Student Spotlight: Where Healing Meets Imagination
For Paola Sofia Daher Solis, working with children goes beyond just a vocation. It is her “gift in life,” a field she has been involved in for more than 20 years.
She started as a behavioral therapist, applying programs for children on the autism spectrum in Montreal, Canada. But when she moved to the United States she felt like the work she was able to perform with only her bachelor’s degree was very limited.
“Without a master’s, you cannot be a therapist here,” said Daher Solis. “You could offer some therapy, but you would have to call yourself a coach. You would not be part of the Board of Behavioral Sciences, which ensures the quality of the therapy offered by professionals.”
Daher Solis is now following her own path by pursuing a master’s degree at San Diego State University, where she found a program that paired with her aspirations in clinical psychology — the Master of Science in Child Development with a Concentration in Early Childhood Mental Health (LPCC).
“It was not enough just having a degree — my dream is to put up my own place where I can do expressive art for children and for parents,” she said.
Through expressive arts therapy, Daher Solis has found a safe recreational outlet in which her imagination takes control of the moment. “Expressive Arts Therapy is a way to access the realm of imagination to heal,” she said. “It is beauty and discovery; it is a conversation between therapist, client and art.”
Daher Solis is part of Finest City Improv, a theater in Hillcrest that hosts comedy shows, and every Saturday she hosts an improv show called Found Family. Daher Solis says this is where her purpose meets her passion.
“Nothing else matters in that hour. I am fully present and connected with others,” she said. “It’s really therapeutic, it keeps us healthy — my stress is much more manageable because of improv.”
Daher Solis is in charge of training and coaching another improv group called Over The Wall that presents a show fully in Spanish. Its goal is to make native English speakers familiarize themselves with the experience of non-English speakers in the United States.
“We understand their experience, but it is hard for them to understand our experience — they are Latinos for 30 minutes,” she said. “This team is a full statement. We say ‘We are here, we exist, we speak Spanish.’”
Daher Solis grew up in Monterrey, Mexico, where she got her psychology degree at the Universidad Regiomontana. At the age of 25, she moved to Canada, where she resided for nearly 10 years and attended the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM) where she enrolled in graduate school to pursue her degree in behavioral intervention. Once she moved to San Diego she attended the Expressive Arts Therapy Institute, where she experienced her first instances with expressive therapies, and got her diploma in expressive arts therapy.
When Daher Solis moved to the United States at the age of 32 she did not speak any English. She had a baby and did not have the extra time to attend school just to learn the language, but her curiosity led her to try a free improv sample class and “got obsessed with it,” she said. She completed the one-year program, where she learned most of her English, and after that she auditioned for the improv theater group.
That was eight years ago.
Now, Daher Solis is committed to the LPCC program, a program that she feels “very proud” to be part of, but navigating her journey as a mother and a student can be “intense.” Through prioritization, organization and doubling on the things that keep her healthy such as the improv, she has found the key to persistence and resilience.
She is on track to graduate from the program in Spring 2024 and is currently completing her internship hours at Palomar Family Counseling, where she treats clients, goes to schools and does prevention, and deals with parenting groups and individual kids. She will continue pursuing her passion and purpose once she graduates.
“All my life I have worked with children,” said Daher Solis. “I feel that by working with autism, I have developed a connection with them. That is my gift in life — connecting with children.”