Betty Purify

Purify Uses Spirituality To Help

Now a great-grandmother, Betty Purify’s goal since she was 13 years old has always been to help people.

She and her husband, Pastor Gerald Purify, have shared that mission for 40 years, providing counseling for youth, seniors, and prison populations – among others.

It was this shared mission that ultimately led her down the path to her PsyD degree at Antioch University Santa Barbara, which she earned this year. It marks the end of another chapter in her life-long education.

Purify earned her high school equivalency diploma while in middle school and enrolled in junior college, earning her associate of arts degree before enrolling at California Polytechnic State University at 16 to pursue her bachelor’s in social science. Her goal at the time was to focus on criminal justice.

“I wanted to be a helper,” she said. “I saw a need for support but I didn’t know what kind of support I wanted to offer.”

A year and a half into her bachelor’s degree program of study, she had her first of four children.

She took a break from her college education for the next 33 years. When her oldest asked why didn’t she go back and finish her bachelor’s course week, she was doubtful.

“I thought I wasn’t school material and they wouldn’t take me back,” she said of her former university.

Not only did they take her back, she finished her bachelor of arts in 2011 and decided to apply for her master’s degree there.

It was too late for her to enroll.

When attending a friend’s graduation at Antioch University Santa Barbara, she made a note to call and get some more information about the university’s master’s program in clinical psychology. She attended an orientation where she met with staff and new students. A few weeks later, she received a letter of acceptance into the program.

Her first track was healthy aging. Prior to her beginning her degree program, she and her husband had operated a six-bed state-licensed senior residential facility for a couple of years.

“When it closed our desire was to continue to help,” she said. “With seniors we thought we could be of better service and support. It was our incentive to continue.”

At the same time, she and her husband had volunteered in the prison system – Purify began offering support to prison inmates when she was 18.

“I’d do crafts with them or go in and teach them Christmas carols,” she said. For nearly 10 years she worked in youth facilities and at the county jail and state men’s colony in a supervisory role.

She and her husband opened a church with the intention of it being a multi-use facility to provide mental health support services for seniors and as a halfway house for adults leaving prison.

With her Antioch University degree focus on healthy aging, she hoped to offer clinical support to geriatric inmates in serving life sentences in prison.

Despite her varied and in-depth experience, her Antioch University education was a struggle from the beginning.

“I didn’t have the academics my peers had,” she said, referring to her 33-year absence.

What she lacked in confidence and self-esteem her instructors and cohorts made up for in helpfulness and understanding.

“My instructors and the staff at the writing center provided me with resources and took the extra time to talk to me about my papers or turn individual projects into group projects so I could benefit,” she said. “The support has just been something I will never forget – it made such an impact. I want to do whatever I can do to give back. I’m invested in that.”

At the start of her doctoral program, she held onto negative self-talk.

“I had a breakthrough my third year in,” she said. “A student told me I belonged here just as much as anybody else. Something happened inside me. I realized if I knew it all already I wouldn’t be here. I was taught to be easy on myself and give myself permission to learn. It was a new way of approaching things for me.”

She aims to return the favor.

“I appreciate the gift I received and I want to do that for somebody else,” she said. “I want to tell someone they may not have the tools already but that doesn’t mean they can’t acquire them. There’s opportunity in the atmosphere (at Antioch). There’s humanity.”

Purify continues to see clients at a community counseling center in San Luis Obispo and to offer counseling support at San Luis Obispo’s Atascadero Middle School.

Once her degree is conferred she plans to study for her licensure and go into private practice.

“Helping, healing and offering support is something I’ve always done,” she said. “I want to be able to do offer my professional skills to help people in a mental health setting, both spiritual and secular.”

The focus of her research in clinical psychology was exploring experiences of Christian clients when the scriptures are used in therapy.

In addition to her 18 grandchildren and three great-children – some of whom helped her with homework – she credits her husband as her rock of support along with her faith.

“They give me my go power,” she said.

The rest she credits to her experience as an Antioch University student.

“The dream was there but the desire and the ability to walk through the door without second-guessing or fear – (Antioch) opened that up for me.”

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Since our founding 1852, Antioch University has remained on the forefront of social justice, inclusion, and equality – regardless of ethnicity, gender, creed, orientation, focus of study, or ability.

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