Growing up, Amy Syper struggled with the transition to high school, her parent’s divorce, and her body image. She sought help through counseling, and the support and healing she experienced inspired her to pursue a career assisting others in the same way. This May, she’ll graduate with a doctorate in counseling psychology from the Graduate School of Education.

“I think my own experiences with counseling were really transformative,” Syper said, adding that she enjoys being able to “be part of people’s lives and help them through really difficult experiences.”

Now, studying at Fordham, Syper found that the support from peers and professors combined with the well-rounded curriculum and hands-on practicums have set her up to do just that. 

“When I interviewed at Fordham, I felt connected to the people. I felt like I could build a community with professors and with the other students,” Syper said. 

Using Dance Therapy in Body Image Work

Syper plans to combine her counseling work with another form of therapy that’s been meaningful in her own life—dance. Discovering dance as a teenager taught Syper to connect with and appreciate her body. And in college at the University of North Texas, she studied modern dance and double-majored in psychology and dance. 

In addition to her studies at Fordham, Syper’s working to become a dance/movement therapist through a program at the 92nd Street Y, where she’s learning how to help people connect with their bodies in meaningful ways that assist their healing processes. Syper works with teens and young adults with body image issues and eating disorders and finds it’s often beneficial to incorporate elements of dance therapy into her talk therapy sessions.

With clients, Syper helps them assess: “How do I know if I’m anxious? How do I know if I’m upset? What are the cues my body’s giving me? And how can I connect with my body? … How do I use that information to identify what’s going to make me feel better moving forward?”

‘A Gifted Therapist’

Currently, Syper’s wrapping up a year-long internship at University of Colorado Boulder’s  Counseling and Psychiatric Services (CAPS) as part of her Fordham Ph.D. program. Similar to a med student’s residency, the position gives her hands-on clinical experience wherein Syper conducts individual therapy sessions, co-leads graduate student process groups, and serves as an eating concerns case manager.

“She’s a very talented, gifted therapist who, at an early stage of her career already has very defined interests and expertise,” said Elizabeth Parsons, Syper’s clinical supervisor in Boulder. In particular, Syper is highly organized and adept at building a strong rapport with clients quickly, Parsons said.

“[Syper is] very effective in helping clients understand their own patterns in a way that they can shift them … she really meets people where they’re at,” Parsons said. “She’s very aware as well of social justice issues and able to connect with people across a lot of identity variables.”

A Holistic Approach, Mirrored at Fordham

At Fordham, Syper found the same support and holistic approach to her as a student that she fosters in her professional work. 

“Fordham really provided the opportunity for us to acknowledge what comes up for us as therapists when we’re holding the weight of all the things our clients are sharing, and we’re going through these really difficult experiences alongside them—like when a global pandemic happens, we’re also experiencing that,” Syper said. “[Or if] they’re experiencing body image concerns, and I have had body image concerns, how do I work through that so I can take care of myself and I can be the best support for my clients.”

Recently, Syper successfully defended her dissertation, “Mind-Body Connection, Self-Esteem, and Social Support as Predictors of Recovery from Anorexia Nervosa,” and also published a study about the mind-body connection in the American Journal of Dance Therapy, titled “Dance/Movement Therapy for Individuals with Eating Disorders: A Phenomenological Approach.”

After graduation, Syper will complete her 92nd Street Y program and plans to work in a clinic or treatment center that serves young adults with eating disorders and body image concerns as she continues to find ways to incorporate dance therapy into her work.

—Meredith Lawrence