Psychology alumna counsels patients and supports future therapists

Psychology alumna counsels patients and supports future therapists

Psychology alumna counsels patients and supports future therapists


Ashley Stevenson, Faces of UDC

As a seventh grader, Ashley Peterson suffered from undiagnosed ADHD and hypersensitivity to light and sound. But it was the advocacy of her mother and a school counselor that turned her life around. Today, she is helping others as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), specializing in psychotherapy.

Peterson (‘14) received her master’s degree in mental health counseling from UDC and a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Hampton University. Her mother graduated from UDC with a master’s in speech pathology and encouraged Peterson to pursue a degree at UDC because of her positive experience.

“I was looking at all of the schools in the area and my mother told me about her experience at UDC,” Peterson said. “Coming from Hampton University and having Black professors, I knew how important it is to feel seen. It was also helpful having the experience with other Black professionals. It was a very encouraging environment.”

Peterson’s personal struggle impacted her learning style and behavior in middle school until a school counselor worked with her to identify her needs and adjusted in her learning environment.

“I had an amazing school counselor in middle school who always made space for me and my issues that were mostly my behavior,” Peterson said. “He advocated for me and didn’t allow me to fall through the cracks. Having someone to provide a space made me want to provide space for other people.”

That support planted the seed to pursue a career in counseling. But it wasn’t until Peterson came to UDC that she found her academic stride and voice.

“I had never been a straight A student until my graduate program,” she said. “It was challenging and informative and I learned so much about myself and how I can learn. It’s where I became confident. I was so connected and excited about all my coursework.”

She added that it was UDC’s small class sizes and supportive faculty that provided the foundation for her to dig deeper and to excel.

While at UDC, Peterson was a graduate assistant and a member of the Chi Sigma Iota Honor Society. She can be credited with restarting the Counseling Club, which brought together students to discuss counseling topics, techniques, career options and the challenges of the field. Peterson served as the club’s president for two years and worked full-time in DC as a case manager to help the unhoused with untreated mental health disorders.

“It was definitely challenging because there were a lot of mental health issues,” she said. “I also needed to be available for class two to three times a week. My graduate assistantship helped me to get to know my professors.”

All her hard work paid off. She began her practice in 2019, Ashley Peterson Counseling Services, which currently has a waiting list. Based in Alexandria, Peterson is licensed in Virginia and DC.

Peterson treats patients with conditions including anxiety, behavior, adolescent and Millennial issues, depression, trauma recovery, couple and family issues, as well as stress.

Her clinical training includes Multicultural Therapy, Cognitive Behavior Therapy, Psychodynamic Therapy, Rational Emotive Behavioral Therapy and the practice of Mindfulness and Holistic Healings. Ashley’s electric view of therapy involves treating the clients entire being while combining different modalities and treatments to best aid in recovery and healing. Her experience as a clinical therapist includes trauma recovery, family therapy and couples therapy, and working with children, adults and seniors.

“As a therapist, it’s a long game,” Peterson said. “You don’t always know that you are reaching them. It’s nice when you can help them achieve their goals and provide a safe space. It’s rewarding when I’ve had clients who send me emails saying that they had a good day and are proud of themselves. I just love it.”

She also has a special affinity for working with millennials, couples, people with ADHD and bipolar disorders. Peterson enjoys tackling anything with a “bad rap” and helping clients to find clarity through psycho education and finding a level of acceptance. Peterson said she enjoys giving her clients the tools to live their best lives through motivation, support and empowerment. Her clients range from five to 50.

Peterson provides therapy and clinical supervision for two staffers who are working on their license. Her experience at UDC encouraged her to want to support other students who are working to gain experience hours as they prepare for their licensing exam.

“I’m interested in teaching at some point,” Peterson said. “I know that graduate school can be challenging when you are new. I wanted my practice to be a safe place for therapist to learn and ask questions. There are many ways to serve and help people.”

Peterson recently opened her doors to training interns and signed a contract with Hood College in Frederick, Md. to place students with her. She wanted to offer a positive place to put their education into practice.

“I don’t think trauma has to be part of your educational journey,” Peterson said. “I want their experience to be at a place without so much judgment.”