World of Play
“The best thing you can do for a child who is struggling is to be the safe place they can go to tell their story,” says Victoria Keyser '03 '11.
December 20, 2014
Victoria Keyser ’03, ’11 remembers a key moment in her life that prompted her to consider going back to college to earn her degree.
A self-proclaimed “helicopter parent,” she could not help but linger around the playground after she dropped off her only daughter, Madison, at preschool. “I would hide in the bushes,” she laughed, “to watch her on the playground.”
The covert effort worked until one of her daughter’s playmates caught her. “Teacher, I can see shoes poking out of the bushes!” the preschooler squealed. “I think it’s Maddy’s mommy.”
Keyser laughs and rolls her eyes at the memory. “On the way home, I remember thinking how my daughter was everything in my life and how, one day, she would grow into an adult and not need me so much. What would I do then? At that moment, I knew, I needed to do something for myself.”
Soon after her realization, Keyser enrolled in the University of La Verne’s Campus Accelerated Program for Adults (CAPA), where she graduated with a degree in sociology. Although she earned her bachelor’s degree, the academic milestone was only the beginning.
Since that graduation day, Keyser has pursued and earned both a master’s degree in social work from California State University San Bernardino, as well as a doctorate in Clinical Psychology from La Verne. Founder of Youtherapy Psychology Services, a nonprofit agency committed to providing psychological services for children and adolescents in La Verne, Claremont and Pomona, Keyser says she is living out her life’s dream.
“To offer top-quality services to people who perhaps would not traditionally think of going to therapy or could not afford to go is what I have always wanted to do,” she said. “And I wanted to provide them in the same type of agency environment that more privileged areas have. I knew as a student that my clients would deserve that same experience.”
One of the first people she shared this dream with was her dissertation chair, La Verne Professor of Psychology Dr. Glenn Gamst. In fact, when she was teaching as an adjunct professor at the University and working part-time at its Counseling Center after she had graduated and passed her licensure exam, it was Dr. Gamst who reminded her of what she should be doing.
“He asked me, ‘Why are you still here? You told me you were going to open an agency to help underprivileged kids and families. Cut your apron strings.’ I remember being so hurt,” she said. “It’s interesting. His one question stayed with me, and within days of that conversation, I started looking at locations.” She quickly found one in La Verne. Youtherapy is located just west of White Avenue on Foothill Boulevard.
Choosing the City of La Verne was intentional. “I love the University and all that it has given me,” she said. “Having my agency’s grand opening take place in this city is something I am very proud of accomplishing.”
Her former professor was not surprised that she chose La Verne as her nonprofit’s home. “The opening of her agency in La Verne is significant in that it reflects and combines her strong interests in helping diverse children and youth with mental health issues and the Psychology Department’s goal of giving back to our
community,” said Dr. Gamst. And giving back is simply what Keyser does. In addition to her work, she mentors six La Verne doctoral students and provides them with the opportunity to earn their required training hours working with her clients at Youtherapy.
At her agency, the therapists-in-training often utilize play therapy, where puppets and toys are used to help children express themselves. Several times a year, she volunteers her time to work with Comfort Zone Camp, a bereavement program for children who have experienced the death of a loved one. Recently, her daughter, now a junior at the University of California Santa Barbara, served as a counselor at Comfort Zone as well.
When working with children and helping them to express heavy loads of grief or stressful life experiences, Keyser shares with visiting graduate students the advice she was given by a mentor.
“The best thing you can do for a child who is struggling is to be the safe place they can go to tell their story,” she said. “Our job is to hold that story with them so they are not alone.”
For more information on Youtherapy Psychology Services, please visit youtherapy.net.