Senior psychology major Noah Johnson prizes vulnerability

Noah Johnson will never forget the words spoken by his high school teacher in the first psychology course he had ever taken: “You can know everything there is to know about psychology and yet you will still never be able to escape human nature.” Johnson, a senior psychology major, has kept this wisdom close throughout his studies of the human mind, finding joy in exploring the intricacies of human behavior.

It’s an infinitely complex dance and yet the steps are so simple.”

— NOAH JOHNSON

“I find how people work — how their minds work — very fascinating,” Johnson says when asked what led him to pursue psychology. “Because there are so many little things that go into every single interaction. How people interact is so interesting to me because every little word, every little movement is dictated by past experiences, current thoughts, current moods. It’s an infinitely complex dance and yet the steps are so simple.”

This summer, Johnson did an internship at Stepping Forward, a counseling center for children with mental health issues such as depression, anxiety and ADHD. Working with children as young as five years old proved to be a challenge for him. “They don’t totally grasp what it means to have those mental health issues,” Johnson explains. “One of my weaknesses was that I would have a hard time explaining these complex concepts to children, breaking it down for them. The people I was working with were marriage and family therapists (MFTs) and I was really impressed with how they would describe it in these very tangible ways for the kids.

Noah Johnson is passionate about psychology. (Photo courtesy of Noah Johnson)

Though Johnson admits that this is not yet one of his “strong suits,” he welcomes the challenge of working with children and is interested in training to become an MFT himself. In the meantime, he thoroughly enjoys diving deeper into the world of psychology in his classes at Westmont.

One of his favorite psychology courses at Westmont is Abnormal Psychology with Dr. Rogers. In this course, the students explore real-life applications of various therapy methods, exploring how they would approach various clients as a therapist looking through certain lenses.

After studying methods like psychodynamic and psychoanalytic therapy, Johnson became particularly interested in person-centered therapy. He explains this particular method, saying, “the therapist’s main goal is to be authentic and genuine and form a relationship with their client, not in the sense that they’re friends, but that in that moment they are being genuine … The three pillars of it are unconditional positive regard, meaning I have an affinity for you that you don’t have to work for; congruence, meaning I’m being my genuine self and not creating a power dynamic, like I’m just a fellow human being; and empathy, like I understand how you’re feeling.”

To Johnson, the most rewarding aspect of therapy, both for the client as well as the counselor, is vulnerability. “My passion in psychology really lies with the concept of vulnerability,” he says. “It’s so important and so central to who we are as people.” Connectedness is key not only in between counselor and client, but in all relationships.

Fitting in and being connected are not the same thing … what people truly desire is acceptance for who they are, but they will conform themselves to fit into groups and that’s the problem.”

— NOAH JOHNSON

Johnson references one rather amusing study: “Like standing backwards in an elevator. If you stand backwards in an elevator, other people will do it too because they don’t want to stick out. You can observe people doing these subconscious things and it’s so interesting. It’s like ‘what the heck, why do we do that’!” Behind this seemingly silly experiment lies a deep truth about human desire. People want to fit in, but beyond that, they want and — more importantly — need to feel true connection.

“You need to have vulnerability to connect to someone and we ultimately desire connectedness,” Johnson says. “Fitting in and being connected are not the same thing … what people truly desire is acceptance for who they are, but they will conform themselves to fit into groups and that’s the problem, because then they’re missing out on that true connection. That’s why it’s so interesting because it’s so core to who we are as humans, to be vulnerable, and yet it’s so difficult at some times.”

After graduation, Johnson wishes to pursue his PsyD in a four-to-five-year program that involves hands-on application to prepare him for his career as an occupational therapist. During this time, he looks forward to the experience of shadowing other therapists, as well as working with clients of his own. His passion for understanding the human mind and overcoming barriers will surely drive him to do great things within his field.