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Student Spotlight: Aaron Maleare

Known for his soft demeanor and personal mission to make the counseling and therapy environments feel like safe spaces to talk, Aaron Maleare (‘18), an alumnus of ACU Online’s Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program, is a true testament to what is possible when you apply yourself and reach for new heights in your professional career and personal life. Combining his love for therapy and passion for assisting clients with anxiety, depression, and family conflict, Aaron looks back at his time as an ACU Wildcat with fond memories. 

Finding His Calling

Although he sounds and looks like a hip therapist, Aaron would be the first to tell you that his life wasn’t always picture-perfect. Growing up as a “depressed teenager,” Aaron was faced with overcoming a lot of obstacles alone. However, little did he know that God was watching over him every step of the way. Remembering his former youth pastor, Aaron says he got a first glimpse at what real counseling was – and more importantly, what it could do to someone’s self-esteem. Seeing that presented to him for the first time, Aaron decided he, too, wanted to serve in ministry. After some time and undergoing life changes, including marrying his wife, Vanessa and completing his Bachelor of Arts in Biblical Studies from Lipscomb University, Aaron was already living in New Zealand and conducting missions work with kids and teens of all ages. Over the next few years, Aaron went from living across the world to moving back to the states to complete his Master of Theological Studies from Lipscomb University, to accepting the chance to move to Ontario, Canada, where he would work directly with teenage students as a stand-in parent or older brother as the Associate Minister at Tintern Church of Christ. 

Helping teens get out of the juvenile justice system in Canada, Aaron remembers how rewarding his job was, including the various cases he dealt with. In many ways, it planted the seed in his heart to assist teenagers in crises. 

“Maybe a year and a half into the job, a local kid that I met with sometimes had some run-ins with the law and was part of the juvenile justice system in Canada,” Aaron said. “Working with him and his family, helping them have some kind of peace about it — it’s almost like a spark of inspiration just hit me. Like, this is what I really enjoy doing. This is the part of the job that I love. How can I do more of this?”

In fact, over time, Aaron began to feel something change inside of him. For some reason, he was no longer interested in serving in the same way he was. He knew he wanted to stay in ministry, but not in the same way. Searching for answers and praying constantly, Aaron remembers hearing his wife say the best thing she could – maybe he should try counseling. Amazed at how he could have missed this before, Aaron decided to make the change happen. And just like that, Aaron felt like his prayer had been answered. He was going to become a therapist. 

“I realized that I didn’t like church work the way I thought I did, but I loved working with the people,” Aaron said. “And my wife, who is a lot smarter than me world-wise, told me, ‘You know, you’re a lot better with the people. Why don’t you look at marriage and family therapy? And then, I just said ‘That’s great! What a good idea!’ and then, I just did it.” 

Finding His Way

While Aaron had been through a master’s program before in a traditional setting, he really needed the flexibility and accessibility of an online program. After all, his family was about to leave Canada without knowing where they would land. After consulting some friends from Lipscomb University and former alumni from ACU’s Doctor of Ministry, Aaron remembers hearing “such high praise for the faculty and the program,” making him even more open to applying to the first cohort of the Master of Marriage and Family Therapy program. Going through enrollment and strongly agreeing with ACU’s values, Aaron’s transition from traditional to online was seamless – and, in many ways, super easy. 

“It made it easier to have a kind of shared vocabulary in the way that [ACU and I] envisioned the world,” Aaron said. “Not just because the profession can pay well or because it’s a good job, but because we have felt united in this calling that we wanted to make the world a better place.” 

Beginning his program in 2015, Aaron and his family were able to settle in Austin, Texas, and begin cultivating a life around people and places that desperately needed mental health therapy. Looking back, Aaron deeply appreciated the program’s online versatility including its accessibility of video conferences and field placement. Despite the “robust and intense” 500-hour internship, Aaron knew he would get a lot more practice, skills, and hands-on experience through this program. And he was ready and up for the challenge. In 2018, Aaron graduated with his Master of Marriage and Family Therapy and began working as a consulate in various settings, including Mosaic Church Austin and other private practices.

“After I finished my degree, I just remember saying, ‘Okay, I just want to help people,’ Aaron said. “And so I just started working and looking for places to take me [..] and then I decided that I didn’t want to be working at the very end of the problem, when it’s the most dire, and would rather work my way upstream to the beginning of people’s problem, which is when I started working with other counselors and set-ups like group therapy.” 

Aiming to get ahead of the problem, Aaron decided to pursue his doctorate and realized quickly that if he enjoyed learning so much, why wouldn’t he find a way to train and guide other mental health counselors to do the same. Launching Get Mental ATX, Aaron leads a practice dedicated to helping new therapists and clients discover their problem cycles, change their negative patterns, find ways of interacting with others, and equip each person with the right tools to manage their lives and the progress they’ve made so far. Listed as one of the best therapists in Austin, Aaron finds himself serving those around him daily. Whether helping teens who are struggling just like he was or helping newly engaged couples find their way, Aaron sees value in his work. 

“It’s going to feel good knowing that I’m doing something that matters — that when I go to work, I’m helping somebody’s life get a little bit better,” Aaron stated. 

Today, Aaron sees his life as a complete testament to God and His big plans. Aaron believes he is eternally blessed beyond compare. Hoping to inspire others to achieve their goals in life, Aaron believes there is still more for him and his family out there. But for now, for the time being, Aaron feels like he is exactly where he wants to be. 

Do you share Aaron’s commitment to making a difference in the lives of families? Learn more about ACU’s online Master of Marriage and Family Therapy.

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