As she pursues her master’s degree in marriage and family therapy at Wheaton College, Abigail Helm ’21, M.A. ’23 has discovered a rich Christian community that demonstrates how crucial relationships can be to faithful, Christ-centered healing.
Words: Allison Althoff Steinke ’11
“We all have conflict and misunderstanding because we are humans, but the Bible shows us relationships are integral to our faith. We aren’t meant to be alone. We are supposed to build each other up and support one another through community.”
Abigail Helm ’21, M.A. ’23 came to Wheaton College with the hope that it would be a collegiate experience that pushed her beyond her comfort zone spiritually and academically. When she first toured Wheaton’s campus as a high school student, she instantly felt like it was “home.” Now, five years later, Helm holds dual bachelor’s degrees in psychology and history and is pursuing a master’s degree as part of Wheaton’s fully accredited Marriage and Family Therapy (MFT) graduate program.
Helm believes family is the “root of all community” and feels called to help strengthen relationships within families as a marriage and family therapist.
“We all have conflict and misunderstanding because we are humans,” Helm said. “But the Bible shows us relationships are integral to our faith. We aren’t meant to be alone. We are supposed to build each other up and support one another through community.”
Helm hopes to become a licensed marriage and family therapist after graduating from the Wheaton College Graduate School. Yet even as a student, she is already equipped to serve as a therapist thanks to hands-on training and experience provided within Wheaton’s School of Psychology, Counseling, and Family Therapy.
Reflecting on her recent training, Helm cites systems theory as a key turning point for her in understanding how to come alongside individuals and families in therapy in a relational and holistic way.
“We aren’t just looking at a person who has a symptom,” she explained. “Instead, we can see how that symptom is a function of the system they are in. We might think about how different influences within the family impact behavior and how they relate to others. I enjoy looking at the whole person. Where are they coming from? What do they aspire to do? What can help or hinder them?”
In addition to the theoretical foundation she has built throughout her academic journey at Wheaton, Helm emphasizes the practical side of her education. During her undergraduate studies, Helm took classes like Psychology of the Family where she participated in role plays and mock therapy sessions. In other courses like Clinical Psychology, she had exposure to various individual and group therapies. Now as a graduate student, Helm continues to gain clinical experience as a student therapist at the College’s new Center for Family and Relational Health (CFRH) and as a clinical therapy intern for clients at Heritage Professional Associates in Wheaton.
The CFRH first opened its doors in 2020, toward the beginning of the pandemic and amid an uptick in mental healthcare needs. Not only does the Center provide help for families within minutes of campus, it also offers opportunities for graduate-level MFT students to gain clinical experience as part of their program. Following a training hospital model, students can observe experts conducting therapy sessions while serving their own clients in treatment teams of three with a supervising professor.
Mentorship has also played a key role in Helm’s journey. Even as an undergraduate student, she began networking with faculty and students in the Wheaton College Graduate School to explore her options in the field of psychology. Various graduate students helped walk her through the graduate school application process, and she was able to participate in research projects that helped her understand what a Psy.D. program would be like. Now as a graduate student herself, Helm has been mentored and supervised by professors including visiting Fulbright Scholar Dr. Szabolcs Török and Associate Professor Dr. Hana Yoo.
In addition to her spiritual and academic pursuits, Helm has pushed herself toward greater physical health. She ran two marathons, including the Chicago Marathon in 2021, training alongside fellow Wheaton students. Although she says it will be difficult for her to leave Wheaton because of the tight-knit communities she’s formed, Helm clearly doesn’t shy away from a challenge. Wherever she lands, she looks forward to helping children, adolescents, and families continue to discover the beauty of healing and community for years to come.