Each year, our counseling psychology students spread out across the Greater Seattle Area—and in some cases, the world—to intern at a variety of organizations. It’s one of the first opportunities for students to step into their future vocation.
We recently sat down with Danielle Castillejo, a current intern with REST: Real Escape from the Sex Trade in South Seattle. She talked with us about her journey to becoming a therapist, how she balances graduate school and raising a family, and the deeply impactful work she encounters during her internship at REST.
What initially drew you to attend The Seattle School?
I had actually gone through a really hard time in my life and was experiencing some PTSD symptoms, so I began therapy. Over the course of two years I met with my therapist regularly, and one day she handed me a book called A Shining Affliction. I took it home and read it in one day. the story of Annie Rogers and her process of dealing with her own heartache, pain, and trauma as she’s becoming a psychologist. I walked back into my therapist’s office the next week, and I said, “I want to do this. You’ve done great work with me, I want to offer this to someone else.” My therapist was connected to The Seattle school, and the way she worked with me was with such kindness and honor, and really challenged me to look at hard spaces in my life. t I thought, “Well, that’s what I want to do” So, I applied to The Seattle school.
In what ways has your story impacted, shaped, or inspired your studies?
I’ve learned that it’s so important to know who I am and where I’ve come from. Not just the trauma stories of my life, but the ethnic identity I have and how that impacts me. I am half German and I’m half Mexican. How do those things come together? I have found that they do come together and influence the way I think, and the way I raise my family. Being at the school has helped me unpack those things, and I’m able to bring it home. Not just to clients or into a work setting, but I’m bringing it home to my family by asking new questions with my husband, and my friends, and my community.
How have you been able to balance attending graduate school, having an internship, and your family?
A lot of people ask me, “Danielle, how do you do it?” And usually, I don’t want to answer. I think of it as a continuum. There are periods and seasons in life where we have something that we’re able to do more than we’re able to do other things. So, I am not able to do this without the support of my husband and friends and a couple of women that have mentored me through the process. It looks like asking for help a lot. It looks like I can’t make a meal every night, so maybe we need to add in the budget an aspect where we’re able to eat out. Or it looks like calling on friends to say, “Can you pick up my kids from school today?” It looks like taking time out of my schedule to coach my son’s basketball team, but since I can’t be there every night, I have to ask someone to help me out. At this time in my life, in different semesters even, the continuum shifts. Sometimes I’m able to be more present at home and activities, and other times I have to be less present.
What breaks your heart and how are your studies informed by that kind of shattering?
The things that break my heart are spaces where truth isn’t welcome. Spaces where kindness isn’t welcome. Spaces where certain bodies aren’t welcome. Different colors of people aren’t welcome. Different ethnicities aren’t welcome. Spaces where the gospel is only seen through one lens, and it’s not a lens that includes people of color. I think that I highlight that, particularly because my family is a multicultural, multiethnic family. My husband is a Mexican immigrant, a U.S. Citizen and we have four children. It’s important to me to find spaces where there’s belonging. I think a lot of my clients are looking for spaces to belong to as well. And that breaks my heart.
Can you describe your current internship, including your title and daily activities?
The title at my internship at REST is Survivor Engagement Specialist and intern. On Mondays, I lead a support group for survivors of the sex trade. It’ s an open group, members shift every week, but once the doors are shut, that’s our group. Prior to the group space, I’m engaging with clients, meeting with them one on one. We sit down and have a cup of coffee or a cup of tea and talk. There’s a wide variety of ways to engage clients—it’s not your typical office setting. So, I do that for a few hours, lead the group for about an hour, hour and a half, and then afterward debrief with coworkers, supervisor, and start the cleanup.
On Wednesdays, we have something called the Integrative Health Clinic and I intern in that space. There are two trauma therapists: myself and a medical advocate. A client can make an appointment for a half-hour and come, sit at the table with us, and share mental health concerns and physical concerns. Sometimes we have a faith friend there. “You want to explore faith issues? You can go do that.” It’s a way to brainstorm practical support for needs.
At The Seattle School, counseling psychology interns can choose their internship site. Why did you choose REST?
I believe in what REST is doing. One of the things they say on their website is “Everybody deserves to be loved.” And I believe that. I’m passionate about seeing people that have experienced the sex trade, and human trafficking, if that’s what they want is to leave, and joining them on the path towards freedom and healing. I have wonderful coworkers, people who love the clients, and it’s an opportunity to work in a place that isn’t setting up walls and barriers for care—we’re actually brainstorming ways to take down barriers to access care. at.
I’ve had a couple of clients be able to move forward and get an ID card and pursue housing and make small steps towards changing their situation. I’ve been inspired by a client who doesn’t have a telephone, but showed up just to let me know “I can’t actually meet with you today.”
Can you talk about the importance of transforming relationships at your internship with REST?
The clients are always watching. They’re observing. They want to know if you’re genuine, if you’re real. They want to know if you’re going to deliver on what you say you’re going to deliver. A relationship is key. If there’s no relationship, there’s going to be no movement. There needs to be a sense of, I can wait with this client through traumatic response, through my own heartache, through the goodness we experienced before, I see this as practice—the art of building attachment and relationship is practice. I don’t see the missed appointments, as I’m disappointed. I’m sad, but they’re not the end. I see it as “Okay, you missed our appointment? That’s one miss out of the way. That means we’re that much closer to you showing up the next time.”
How has your time at The Seattle School prepared you for this internship?
I had a lot of anxiety growing up, and I think without the experience of diving into my story and doing personal work, working on attachment all of these things, the process of becoming aware, the process of knowing more about who I am, has prepared me to step into environments where there aren’t necessarily barriers and containment. Without that, I’m not sure I could have stepped in and stayed grounded. The process of knowing my story, the process of putting in hard work on my own at the same time, has moved me into places where I am better prepared to handle the stories of clients.
What are your hopes, dreams, and desires as they relate to your future vocation?
When I think of life after The Seattle School and graduation, I feel a great sense of grief. What am I going to be missing? Who will I not see? And, I have this awesome sense of excitement, like I’m starting off on another voyage. Some of my hopes are to continue working in the community, and in community mental health, and also open up a private practice. I really want to have a sense of the Integrative Health Clinic that I work with at REST and bring something like that to my area. I love my clients at REST. I’m not ready to leave them yet. So after I graduate I hope to stay connected and. I hope to stay involved. I hope to work in some capacity with survivors that have experienced the sex trade. I really love that aspect and the diversity of the work. like to work with clients from a variety of backgrounds. I speak Spanish, so I’m hoping to use some of these skills in a multicultural dimension.
Looking back, what advice would you offer to prospective or first-year MACP students?
Do your work. Show up to Listening Lab, and participate. Get into therapy, connect with a therapist, and show up for those appointments. And don’t look too far ahead. Be present right in the moment. Then, when you start moving forward, allow yourself to dream. Allow yourself to think, “Where would I want to intern? What population am I dreaming about working with?” Grab your resume, take it with you to the internship fair, and pass it out to people you think “I’m not even interested in that,” because you don’t know who you might connect with. Sometimes we have, in our mind, a certain idea or a certain place we think we need to be. If we eliminate another option, we’ve eliminated our imagination for that.