The Psychology of Certainty

Sari Herzog’s slightly unpredictable path toward helping others

November 28, 2012
Sari Herzog
Sari Herzog

“What attracted me was the analytical part of it,” the Brooklyn native says of her passion for clinical psychology. “When I was little, we had this psychology textbook in our house, and I used to just sit around reading it, and it always seemed like the obvious thing to do.” Not that there weren’t diversions. After finishing high school, she took a year off and attended seminary in Australia. “That was a coming-of-age experience for me,” she acknowledges. “At the end of the year, I didn’t want to go back home. I wanted to continue the exploratory experience.” Next came a year in Israel with her sister, where they shared what she describes as a “ramshackle apartment.” After running out of funds, Herzog enrolled full-time in Touro’s Lander College of Arts and Sciences, and quickly became “pretty serious [about school] once I came back to New York.”

Her time abroad was a particularly bold choice. In the observantly Jewish Crown Heights community where Herzog was raised, attending university wasn’t necessarily encouraged, let alone independently seeing the world. “I really value that experience,” she says without regret. “I tried many different things, I learned many different things. When I was done, I realized there’s so much more to discover, and I came back as an adult. I feel like a lot of people growing up in my community miss out [on that experience] when they go straight from high school into college, still living in their parents’ homes.”

While at Touro, Herzog completed a pair of internships that were enormously influential on her ambition to pursue psychology: first at the state-run Jewish Board of Family and Children’s Services (JBFCS) in Coney Island, and then at Manhattan’s Center for Motivation and Change. The former in particular left a huge impression, one that she characterizes as having been more “emotionally evocative.” It provided her with a chance to assist low-income and underserved patients struggling with schizophrenia and psychotic behavior, as opposed to working with more privileged, out-of-pocket patients at other facilities.

“It’s not necessarily what I would end up doing,” she concedes. “But I’d love to make changes for that demographic, and it feels really powerful to serve that community…. The changes you can make in a schizophrenic’s life are harder to see, but there’s something really rewarding about working with that kind of population. Growing up and hearing all the generalizations and ideas people have of people with several mental disorders, working there was eye-opening…. These people are more complex and dynamic than you might think.”

What remains comparatively simple for Herzog is maintaining a steady vision in and out of the classroom. With her nuptials on the horizon and GRE exams looming, the goal remains the same as when she leafed through that textbook as a child, even if it required a few left turns for reassurance. And she wouldn’t have it any other way. “You can’t go on to a graduate degree and not acclimate yourself to all sorts of populations,” she advises. “You can’t go into psychology with a closed mind. That would be a disaster.”