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Nicolle Potvin has gone through some hard times and come into young adulthood stronger, more confident, and determined to help others overcome the formidable obstacles that threaten to derail their lives.
With a master’s degree in counseling psychology from Northeastern, she landed a job a program clinician at a Rhode Island program for women age 16 to 21, who are transitioning out of state care.
“It’s exactly what I went to Northeastern to do,” said Potvin, MS’19. “I’ve been motivated by my own struggle with anxiety and anorexia. I saw myself come out the other end and I wanted to help other people make it out too.”
As a counselor with the Key Program, Potvin provides individual therapy, group therapy, and crisis intervention at a group home in Providence, RI, for young women transitioning into independent living.
“For some of the girls, this the first and last program they will be in,” she said. “Others have been in and out of state care as long as they can remember.”
During the interview process, Potvin met a resident who had made enormous progress after a difficult childhood.
“She told me she wouldn’t be where she is today without this program. That’s when I decided I want to be part of that. I want to help females achieve their goals.”
Potvin’s troubles began in high school, soon after a friend died in a car accident and her parents went through a divorce. She was overwhelmed by anxiety. The one thing she could control was her weight, and that soon became an obsession that was eventually diagnosed as anorexia.
“In my case, I almost lost my life to this disease twice,” she said. “My doctor told me, ‘You can either get treatment or you may die if you continue at this rate. I was in jeopardy of cardiac arrest.”
In fact, anorexia is the most lethal of all mental health disorders, according to the National Institute of Mental Health.
“I lost so many things to anorexia that were a part of my identity,” she said. “I ran varsity track as a freshman and was about to be scouted by Duke University. I played soccer and danced nationally with an elite dance company. But my weight got so low that my doctor said I couldn’t risk any physical activity.”
When she realized the impact this disease was having on friends and family, Potvin made a commitment to seek treatment. She also started speaking to others about her struggles to overcome the disorder.
“During one of those talks, a girl came up to me afterward and told me, “What you said is going to save my life.’ That’s the moment I knew this is what I wanted to do with my life. I’m going to beat this, and then I’m going to help others beat it.”
Potvin made good on that resolution by becoming a social activist at the local, state, and national level. She spoke about her experiences at awareness events and was the subject of a television news feature. As an undergraduate at the University of Rhode Island in 2017, she raised money and lobbied to have the Rhode Island State House dome lit blue and green in honor of Eating Disorder Awareness Week. A year later, as a master’s student at Northeastern, she did the same thing with the Prudential Tower in Boston.
During her final year at Northeastern, she won a scholarship from Harvard University to fly to Washington D.C. and lobbied Congress to appropriate funds to train medical professionals to spot eating disorders.
One of the primary reasons Potvin chose Northeastern was to study with professor Rachel Rodgers, who has published more than 50 scholarly articles on body image and eating disorders. She joined Northeastern’s research team on eating disorders and also created an independent study with Rodgers on contemporary beauty ideals. That project culminated in a podcast that is in the editing phase.
Potvin was inspired by the clinical courses dedicated to exploring the intersection between academics and real-world experience. These classes were taught by Susan Bradley, a private-practice psychologist who earned her PhD from Northeastern in 2003
“It was a great class because we were all bringing real experiences from our internships,” said Potvin. “We talked as colleagues rather than as students because we were out there working in the real world. It helped me know that this was really the field I should be in. I realized that I was good at it and it made me happy.”