big issues, but feel fairly isolated about it,” she says. “There are so many people confronting the same societal issues of economics, sexuality, culture, and most of them are wondering: ‘are we normal?’ I had a couple ask me just that today: ‘are we normal?’ The best answer to that question is to change the conversation. Building a bridge between what they are experiencing and what’s happening around them, showing them that they’re confronting challenges that are both personal and societal, makes a big difference to families. It can be an enormous help.”
In particular, “there are an awful lot of families right now confronting issues of consumerism and the economy, and wanting to feel less pressured. It helps them to understand that this is something lots of people go through, and to look at the big picture as well as the personal. That’s therapy, and that’s activism.”
Today Diane has a thriving MFT practice in Washington, and has returned to LIOS, where she serves as the Faculty Lead in Applied Behavioral Sciences. She has also continued her work as an organizer, having led a chapter of Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Seattle Tenants Union.
Most recently, she served as a Facilitator for the Greater Lakes Conference of Teachers in Bujumbura, Burundi. Over 90 teachers from five African countries came to this conference to share peace keeping practices with one another. Diane continues to support this effort by assisting an African NGO, “Widows and Orphans for Peace.”
At LIOS, her goal is to make sure others can have the same kind of life-changing experience she had – one that has made her later work possible.
“I chose a program that was going to hold me as accountable for my behavior as I would want to hold clients and eventually my students,” she says. “A program that would help me walk my talk. And that has been my experience ever since. I came back to teach at LIOS because I didn’t see anything close to that at other institutions. What makes LIOS so exciting is that it allows students to bridge the traditional and non-traditional worlds. That’s something you have to do because, in today’s world, that’s where the people you want to reach are.”