Christopher Ellzey

Christopher Ellzey


One of the biggest misconceptions I run into (seemingly constantly), is the assumption that in order to become a mental health professional one needs an undergraduate degree in the field of psychology or something comparable.

MSU Degrees:

B.A. in English, 2005

B.A. in Philosophy & Religion, 2005

M.S. in Clinical Mental Health Counseling, 2019

Favorite memories of being an undergraduate English major:

  • TESOL Program + connections w/ foreign exchange students
  • Creative writing courses
  • English Romantics

Current Position:

Staff Counselor (Licensed Professional Counselor)


MSU Department of Psychology


When you graduated with a degree in English from MSU, what were your plans for your future?  Has your career path mostly realized those early plans, or have you discovered new plans and goals along the way?

By the time I graduated, I had a pretty clear plan of teaching English as a second language abroad. I was lucky to have been able to work with English faculty during my last year of undergrad to line up a position teaching at a foreign language-focused high school in South Korea. After two years there I ended up moving back state-side and teaching high school English in Tampa, FL for several years, before eventually realizing that I was more cut out for helping kids process emotional difficulties than teaching academically focused curricula. I had originally planned to stay within the familiar context of public schools by following the school counseling route, but I ended up switching over to clinical mental health counseling after my first semester in graduate school in order to be able to focus more on the therapeutic process itself rather than on working within any particular setting.

What is your current occupation, and what does your work mostly consist of?

My current title is Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), and I generally describe my occupation as being a children's therapist. For the most part, my work consists of conducting outpatient individual and group therapy sessions with youth and young adults. This is supplemented to various degrees by providing parent consultations and facilitating what is generally referred to within the field as "coordinating care," which basically boils down to helping outpatient clients line up inpatient services when they are called for, and vice versa. I've primarily worked in community mental health and educational settings, though I also maintain a small private practice.

Which skills that you learned as an English major do you use most in your job?

To a great extent, conducting therapy is like helping a text continue writing its own story, so all the fundamental skills of an English education apply relatively naturally--they're just applied in a fundamentally collaborative way. In accounting for this qualitative leap in agency, two elements of traditional textual analysis have been crucial in my experience: the ability to maintain a high level of meta-awareness, and a keen eye/ear for the repetition of themes. The latter is critical for staying oriented and moving toward the client's destination, and the former for ensuring that the destination is truly that of the client and not the therapist. But I would argue that in addition to the transferrable skills honed by a major in English there is a fundamental outlook shared by many of the folks called toward such an area of study which can be profoundly powerful in the context of mental health; namely, that said folks are deeply motivated to look for the good and the beauty and the truth in things. It perhaps comes across as saccharine, but this orientation itself can be magically therapeutic, especially when working with kids, and I would also argue that it is essential for achieving any semblance of longevity in the field.

What additional skills did you need to learn in order to do your job, and how did you learn them?

For the most part, the skills I needed to learn were specific to recognizing the wide variety mental health disorders as well as the even greater range of presentation which these disorders manifest across clients and contexts. This is a perennial process since our understanding of mental health is constantly evolving, but the initial climb to basic competency in this area is a bit steep coming from a background in the humanities. Additionally, I had to learn skills specific to navigating emergent issues common to the therapeutic process, e.g., being able to recognize subtle signs that a client is heading toward a crisis, or those indicators which clients often struggle to share related to situations such as abuse. Having a good clinical supervisor is invaluable in this regard.

Are there common misconceptions about your career field, which current English majors might share, that you have learned the truth about?

One of the biggest misconceptions I run into (seemingly constantly), is the assumption that in order to become a mental health professional one needs an undergraduate degree in the field of psychology or something comparable. That, in my opinion, couldn't be further from the truth. In fact, I'd say for individuals interested in the helping side of mental health, i.e., conducting therapy and/or generally working face-to-face with other individuals experiencing mental health-related difficulties, a background in the humanities is to be preferred for the reasons I outlined above.

In what ways does your career enrich your life and help you to achieve your personal as well as your professional goals? 

This is a difficult question to answer, to be honest, because attempting to consider the enriching elements of being a therapist is, for me, a bit like trying to drink from a fire hose. Mostly, I feel awe--probably my default emotional state at this point--and along with that, a sense of overwhelming gratitude to be able witness so many individuals grow into a fuller recognition of themselves and their place in the world.

What advice do you have for undergraduate English majors right now who might want to follow the career path you did?

Keep reading! More specifically, I encourage anyone considering the move to mental health to start branching out and reading the primary sources which make up the foundation for modern psychology, especially those of the Vienna School such as Freud, Adler, and Frankl. Jung is also quite the journey. I also highly encourage experiencing therapy firsthand from the client side, just as much for personal as for professional reasons. Lastly, don't be a stranger if you want to pick my brain about any of this stuff further.


Updated September 2023