SOLES Alumna Spotlight: Parisa Malekzadeh '10 (MA), Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Parisa Malekzadeh
begin quoteSOLES gave me a great education, and great professors, and great support in my life. Im grateful.

Tell us about your degree program and why you chose SOLES.

My interest in the program started when I started working with kids, which was actually when I was a kid. When around ten years old, I started Taekwondo. I became an instructor when I became a black belt, and then I started teaching younger kids. I was 13 or 14 years old and teaching other kids, which is a big responsibility. I loved it and really enjoyed working with kids and as I got older, I really enjoyed working with teens, even though I still was one. I had a minor in youth development when I was at Arizona State for my undergrad, but I couldn't find the right program for my master’s. Both of my parents were in the university system, saw this program and shared it with me. I looked into it and I thought, “You know, this could be a good path for me.” Teaching wasn’t necessarily it for me. I loved being a teacher but it wasn’t exactly my path. I applied to SOLES and got in, and you really can’t complain. I was coming from Arizona, so San Diego sounded pretty amazing and not too far away from home. I wanted to stay on this coast and still be close to my family, and I had a lot of family in Los Angeles, so there was a lot of draw to come to San Diego.

I was really excited to be a part of a pilot program; there were more positives to being a part of a pilot program than negatives at that point. I knew the license wasn’t ready, I knew there was accreditation still to be had, but I thought it would be fun to be a part of a program that I could also be a part of creating, which is what they told us as a cohort. When I did the group interview I met some people (who are still my friends to this day) and it just really interested me; the professors were really fun and interesting to start off and it felt right, it really did. It felt like a good path from enjoying teaching and all that stuff; it felt like the right path. 

Who was your favorite professor during your time here at SOLES?

I had a professor who I still talk to and who is still a support to me: Dr. Ronn Johnson. He did our boot camp before school and is just a wonderful clinician, a wonderful support, and a wonderful professor. He uses his experience, uses what he’s seen to teach and not just what’s in the book, and that is how I’ve learned so well and continue to learn in this field--seeing and being in the field and experiencing it. His classes were always interesting, even those 7 p.m. ones that would go until 10 p.m. I continue to keep in touch with him; he’s a support, I can reach out to him with questions if I ever need to, and just someone who really believed in all of us students, and still believes in our success. He’s actually one of the first people I contacted when I passed my licensing exam a couple months ago. I emailed him and he said, “That’s amazing, that’s wonderful, I’ve been waiting to hear when you were ready to do that.” He was definitely one of those people that, as a clinical supervisor, was very in tune and very supportive every time we talked about cases, and understood where we were coming from, especially working in the field. I was working with kids at Polinsky Children's Center and working with youth who have experienced trauma. He has had so much experience that he used it with his students and really just shared it with all of us in a very experiential learning type of way. 

Did you have a favorite class at SOLES?

Ooh a favorite class…honestly, my favorite was my internship, although it wasn’t a class. Our classes were great. Assessment and Career Counseling was great with Dr. Ian Martin; he was really fun. But the most experience I got, and the most information I got, was out of our internship classes and our group supervisions. Separate from class but also a class where I learned the most from other people’s experiences and other people’s stories. I didn’t have a favorite class; they were all great. I struggled with some (Assessment and Research--whew, not a numbers person) which made me realize that I’m in the right field. Ha ha. I just really enjoyed being in the field as opposed to being stuck in the classroom a lot, especially with trauma in our field. 

Was the international experience requirement in place when you were a student?

Yes, we had a global requirement. I went to New Zealand and Australia to present at a psychology related conference for two weeks with part of my cohort and Dr. Johnson and Dr. Zgliczynski. I had already submitted a paper for this conference with another friend of mine--a classmate of mine--and Dr. Johnson had also signed off on it, so it was a great opportunity and they ended up sending ten of us with the professors as a global experience. I don’t know if it’s required now to spend more time abroad, but we were definitely had two weeks’ worth and we had presentations we were able to do while at the conference. 

Where was your favorite place on campus?

Bert’s Bistro. The patio out there that overlooks the bay was definitely a go-to because the weather is amazing and the view. It was kind of one of those areas that was calmer when there were a lot of students around, and you can’t beat the view from SOLES…you really can’t. Somehow now I live on the other side of campus. I own a home now right on the other side of campus. I must love the area, ha ha. 

What is your favorite memory or moment from your time at SOLES?

The funny thing is, I still remember my first day, or “boot camp”, I guess. The weekend before school actually started, they called it the “Counseling boot camp”. I had no idea what I was doing or getting myself into, and I made several of my really good friends that day (still friends). Just remembering how we all were clueless; it was a really fun weekend. Everybody was just jumping right in, which I think I want to say was the motto of the program when it first started: “We’re going to jump in and see what happens,” and it was successful because we were all willing to do it all at the same time. So I will always remember boot camp. Lots of laughs, lots of “WHAT? Don’t know what that is,” and friendships being built and realizing how “We’re all going to do this together. Okay! We’re all going to jump in and see what happens together.” I wasn’t alone. That’ll always be fresh in my mind. 

Share a bit about what you’ve been doing since you graduated from SOLES.

I graduated in 2010 and I got a job right out of school--even before I was finished. It doesn’t exist anymore, but it was called Dependency Legal Group. The dependency attorneys that work with the children who are in the child welfare services system, or in probation. I was working as an investigator within that field. I was interested in working with adolescents because my specialization while I was at SOLES was adolescents. The license wasn’t ready yet, but I wanted some experience working with these teens and I knew if I was going to be working with these teens I needed the experience with the courts; the court system, probation, etc. And I wasn’t ready to go to law school. So I did that for four years, and it was a wonderful experience. And I waited for the license, waited for the license, waited for the license. Then when the license came, it took me a little longer and I finally got a job as a therapist and group leader with another program called Vista Hill Incredible Families.

That is when I applied for my intern number to finally start getting my hours. That was a long time coming; I was excited, definitely excited for that, and waited a while. The licensing process for all of us who had to take the classes then is very different than what they have to show now (we had to prove a lot more now). They have to prove a lot less now than we did then. We had to show syllabi and then we’d get the letters that said “deficient,” and we’d have to send another syllabi deficiency letter. I believe Dr. Z wrote several letters about credits and grief counseling (that we didn’t have the actual class, but we did independent study), so it took almost 18 months. I did that and finally got a number, and that was just a culmination of, “Oh my, gosh finally! Yay!” And then that journey began. I finally got approved in 2015 to start my hours.

Since then, I stayed at Vista Hill for a couple of years, had my daughter in between, took some time to be a mom, and then switched over to my job at--which I’m still at now--which is the Intensive Care Coordinator for San Diego Center for Children with the WrapWorks program. I actually went back part-time after having my daughter, so my hours were a little bit slower in accruing, then jumped back in at San Diego Center full-time. That’s what I’ve been doing since. Working for my hours and, finally come November of last year, finished my hours and did a happy dance! Sent them to the BBS, probably triple checked the envelope--quadruple checked the envelope and signatures, and got approved in February to take my test. And thankfully signed up before this pandemic and took my exam. I got officially licensed, got my certificate in the mail a couple of weeks ago, and now I’m trying to figure out what’s next.

I’m hoping to start a private practice as a part-time option, or maybe join a company, for example, that is already working with families and youth that might need a therapist to work with the kids; so maybe join a practice that is working with those different aspects, or do it on my own. I haven’t decided quite yet. But that’s the next step, hopefully. Right now, I’m grateful during this pandemic; my job as a coordinator in the field is to go out to families’ homes, and now I can work from home. My meetings now are via telehealth, and I’m very grateful for the flexibility. So right now, I’m staying put and then will branch out as it comes. We’ll see what that step is, but working with kids is definitely where I’m at. That’s been my path. It’s definitely taken me a little longer than “the norm”, but it’s been my path and I’ve done all of these things along the way. I think the license not being ready gave me an opportunity to really get experience in the field. For me, people keep saying, “Oh you’ve been in this field for ten years and you weren’t licensed…but you have all this experience,” But I think hey, I’ll take it. I have a lot of experience and now when I start looking for other jobs it’s nice to know that I have all this experience behind me and now I have the license number. I think the experience matters most. 

How would you say that your education at SOLES impacted your career goals and your career thus far?

I’ll definitely say that it prepared me, for sure. The program may have been new but they knew the community that they were opening us up to in San Diego. They knew what we were getting ourselves into--in a good way--and they taught us, based on a lot of our professors also knowing San Diego well, knowing the populations we’d be working with and the hospitals/the clinics. I’m really grateful for my opportunities with SOLES. I’m grateful California finally got their licensure. It also gave me a foot into the community I wanted to be a part of. Arizona did well but California includes its schools in its communities, not just its jobs in clinics for example. The school and the students are included in the community in San Diego as a whole, so I felt like I was part of the community when I was a graduate student, and entering the job world I already felt like I was part of something. That made it easier to transition and say, “Hey, I’m going into the job world,” which is scary but we had already been pointed in some directions and have been shown, “You can go this way and this way, but you always have the support system to fall back on.” I think that’s why I stayed in the field as long as I did, I’ve done individual therapy, I’ve done group therapy, and the only way any of this has worked is because of the teams I worked with. I’ll say it over and over again, the teams I’ve worked with, the people I’ve worked with--collaboration is the only way that we all survive in this field; reaching out to my old professors, I’m still friends with some of my cohort (they’re some of my best friends now), and keeping in touch with people was the only way we’ve been able to collaborate and help our families and the people we’ve worked with, but also stay in touch in this community. SOLES did well, it did very well. I hope students are still seeing that support because it definitely makes a difference. And I stayed in San Diego, so it hit home, I guess. 

What do you do to take care of your own mental health, especially now while we’re staying at home?

The first thing is, like I mentioned already, having a support system. I still talk to my friends often, whether it’s via Zoom, FaceTime, through text messages, through phone calls, and keeping myself sane. I have my beautiful daughter, so we’re out taking walks, we go on hikes--we have a lot of trails over here by USD that I love. I have a pup that we’re out and about with, too. I just like to reach out, I like to talk to people and that’s the way I feel supported; that’s a lot of my self-care. Also, just being a part of the therapeutic field. When we were in grad school, we were mandated to get therapy and I thought that was strange, but it’s not because we have to be supportive of others but we also need that support. I’ve had my own therapist for a while and had support and have grown as a therapist myself. Now being home, it is definitely reaching out to supports and just kind of embracing that this telehealth world is what it’s going to be. So I’m doing what I can. The big one here in the house is that we bake and we cook--a lot of baking activities. There was definitely powdered sugar and flour all over my floor the other day, but the cookies turned out really great! But that’s a lot of it; my friendships, the man in my life, and my family are the people that keep me sane and help me through a lot. Self-care, we say it still to this day; self-care, self-care, and we think I can’t do it. Yeah, you can. Whether it’s watching a movie or reading a book, the little things, or taking a moment with a glass of wine at the end of the day; nothing wrong with it! But yes, that’s how. But the people in my life have helped me maintain where I am more than anything else. I tell my families now that I’m involved with, “I practice what I preach. When I tell you, ‘You need a support system, and we’re helping you as your Wrap team build that’, I really mean it.” Because it matters.

Aside from the relationships you’ve built with your cohort, how do you remain in touch with SOLES or USD as an alumna?

I guess my main connection now is my mom. She came a few years ago as a professor in the leadership program at SOLES and she’s now part of the business school as a professor. That’s how I’ve been connecting, but I’m also living in the community. We walk through the campus or around here; I think I’ve just stayed around more than anything else. Lately, I think the past few months, there have been current students reaching out to me, since I’ve participated on student/alumni panels for the program. So that’s how I’m staying connected and keeping in touch with students and some of the previous cohorts, too.  Just keeping in touch, more than anything, through email and answering questions they may have. It’s not easy as an alum to be as active as you want to be, because you could be involved in everything, but it’s nice to still be close by and be part of the community. So that’s pretty much what I do. 

What advice would you give to a current student in the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program?

Probably a lot of advice in general, but the biggest piece of advice is, “Don’t be afraid to ask questions or ask for help.” I think sometimes we feel like we should know it all, we should be able to do everything and I’m still working on that as a clinician: asking for help and being okay with saying, “I don’t know.” I think it makes us, as my families tell me in my current job, it makes you look more human. I think sometimes for people who are supporting and helping, we look like we know everything because we’re in the position we’re in, or because we’re the clinician. It’s not true. I’m learning every day, and the only way I learn is if I ask. Even if that means you don’t necessarily ask your professor because you’re not ready to, but asking your cohort, asking your colleagues and friends and whoever else is around. As therapists we ask a lot of questions to others, but asking them to be able to grow and understand ourselves is sometimes not as easy. Ask a lot of questions and don’t be afraid of the BBS. It’s still daunting, but being okay with the unknown and understanding it’s okay to figure it out slowly. 

Do you have anything else you’d like to add?

My path may have been very different than others; everybody’s got their own. I know a lot of people who have graduated with me were licensed a very long time before me, and sometimes it’s easy to say, “Oh I should have done..,” or, “I’ve could’ve been..,” but no, my path was exactly what I needed for me. For sure. I did it the way I needed to and the way my life was supposed to be, and I’ve had more experience and more opportunities because of it. I was meant to be licensed during this time in my life, which is great. My story is unique and I love that. I love hearing everyone’s story because everybody’s got a different way. This was a great story and a great program to start with, and I definitely don’t know how it would have looked like if we were licensed right out of grad school, like it is now, but it was worth it. All of it--the grad school program, the process, the waiting (I couldn’t have told you that when I was waiting for a number and waiting for things), but it was all worth it. SOLES gave me a great education, and great professors, and great support in my life. I’m grateful. 


Amanda Gonzales
(619) 260-4539


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