How I Overcame Low Self-esteem to Become Counseling Psychologist

February 21, 2022

Maureen Gacheru is an associate counseling psychologist by profession. She is also a consultant providing screening and assessment for various mental health issues such as self-esteem, addiction, anxiety, suicidal ideation, loss and grief.

Gacheru also provides counseling and psychotherapy, referring clients to other mental health professionals or institutions.

She shares her career path with the Sunday Nation.

Share with us your childhood and educational background

I was born in Laikipia West County, in a village called Karandi. My parents then moved to Kiambu County while I was still in nursery school. Life was hard back then because they didn’t have good jobs and there wasn’t free primary school education in the country. My parents struggled to put food on our table, pay household bills and pay for our school fees.

Luckily in 2003 former president, Mwai Kibaki’s government introduced free primary school education. I remember at the time I had huge school fee arrears. I often stayed at home for prolonged periods over fees arrears. Our then headmistress announced to all parents that all debts had been cleared by the government. This was cause for celebration in many households for a long time.

Studying in Kiambu County wasn’t easy for me, there was a lot of bullying from fellow classmates which really affected my self-esteem and class performance. In class seven I went to study from my grandmother’s place in Sipili-Nyahururu. There was a well-performing primary school in the neighborhood.

Here, I was able to sit for my KCPE examination and got good marks which secured me a slot at Gatero Girl’s secondary school.

Secondary school was fun but tougher than primary school. Fortunately, my hard work in school paid off as I was able to join the University of Nairobi for my Bachelor of Arts Degree in 2013.

Tell us about your career journey

Since my high school days, I always wanted to be either a nutritionist or work as an air hostess, but on the very first day of admission into the University, from the list of courses that I was asked to choose from, Psychology really caught my eye. A teacher from my former high school used to tell us about some behavioral concepts he had learnt while studying education, which got me thinking that maybe it was time I learned the course in detail.

I didn’t practice psychology until the second year after leaving the University. This was mainly because I had no one to guide me. The first time I practiced was with an NGO called L’arche Kenya in Nyahururu. I volunteered to do psychotherapy and research into Improving the psycho-social wellbeing of persons living with intellectual disability and their caregivers.

After leaving L’arche Kenya I worked with Care Tech Medical Center in Kiambu County. There I gained a lot of experience working with persons recovering from addiction and other mental health issues. Later on, I joined NuHealth Medical Group, which was also a rehabilitation center. Currently, I work as a consultant and counseling psychologist.

My job involves providing screening and assessment for various mental health issues such as self-esteem, addiction, anxiety, suicidal ideation, loss, and grief, providing counseling and psychotherapy, referring clients to other mental health professionals or institutions. This applies to both individuals and groups.

People can contact me through my social media handles @maureengacheru on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn by sending a direct message and they shall get a response within 24 hours. Also, feel free to subscribe to my YouTube channel Maureen Gacheru.

What are the fondest memories of your career journey?

When I started working as a psychologist at L’arche Kenya I had approached the director with so much fear and doubt I almost gave up, but based on my academic qualifications he believed in me enough to entrust me with the role and I delivered good results.

Also, the journey of learning how to practice the theories learnt in class has been an adventurous one. Finding experienced mental health professionals who are willing to share their knowledge has really humbled me.

What has been the key driver of your career growth?

Practicing counseling/psychotherapy requires the key skills of empathy, unconditional positive regard and geniuses. Once I was able to master these skills, I was able to look forward to every counseling session as I took it and viewed it as a hobby. And of course, I couldn’t have managed to get here without studying counseling theories frequently, going for supervision and consulting with colleagues.

Who are the people who have influenced your career growth?

I believe that everyone in my life has contributed to my career growth in one way or another. People like directors and clinical managers from my previous workplaces are still major sources of motivation and mentorship to date. Also, my mentors Joan Gachoka (Research Psychologist), Agnes Nyamu (MA Counseling Psychologist) and Catherine Kisasa (Counseling Psychologist, Children Rights Advocate) have given me constant support since I began my career.

What’s the one accomplishment you are proudest of in your life

That has to beating my imposter syndrome and low self-esteem which I had held on to since childhood.

What are some of the key decisions made along your career journey?

Back in the University in the third year, we were required to go through with a major and a minor course, many of my friends dropped psychology but I decided to major in it. I took tourism as my minor.

Since then I have had to make difficult decisions like leaving my family in Kiambu County to go work in Nyahururu, leaving one job to go to a more satisfying one and learning how to negotiate for a better salary.

Your advice to the youth in Kenya today

Wherever you are, there are opportunities. If you are still in school, look for internships and volunteer programmes related to your course or any other skill that you have. The earlier you start investing in practical experience the faster you will grow and start earning.

They should also learn to drop the victim mindset, you may have not contributed to being in your current situation but you can decide to become a part of finding the solution.

What do you do for fun?

After a busy day or week, you might find me riding a bicycle, gardening, painting, sewing on a piece of fabric or traveling.

What’s the one thing you’d like to change about your past?

Not being my true authentic self-early enough.

What are your future plans in career and life?

I am hoping to start my own counseling firm that will focus on mentoring the youth in their mental health career journey. I’m also hoping to continue growing my personality in all aspects of life.

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