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by Sylvia B. Bodell
| Counseling, Testing and Assessments, Children, Parenting

Celebrating Women’s History Month with Dr. Marisol De Jesús-Pérez

The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology, our team includes gifted women who inspire us every day.

Marisol on mission

After completing her bachelor's degree, Dr. Marisol De Jesús-Pérez (pictured in yellow), worked as a missionary with at-risk children living on the streets in the Brazilian Amazon jungle. "This gave me a passion for serving children, adolescents, and families and getting equipped to support those who have experienced psychological trauma," says Dr. De Jesús-Pérez.

March is Women's History Month. During the past few weeks, we've been reading and hearing many inspiring stories. At The Center for Integrative Counseling and Psychology, our team includes gifted women who inspire us every day.

We're proud to share the unique backstory of Dr. Marisol De Jesús-Pérez, staff psychologist. Through her work at The Center she is breaking down barriers to accessing mental health care and creating generational change for generations of women and families to come.

Tell us about your upbringing and life in Puerto Rico
I grew up in rural Puerto Rico. My house was in the mountains by a river. Our neighbors were like family. I grew up climbing trees, riding my bike with the children in my neighborhood until after dark, hiking through the forest, and jumping in the crystal-clear pools formed by the river that circled my home. My parents had little formal education and resources, but I always felt I had it all.

What are your fondest memories?
My fondest memories from childhood were those times with my family at the river or going to the beach. The ocean has always been part of my life since Puerto Rico is a very tiny island in the middle of the Caribbean.

What road led you to psychology?
I always knew I wanted to become a child psychologist. However, I took one year to do missionary work overseas after finishing college. That year I mainly worked with children at risk. This gave me a passion for serving children, adolescents, and families and getting equipped to support those who have experienced psychological trauma.

Share a bit of South America and your work there
In 2005, after completing my bachelor's degree, I joined a missionary organization that offered training to work with children at risk. I spent three months ministering to children living on the streets in the Amazon jungle (Brazil). Throughout the years, I continued partnering with several missionary organizations that offered short-term opportunities to support ministries in Haiti and Venezuela. My husband I began to organize trips in which members from multiple churches joined us in partnering with local missionaries in Venezuela to offer medical aid, psychological and spiritual nourishment, and educational support to children at risk. We primarily focused on serving the children living and working at the dump and the children among the Yukpa tribe near the Colombian-Venezuelan border.

Most challenging time as a psychologist?
Looking back on my journey helped me realize God's grace and care over me. He called me to serve as a wife, mother, psychologist, and pastor, and he is the one that opened every door. However, being obedient to his call required making enormous sacrifices for a season. The hardest part of my journey to becoming a psychologist was completing my post-doctoral fellowship at a major hospital with a three-month-old infant, while co-pastoring a church and expecting my second child. I completed all the examinations required to become a licensed clinician during this season. Without my husband and the community that surrounded my husband and me at this crucial time, we would not have been able to survive.

What have you learned during the pandemic?
I learned that we are resilient. We can effectively adapt to challenges and develop new ways to fulfill our mission. I rediscovered the power of being flexible and creative. In a matter of weeks, clinicians figured out how to continue supporting mental health in their communities, and churches figured out how to continue announcing the Good News in tangible ways. I was reminded of the power of coming together and serving one another.

What brings you joy?
Traveling with my husband and children brings me life and joy. We love the outdoors and exploring new places. I also enjoy leading worship at my church, as music is vital in my relationship with God. Finally, my husband and I enjoy opening our home to friends and family and having food, music, and (of course) lots of dancing!

What was your educational path?
I graduated Summa Cum Laude with a B.A. in Psychology and a minor in education from the University of Puerto Rico, Rio Piedras Campus and received the Psychology Department Academic Excellence Award. I was deeply involved in clinical research through the Carrier Opportunities in Research (COR) Program and became part of the team that evaluated the initial efficacy of the Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT) for Puerto Rican preschool children aged 4–6 years with significant behavior problems. The COR program gave me the opportunity of completing various research internships at institutions such as Cornell University and the Institute of Child Development affiliated with the University of Minnesota. This allowed me to present my investigation results at multiple Research Conferences at the National level and publish manuscripts.

In 2007, I moved from Puerto Rico to California shortly after getting married where I completed a master's and a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology at Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Psychology. I simultaneously completed a master's degree in Theology with a concentration in Intercultural Studies. At Fuller, I was awarded the Dunavant Scholarship for Working with Underrepresented and Underserved Populations (Latinos) in the area of Families Studies (2008-2009), The Newton and Suzanna Malony Scholarship for being from an ethnic minority and academic excellence (2009-2010), the Sheri Hawthorn Memorial Fund Committee Scholarship (2010-2011), and the School of Psychology Research Fellowship for 2010-2011 and 2011-2012.

My dissertation focused on the impact of religious coping on the experience of a violent loss among Salvadoran teachers chronically exposed to severe community violence. I completed my doctoral internship at the USC University Center for Excellence in Developmental Disabilities at Children's Hospital Los Angeles, where I specialized in Early Childhood. After completing my doctoral degree I completed a formal Post-Doctoral fellowship in Pediatric Neuropsychology at Loma Linda University.

Her work at The Center
Dr. De Jesús-Pérez provides therapy for children, adults and families. She offers counseling for parents that equips them to guide their children's behavior positively and parent with compassion. She has vast experience evaluating infants, toddlers, and preschoolers. Also, she is skilled in providing psychological assessment for children with complex medical conditions such as traumatic brain injuries, brain tumors, cancer, and craniofacial anomalies.

She derives profound meaning from working with families and children who have experienced traumatic events (sexual abuse, domestic violence, exposure to violent crimes, abrupt separation from caregivers, etc.). Serving families who deal with these circumstances gives Dr. De Jesús-Pérez the opportunity to foster resilience and empower them to flourish despite their circumstances.

Dr. De Jesús-Pérez is also certified in multiple evidenced-based treatments such as Child-Parent Psychotherapy (CPP), Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), ADIR/Floor time, Incredible Years Child (IY) and Parent Interventions, Trauma Focused-Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Cognitive Behavioral Intervention for Trauma in Schools (CBITS), and Prepare/Enrich Couples Program, and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) Therapy training.

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