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Price Paves Her Path to Practicing Child and Family Psychology as a Child Life Specialist

Child and Family Psychology grad shares how Grace College child life programs led her to find out, what is a child life specialist.

What do an elevator ride and Grace College have in common? Hear from recent Grace graduate Ellie Price about how these two things led her to a career in child and family psychology.

The Most Impactful Elevator Ride

When people ask me what led me to pursue child and family psychology as a child life specialist, I always tell them about the most impactful elevator ride of my life.

My mom, sister, and I were visiting my uncle in the hospital and on our way up to the floor he was on, a mom and her young daughter joined us in the elevator. The little girl had no hair and was wheeling an IV pole next to her. It was clear that she was a sick patient at the hospital, but what was more striking about this scene was the fact that she was wearing princess slippers and a princess pajama gown. As soon as this little girl and her mom got off of the elevator and into the throng of nurses, my sister and I just started crying. How could someone so innocent have something as terrible as the sickness that took her hair and corrupted her childhood? 

That elevator ride sparked a passion in me for child and family psychology that has brought me to where I am now — pursuing a child life program so I can improve the quality of life for people like that little girl in the elevator.

Grace grad shares how bachelor’s degree in psychology led her to find out, what is a child life specialist. See our child life programs.

Guided by Grace

My journey to becoming a child life Specialist had a bit of a slow start. I knew since that elevator ride that I wanted to work with pediatric patients, but it wasn’t until high school that I realized in what capacity. I discovered a love of art in high school and was in class with a girl who had gone through art therapy when she was hospitalized. Because of conversations with her, I realized that I wanted to pursue art therapy in a hospital setting with kids and decided to pursue a child and family psychology degree and a minor in art. During my sophomore year of college, I quickly grew discouraged while looking for internship opportunities when my Google search: “Art therapy internships in hospital settings with kids” did not have many productive results. 

It wasn’t until I met with my advisor and dean of the School of Behavioral Sciences, Dr. Roberts, that I was given more direction. I was telling him that I wasn’t finding many results when he asked if I was trying to describe child life. Having never heard of the official title, I said, “What is a child life specialist? Hmm, no, I don’t think that’s it.” I then proceeded to describe the job description for a child life specialist in complete oblivion. He chuckled and said, “You should probably check out child life.”

This was a pivotal moment in my journey because that conversation with Professor Roberts gave me so much more direction and insight into how child and family psychology could be used in the field of child life.

Psychology Degree - Grace College

Oh the Places You’ll Go

I can’t believe I’ve been where I’ve been because of this crazy calling God put on my life. 

During Conference on Mission Week at Grace my sophomore year of college, I talked to an ambassador for a mission organization called Greater Europe Missions (GEM) about an opportunity to use art on the mission field in Europe. After applying and interviewing for this internship, I was offered a position at Camp des Cimes, a camp in the French Alps, to use art during their camps. They were impressed with how well the camp’s mission and my passions aligned. They expressed that my knowledge of child and family psychology and my desire to use art as a form of therapy would serve their ministry well! And indeed — it was a perfect fit!

While there, I was able to interact with campers as a counselor, video production team member, and art workshop leader. That summer shaped my life in more ways than I could ever describe. This eventually led to me spending a second summer in France as the leader for GEM’s Ten2 Project. 

My journey with child life didn’t end in France, either. I am currently in San Diego, California, fulfilling a practicum at the UC San Diego Medical Center in the Outpatient Burn Unit. The majority of my time is spent supporting the pediatric patients and their families. In the Outpatient Clinic, children have their burns looked at and cleaned, which can understandably be very distressing and painful. As a child life program student, I am able to prepare the patient and their family for what to expect when the nurses and doctors come in and explain things in developmentally appropriate ways for the children. Not only that, but we are able to use toys and books as distractions if the patient does not want to watch their wounds being cleaned. It amazes me every time to see a two-year-old laugh at a toy while they normally would be crying in pain if they were focusing on what the nurses were doing. 

This is a very difficult profession that I am pursuing, and it’s been a very difficult transition to see so much hurt, loss, and pain every day. But the experience I am gaining in this child life program is invaluable. It has been helpful to live so close to the beach, because most weeks I need some time to gain perspective and take a break from the hospital atmosphere. My goal is to go to the beach at least once a week while I’m here! 

As far as next steps go, I’m now applying for internship opportunities! Because this field is extremely competitive, I’m applying to hospitals all over the U.S. in hopes of getting accepted into at least one program which requires a willingness to pick up and move to wherever you are accepted or hired.

Ultimately, child life is a tough career to pursue, but the journey is taking this midwestern girl all over the world, and I wouldn’t trade it for anything!

Are you intrigued by Ellie’s story? Do you think child life is a career possibility for you? Learn more about our child and family psychology concentration — a great first step to becoming a child life specialist. 

Tagged With: Psychology, School of Behavioral Science, Student Stories