Social sciences faculty member prepares students to affect lives
University of Phoenix instructor Sherrie Segovia, who holds a doctorate in psychology, says the decision to study psychology, counseling or human services — what she calls “the helping professions” — is often deeply personal.
A clinical psychologist with more than 30 years of experience, Segovia specializes in treating and supporting families who suffer from emotional trauma related to substance abuse, domestic violence and mental illness.
Stressing that she grappled with some of these issues growing up, Segovia notes, “It’s not uncommon for people in human services to have those experiences.”
She says her own childhood helps her empathize with the families she treats in downtown Los Angeles, as well as provides guidance to her students in the psychology program and human services program at the University of Phoenix Southern California Campus.
In her clinical work, Segovia and her staff conduct home visits and counsel families recovering from violence and substance abuse. Segovia’s clinic also offers classes in anger management, parenting, yoga and English as a second language.
She believes her work with this population translates well to her classroom at the University, where many of her students come from poor backgrounds and have survived violence themselves.
“I have students who have served in Iraq and Afghanistan [and had post-traumatic stress disorder],” she says. “I have students who have, themselves, endured poverty, who had kids young, who are going to school while also going through many personal challenges. I empathize with them. But I also expect them to succeed.”
Segovia brings her professional experience into her lessons.
“One of the points I emphasize to students is to always remember not to make their work helping others personal,” she says. “I share with them about how the client’s issues can trigger their own emotional [trauma], which requires setting boundaries. I tell them that you will have some failures, and that’s part of the work.”
She notes that many of her own clinical clients have been ordered into treatment by courts, which can make them reluctant to accept help.
“I tell students that they will encounter this sort of challenge in their work, and prepare them for it,” Segovia says. “There’s a high propensity for burnout, so you have to protect yourself.” She also spends time developing her students’ written and verbal communication skills, as well as their professional ethics.
“How you present yourself to clients and employers is important,” Segovia stresses. She helps students write effective cover letters and professional resumés, and teaches networking techniques, such as how to find work in the complex social services bureaucracy and how to research prospective employers before seeking jobs.
Segovia notes that many of her students already work in human services as administrative support staff, and she encourages them to talk in class about the day-to-day stresses of the field. “They are often the experts in the room,” she observes.
She uses her professional connections to offer students volunteer and internship opportunities doing professional-level work at a Los Angeles-area social services agency that specializes in treating survivors of bullying and sexual violence.
Segovia believes her most important role is preparing students for the challenges of helping others. “You can make a significant impact on society … and bring about positive change in peoples’ lives,” she says. “And that is very rewarding.”