Forensic Student Helps Troubled Youth and Their Families


TCSPP-L.A. clinical forensic psychology student Michelle Garcia says the professional hands-on training she’s receiving through Los Angeles County’s Vital Intervention and Directional Alternatives (VIDA) program—a community partnership established by Chicago School Forensic Psychology professor, Dr. Clive Kennedy – has been “enlightening.”

A structured 16-week program for non-violent, at-risk youth, VIDA curriculum was designed through the collaboration of the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department and Chicago School students to cover topics ranging from appropriate personal health and hygiene to avoiding negative peer groups. Participants attend classes to learn effective decision-making skills and are encouraged to take responsibility for their futures. The initiative provides Michelle an opportunity to work with parent and guardian psychotherapy groups to help adults target family issues and rebuild damaged relationships with their children–an opportunity that has taught her as much about herself as about the families.

She recalls a heated discussion with a parent who felt defeated by her daughter’s behavior and wanted to give up parental custody. “I instantly jumped to the child’s defense based on my preconceived biases towards the family dynamic,” says Michelle. “However, I eventually realized that this parent was ‘screaming for help,’ and needed my assistance in rebuilding the relationship. I wasn’t helping by placing blame on her.” 

Michelle’s interactions with parents taught her to build empathy toward adults and to listen without personal bias during crisis intervention before passing judgment. By the time she transitioned into her current role as an adolescent counselor she possessed critical group-management skills and was confident applying those skills during disorderly therapy sessions.

Michelle says her experience at VIDA is rewarding and even inspired the subject matter for her dissertation research—measuring empathy of children with behavioral issues. “My next step before graduation is to intern at the juvenile drug court system in Orange County, but I will continue to be a liaison at VIDA,” says Michelle. “Working at VIDA has allowed me to grow personally and professionally.

Explore our doctoral clinical forensic psychology program.