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Dr Jaclyn Lotter is a counselling psychologist by profession and academic dean at the South African College of Applied Psychology (SACAP). As a 35-year-old woman, holding this position in education leadership – a traditionally male-dominated space – is incredibly rare. So, how did she get there? She tells Go Hustle all about the journey…

But first, what exactly does a counselling psychologist do?

In a nutshell, counselling psychologists are professionally trained health professionals who work with individuals, couples, families and/or communities. They aim to treat patients by using therapy designed to optimise their psychological wellbeing.

Counselling psychologists work in a variety of settings. “I’ve worked in a university counselling centre, I’ve worked in a community clinic and I’ve worked in private practice. Counselling psychology is one of the scopes of practice as per the Health Professions Council of South Africa (HPCSA),” says Dr Lotter.

How do you qualify as a counselling psychologist?

The journey will take a minimum of six years – depending on which route you take. Counselling psychologists complete a full-time coursework masters degree, as well as a supervised internship year at an HPCSA-accredited internship site.

Spaces are limited, and most universities will only take about six to 12 candidates per year, so it’s competitive in terms of gaining acceptance into a professional master’s programme.

“I started my first private practice in 2012 in Grahamstown,” says Dr Lotter. “At the time, I was lecturing in the Department of Psychology and Pharmacy at Rhodes University, whilst also completing my PhD. At the time I only worked with children and adolescents, with a specific focus on play therapy.”

READ MORE: 9 Things You May Not Know About A Career In Psychology

On being an agent of change…

While she enjoyed her time in practice, Dr Lotter had a deep need to make a systemic difference that would have a sustainable impact on the lives of many. “I wanted to play a part in changing the system. This is what drew me back to education,” she says.

“My sense [was] that I could have the greatest impact if I went to the root of where it all started, in the training of mental healthcare providers. I was also so deeply impacted personally by my journey in higher education that I thought if I could be part of ensuring that others had the opportunity to be impacted in similar ways, then that is where I wanted to situate my career,” she says.

In the context of private higher education, the role of a dean is often one that intersects education or academia with business. “There’s no clear route to becoming a dean and it also differs from private higher education institutions to public institutions,” she explains.

“My journey has been a combination of practice, lecturing at both public and private higher institutions, as well as research. Within academia, there are a multitude of routes that one could take. The route I have taken is a leadership one,” says Dr Lotter.

Her journey combined experience within practice and teaching, as well as an aptitude for leadership – which was recognised and nurtured, and has resulted in this good doctor being appointed as academic dean of the SACAP.

Note: While it isn’t a requirement in practice as a psychologist, having a PhD is important in terms of career trajectory in academia or higher education.

On the privilege of walking alongside people as they grow, both as a psychologist and an educator

“Having the opportunity to engage in higher education as a student and its associated experiences were profoundly life-changing for me,” says Dr Lotter. “I feel inspired by providing others [with] the opportunity to experience something similar on a daily basis.”

Although Dr Lotter doesn’t get into the classroom nearly as often as she’d like, this is what gets her out of bed in the morning: knowing that through her work with SACAP staff and educators, they’re impacting the lives of countless students, their families and communities, and helping to train and equip a generation of social scientists who are positioned to apply their learning across SA for the benefit of its people.

“I’m also inspired by the opportunity that my job provides [for] me to think innovatively; not to let bureaucracy get in the way of staying at the forefront of education,” she says.

Leadership lesson learnt…

“Success doesn’t require aggression or other ‘masculine’ qualities often associated with strength. True strength lies in authenticity and my natural inclination towards empathy is critical to my success and a strength in and of itself. Compassion and strength are not mutually exclusive,” says Dr Lotter.

A book every woman should read

Reading is powerful! “[A book] I can highly recommend and which I recently really enjoyed is Educated by Tara Westover. I think the book means different things to different people, but for me, in part, it reflected by own journey with higher education and how through the ‘enlightenment’ it offers you, it also lays bare difficult questions about where you have come from and some of the problematic beliefs which have shaped you.

“It vividly portrays how even though formal education opens your eyes to a whole new way of seeing the world and is deeply liberating, it has the ability to ask difficult question and cause inner turmoil.

“The book certainly asks universal questions, such as how much of ourselves we should give to those we love, and how much we betray them when we forge a new path for ourselves as adults. It is beautifully written by a highly talented and unique writer,” she says.

Connect with Dr Jaclyn…

LinkedIn: Dr Jaclyn Lotter

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