To Change a Life

Written by Pamela Alstead

Family counselor and educator Kim McBride is on a mission: “My calling,” she says, “is to help the clients and students I serve identify and create the differences they want in their lives.”

Kim McBride (Ph.D., Marriage and Family Therapy – Couples Therapy, candidate)

Ph.D. candidate Kim McBride is an award-winning family counseling educator at Antioch University Seattle.

McBride’s counseling framework uses a “systems approach” that typically runs a 4- to 6-week course. In this approach, the “client” is a group, rather than its individual participants. The groups may be couples, families or even businesses.

“Businesses are just different kinds of families,” she observes. “Both can be understood as an overall system of relationships.”

Over the course of therapy, she helps create changes in her clients’ interactions - and their lives. McBride should know about change. The first life she changed was her own.

She grew up in Bothell, Wash., a small town near Seattle, in a family she describes as “chaotic and complex. I ended up living with a foster family,” she relates. In contrast, her childhood sweetheart – whom she eventually married – was raised in a large Irish-Catholic family. “They always had a welcome smile and an extra place at the table,” she says. “It was clear to me that there were different family configurations than the one I grew up in. I felt that it could happen for other people, but not for me.”

Undaunted by the low expectations of her family and high school counselors, McBride achieved a 2-year degree in health sciences and certification as a dental hygiene technician. Soon after, she started teaching those dental assistant courses. Her students were “young single mothers – babies with babies,’” she recalls, “and 45-year-old women who found themselves starting over after life changes and needing skills to support themselves.”

There, she discovered the passion that would eventually lead to her counseling career. “I was much more interested in offering support and teaching life skills than I was teaching them how to prepare trays of equipment.”

“It takes only one individual who cares and sees your potential, to change your life.”

McBride went on to obtain a liberal arts degree at Antioch College-Seattle and from there, a master’s degree in management and organizational development. She has been on the faculty of Antioch University Seattle in the School of Applied Psychology, Couples and Family Therapy since 2008, guiding post-master’s interns as they hone their own counseling expertise. Her accomplishments as a counseling educator earned her the Washington Association Marriage Family Therapy Educator of the Year award in 2013.

McBride was especially honored on that occasion by the presence of one of her most important mentors, Dr. Brandon Henline, currently Director of Clinical Field Placements at Northcentral University.

Alongside her teaching schedule, McBride maintains a busy private practice centered on diagnosing and improving relationships within families and businesses. Somehow within this packed daily calendar, McBride finds time to continue her lifelong learning as a Ph.D. student in the School of Marriage and Family Sciences at Northcentral University. “Northcentral’s flexibility is exactly the right fit for my life,” she says.

McBride’s roster of counseling specialties includes two unusual entries. She has expertise working with dental teams, drawn from her early work experiences. She also counsels families dealing with multiple sclerosis – another area of personal experience. One day in 2009, McBride woke up numb from the waist down – her first symptom. “Multiple sclerosis has influenced how I manage my life, but it does not determine me,” she states.

Along her path, McBride has found encouraging mentors. "It takes only one individual who cares and sees your potential, to change your life,” she says. Her first inspirational model was a high school biology teacher. “She made biology dynamic and wonderful, like a movie you wanted to have a part in,” McBride shares.

“My calling is to help the clients and students I serve identify and create the differences they want in their lives.”

Another influence, perhaps indirectly, was the chair of the Couples and Family Therapy Department at Antioch University. McBride went into his office and informed him, “I want to teach in this program.” Taken aback, he explained the drill: She would have to log hours as a counselor for two years, obtain full licensure – and then, of course, there would have to be a job opening.

Determined, she subbed for the department’s professors for a year – for no pay. Her reason? “For the first time in my life, I was experiencing my own competence. I made it okay to not know what I didn't know – so that I could learn.”

Throughout her career – first as a dental technician and continuing into her Ph.D. program, she has sought personal and intellectual growth. “The best part about being an educator is the opportunity to serve, and the engagement in continuous learning,” she emphasizes. Her commitment to service and learning, clearly, will never change.