Published in the The GUIDON’s Graduation Magazine, March 2012
Photo by Ean L. Dacay
BACK when she was little, Dr. Karina “Cara” Therese Fernandez remembers watching a film and reading a TIME article about new and innovative methods to help abused children overcome their fears. She thought, “What a creative way of helping people.” She then discovered a world of serving people who have psychological problems, of understanding what shapes a person’s identity. In short, she found the world of psychology.
While she is Dr. Fernandez to her young patients, students call her “Teacher Cara.” Beneath her black framed glasses and calm demeanor lies a brilliant woman who performs many roles— parent, developmental and clinical psychologist, teacher—all at once. As a psychologist, she channels motherly instincts toward patients, while a background in clinical and developmental psychology helps her make parenting choices to her two children, Nica and Inggo.
Validating one’s desires, hopes, and personhood is what unconditional positive regard is about— a method in her approach in therapy. She explains, “Hearing somebody saying, ‘You are a wonderful person, you have good thoughts, you have good ideas,’ is already a big thing for them.”
True enough, Teacher Cara’s carefully woven words in lectures and casual conversations make her a favorite among students, who regard her as a mother figure. She showers her classes with anecdotes on family, her patients, and personal experiences.
To ask how she stays driven to teach, for eleven years and counting, is the wrong question to ask. For Teacher Cara, the very act of teaching enlivens her. The task of imparting knowledge and ideas keeps her on edge. She professes to leaving classes still in an ecstatic, hungover state, exclaiming, “I should have shared this!” or “I would have liked to talk about that!”
Teacher Cara describes her happiest moments as being with Nica and Inggo in bed reading a good book, then expressing her perplexity that not all parents do that. “I’m surprised they don’t! In my mental script, all parents did the book and the prayer thing.” That line betrays how her thoughts have cognitive psychology concepts with a bit of developmental insights thrown in— typical of Teacher Cara.
This lively, spirited woman exemplifies a life driven by a passion to serve and to love, proving that career and personal life may be intertwined. Her advice to graduating students: “Look for work you will love. Accept the many mistakes you will make. Learn from them, then let go.”