The following is one in a monthly series featuring the extraordinary people who make up the LightHouse staff.
Dr. Connie Conley-Jung provides critical therapeutic services to students who express an interest in working with a psychological counselor. Before coming to the LightHouse in 2013, Dr. Conley-Jung worked in a variety of community mental health settings, including the Ann Martin Center in Emeryville and Through the Looking Glass in Berkeley, serving children, teens and adults, many of whom were challenged by learning and physical disabilities as well as chronic health issues. In addition to working at the LightHouse, Dr. Conley-Jung has a private psychotherapy practice in Alameda.
Dr. Conley-Jung has developed her expertise based on education and experience, but she knows of what she speaks on a personal level. She told us, “I’ve been legally blind since birth, so I understand some of the anxieties, concerns and questions people have about their experiences as they adjust to living with blindness or low vision. It is important to remember that blindness represents only a singular attribute or aspect of a person: blindness does not define the individual.” Appreciating these points is crucial in working with our community. Some therapists and other healthcare providers may be less familiar with blindness and therefore more inclined to regard an individual’s blindness as a major obstacle.
Dr. Conley-Jung explains, “People who experience changes in their vision were historically thought of as automatically needing psychological services to help them ‘cope.’ That is not my orientation, nor how LightHouse views blindness or psychological services. We allow our students to determine if they would benefit from counseling. Furthermore, in my sessions I work with the whole student, navigating with them to discern what matters most to them. Sometimes we discuss financial angst, family and relationship concerns, career transitions and other topics in addition to their experiences with their vision.”
Counseling and psychotherapy are useful tools for people undergoing major life adjustments. Dr. Conley-Jung emphasizes, “I help people move beyond fear, anxiety and judgment by talking through their concerns and identifying steps my clients can take to make lasting, positive changes. Part of why therapy is so beneficial is directly related to the high level of privacy and confidentiality within the therapist-client relationship. Students feel safe knowing that they won’t be judged, and that other people will not be informed about their participation in therapy without their expressed permission.”
Dr. Conley-Jung goes on to explain, “LightHouse is a blind-positive place, which is extremely important and wonderful; however, it’s important to provide a place for people to ‘let their hair down’ and grapple with the internal dialogue we all have, whether it’s blindness related or otherwise. In fact, some students may think their concerns are related to blindness, but as we delve deeper we may discover that their presenting difficulties stem from multiple sources or causes which may be unrelated to blindness.”
“It’s important for students to know that psychotherapy isn’t just about problem solving; I assist people in identifying and realizing their hopes and dreams too,” Dr. Conley-Jung says with a contagious energy and enthusiasm. “Students may be going through important life changes, and those changes are often positive. For example, I work with many clients who are referred to me by DOR (Department of Rehabilitation) with the specific goal of helping them attain employment. For some clients, this may be their first time looking for a job. They’re often excited about their future financial independence, and together we discover many personal strengths that translate directly into employability.”
When asked if there are any myths that Dr. Conley-Jung would like to dispel, she named several: “You don’t have to have a diagnosis or a mental illness to benefit from psychotherapy. You don’t need a doctor’s note to receive my services. Though you need to identify as a person who is blind or visually impaired to work with me and seek other services at the LightHouse, blindness does not have to be the main motivation for meeting with me. In fact, it’s important to know, you don’t have to be ‘legally blind’ (a very technical term) to make an appointment with me. Also, I am highly connected to other mental health professionals and healthcare providers, which means that I can recommend or refer you to other doctors and therapists if the need arises.
Our new Headquarters in San Francisco is already enhancing the quality and scope of psychological services LightHouse can provide. Dr. Conley-Jung explains, “We have more space for group therapy. Clients have a comfortable area to wait before their sessions, and we have room to grow. The new building enables us to offer family and couples counseling, providing the flexibility to include an individual’s significant others along the way as it becomes helpful.” She continues, “Students of the LightHouse should know that we also have psychological services in the East Bay.” Staff member Rachel Longan facilitates our Mind’s Eye therapy group at the Ed Roberts campus in Berkeley. Students participating in this group are able to process their experiences in a safe and understanding setting with a group of peers who are exploring similar aspects of their lives. LightHouse is also planning future LGBTQ groups, and is actively looking to grow our psychological services to reach other communities on a regular basis.
One of the greatest benefits to receiving psychological services at the LightHouse is the built-in sensitivity around blindness. Everyone from our receptionists to our service providers and CEO are familiar with blindness. In fact many are themselves blind, and all of our staff are understanding and encouraging.
Of course, Dr. Conley-Jung has a vibrant life outside of the LightHouse and counseling. “I was a competitive skier, participating in the Paralympics in 1984 with LightHouse friend and mentor, Mike May.” Dr. Conley-Jung is being modest: she placed second in the world for competitive downhill skiing, and she did so while she was a full-time student at Stanford University. “Skiing with other athletes with disabilities opened my consciousness to other types of disabilities, and instilled in me a strong desire to work within the disability community.” Dr. Conley-Jung also visits her family in Nevada, where she was born and raised, and still finds herself dashing through powdery Western snowdrifts.
In closing, Dr. Conley-Jung has this to share: “The most important bit of advice I can relay is a reframing of most people’s question: ‘Do I need therapy?’ The question should instead be ‘Might I benefit from therapy?’ If you answer ‘Yes, I might benefit,’ then you should make an appointment today.”
If you’d like to learn more about LightHouse’s psychological services, please take a look at our website at (http://lighthouse-sf.org/programs/counseling-psychological-services/ ) or contact Dr. Connie Conley-Jung via email at firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone (415) 694-7307.