Alumni Profile: Sarina Sechrist University of Pittsburgh School of Health and Rehabilitation Sciences


Sarina Sechrist (MS '15)


Licensed Therapist

SHRS Program Attended:

Clinical Rehabilitation and Mental Health Counseling

Q: What initially got you interested in Pitt's Counseling program?

Sarina: I met with my advisor when I was an undergrad and I was leaning towards the hard sciences. I knew I wanted to do something science-related, but I also really liked working with people, so she suggested that I try out a class in the counselling graduate program. I took the Introduction into Rehabilitation Counseling graduate course my senior year, and Dr. Michael McCue, program director and professor, outlined what the master's program entailed, and it sounded awesome. Through the program he became a mentor for me.

Q: What are you doing now?

Sarina: I'm actually just changing jobs. For the past three years I’ve been working at a non-profit that placed counselors in the public school system here in Miami. I was only working at one school, but I did group counseling with the kids. I had about a hundred kids I worked with doing psychoeducational and therapeutic counseling services. That’s what I’d been doing as I was getting my licensure hours. Now that I'm licensed, I’m about to start as a licensed therapist at a community health center. I also recently started seeing clients at a private practice. I did that originally because I was working with kids, and it was enjoyable but I kind of missed working with adults where I could utilize hard counseling skills. With the kids, it was a lot more psychoeducational, so I started at the private practice part-time to fine-tune those skills again because I felt like I wasn't really getting a chance to use them with the kids as much.

Q: Do you find it rewarding to work with clients across the lifespan?

Sarina: Yes, working with the kids is amazing because, there is such a need. The school I worked in was in a low-income neighborhood, mainly first-generation American population, a lot of my kids didn't speak English, and so I had to use Spanish a lot. I had such a good relationship with the teachers. When there were issues, instead of sending students to the in-school suspension room, they would send them to me because it was more productive for both the student and the teacher. I got to actually address the issues. To see the kids improving -- their grades, their attendance -- that in and of itself is so rewarding.

With the adults, it is a very different kind of rewarding. I'm using different skills and having conversations with them that I can't with adolescents. That's much more of an intrinsic motivation because I feel really challenged. I'm able to call on theories and methods and techniques.

Q: What sort of wider impact do you hope that your work has?

Sarina: I hope that I'm able to encourage the people that I'm working with to help themselves. I want clients that I work with to truly not need my services anymore because they are empowered and have learned how to take control of their own problems and find their own solutions.

Q: Do you feel like Pitt's Counseling program prepared you for the work you are now doing?

Sarina: Yes, the program really did. I can't sing its praises enough. It really gave me the skills to feel confident in what I'm doing and competent as well. One thing I remember, in the first counseling class, we had to do mock counseling tapes. I was so nervous! But the critiques that I got -- I took those with me and used them to fine-tune my work when I'm with real clients. So, that was really helpful and I remember the things they said I could improve on.

I can't stress enough how much the program has really prepared me. I became the training coordinator after a year at my job even though there were tons of people who were there longer than me, and it was because Pitt did such a good job.
One thing we focused on was knowing what is ethical and what is not—really know what is professional. Especially, when you move to different states and each state has different rules but there are still hard ethical guidelines, and I think Pitt did a really good job of encouraging students to stand up when something wasn't right and follow the ethics of the profession. It's that kind of integrity that that the program instilled in us.

Q: Outside of work, tell us what else you're passionate about.

Sarina: Being that I'm in a tropical area, I love doing everything outdoors. That's one of the reasons I moved to Miami. I love the weather and the environment. I'm at the beach all the time.

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Photos provided by Sarina Sechrist

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