SOLES Alumna Spotlight: Alejandra Chayet '15 (MA), Clinical Mental Health Counseling

Alejandra Chayet
begin quoteIts hard not to stay connected to such a prestigious & well-recognized program, especially if youre going to stay in San Diego, since it offers such a diverse & supportive network filled with resources to share with one another.

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

I did my undergrad in education, and I had always planned to be a Special Education teacher. I always knew I would pursue a graduate degree, but I thought it would be in education. My journey took a turn when I was doing an internship in a special education classroom. I learned that I was very drawn to the emotional one-on-one connection that I was building with the students either during recess time or after school. I wanted to get into a program that would give me the platform to connect with that population one-on-one, verses in an academic setting with a big classroom. I felt like I had a skillset that allowed me to connect with these families and students on an emotional level, so I wanted to use that. 

I chose to do the Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at SOLES. What stood out to me about this program, because it was three years instead of two, was that I felt that there was much more coursework that was focused on clinical diagnosis, assessment, and individual treatment. And that’s what I really liked about it.

What was your favorite class at SOLES?

I had quite a few, but the one that impacted me the most was called Advanced Human Sexuality at the time, and now it’s called Couples and Sexuality. This is the class that I teach at SOLES. The class was very inspirational. I had an instructor that was really supportive of me wanting that to be my specialty. From there, I took off in research within women’s sexual health, sexual function and dysfunction, and that’s where I ultimately ended up confirming my specialization. Now I’m a certified sex therapist.

Who was your favorite professor at SOLES?

While all of the staff at USD was wonderful and I have nothing but gratitude for all of their contributions to my professional and personal development, Gina Bongiorno and Dr. Ronn Johnson without a doubt had an incredibly significant, direct impact on my academic and professional development. They really supported my development at SOLES on a personal level and I know without a doubt that I would not be where I am today without their support. Dr. Johnson really encouraged me to explore my passion for womens’ health and sexuality through research from the very beginning, and even though I knew nothing about research at all, he gave me the confidence to start developing and presenting my research at conferences. He believed in me, and this pushed me to believe in myself. Gina Bongiorno was my Advanced Human Sexuality professor, and her support for my passion was another turning point for me. Her knowledge and expertise, paired with her incredible patience, guidance, and kindness is something that I will forever be grateful for. She encouraged me to apply to the PhD in Human Sexuality that I am pursuing now. Thanks to her, I was also able to re-visit my passion for teaching. If it was not for her kindness and belief in my potential, I would never have had the confidence to apply to my PhD program or begin teaching at SOLES. I have so much to be thankful to her for.

How did you complete the global studies requirement?

I went to Bali, which was a really life-changing and awesome experience. It was for my Risk Assessment course with Dr. Ronn Johnson. Several of us went together and it was really, really nice. We went to different places in the communities around the town that we were staying in, which was Ubud. We got to talk with them about how they deal with mental health risk factors and what kinds of things come up. It was an amazing opportunity to learn about a different culture; how they deal with mental health is very different than in the western world. We diagnose and place a label on everything and put things into categories here, whereas there it’s a little different. The way they talk about mental health, and advocacy, and trauma is different; and a lot of it is because there is overlap within the religious beliefs and traditional views on family and culture, karma and the aftermath. It was an interesting perspective to gain, and certainly a lot of differences from how we’re trained.

Where you involved on campus with any student organizations or in other ways?

I was a SOLES Student Ambassador, representing the CMHC program, and also a mentor in the CMHC program. I was also part of the Chi Sigma Iota honors society. I was really active in the research with my advisor, so that was really where I was dedicating a lot of my time. I spent quite a bit of time presenting my research for sexual health and wellness, and that was really my focus. When I confirmed that that was where I wanted to go with my future and my career, I really wanted to take advantage of all of the access that I had to such supportive resources and professors; this is one of the greatest opportunities SOLES offers its’ students.

Where was your favorite place on campus?

This past spring semester, I was teaching in Camino Hall. I taught at 4 p.m., so at the time I was getting a really nice sunset coming in and out of teaching. That was really nice. I love where SOLES is and I wasn’t too far with Camino Hall, but it gave me a little bit higher up view. I feel like we’re really fortunate to have such a nice campus, such a nice aesthetic, and nature around us.

What is your favorite memory from your time as a student at SOLES?

What sticks out to me is that I always felt really supported. I felt like there was a strong sense of community with my peers in the program, also with the professors and the folks that were ahead of me in the program. I never felt isolated, or intimidated to ask questions, or to ask for further support. That was a really great piece to have as I was challenging myself academically. There was the challenge for you to go further academically, but also knowing that they were there to support you if you did need anything. I found that to be super valuable. Once I got my first job out of the program, I felt that the SOLES program had prepared me very, very well compared to a lot of folks that I was in contact with in similar programs. I felt that all of my skills were very developed in terms of my preparation.

Tell us about your journey since graduating from SOLES.

The confirmation that I wanted to be a sex therapist and pursue sexual health and wellness happened during the program. During my time at USD, Dr. Johnson advised me to think about where I wanted to be in five or ten years, and then backtrack to see what I needed to do to get there. I always played with the idea of getting my doctorate, but I was also so hungry and eager for the clinical experience. I ultimately decided that I wanted to pursue my licensure right away so that I could have my license, and put my thoughts about my doctorate on the back burner.

After graduating, I was hired at Rady Children’s Hospital at the outpatient psychiatry clinic in Oceanside. I was there two years and finished most of my clinical hours there. You have to complete over 3,000 hours in clinical work before you can sit for your exams to become a licensed therapist. So it was really a priority for me to be somewhere that you can get those hours and experience; I was happy to do my hours at Radys. I knew that I would eventually have to be in private practice to be able to pursue sex therapy because there isn’t really a big clinic in San Diego that provide that type of work. So I went to Radys, (which was a great fit because I have a background in teaching elementary school and love working with children), got most of my hours, and then I ended up applying and getting accepted to the doctorate program that I’m in now, which is a PhD in Human Sexuality at CIIS  (California Institute of Integral Studies) in San Francisco. I had to make the decision to leave Radys in order to pursue the PhD. It was really just a conflict in hours and time. It was a hybrid program in San Francisco and I had to go to San Francisco once a month, Thursday through Sunday, and it was too high a pace to keep a full time job at Radys. Ultimately, it was the push to get me to start private practice.

I started my PhD and I finished the rest of my hours under a supervisor in private practice. That person served as an amazing business and private practice mentor for me, to teach me the ropes in how private practice works, which was incredibly helpful since we don’t really get classes on business in our clinical master’s degree program. From there, I took my exams and got licensed, and then launched my own business with my private practice. Now I’m in dissertation for my PhD, teaching, and doing my private practice. I’m thinking in about two years or so, I’ll obtain my doctorate. It’s great because I’ve continued, in a lot of ways, on the same path from the research that I started while I was at USD, just further developed and has become a bit narrower. My dissertation will be on looking at the impact of self-compassion on female sexual dysfunction.

What do you do to take care of your own mental health?

I think it’s super important because as therapists, we are not unique in that we don’t need help and support too, we are not robots. We still need the self-care, especially during these very unique times. I like to run, to do yoga, and pilates; that’s a huge source of stability in my life and it gives me a lot of peace. I take my role in self-care really seriously and I consider it part of my job as a therapist because if I’m not taking care of myself, then I can’t show up and serve my clients to the best of my ability. I also have a puppy, so that gets me out of the house and walking a lot. The goal is to make her a therapy dog to have in my private practice.

How do you remain in touch with SOLES as an alumna?            

I have a few peers from my cohort that I am still really close with and keep in touch with. We’re really supportive of each other’s careers and where we’re going. I love it because we really feel that there is room for everybody to grow. It’s not a competition, it’s not who can go further. It’s how do we support one another to getting to where we want to go? That’s been really special to have that and to share those wins with one another. As an adjunct professor, I still have connections with the wonderful leadership and other professors at SOLES too, who have been incredibly supportive of my professional development, as well as Gina Bongiorno and Dr. Johnson. I’m still in contact with several students from across the years, too. I love to keep my door open to students even after the semester ends, especially in providing resources for those working with the Spanish speaking populations, since I’m a bilingual therapist and I identify as Mexican. Sometimes those students that may not have that support in their supervision or other areas of their professional development might reach out to me later on, and I’m always happy to connect with them.

I feel like it’s hard not to stay connected to such a prestigious and well-recognized program, especially if you’re going to stay and develop your career in San Diego, since it offers such a diverse and supportive network filled with resources to share with one another.

What advice would you give to a current student in the CMHC program?

There are so many resources in the program that often get overlooked, or people don’t use them. Everyone that is there wants to help and wants to be supportive. I would say to look for those opportunities to be involved, whether it’s research, or mentoring, or teaching, whatever it might be; to look out for those opportunities. You have nothing to lose in pursuing those, other than someone saying no; and that’s not a dead end, either. There may be someone else that has an opportunity. I’ve always been really grateful for everybody that has contributed to my journey and has been supportive of where I’ve gone. So one: make use of the resources that are available at SOLES. And two: always be grateful for everyone that has an impact on your journey. And express that gratitude; that’s always been something at the forefront of my mind because I didn’t get to where I am on my own, and I always remember that.

Also, keeping in touch with the people that you develop a strong connection with in the program because you never know when your paths will cross again. The mental health community in San Diego is quite small, so you end up crossing paths with a lot of folks that you may have met in your graduate studies. It can be a really positive thing if you use those opportunities wisely and you bring that kindness and curiosity to all of your experiences.

Contact:

Amanda Gonzales
amanda@sandiego.edu
(619) 260-4539

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