Doctoral intern discusses passion for serving LGBTQ community

After graduating over a decade ago, Shawn Leslie decided to go back to school for psychology after having an epiphany while watching “Criminal Minds.”

“I remember one day just kind of noticing, I could do that,” Leslie said. “I like how they’re taking the perpetrator’s story from childhood and using that to figure out who they are now, and what the next step is to catch them on stuff.” 

Leslie, who goes by they/them, had initially entered the University of North Carolina at Charlotte to earn a psychology degree but quickly switched to Spanish after learning the rigorous education requirements for pursuing a job in the psychology field.

“(Teachers) were like, ‘There are over 250 special sub-specialties in psychology, and over the next four years, you’re going to choose one. And if you want to do anything real with psychology, you have to go get a Ph.D.,’” Leslie said. “I was like … ‘I don’t want to go any further than a bachelor’s degree. That’s a lot already.’”

After graduating with their Spanish Language and Culture bachelor’s in 2012, Leslie worked for around six years before their “Criminal Minds” epiphany. They returned to school to receive a bachelor’s in psychology at UNCC in 2018. 

Leslie then began pursuing a doctorate in clinical psychology at Regent University in Virginia. Along the way, they received a master’s in 2020. 

Now, the doctoral student is in the last few months of their program at Regent, wrapping up their degree with an internship at Wichita State.

For part of their internship, Leslie works in the Counseling and Prevention Services (CAPS) office on campus, which offers counseling and other services to WSU students. 

“I really like the counseling center, specifically this one,” Leslie said. “WSU’s is really unique in that they’re really big on not turning students away and trying their hardest to not have a waitlist.” 

Throughout their studies and internship, Leslie has focused on queer mental health.

“I am really passionate about the LGBTQ+ population and queer mental health,” Leslie said. “The majority of my (counseling) caseload is in the LGBTQ+ population, which is really exciting.”

Heather Kessler, a clinical psychology intern, works once a week at CAPS and has gotten to know Leslie. Kessler spoke on Leslie’s relationship with clients.

“(Leslie) just does such a good job of working with their clients,” Kessler said. “They have really found a place where they thrive.”

Kessler, who moved to Wichita from southern California, said Leslie made the transition easier for her. 

“When I first came here, I did not know anyone,” Kessler said. “Automatically felt very comfortable with Shawn and was able to feel very supported by them … It feels like a best friend. I don’t know what I would do without them.”

Although Leslie flew to Virginia to walk in their graduation ceremony a few weeks ago, they will not finish their internship at Wichita State until July. Additionally, they won’t receive their doctoral degree until six to eight weeks after the summer semester ends in August.

Despite the pause between graduation and receiving their degree, Leslie plans to move to Minnesota to start a postdoctoral fellowship right after their internship ends at WSU. 

“I’ll be working at CentraCare Health System,” Leslie said. “I’ll be working in their outpatient clinic and specifically in their sexual and gender medicine clinic, working with the LGBTQ+ population.”

Leslie said it was “inevitable” that they pursue psychology.

“I was always that kid in high school that was always holding people who were dealing like a lot of depression, or anxiety, or problems with their boyfriend or girlfriend,” Leslie said. “I would always be the one that they would come to talk to.”