When I met with Nathan Higa at a coffee shop in downtown Newberg, I was greeted with a wide smile and a calming presence. He was incredibly easy to talk to, and I could immediately tell why he was called to complete his doctorate in clinical psychology (PsyD)

I quickly learned that Higa had an interesting story. When he first came to George Fox as an undergraduate, he majored in biology and planned on becoming a medical doctor. Soon enough he realized that this wasn’t his calling, so he took a leap of faith and switched to a major in psychology. Since then, he’s been in love with helping people through counseling and listening to their stories. 

“Being allowed to be a part of someone’s journey is an incredibly rewarding experience,” he says.

In fact, counselors played an important role in Higa’s life growing up – specifically school counselors. When he was younger, mental health wasn’t nearly as talked about as it is now. There was a heavy stigma surrounding conversations about mental illness, but his school counselors served as invaluable sources of support as he navigated life’s challenges. 

It ultimately inspired Higa to use his God-given empathy and listening ability to serve as a similar source of strength and love for others. He actually wanted to become a school counselor for a short period of time before deciding he would rather work at a private practice.

Throughout our conversation, Higa continually expressed his gratitude toward Fox and his psychology professors. As an undergraduate, professors Kris Kays, Sue O’Donnel and Kelly Chang made a positive impact on him. They invested in him as a student and as a person, and he appreciated their compassion and willingness to engage in conversations outside of class. 

“They didn’t only care about me for the time I was in their class,” he says. “They cared about my personal journey, and they were willing to build relationships with me outside of class. I wasn’t just a student or a number to them – I was a person with a bright future.”

Things only got better when Higa enrolled in the graduate program at George Fox. When students first enter the PsyD program, the university immediately sets them up with a mentor who’s an older student in the program. This individual helps guide them through the beginning of their graduate career as they work to find their bearings. 

“The mentorship program helps to build a sense of community and connectedness among PsyD students, which I really appreciated.”

Additionally, class sizes are small and situated in a cohort style. Higa was in a cohort of 23 students, and he got to learn from them and with them in conversation-centered classes. The people in his cohort were diverse, allowing them to have unique conversations as they stretched each other's understanding of psychology and the world. 

It was during his time that Higa discovered his passion for helping people work through PTSD. Part of the PsyD program involves completing external practicums, and Higa chose to complete his practicum at Chemawa Indian School (a boarding school in Salem). It was there he had his first field experience, affirming that counseling is God’s calling for his life. 

“I’ve always enjoyed listening to other people’s stories because they are all so unique,” he says. “There is something really special about connecting with people who have gone through something very difficult.” 

When asked if any of his experiences stood out as particularly meaningful to him, Higa related the story of a teenage girl he once worked with. She’d been a victim of sexual abuse earlier in her life, and she’d already been in several foster homes. For weeks, she refused to talk during their sessions. Over time, though, she slowly began opening up to Higa, eventually inviting him to a performance at her school. 

Higa felt honored that this girl, who had a history of distrusting men, trusted him enough to invite him to an event outside of their sessions. It was a big step in her personal healing journey, and he got to be a part of it. 

In graduate school and during his practicums, Higa learned the importance of truly listening to others. Most of us have a strong desire to offer our own thoughts and advice when someone chooses to confide in us, but sometimes showing love and compassion to others means being willing to just sit and listen. Higa put it this way: Psychologists must be willing to “fully and authentically listen to someone’s story” – a skill that his professors at George Fox helped him develop.

Now Higa works as a local counselor in Newberg. One of his old professors actually helped him get the job, demonstrating that George Fox professors are still investing in Higa and his career, even after he graduated in 2022. 

Higa says he would love to teach and supervise future PsyD graduate students.

“My strongest bonds have been with my professors and coaches in my life, and I want to pay it forward. I have had a lot of people invest in me, and I want to be able to do that for other students.”

During his nine years at Fox, Higa learned a lot about himself, as well as how to help others navigate life’s many trials. He engaged in introspection, participated in conversations with his cohort and professors, and practiced counseling in the field. 

“The best decision of my life was going to get a doctorate in clinical psychology from George Fox,” he says.

Share this post: