“It’s important for me to share the knowledge and skills I have with the next generation of counselors. I feel an obligation to help my students become the most competent clinical professionals they can be.”
The research interests of Hellenic American University’s newly appointed Director of Psychology Programs, Dr. Alessandra Sax-Lane, are broad, as one might expect from a person with her keen intellectual curiosity and commitment to holistic education. She has investigated topics ranging from multi-cultural counseling and educational leadership to the effects of peer support on students’ adjustment. Another research interest—music therapy—is also a personal one. An accomplished flautist, Sax-Lane had originally thought of becoming a musician and studied both Psychology and Music in college. She was still torn between the two when a professor told her she needed to “get out there in the field and start helping people.”
This is what she’s been doing ever since. Before her appointment as Director, Sax-Lane was Wellness Director and Counseling Psychologist at the American Community Schools of Athens (ACS) and an adjunct faculty member at Hellenic American University since 2013. She is also the founder and director of the Athens-based Learning and Wellness Center, which provides mental health services and learning support to children, adolescents and adults. Before ACS, she held positions as a psychologist, clinical social worker and mental health consultant in settings such as international secondary schools and mental health centers.
Helping individuals reach their full potential has been at the heart of her career not only in her clinical practice, but also in teaching and counselor education. For Sax-Lane, teaching is both a passion and personal commitment. “It’s important for me to share the knowledge and skills I have with the next generation of counselors,” she says. “I feel an obligation to help my students become the most competent clinical professionals they can be.”
Part of doing that, she points out, is fostering an environment of trust and open, clear communication, a place where students feel safe and supported and yet at the same time encouraged to challenge themselves. And she’s committed to ensuring this environment remains in place.
“Each student’s personal journey is important”, she says, a point reflected in the requirement that trainees in the graduate program complete 60 sessions of personal therapy themselves. At the same time, however, Sax-Lane is clear that students must be mindful that they are not here “to heal themselves.”
“Most of our students want to become practicing therapists or counselors. And to do that, one must genuinely want to care for individuals—whoever they may be and whatever their level of functioning—in order to guide them in their effort to make progress in their lives.”
Yet another research interest has been student transition to new school environments. This, too, is mirrored in her own life. An American born and raised in New York City, albeit with Mediterranean roots on her mother’s side, Sax-Lane made her own great transition when she moved to Greece with her husband in 1994) shortly after earning a Master’s in Clinical Social Work from New York University. (She later earned a Doctor of Education degree in Counseling Psychology and Supervision in Counselor Education from Argosy University in Chicago). “I had fallen in love with Greece early on,” she notes. “It felt like family in a way.”
One thinks of family—a large, extended family in particular—listening to her speak about her goals for the years ahead. Coordinating a large and diverse team of instructors that include clinical practitioners who serve as adjunct faculty can be a challenge. One of Sax-Lane’s priorities as Director is to enhance the sense of community among instructors. To this end she’s been holding regular departmental meetings for all the faculty, adjuncts included, fostering team communication, and encouraging collaborative research. Several such projects are already underway.
Another objective is to forge new partnerships with psychology departments at other American universities that could lead to new study abroad programs or jointly taught courses. Longer-term priorities include the development of new graduate programs in the fields of clinical social work, forensic psychology and school psychology.
For Sax-Lane, educational leadership, like teaching, is a practice of empowerment that ultimately is driven by love. “Our work has to come from the heart if it is to be successful,” she says. “I believe one has to work with love and love one’s work.”
Which is why when students come to her wanting to take 5 or 6 courses in a semester, she advises them to take fewer so that they can get more out of each course—and enjoy their time here with us.