JFS and Hillel UW Welcome New Counselor for Student Counseling Program

Sheri Davis is a licensed clinical social worker with over 18 years of experience as a counselor working with adolescents, undergraduate and graduate students. For the past eight years, she has been a counselor at the UW School of Medicine providing counseling and wellness programming for medical students and Rehab Medicine graduate students. She has her BA in Psychology from the University of Southern California and her Masters in Social Work from the University of Washington.

Now, she is the brand-new counselor for the Hillel Counseling Program, a joint project of Hillel UW and Jewish Family Service that serves Jewish undergraduate and graduate students. We caught up with Sheri about her career, her approach to therapy, her personal interests and what brought her to this unique partnership.

What brought you to this partnership between JFS and Hillel? Can you explain a little about your professional background?

I learned about this partnership between JFS and Hillel from the previous Hillel counselor who is a friend of mine. As a longtime Seattleite, I know the essential role that both organizations play in our community and realized that my professional (and personal) background made me a perfect fit for this position. Throughout my career I have worked with teens and young adults providing counseling and outreach/prevention services, and I am committed to helping young people navigate life transitions and build resiliency. Most recently, I worked as a counselor for medical students at the University of Washington. I valued the opportunity to build long-term counseling relationships with students and enjoyed planning wellness programs – we brought in therapy dogs, offered mindfulness meditation and yoga, planned self-defense classes, and organized special family events for medical students who had children. Another important part of my professional background was my work at Youth Eastside Services in Bellevue, providing clinical services in our sexual abuse and general counseling programs and providing outreach in our teen dating violence prevention program. I also have a strong Jewish background with personal connections across the Reform, Conservative and Orthodox communities.

What have you learned in your extensive mental health background about supporting teens and young adults?

Connection and nonjudgmental support are critical – adolescence and moving into adulthood can be a lonely time (especially during COVID) but also a time for growth and opportunity. Thankfully some of the stigma in accessing mental health services has decreased in the past few years, but it is so important to reduce barriers for young adults to seek mental health support and treatment. There is so much pressure on teens and young adults to know what they want to do in their life or what they want to study in college – even before they start school! I have learned that it is so important for young adults to know that it is ok to “fail.” Hearing about how older adults in their lives (professors, mentors, parents, etc.) have bounced back from failures or setbacks can help young people build resiliency.

What are you most looking forward to in your new role? 

I am looking forward to being immersed in the Jewish community – I already appreciate hearing “Shabbat Shalom” and “Shana Tovah” from colleagues and students. While I truly enjoy working with graduate students, I am excited to connect with undergraduate students in this role as well and to be part of the Hillel community. Also, I am excited to be part of a strong and compassionate clinical team at JFS and to collaborate with all my JFS colleagues.

What are some of the unique needs that Jewish college students and young adults may face when it comes to mental health?

Jewish college students and young adults have some unique needs that may impact their mental health and being able to meet with a Jewish counselor can be a valuable part of their support system. With anti-Semitism on the rise in our country and on college campuses, it is important for Jewish students to have somewhere to go to share their fears and stressors. Jewish students may need a space to process their experience with historical trauma as well. For college students and young adults, identity issues and relationship issues often can lead to increased anxiety or depression. Jewish students may be navigating an interfaith relationship and worried about their parents’ reaction, or experiencing their first serious relationship, or trying to explore their sexual orientation/gender identity – it can be helpful to explore these issues through a Jewish lens.

In your own words, what are three things that define your approach to counseling? 

First, the relationship between a therapist and the client is the most important part of counseling – a client needs to feel safe and trust is essential. My approach to counseling focuses on a client’s strengths and acknowledges what they are already doing well, while also listening to and validating the painful experiences in their lives. I work with clients to recognize and embrace their emotions, share their stories, and gain clarity to take steps toward their goals. I believe in the value of developing a mindfulness practice and practicing self-compassion – it is so important for us to be kind to ourselves! 

What can students expect during a session with you? 

Students can expect a warm and collaborative interaction with me during a session and we will take time to build a safe space. For now, I am meeting with students by Zoom and I have found that counseling can be very effective even if it is remote. Throughout a session, the student and I will work together to identify steps they can take to increase awareness and create the changes they would like to make in their life. I work with clients to notice the positive things that happen throughout their day, in addition to talking about the challenges they are currently experiencing. I also may share resources with a student to add to their toolkit to handle life stressors. 

Anything personal that you want to add, like hobbies outside of work? 

I love going to music festivals and hope to get back to the ACL Music Festival again in Austin soon – I was there a year ago soaking up the sun, spending time with friends and taking in the amazing performances. I love to go on long walks with friends, and I enjoy spending time with my two daughters who inspire me every day.

Hillel UW was the first Hillel in the country to offer a counseling program to serve Jewish undergraduate and graduate students. To set up an initial counseling session, or if you have questions about the Hillel counseling program, please email Sheri at counselor@hilleluw.org. You can also visit the website and learn more about the program at https://www.hilleluw.org/counseling/. The Hillel Counseling Program is a joint project of Hillel UW and Jewish Family Service.

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