Alumni Spotlight: Stefany Fuentes

June 25, 2020

MA in Counseling, Class of 2015

Since graduating from PAU’s MA Counseling Program with an MFT emphasis, Stefany Fuentes has opened Vida Counseling, which provides mental health care in-person and virtually for Spanish and English speakers of all ages. 
Fuentes, who was born in El Salvador and moved to Los Angeles at the age of five, has been interested in community service since high school when she served on the City of Pomona’s youth advisory committee. Today, that commitment remains active. She speaks to the public on a variety of topics, including parenting, work-life balance, ADHD, and trauma, and has conducted workshops with employee assistance programs, VISA, and nonprofit groups.
In this Q&A, she discusses why she chose a career in mental health, her experience as a student at PAU, and her career today.
What inspired you to pursue a career in mental health?
After high school, I initially pursued a degree in mathematics at UC Davis while working full-time as a student outreach assistant and an afterschool tutor to local children. It was during my work with children and their families when I realized my passion was helping people and I changed my major to social work with a minor in education.  
After graduation, I returned to my hometown and accepted a position as the Director of Education for the City of Pomona's Boys & Girls Club.  I enjoyed my job and was committed to helping struggling high school youth figure out their future, which inspired me to start the College Bound program. From this experience, I realized I had had an "ear" for listening and decided to pursue a graduate degree in social work or counseling.
What inspired you to pursue a degree in counseling at PAU?
After looking at several graduate schools, I chose Palo Alto University because of its quality, flexible learning program, internship opportunities, and supportive environment. Since I was working during the week, I was able to bond with my professors and classmates during our in-person weekend trainings. I liked how PAU's program had a small cohort compared to other larger graduate programs.  
Did you have any mentors in your life?
I had lots of mentors along the way. I've always reached out to people who I aspired to be like. I would map out a plan and reach out to ten people to help me get where I needed to go. I never took it personal if someone didn't respond or have the time. Eventually, someone was able to take the time—the risk of putting myself out there always paid off. 
Do you have any advice for students seeking a mentor?
My advice is to take the risk of asking people to be your mentor. If you don't feel confident, get in touch with someone you know who can help refer you to that person. 
Was there any class, internship, or person at PAU that influenced you?
There were many positive influences and experiences. One that comes to mind is Professor Baima’s course because it challenged me as a clinician. He pushed students to get out of their comfort zones and was open to hearing their different perspectives. He was very committed to PAU students and the counseling profession.
The other was Dr. Roller. She really cared for students and emphasized that it was necessary to do personal healing and practice self-care to give back as a mental health counselor. At PAU, I also had opportunities to attend professional conferences and received the first-ever Santa Clara County stipend for my internship working with underserved populations that have experienced trauma.
What inspired you to start your private practice?
Starting my private practice has always been in the back of my mind, but I thought it was vital for me to get experience in the community first. For five years, I worked as a social worker for the County of San Mateo, working with at-risk populations that included children, families, homeless women and veterans.  Watching others start their own successful practice gave me the confidence to start mine. My therapy business motto is to empower individuals of all ages and strengthen families.
Tell us about your focus on Latinx therapy?
It's difficult for Latinx people to find Spanish-speaking clinicians in private practice. Clinicians need to understand Latinx culture, rituals, and some intergenerational trauma. I need to give back in whatever way I can.
What advice would you give students and alumni on starting a private practice?
Don’t rush into private practice and get experience in the community. For me, working with the community made me feel grounded in starting my practice and figuring out what populations I wanted to serve.
A second piece of advice is to connect with your mentors and people in your community who can guide you. Start slowly and work out a system. My practice began only on weekends, then two days a week. In two months, I decided to take my private practice full time. It was a lot faster than I expected, but there was a lot of preparation beforehand. I also want to acknowledge that just because I did a lot of prep work doesn't mean I had everything in order to take the leap. I leaped with a lot of pieces missing, but that's okay.