About Me

My professional values are respect, partnership, compassion, wellness, perseverance, and social justice. Currently, I am a third-year PhD student in the Counselor Education and Supervision Program at Northern Illinois University (NIU). I earned a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Applied Psychology with High Departmental Distinction from the University of Illinois at Chicago (UIC) in 2007. I graduated from the University of Chicago with a Master of Arts Degree in Clinical Social Service Administration in 2009. I completed a certification in addictions counseling at Waubonsee Community College in 2018.  My professional background has been influenced by clinical work in multiple settings, such as foster care, elementary/high schools, shelters, an inpatient hospital, a substance use disorder intensive outpatient program, and a college counseling center.

Clinical Social Work and Addictions Counseling

I have acquired supervised experience in planning, counseling, and evaluating my clinical services to youth and adults in general. I have experience in supporting people with mood disorders, traumatic stress symptoms, addictions to substances, self-harming behaviors, and grief experiences through individual and group therapy modalities. Change occurs within therapeutic relationships grounded in unconditional positive regard, empathy, and genuineness. My approach to therapy started in client-centered practice. I facilitate a flexible, client-led exploration of thoughts, feelings, and meanings in a nonjudgmental atmosphere. Clients will direct the topics of discussion to enhance their self-determination and empowerment. When I began studying addictions counseling, I explored new empirically supported approaches to improve mental health outcomes for people with substance use disorders specifically. This exploration deepened my clinical approach, which now includes Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) to support client progress toward therapy goals.

 

Areas of Specialty

Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT)  

I completed a year-long Contextual Behavioral Therapy Fellowship at the University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration in 2018. This fellowship provided me with advanced training in Acceptance Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT). As an ACT clinician, I use language research to inform my clinical practice. According to research, people’s attempt to escape or control language and emotions tend to backfire, which produces more suffering. As people are more willing to have internal experiences, stay present-focused, and act in ways that are important to them, suffering declines. ACT is rooted in mindfulness, acceptance, and values-driven work, while enhancing people’s commitment toward acting differently inside and outside of therapy sessions. Such changes can thereby help people to create a life with more meaning and purpose. I use ACT to address General Anxiety Disorders, Social Anxiety Disorders, Obsessive Compulsive Disorders, Major Depressive Disorders, grief experiences, relationship concerns, addictive behaviors, and self-harming behaviors.

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT)

Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) is a cognitive behavioral approach to enhance flexible, dialectical thinking (synthesis of opposites) and increase behavioral coping skills. I have facilitated DBT coping skills groups for the past 4 years to address addictive behaviors and emotion regulation difficulties. I incorporate DBT into individual counseling sessions if requested by clients to strengthen coping skills, as well as respond to life demands and pain more effectively. DBT coping skills include mindfulness (staying in the present moment), distress tolerance (coping with intense, unwanted emotions without making problems worse), emotion regulation (understanding and balancing emotions with reason), and interpersonal effectiveness (learning how to ask for something or say no to a request in a way that works).

Substance Use Disorders and Addictions

I have counseled adults with mental health disorders and severe substance use disorders at New Horizons, a psychiatric inpatient and detox hospital for two years in Mamou, Louisiana. I have facilitated an Intensive Outpatient Program at Renz Addictions Counseling Center for two years. While at Renz, I used empirically supported approaches to support clients’ recovery goals, such as Motivational Interviewing, Matrix Model, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy. I have worked as a counselor specialist at NIU’s Counseling and Consultation Services for the past three years, leading the substance use disorder assessment, intervention, and education program for college students with substance use concerns. I have facilitated weekly SMART Recovery Groups with college students for the past 2 years. Substance use disorders and addictions disconnect people from themselves, community, loved ones, and purpose. Oftentimes clients with substance use disorders are coping with the emotional pain and devastating consequences that addiction has created in their lives. I will provide you with essential information needed to understand the physiological and psychological impact of substance use disorders. I will encourage you to reconnect with your motivation and values, learn safe ways to cope with triggers and cravings, and support your recovery process in a collaborative way.

Posttraumatic Stress Disorder and Trauma Experiences

I use DBT and Seeking Safety to support client’s development of safe coping skills in response to traumatic experiences. Once clients have learned ways to ground in the present moment in a safe way, I encourage the therapeutic processing of past events. I have been using Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT) as an empirically-supported, trauma-focused approach to decrease intrusion symptoms of PTSD for the past 2 years. I guide clients to identify beliefs that keep them stuck in past traumatic experiences related to relationships with self, others, and the world. I guide clients to address important themes that are powerfully impacted by traumatic experiences: safety, power/control, trust, intimacy, and self-esteem. I will encourage your development of self-compassion and affirm your resilience throughout the process.

Multiculturally Responsive Counseling

I have been a member of NIU’s Counseling and Consultation Center’s Diversity Committee for the past 3 years. I have been a facilitator of Conversations on Diversity and Equity (CODE) through NIU’s Academic Department of Equity and Inclusion for the past 2 years. I have worked as a supportive liaison to NIU students within the Latino Resource Diversity Center throughout my employment at NIU. I have trained as an ally to support people in the LGBTQIA+ and undocumented community. I believe membership to marginalized identities carries systemic, community, and individual stressors and barriers that impact emotional and mental health. I believe it is essential to validate each person’s experience of their intersecting identities, while challenging oppressive systems. I believe in supporting others in accessing their personal power and values throughout the therapy process, while modeling multicultural empathy and humility. I work to be inclusive of all persons and multicultural identity dynamics including ethnicity/race, gender identity/expression, sexual orientation, age, religion or spirituality, national origin, disability/ability, social class and socioeconomic status, or other salient identity expressions. If significant differences, such as in culture or belief system, exist between us, I will work to understand and honor those differences.

Publication

(Navarro) Hernandez, G., Salerno, J., & Bottoms, B. L. (2010). Attachment to God, religious coping, and alcohol use. International Journal for the Psychology of Religion, 20(2), 97-108.

Professional Affiliations

Association of Contextual Behavioral Science (August 2017- Present)

Chi Sigma Iota (March 2020 – Present)

Phi Kappa Phi (March 2021 – Present)

Illinois Certification Board’s Leadership Team (March 2021 – Present)