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Alumni Spotlight: David Van Hollebeke, MA

Campus: 
Washington
Department of Counseling & Health Psychology
David Van Hollebeke’s entire life was upended when, two weeks before his high school graduation, he was nearly killed in an automobile accident. Left with partial paralysis and dependent on a wheelchair, the young athlete’s dreams of becoming a professional basketball or football player came to a crashing end.

Looking back on those days, David—now a 34-year-old newlywed and practicing therapist—recognizes the series of blessings that accident initiated. And one of those blessings came in the form of Bastyr University’s undergraduate program in health psychology.

“Before I attended Bastyr,” says David, “I was busy following another path, and I was in a phase of deep denial.” He explains that after his injury, he tried to get “back to normal” as soon as possible. He went to Shoreline Community College to get his AA with the intention of graduating with a degree in psychology from University of Washington. “But UW is so huge, and when I realized I’d be just another number, a struggling person . . . it was off-putting.”

Unaware of other viable options, he decided to go in a completely different direction: finance. He secured a job at Seafirst Bank/Bank of America and, over a six-year period, moved up the banking ladder from customer service to real estate and finally to investment banking. While pursuing his financial career, however, David was also trying to block out his emotional and physical pain by partying hard and fast. His dependence on crutches didn’t slow him down, and it wasn’t until his father was diagnosed with cancer that he slowed down enough to take a hard look at himself and the path he was on. “I began to reevaluate my life,” he says, “to seriously reconsider what was precious and meaningful to me.”

David began to pull himself together emotionally and physically, and it was during this time that he met a friend—Angelina Canelli—for lunch. “She was studying health psychology at Bastyr,” he says, “and she told me about the small classes with the intimate feel of a cohort group. She talked about Bastyr’s philosophy of attaching mind with body and spirituality, and about the program’s unique vision of psychology and well-being, that it goes beyond just mental health.”

David knew that someday he wanted to go back to school. In fact, he’d been tempted by Bank of America’s offer to send him to business school, but his heart just wasn’t in it. And now he found himself growing increasingly excited about this school, which he knew little about but which seemed to be drawing him in.

Despite some initial fears, he ultimately decided Bastyr’s health psychology program was the vehicle to take him into a new career as a therapist. “I was determined to choose a path of healing. My own experience had shown me that guiding somebody through a change in life isn’t only about addressing moods, but is about understanding the bigger picture, about how that person is in the world physically, their belief systems, what has meaning for them. I wanted to have a curriculum that addressed all those elements—and I didn’t find it in other schools, only at Bastyr.”

David found the program to be all that he envisioned. “The instructors were accommodating and personable, very knowledgeable and inspirational,” he says. Because he was in a class of only 22 students, he quickly bonded with the others. “It’s a very intimate learning environment. I formed friendships that remain to this day.” They do, indeed. This August he married classmate Chelsea Rask with whom he had carpooled to class.

After graduating from Bastyr with a BS in health psychology in June 2001, David attended graduate school at Seattle University, where he recently received an MA in existential and phenomenological psychology. David explains that the concept behind this unique area of study is similar to Bastyr’s holistic approach to psychotherapy. “It’s about one’s life, one’s existence, and how we interact with the world.”

David is currently working for Seattle Children’s Home as a mental health outreach therapist, supporting homeless and at-risk youth in need of mental health access. He explains that, in counseling his clients, he uses “a pretty open-ended theoretical foundation, moving from a cognitive-behavioral approach to a more analytical style. But the individual dictates what works, which goes back to Bastyr’s philosophy of recognizing each person as unique.”

When asked what are some of the most important lessons he’s learned in the years since he began studying at Bastyr, David responds with an answer that would make any psych instructor proud: “Professionally, I’ve learned to value the individual and each one’s experience as being unique in the world, and I now recognize the many factors that make for healthy change and well-being. Personally, I’ve learned that life will continue to offer new opportunities and that I need to be open to what the world is offering me and what my personal choices are. You just have to be flexible enough to pursue new ideas about who you are and what you want.”

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David Van Hollebeke, MA