Recent Grad Reflects on Path to Clinical Psychology

July 07, 2017

Gabryel Tobias Gutierrez (B.A., 2014)

UCSC Anthropology alumnus Gabryel Tobias Gutierrez (B.A., 2014) reflects on the ways that anthropology, as a study of culture, can inform clinical psychology.

Q: What drew you to anthropology in the first place?

A: I didn’t understand what Anthropology was until I took my first class, Anthro 2, Cultural Anthropology, with Professor Susan Harding. I had grown up reading up on a lot of archeology and history, especially anything having to do with mummification (I was an odd child). In high school, I had started to take an interest into psychology, specifically how marginalization of different ethnic and minority groups affected a person’s mental health. In Anthropology, finally, I found a way to meld both interests into one discipline: I was able to learn about people as individuals, situated in a rich cultural and social history that informs their every decision. I got to learn about people, as people, not as a set of symptoms. It helped that Susan is hilarious.

I’ll admit, a lot of people found it strange for me to jump from Psychology and History to Anthropology. Looking back, I couldn’t have done anything better for my education. Culture is everywhere. It affects family structure, gender roles, religiosity, even what you decide to have for lunch. Studying Anthropology is unique, because it is a degree that is truly what you make of it. I chose to spend equal amounts of time smashing cow bones with rocks (Zooarchaeology) and studying how religion and spirituality impacted socio-political power in South America (Magic, Science and Religion). I went out and looked at headstone carvings in cemeteries, and talked to religious pastors about their views on the transgender community. I had a rich, full experience, and I can’t bring myself to regret a single bit of it.

Q: How does your degree in anthropology help you in your current academic pursuits?

A: I just graduated this May with my Master of Science in Clinical Psychology from San Francisco State University. It is a very small masters program, with between 7-9 people accepted every year. That’s a lower acceptance rate than Harvard.

To tell you the truth, I applied to the Clinical Psychology program with barely a single psychology course to my name. I often thought a lot about how I had gotten so lucky (or unlucky, depending on the time of the semester) to have been accepted to the program. Then, I got the opportunity to interview the incoming cohort. I believe my acceptance probably came down to my answer to a single question:

“What is culture?”

In my interviews of the candidates, I was astounded as, again and again, mature, qualified, and well-educated Psychology candidates completely fell apart when asked this question. Some made references to Cinco de Mayo. One particularly memorable candidate paused for a long time and simply said… “I’m white. I don’t have culture.”

I can tell you this, with confidence: Studying Anthropology helped me get this masters degree in Clinical Psychology. Show me a person who can understand another’s heritage, and I will show you a great clinician.

Q: Why did you choose to pursue a graduate degree in Clinical Psychology?

A: I am transgender, queer, and Latino. There are remarkably few voices in the field of mental health that are able to advocate for these minorities. Initially, this led me to question whether I wanted to take part in such a field- Gender Identity Disorder was classed as a mental disorder until 2012. I took a year to think about it. I worked at an elementary school with children with developmental disabilities and learning disabilities. I decided however, that I had no right to complain if I wasn’t willing to try to make a difference. There is a real need for diversity in the field of Clinical Psychology. So I went to work: I did presentations on the works of Magnus Hirschfeld, a pioneer in transgender studies. I answered questions. I studied and lived unapologetically as the person that I am. Change begins in the classroom; I just started the dialogue.

Q: What are your future career goals?

A: At the moment, I’m looking forward to working in community mental health. I’ve found a niche in doing bilingual therapy with Latino families in the North Bay, and have grown to love the unique challenges it presents. I hope to one day maybe make it back to Santa Cruz. I’m also looking forward to setting up a private practice aimed for the LGBTQ community after licensure. The future isn’t certain, but I’m not ruling anything out at the moment!


By Isabel Torres.  Isabel is a Peer Adviser with the Department of Anthropology.