As a self-professed "Geek Therapist," Vanessa Hintz, PsyD, has developed unique ways of connecting with her clients.
Hintz, an assistant professor in Alverno’s graduate psychology program, heads her own counseling practice through Cornerstone Counseling Services. There, she works with children, teens, and adults who struggle with trauma, and emotional regulations.
Not only does incorporating elements from pop culture into her practice help her bond and build trust with her clients, but it’s also how she helps them heal. From referencing characters like King T’Challa of Black Panther to heroes and vigilantes who have stood the test of time like Superman and Batman, this strategy has proven effective in her work.
“There are so many rich themes that, undoubtedly, Black people experience in their lives. So if you don’t want to talk about you, let’s talk about this person, and eventually, we’ll be talking about them,” she says. “Sometimes that can be your bridge of connection, particularly with younger people.”
For Hintz, her journey into the field of psychology came with a bit of a detour — her bachelor’s degree is actually in engineering. It wasn’t until she was nearly done with her degree that she realized her true passion.
“When I was about 70% of the way through with my engineering degree, I had a couple of practical experiences and realized that I don’t want to be doing this. It was very isolating,” she says. “There was very little, if any, communication with other people. I didn’t have a passion for it.”
Hintz enrolled in graduate psychology courses and obtained her post-graduate degree in clinical psychology from The Chicago School of Professional Psychology. She joined Alverno’s faculty in 2019 to teach graduate students in the Master of Science in Community Psychology program, which prepares students to become licensed professional counselors.
Why did you become a teacher?
I love engaging in collegial conversations with people. After I finished grad school and transitioned into the workforce full time, I really missed the opportunities and spaces to have these conversations. This is what motivated me to start doing more training and consultation. I worked as a teacher’s assistant in grad school and loved it; so, for me, becoming a professor was a logical next step.
What is your favorite thing about teaching at Alverno?
Alverno has a storied history of commitment to social justice issues. I value being a part of an institution that is able to “walk the talk” where equity and inclusion are concerned. Alverno, like many other organizations, is by no means perfect. I will say, though, that Alverno is not afraid to take a hard look at our efforts related to inclusivity and to work toward changing policies and procedures that may not necessarily align with our mission and who we want to be as an institution where equity and social justice are concerned.
When you are speaking to your Alverno students, what are you hoping that they take away from your community psychology courses?
When I interact with students, I want them to feel empowered. This sounds so cliché, but for them to know how amazing they are and how special they are, no matter what they’re going through.
GET TO KNOW THE ‘GEEK THERAPIST’
If you could have any superpower, what would you choose, and why?
I would love to be able to speak and understand every language. Not only would that be useful to me in my line of work, but it’d also be super cool! I will say, though, after seeing all these high-budget superhero films, I wouldn’t mind being a Wonder Woman/Captain Marvel type superhero — feminist, flawless and so powerful!
Who are your (real-life) heroes, and why?
A hero of mine whom I’ve never met — Michelle Obama. She is the epitome of Black excellence, and I strive daily to move through the world with the grace and authenticity she conveys. Real-life heroes whom I know well — my parents. They both have displayed tremendous resilience over the course of their lives.
What are you reading these days?
I’m currently finishing The Dark Tower series by Stephen King. My mother has implored me to read pretty much my entire life. I am a fan of classic Stephen King works (i.e. It and Carrie), and I am a sucker for a saga-like adventure/horror story.
This article appears in the spring/summer 2021 issue of Alverno Magazine.