Cheryl Nelson, B.S. ’67, M.S.W. ’92, is a former nurse and social worker who is an expert on Narcissistic Personality Disorders.

Member of Adelphi University’s Profiles in Success program.

Former Nurse and Social Worker, Expert on Narcissistic Personality Disorders

Advice to current students/new graduates: “Understand yourself. Be assertive. Do what you know is right not what others tell you to do.”       

             In one of her many articles that have been published by prominent academic journals, Cheryl Nelson, B.S. ’67, M.S.W. ’92, wrote, “Since 1963, as a student nurse, until today, I have had an interest in mental health and a desire to understand people.” Over the course of her extraordinary career as a nurse and social worker, Nelson has become an expert in the field of narcissistic personality disorders and her work is perhaps more relevant today than ever.

Born in 1945, Nelson and her twin brother were raised in Seaford. Her mother, who graduated from Hunter College in 1941, was the first woman ever hired by Bell Labs, a research and scientific development company. At an early age, she knew that she wanted to follow in her mother’s footsteps and attend college. Her ultimate goal, however, was to one day become either a teacher or nurse.

Following her graduation from high school in 1963, Nelson’s father recommended that she consider attending Adelphi. After doing her research and visiting the University, she knew that Adelphi was the right fit for her and enrolled in the nursing program. “Adelphi was cutting-edge; so ahead of its time,” she said. “As undergrads we had the opportunity to work at [Creedmoor Psychiatric Center] and we took part in home visits that helped us explore family dynamics.”

After earning her degree from Adelphi in 1967, Nelson became an in-service instructor at Hudson River State Hospital. That same year, she married her husband Glenn, who worked for IBM. During that time, she also became a public health nurse at both the Nassau County and Dutchess County Departments of Health. In 1976, Nelson became a childbirth educator in Verbank, a role in which she taught Lamaze preparation courses and conducted counseling sessions for hundreds of couples. In 1984, Nelson, who was also raising three young children of her own at the time, went on to become a school nurse in the Poughkeepsie City and Millbrook School Systems. However, her budding interest in mental health and desire to understand people led to a decision that transformed her life: returning to Adelphi in 1988 as a graduate student in the School of Social Work.

“I really enjoyed it,” Nelson said about her time as a graduate student. “[The social work program] opened my eyes and taught me how to better understand myself and others. I learned more about empathy; how to walk in someone else’s shoes.” During her final year in the program, Nelson interned at the Dutchess County Department of Mental Hygiene. After earning her M.S.W. from Adelphi, Nelson went to work counseling crime victims at Family Services of America and her exemplary work there helped enable the program to extend to the more rural sections of the county. Approximately a year later, Nelson accepted a supervisory role at the Mid-Hudson Regional Hospital of Westchester Medical Center, a position she would hold for more than 20 years. In this role, she managed interns and peers, provided family, individual, and group therapy, and managed intakes and discharges, crisis management, and case management. “It was a lot of family therapy,” she said. “We had a great team and did some really great work.”

Nelson said that one of the biggest changes she saw take place during her time working in the mental health field was the increase in community support and that many patients were no longer being “hospitalized for life.” She went on to say that one of the most rewarding parts of working in the mental health field was seeing the patients make progress.

Over the course of her 20 plus years in the mental health field, Nelson developed a fascination and began to specialize in narcissistic personality disorders. She authored many articles and delivered numerous presentations on the topic. Much like Adelphi, her work was ahead of its time and her research continues to influence how professionals understand narcissism today.

Nelson said that her work in the area of narcissistic personality disorders has been her greatest professional accomplishment. As for her greatest personal accomplishment, Nelson simply said, “My family.” Recently retired, Nelson said what she misses the most about her career is her clients. However, she is looking forward to spending more time with her family which now includes seven grandchildren.

Nelson credits the University for helping her achieve success not just in one career but two. She is grateful for her Adelphi education that enabled her to impact countless lives as a nurse and social worker.

Published April 2018 

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