Psychologist gives authentic care at ISU


Josh Newell

Erin Pederson, staff psychologist, poses for a portrait Friday September 18, 2015 in the Student Services building on Iowa State’s campus.

Emily Barske

An inherent hope for people, a love of applying science and a desire to improve people’s lives is what motivates one psychologist each day.

Erin Pederson, staff psychologist for Student Counseling Services, has helped ISU students work through and overcome a spectrum of mental health issues. 

“Each person is so unique and complex, which is what I love about this job and working with people in general,” Pederson said. “It’s interesting because it’s a very professional role, and there is the human-to-human aspect of it too.”

People’s stories fascinate her. But it goes beyond fascination — she looks to find a way to make people’s situations better, she said.

“Growing up, I was always very interested in what was happening for people internally and how people were engaging in relationships, whether that was going well or not going well,” Pederson said.

From his first experience with her, Nathaniel Wade, professor of psychology who taught Pederson as a graduate student, could tell she was bright and eager to learn.

“It’s not a common pairing, of really strong intellect and reasoning ability paired with a compassionate, empathic heart,” Wade said. “You really have to have both to be a good therapist, and you have to practice when to activate the one versus the other — and she does that very, very well.”

University counseling fit Pederson’s desire for variety with individual counseling and group therapy. She’s able to train other counselors and outreach with groups on campus, while also helping clients at a very important stage in their lives, she said.

“It’s neat to work with people who are figuring out who they are, what they want to be and what they want their lives to look like,” Pederson said.

As part of her job as the diversity coordinator, Pederson works with groups that represent underserved populations on campus to ensure that the counseling service represents all ISU students.

Pederson attends Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender, Questioning and Ally events to understand issues some students face, said Brad Freihoefer, coordinator for the LGBT Student Services.

Som Mongtin, assistant director for the Margaret Sloss Women’s Center, said Pederson made a point of asking about how the counseling service could serve students that it wasn’t currently reaching.

Various clients she’s helped didn’t forget the impact she had on them.

“The thing that really hits home to me to recognize that our students had built a really amazing relationship with her in her role as a counselor is when alumni come back to me when we’re at an event, Freihoefer said. “They’ll come ask me, ‘Hey, is Erin here? For them, it’s a lasting impression; it’s something that helped them bond with Iowa State, maybe helped them get through a difficult time while they were here.”

To make sure students have a good experience with counseling, it’s important to understand what a client is looking for to help solve their problem, Pederson said.

“If someone wants that energy, she will bring that energy,” Mongtin said. “If someone wants someone who is optimistic and very positive, she would bring that. If you just need someone to sit there in silence and just listen, she will be that person.”

Pederson brings her own personality to each of the variety of tasks she encounters in her job.

“She is a very authentic person,” Wade said. “With Erin, you kind of know who you are dealing with. I imagine that in her work with clients she’s just a very real person, and she doesn’t take on a professional persona or hide behind a professional mask. I think that’s a big reason she’s so effective with students.”