Geri-Lynn Utter '11 SGS, '16 Psy.D., author of the book Mainlining Philly: Survival, Hope and Resisting Drug Addiction, Shares New Documentary Utter Nonsense with CHC Psychology Students
On Monday, October 30th, Chestnut Hill College's Department of Psychology hosted their Annual Professional Development Day, a day where students, faculty, and staff in the College's Psy.D. in Clinical Psychology program come together in an effort to create personal and professional growth for the student aspiring psychologists. This year, the day was made extra special as in addition to the awarding of the Stephen N. Berk Memorial Award, the College welcomed back renowned psychologist and proud two-time alumna, Geri-Lynn Utter '11 SGS, '16 Psy.D., as the keynote speaker.
“Geri-Lynn defied all odds to become the person, clinician, advocate, writer, and educator she is today,” says Cheryl Rothery, Psy.D, professor of psychology. “Her resilience, grit, tenacity, perseverance, loving heart, empathy, and her father's belief in her propelled her to heights she likely never imagined. It was an honor to welcome her back to CHC to share her life’s journey.”
A clinical psychologist specializing in working with those struggling with co-occurring mental health concerns, such as trauma and drug addiction, Utter collaborates with healthcare professionals to effectively treat patients and determine appropriate course of mental health treatment. In addition, Utter provides comprehensive education to practitioners and legislators on the disease of addiction. In this role she is responsible for adding preferred drugs to commercial and Medicaid formularies and reviews and analyzes clinical findings to best understand drug efficacy.
“We are so proud of Geri-Lynn's documentary and the work she is doing, which sheds a unique light on the opioid epidemic and humanizes those affected. To blend her own identity and story into this work makes Geri-Lynn's messaging so much more powerful and highlights the values we cherish and teach here at CHC.” says Kevin S. McCarthy, PhD, associate professor of psychology and executive director of the Center for Concussion Education and Research.
Utter's book, Mainlining Philly: Survival, Hope and Resisting Drug Addiction, details her journey navigating from her upbringing in Kensington (an area of Philadelphia known as a hub for narcotics abuse and related social issues) to become a respected mental health professional. Utter has been featured on several local and national TV and radio outlets for her work, including her most recent project, a documentary called Utter Nonsense, which can be streamed on Apple TV, Google Play, Amazon Prime Video, and more. The documentary details Utter's very personal journey into the world of drug addiction, centering on how she managed to avoid falling into the "curse of drug addiction" around her by using education as a lever to lift herself out of Kensington, where she could help others who had fell victim to fentanyl, heroin, and other deadly, addictive narcotics.
"Though it was challenging for me and the characters of Utter Nonsense to recollect some of the traumatic life events we endured, we did it because we are hopeful that education will begin to chip away at the stigma associated with addiction, in turn making treatment more accessible,” says Utter.
After the film screening, Utter took questions from the audience of Psy.D. students, integrating her signature humor and warmth even as she directly addressed some of the real struggles encountered by clinicians treating addiction and trauma.
“Geri-Lynn's life experiences resulted in the development of a deep empathy for all people. Her work is a testament that she has never forgotten where she came from and never gave up on her family or her community,” says Eileen Webb, retired director of PsyD Admissions.
If you would like to learn more about Utter’s story, you can purchase her book and find streaming services carrying her film, Utter Nonsense, when you visit her website.
Elizabeth Gonzalez Wins Stephen N. Berk Memorial Award
Following Utter's presentation, the Psychology Department began the presentation for the Stephen N. Berk Memorial Award to Year V student, Elizabeth Gonzalez.
Given every year, the award was created in honor of former faculty member, Stephen Berk. Berk was beloved in the Psychology Department, serving as a clinician, educator, and mentor from 2005 to 2011, at which point he was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. Berk passed away in February 2012, at which point his colleagues, spearheaded by Kevin McCarthy, sough to establish the award in his honor. A role modeal for students on how to balance a stellar career with being a dedicated father, husband, and friend, the award recognizes students who meet criteria that captured Berk's essence including academic excellence, leadership, commitment to service, sense of humor, and a joy of living. Gonzalez represented all of those aspects, as noted by award presenter, Corrie Jackson, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology.
Jackson shared reflections from program faculty citing Gonzalez as personable, prepared, always procuding excellent work, thoughtful, perceptive, organized, knowledgeable, and helpful to her peers. One faculty member noted, "this student has been dedicated to assisting the neurodiverse population from before their entry into the doctoral program. They are thoughtful about the needs of this population and other vulnerable populations as well. I have been consistently struck by this student's genuine humility, especially given the exceptionally impressive level of their work."
Chestnut Hill College congratulates Elizaveth Gonzalez on being the 2023 winner of the Stephen N. Berk Memorial Award.
- Jaime Renman