When Brandon Jones, PhD, LMHC, commits himself to something, he goes all in. No matter the context—as an athlete, a mental health counselor, or scholar—he pushes himself, his team, and his clients beyond personal and systemic boundaries. On the basketball court, this led him to play professionally in Cottbus, Germany after graduating from Amherst College. When an illness cut short his career in basketball, he pivoted to mental health counseling with his characteristic determination.
Brandon went back home to focus on his community, landing a job as a case manager with the Mental Health Association of Essex County in New Jersey. There, he connected adults who had been living in long-term psychiatric hospitals to resources and support services once they’d been discharged.
“I was doing this work in an urban, mostly poor community in New Jersey that I grew up in. I loved helping people gain stability in their lives as they transitioned to the community. But at the same time, my clients were asking me to be helpful in ways that I wasn’t equipped,” says Brandon. He enrolled in Lesley’s master’s degree program in Clinical Mental Health Counseling: Trauma Studies. The intensive clinical training, and courses exploring the role of power and privilege in the clinical relationship and society, gave him the framework and tools for his newfound counseling career.
“Working in communities comprised of mostly people of color who are from lower socioeconomic backgrounds, issues of power and privilege came up all of the time. And recognizing that, it helped me to intervene in ways so that I wasn’t perpetuating oppressive systems,” he explains.
After graduating in 2014, Brandon worked as a clinician for human services and advocacy organizations for several years. Being “neck-deep” in the day-to-day, though, he felt he couldn’t change the bigger, systemic factors that were influencing his work and his clients. “I realized that if I was committed to equity and justice, I had to impact the broader structure and systems in which we deliver care,” he says.
This realization led him to Lesley’s doctoral program in Counseling Psychology with its emphasis on transforming leadership, education, and research in the field. Brandon appreciated being part of a community that encouraged students to explore their own identities and worldviews, and others’ perspectives. His fellow doctoral students challenged each other to grow in their efficacy as agents of change.
Transforming the Field Through Grassroots Work and Research
As a PhD candidate, Brandon gained new insight and access to aspects of the mental health system. He found opportunities to influence the people in power working at community-based agencies who could make significant changes in policies. And he consulted with stakeholders on innovative ways of offering care.
In one class project, he collaborated with a long-term residential facility that served youth. There, he proposed an improved model for how the organization could orient its clients—many of whom had been displaced from their home community—to resources and supports in their new geographic area.
This theme of transformation continued through his clinical work and his dissertation, "Counseling while Black: A critical inquiry exploring the experiences of Black Master’s level counselors in predominantly White, mental health settings.” The idea for this research topic grew out of an unrelated class project in which Brandon noticed a scarcity of literature on the experiences of Black counselors.
“There’s a big push in applied therapy and professional counseling spaces around diversity. Our field does not represent the communities we work with, and that’s a problem,” he says.
But while professional organizations have committed to improving diversity and retention of counseling students and faculty, the experiences of Black counselors have largely been left out of this conversation.
Brandon set out to address this gap.
His doctoral research examined the experiences of self-identified Black counselors in predominantly white and non-academic mental health settings. He explored the barriers related to race and gender that Black counselors face, and how they respond to, cope with, and overcome these challenges. He learned that for Black counselors, there is often a tension between wanting to resist white supremacy and patriarchy, and wanting to develop close relationships with their colleagues. His research gave a voice to clinicians who are doing the work on the ground, and these voices add to the body of literature and change how the field views and approaches multiculturalism.
Brandon hopes his work helps to normalize, through institutions and policies, a wider understanding of marginalized counselors’ experiences in the service of bringing about justice and equity.
Transforming Lives Through Therapy and Education
Brandon defended his dissertation in late 2020 and continues his work of transforming lives and the field through his private therapy practice.
Within a typical day, he engages in therapy sessions with adolescents and young adults who have experienced trauma or a major life stressor.
“Seeing people heal in the context of our relationship is a privilege. I also value being able to work with their families. When a parent changes their perception of their child or adolescent, it shifts their relationship, too. And it often leads to long-lasting change in meaningful ways,” he says.
Brandon also partners with members of some of his clients’ schools to help change the perception of the student and the supports that they receive from school personnel.
“I contextualize problems in a broader, institutional and structural way,” he says. “Because it’s rare that a problem is simply about a person. It’s usually a relational problem between a person and their environment.” Brandon works with educators and school leaders to build upon their existing understanding of the ways racism, patriarchy, classism, and ableism might be in play when a student is having trouble.
This not only helps the clients in a positive way but helps others in the community. “It’s a gentle shaping of how the people who create systems understand problems and hopefully start to think about how policies and practices can impact all students,” Brandon says.
A Look to the Future
Brandon hopes to drive more change in the field through his work as a scholar, trainer, and practitioner. As an Assistant Professor and Field Placement Coordinator in Regis College’s graduate counseling program, he already weaves into his teaching the frameworks that he built as a student at Lesley.
“When looking toward the future, I hope I’m part of a new system—one that is rooted in communities where decisions, information, and care are created in a grassroots way. And is nurtured and sustained by broader institutional powers. I don’t know what it will look like yet, but I know that it has to be grassroots for it to have the kind of healing power, and to be as transformative as needed, to really be equitable,” he says.
Learn More About Lesley’s PhD in Counseling Psychology
Our doctoral program in Counseling Psychology: Transformative Leadership, Education, and Applied Research is a 48-credit program for licensed counselors offered in a convenient, weekend model, starting each Fall. Designed for working professionals, you’ll meet with your faculty and classmates for one weekend a month and continue your studies online between meetings. Apply today and get started on your path toward advancing social justice, mental health, and inclusive communities.