In 2015, Susan Pfau’s life changed forever after her 25-year-old son was diagnosed with colon cancer.
After a three-year battle with the disease, her son died at the age of 28. Pfau – whose family did not have a history of cancer – found navigating the experience extremely difficult, especially in a therapy setting.
“As I was going through that journey, I couldn’t find a therapist who got it when it came to young adults with cancer,” she said.
Pfau, who had studied fashion merchandising and later received a degree in family studies, was baffled by the inability to find a therapist who could help her son and her family.
“After he passed away and after that experience, I decided I was going change that and become a therapist,” Pfau said.
Drawn into looking at therapy through a systemic lens and how an entire family affects each other, Pfau decided to go back to school for an M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy.
“I saw that play out with my son’s cancer journey, you know, how each one of us had a role and how it changed us forever. And so that’s how I decided to do the degree,” she said.
Impressed by the accelerated program and the staff and faculty she met during the interviewing process, Pfau decided Saint Mary’s was the best choice for her. At Saint Mary’s, she immediately became engaged with the M.A. in Marriage and Family Therapy program and sought ways to make the most of her time at Saint Mary’s, including becoming the co-chair of the program’s student association.
Pfau also appreciated the faculty she interacted with during her time in the program, and found their expertise influential.
“All of the professors I loved,” she said. “I am now a registered play therapist and work mostly with children, and that was because of the influence of one of my professors.”
She added, “ My professors opened my eyes to all these different little things you could do so that you didn’t have to be a full-time therapist 40 hours a week. Their experiences, and what they are involved in, really got me to see the different things you can do and the things they have created. You know, one of them started a nonprofit program. One of them wrote a book, so they all have these other pieces besides just teaching or being a therapist, and I think that that was so great.”
Pfau is now a full-time therapist at Lifestance Health, specializing in early childhood development and mental health.
And Pfau hasn’t forgotten the reason she went into marriage and family therapy in the first place. Once a week, she facilitates a group for young adults with cancer.
“Some people say ‘How can you do that?’” she said. “Because I’m working with people who were my son’s age when he was diagnosed with cancer. And I just look at it as my calling to serve others.”