Dreamin' of Nashville

by Hohna Hartley

Later this summer Amanda Sherman ’10 will pack her bags for Nashville, Tennessee. Although she won’t be toting a guitar and dreaming of making it big as a recording artist, her move to Nashville will still be a step toward making her dreams come true.

As one of Cedarville’s newest alumni, Amanda is headed for Vanderbilt University where she’s been accepted into the clinical psychology doctoral program. Hers may not be the typical Nashville “success” story, but it is an inspiring tale of overcoming obstacles to pursue God’s call on her life.

Steps of Faith
Nearly a year ago, Amanda needed an internship to complete her psychology degree at Cedarville. Though the psychology professors usually help students find their internships, Amanda began doing research on her own. It was then that she discovered Dr. Lynn Walker, a researcher and clinical psychologist at Vanderbilt who specializes in pediatric chronic pain issues — exactly the area of psychology that Amanda hopes to specialize in one day. She contacted Dr. Walker, coordinated the details with her professors at Cedarville, and arranged an unpaid internship working with Dr. Walker.

That’s how Amanda found herself in Nashville the first time. Last summer, she moved to a city where she knew no one to pursue her dreams. It was a leap of faith, but Amanda, a risk-taker at heart, felt confident that the time spent learning with Dr. Walker would help prepare her for the career in clinical psychology to which God so clearly seemed to be leading her. She was not disappointed.

“It’s really cool to see when God gives you the opportunity to take a risk and you take it,” Amanda explained. “That was probably one of the most growing periods of my life that I’ve had in terms of realizing my full dependence on God and trusting him to make things work out.”

Her summer in Nashville not only pushed Amanda to grow spiritually, but her time under Dr. Walker’s mentorship also gave her hands-on experience. When she returned to Cedarville in fall 2009, she already had her idea for her senior research project and had presented her work at a meeting of The Society of Behavioral Medicine, a gathering of professionals who could someday be her colleagues.

Insights for Healing
But it wasn’t just her summer internship at Vanderbilt that helped prepare Amanda for a future in clinical psychology. Her journey toward a career in helping young people with chronic pain began when Amanda was only eight years old — the age when her own chronic pain first began.

Amanda doesn’t pretend that it was easy to live with chronic pain as a child. “It had me pretty physically limited,” she said, “which also affects your mindset and social interactions and everything. It was really rough, and I can only say that it was by the grace of God that I made it through that.”

Though she didn’t know at the time that her pain would one day point her in the direction of a career, Amanda now sees clearly that God has used her experiences to develop her empathy for young people who suffer similarly. She is now passionate about utilizing clinical psychology and research to help children and adolescents with chronic pain.

Ironically, in her own health battles, Amanda was resistant to the idea of seeing a psychologist. Even now that her psychology studies have helped her understand the connection between physical pain and psychology, she is sympathetic to a young person who might not want to receive that type of treatment. “It’s really hard to explain to a child who is in pain why talking to somebody about your life, your issues, and learning how to relax and cope is going to help. This is a challenge and stigmatism I hope to overcome,” said Amanda.

It wasn’t until she took her first psychology class at Cedarville that she had what she describes as her “two-by-four moment” — that moment during a lecture on chronic pain and psychology when it dawned on her that this might be the way God intended for her to help young people with chronic pain. Up until that point, she had been studying music at Cedarville, planning to pursue music therapy to treat chronic pain. As it turned out, her talents fit more naturally with psychology than music, and she hasn’t looked back since.

Dreams of Service
Amanda’s passion to help children and adolescents through psychology, combined with her hard work and determination, are getting noticed. According to Milton Becknell, Ph.D., chair of the psychology department and one of Amanda’s professors, Amanda’s work ethic makes her stand out from the crowd. “When there was an obstacle, she found a way to overcome it,” he said. “And that’s what I saw over and over and over. She made sure she mastered the coursework. She made sure she got the necessary publications to make her competitive when she applied to doctoral programs. When she was faced with health problems, she just kept going.”

These days Amanda considers her chronic pain to be in remission, but her experiences still motivate her to help others. When she first arrived at Cedarville, she felt drawn to ministry and assumed she would one day work in a church setting. “It didn’t even dawn on me what vocational ministry looked like,” said Amanda. Although no less passionate about ministry, she is definitely headed toward a career in psychology and hopefully a job in a children’s hospital, rather than a church.

Classroom discussions and mentoring from her professors have helped prepare Amanda for ministering through her chosen career. “They do a very good job of integrating our Christian beliefs and explaining how it applies to the psychology field,” she said. “They want to make sure that you know what you believe for yourself and that you’re able to apply that.”

So while others head to Nashville to pursue their dreams of music and life on the stage, Amanda will move to Nashville to pursue a dream that is a little more behind the scenes. And that’s perfectly fine with her. “I could totally see myself doing this for the next 30, 40, 50 years and being 100 percent satisfied,” she said. “It’s cool to feel that calling. It’s an adventure.”


Hohna Hartley is a freelance writer living in Richmond Hill, Georgia. You may contact her via e-mail .