Desire to help others led Elaina Layden to earn two degrees at WCSU
Growing up in Wolcott, Connecticut, Elaina Layden recognized that something was missing from her small-town life. Her decision to broaden her horizons by attending Western Connecticut State University not only changed her worldview, it also set her on a path toward healing herself so she could ultimately help heal others.
“Wolcott was a really small town that lacked diversity and I wanted to go to WCSU after graduating from Wolcott High School because it was so diverse,” Layden said. “I loved that the university was a place where there were fun things to do at school and in the town. It was great that I would be able to get outside the bubble of my small town and be fully immersed in a city that was filled with individuals with various backgrounds, ethnicities and cultures.”
Originally a history major, Layden took a psychology elective taught by WCSU Professor of Psychology Dr. Daniel Barrett, and “it blew my mind,” she explained. “He was challenging and held high expectations for our papers, which led me to not get the typical A’s and B’s I was used to. It also made me realize that I was not the strong writer I once thought, and he helped guide and encourage me to be my best self.”
Layden requested Barrett as her adviser and recalls that he was “kind, but firm and super supportive. “Before I switched majors, I decided to take more classes and took as many with him as I could that were offered,” she said. “After seeing his passion for teaching psychology and the way he taught us about it made me realize that I could overcome childhood trauma, generational trauma and be a cycle breaker for my future children. It helped me realize that all my friends and family have always come to me for advice and I could actually switch to psychology and help so many others.”
Layden said her psychology classes helped her identify the goal of obtaining a doctoral degree in psychology. “It helped me to learn about addiction, mental health and generational trauma, and gain a better understanding of my own family dynamics and unprocessed trauma. It helped me to better understand my future clients and the struggles that they have experienced and gave me the cultural competency to understand through other people’s lenses and not just my own.”
After graduating with her B.A. in Psychology from WCSU in 2010, Layden received a master’s degree in Human Services: Clinical Mental Health Counseling from Post University and found work as a behavioral therapist. “I fell in love with working with the autistic population and children with mental health and behavioral health disorders,” she said. “I loved being able to apply my psychology degree to this field and gain a better understanding of Applied Behavior Analysis. I was trained as a Registered Behavior Technician and that is when I was able to pursue my master’s in ABA at WCSU, which I received in 2017,” she said.
Layden said WCSU’s Applied Behavior Analysis program significantly helped her career as a trauma therapist because she uses the principles of ABA with parents in therapy, children in therapy, and in family therapy. “I was able to take the things ABA taught me and apply it to my practice as a licensed trauma therapist working with people with Autism, ADHD and other mental health disorders. It helps me to better understand the function of the behaviors of my clients, how to improve positive behaviors and decrease maladaptive behaviors, and how to better help my clients express their feelings and behaviors with their parents. It helps me to better understand why clients engage in the behaviors they engage in and how I can best help them.”
The ABA program at WCSU is a completely online asynchronous program. In 2022, it was ranked #15 out of 7,700 colleges reviewed by onlinemastersdegrees.org. In 2021, WCSU ABA candidates who completed the 5th edition task list course sequence had a pass rate of 88.24%, which indicates that WCSU students performed 27 points above the average first-time test taker at other institutions. EduMed.org in its 2020 rankings for “Best Graduate Certificates in Applied Behavior Analysis Online” ranked WCSU’s program fifth on a list that compared factors including cost, online availability, academic counseling, career placement and availability of financial aid at both public and private for-profit institutions that offer an ABA degree online. In 2019, the program received the highest honor in a survey by the research group Intelligent.com as the nation’s best master’s program for students seeking to pursue careers as Board Certified Behavior Analysts (BCBAs).
Layden subsequently pursued a doctorate in psychology from California Southern University, graduating in September 2021. “It was Dr. Barrett that I dedicated my dissertation to,” she said, “as he was the one who helped me pursue my passions and goals in life by his dedication to teaching psychology.”
Western Connecticut State University changes lives by providing all students with a high-quality education that fosters their growth as individuals, scholars, professionals and leaders in a global society. Our vision: To be widely recognized as a premier public university with outstanding teachers and scholars who prepare students to contribute to the world in a meaningful way.