Dr. Kate Gibson: Lawyer-Counselor to Future Lawyers

Ali Zablocki '19
Arts Editor

Dr. Kate Gibson, J.D., Psy.D., is at UVa Law because of a sharp yet deliberate shift in career path and life outlook. After receiving her law degree from Harvard Law School, Dr. Gibson followed the natural route of many students of top law schools, beginning her career in the Washington, D.C. office of the firm now known as WilmerHale. Dr. Gibson practiced corporate law, work she described as law on a macro level. With a laugh, she added that it was fun to spot ads for the companies whose deals she was working on around town. However, the Big Law pace of life was as grueling then as it is now. Family health issues compounding this existing stress eventually prompted Dr. Gibson to reconsider her path. 

Illustration courtesy of Charles Schultz.

Illustration courtesy of Charles Schultz.

This reevaluation led Dr. Gibson to the realization that she found working with clients on an individual level most fulfilling. Personal experience piquing her interest in clinical psychology, Dr. Gibson tested this potential new career through volunteer work. Even considering such a change was a big step; Dr. Gibson describes herself as an “incrementalist,” just as do many law students, for whom diverting from the clear path ahead is often a challenge. However, feeling that it was her vocation, she applied for and matriculated to The George Washington University’s professional psychology doctorate program. This program in clinical psychology allows candidates to focus their studies on clinical work; there is no dissertation component or pharmacological training (only psychiatrists are able to prescribe). 

In 2006, Dr. Gibson joined the staff of Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) on Main Grounds as a predoctoral intern. She remained after receiving her doctorate, working at CAPS until heading north to the Law School three years ago. In contrast with CAPS, where students, from first-year undergrad to doctoral candidate are served by a much larger organization, Dr. Gibson has found working at the Law School means focusing on a single, more distinct community. This has afforded her greater flexibility in working with students, who in turn tend to have more in common, and the chance to learn the rhythms of the Law School. Dr. Gibson remarked that working at the Law School has been a unique opportunity to combine both phases of her career arc; vivid memories of the stress of 1L grades and summer job hunting give her what she described as a head start in understanding law student stress, although she also suggested that changes in the legal profession have only increased this pressure in the intervening years. She enjoys working with a student body which she described as bright and rich in life experience, but also with an administration she has found to be smart, competent, and, perhaps most importantly, very invested in its students.

Having recently surpassed a decade of Charlottesville living, Dr. Gibson describes the town as much smaller than where she previously lived, but as punching above its weight in terms of the arts, speakers, and things going on in general. Though characterizing herself as more of a spectator than a participant, Dr. Gibson is an avid supporter of the arts, mentioning the Paramount Theater and Heritage Theatre Festival (UVa Drama’s summer theatre program) as particular favorites. She also enjoys exploring the history and environs surrounding Charlottesville, where the mountainous landscape contrasts sharply with that of Massachusetts, where she grew up, and sampling Charlottesville’s ever-expanding restaurant scene (her favorite is Bang!). When she has a chance to relax, Dr. Gibson is an enthusiastic reader, preferring to mix novels and history books.

As we enter the holiday season, one of the most stressful times of the year even without finals looming, and students’ hours spent studying and anxiety both crest, Dr. Gibson also enters a busy period. Dr. Gibson emphasized that she tries her utmost to make time for all students who seek her counsel, and maintains a daily open hour from 2:00 until 3:00 P.M. In terms of services offered, she provides one-on-one counseling sessions, and maintains a referral list of other therapists and psychiatrists in the broader Charlottesville community who may be better able to provide services on a longer-term basis. Dr. Gibson also noted that law students have access to CAPS on Main Grounds, including their crisis services (in-office from 8:00 A.M. until 4:30 P.M. daily, with phone availability after hours) and excellent group programs.

Advice for anyone at any time of the year? “As a general rule, humans do better when connected authentically.” While being able to talk openly to whomever, be it a friend, family member, or professional, may not be a magic solution, it most definitely is helpful.