Nan Henderson, Psychology

Photograph of Nan Henderson

Nan Henderson

Psychology Student

We know how easy it is for children in our society to go wrong – but how much do we know about why they go right?

In the 1990s, Nan Henderson was asking that question. An M.S.W. social worker for child support agencies, she felt that there were many children she couldn’t help just by focusing on the mistakes they made.

“Back then I was one of a minority of voices among psychologists and social workers who were saying that yes, children do have trauma and pain and tragedy, but there is another part of their make-up that we have missed, and that is their resiliency. Kids can be amazingly resilient, and that is what’s helped the many kids who have gone through trauma and trouble to come out on the other side doing well.”

How do kids become resilient? No one knew, but Nan was determined to find out.

Her search got a boost when she was hired by Albuquerque Public Schools to manage a federal grant to help find and promote the factors that keep kids out of trouble. Working with 42 schools, by 1996 she had developed a model of childhood resiliency and published her first book on the protective factors that keep kids from making self-destructive decisions and/or help them to pull out of negative life choices if they’ve already started making some. She began her own consulting and publishing company that year, and soon found there was a national demand from educators, social services providers, and counselors desperate to help kids stay out of trouble and to rescue those that were already struggling.

Today, she is working with the entire Pennsylvania educational system – along with school districts in individual cities across the country like New York and Los Angeles, as well as in Canada, and New Zealand – to implement programs that “build bounce-back kids”.

She’s also decided to go back to school to get her PhD, and she chose Saybrook.

“It’s the best school I’ve ever gone to – it’s the way education should be,” she says. “I’m just sorry it took me so long to get to it.”

Now a student in Saybrook’s PhD Psychology, Jungian Studies program, Nan says she’s found a strong connection between depth psychology and fostering resiliency in children and youth.

“In Jungian terms, when a child goes through adversity – and I feel that modern culture is adverse for most children – what they really need is ego strengthening and ego development,” she says. “In the stress and struggles of modern adolescence, the ego takes an enormous beating, and Jungian psychology offers an incredibly rich series of tools to address that, so that their ego can develop and grow strong in ways that help them mature. I believe it is only through developing a healthy and strong ego that the Jungian goal of letting one’s life be ruled by a transcendent Self, instead of just the ego, can actually occur.”

She’s also found Jungian studies at Saybrook to be part of a profound personal transformation.

“Jungian psychology changes one in such profound and wonderful ways.I have changed on every level since I started this program,” Nan says. “It’s not just an academic transformation, it’s an alchemical transformation. I’ll never be a Jungian Analyst, that’s not why I’m there: I’m there to enrich my career, to enrich my personal understanding, to deepen my experience of the world. People from every walk of life, with many different intentions, can benefit from Jungian studies.”

“Honestly,” she adds, “It’s really just a highlight of my entire life to have found this course of study under Dr. Hollis, in the larger community of Saybrook with its beautiful philosophy of empowering students, and then to be studying with this very diverse group of people all drawn to explore Jung. I just feel blessed.”