At Village Counseling Services we are a diverse group of independent professionally licensed and board certified practitioners. To learn more about our backgrounds please read our brief biographies listed here:
Elizabeth Alberts is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the founding director of Village Counseling Services. Elizabeth brings both an informed and heart-centered voice to the nature and meaning of healing. She approaches mental health treatment with the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilled lives, to cultivate what is best within them and to enhance their experiences of love, work and play.
Elizabeth works with adults challenged with mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), complex PTSD and relationship conflict. Elizabeth is trained and experienced across disciplines and draws on insights from not only the various areas of psychology, but also the sciences of cognition, consciousness, philosophy, social and cultural theory, integral health theories and practices, poetry, literature, the arts, and the world's spiritual and wisdom traditions.
Specific trainings and expertise include evidence-based techniques such as Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), a leading-edge trauma treatment in which she is certified level II trained; intensive and extensive training in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), an acceptance-based cognitive behavioral therapy with mindfulness at its core; Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which combines the ideas of cognitive therapy and meditative practices; Prolonged Exposure (PE) which utilizes education, breathing and safe real and imaginal exposure to traumatic events that are at the core of a symptom; and has completed her externship with Sue Johnson, EdD in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), an intervention based on the scientific study of adult love and bonding processes in couples, is designed to address distress in the intimate relationships of adults.
Prior to her work as a psychotherapist, Elizabeth worked in film and theater. Her extensive travels and love of indigenous cultures inform her work today. With over 25 years of clinical practice experience, Elizabeth has provided services to a vast number of clients in her role as Director for three residential/outpatient mental health facilities. In addition, she has provided over eight years of crisis assessment and treatment to New Jersey and Pennsylvania hospital patients and was instrumental in designing and implementing a national model treatment/vocational housing project for ending chronic homelessness through employment and housing.
Elizabeth is an experienced Board Certified Clinical Supervisor and trainer of mental health professionals. In addition to her role as Director of Village Counseling Services, she provides clinical consultation and supervision to the Professional Assistance Program of New Jersey, who provide treatment to licensed healthcare and other professionals in recovery from impairing medical conditions and illnesses.
Elizabeth is a full member of the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies, the National Association of Social Workers, Friends of the Institute of Noetic Sciences, the Institute of Authentic Process Healing, the Association for Comprehensive Energy Psychology, the Association of Transpersonal Psychology, the International Centre for Excellence in Emotionally Focused Therapy and the Emotionally Focused Therapy Center of New Jersey and a Founding Member of the Society of Shamanic Practitioners.
Jennifer DiTrapani is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Master’s degree in Social Work from The Ohio State University and a Bachelor of Science degree in Psychology from Virginia Tech.
Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Jennifer worked at The Buckeye Ranch, an agency that serves at-risk children and their families in Columbus, Ohio. Jennifer has extensive experience working with families and adolescents and is trained in crisis intervention and trauma-informed care. Having also worked in community-based programs providing individual and family therapy, Jennifer has excellent assessment and diagnostic skills which allow her to develop individualized treatment approaches for her clients.
Jennifer uses a strengths-based approach to therapy, empowering clients to identify their own strengths to help accomplish their treatment goals. She enjoys getting to know her clients and creating a safe and trusting environment to promote healing.
Felice Fasano is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master's degree in Counseling Education from Kean University, a Master's of Education degree from Rutgers University, and a Bachelor of Arts degree in English/Literature from Binghamton University.
Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Felice worked in partial hospital, intensive outpatient and partial care programs where she provided individual and group psychotherapy to young adults, adults and seniors coping with thought, mood and substance use disorders. Felice has extensive experience working with individuals who are dually diagnosed (i.e. those suffering from both mood and substance abuse disorders) and has conducted family education and support group sessions. Felice also facilitated a wide array of psychoeducational groups, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Dialectical BehaviorTherapy (DBT) skills, communication skills, coping strategies, relapse prevention, pet therapy, and healthy mind and body. Felice utilizes a counseling approach informed by CBT, DBT and Motivational Interviewing theories and practice. Felice is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy and facilitates weekly DBT Skills Training groups as a vital part of the DBT program. In addition, she incorporates DBT Skills Training when working with individuals.
Before entering the counseling field, Felice had a successful career with a large multinational firm where she held a variety of roles in management, training and education, and Human Resources, including a position in an Executive Center of Excellence with a focus on leadership and professional development. With a desire to put her values and passion for helping people reach their full potential into practice, Felice transitioned to a new career in professional counseling. Felice welcomed this opportunity to encourage and assist individuals, as they contemplate and engage in positive change processes that remove obstacles for success and promote new, healthier ways of thinking, feeling and behaving.
Laura Gever is a licensed clinical social worker with a Master's degree from Rutgers School of Social Work, a Master's degree in Education from the University of Michigan and a Bachelor of Arts degree in History from the University of Pennsylvania.
Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Laura worked in both inpatient and outpatient settings and correctional institutions where she facilitated adolescent groups, provided private ADD support and research and provided community-based health and wellness counseling. She also taught sexual health education workshops to college students and provided guidance and support at the Elizabeth Blackwell Clinic in Philadelphia. Laura believes that her ability to form trusting relationships with her clients is at the heart of her psychotherapy work. Laura is a member of the Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) team and also appreciates working with children, adolescents, adults and families who suffer with depression, anxiety, addiction, ADD and chronic health issues.
Sari Harris is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with her Master's of Social Work degree from Monmouth University in NJ and her Bachelors of Social Work degree from Bloomsburg University of Pennsylvania.
Sari has experience working with clients across the life span. She works with adults experiencing issues with, but not limited to, anxiety, anger, depression, grief, pre/postpartum, bipolar disorder and other mood disorders, psychotic disorders, OCD and PTSD. She also has experience working with children and adolescents, age three and up, with a range of struggles, such as anxiety, depression, self-harm, ADHD, bullying, familial issues, PTSD, trauma, grief, school issues, social skills and relationship issues. When working with children and adolescents, she encourages parents and guardians to be a part of the treatment process.
Sari is trained in crisis intervention, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. She is trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and facilitates weekly DBT Skills Training groups as a vital part of the DBT program. In addition, she incorporates DBT Skills Training when working with individuals.
Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Sari worked as a clinical therapist in an acute therapist setting for adolescent females at the Strategic Behavioral Center in North Carolina. She also worked at Rutgers University Behavioral Healthcare and SERV Behavioral Health Systems here in New Jersey prior to her relocation to North Carolina.
Candace Ibrahim is a board certified Psychiatric Mental Health Nurse Practitioner with a Master’s degree from Wilkes University and a Baccalaureate degree from University of Delaware.
Candace has 23 years of nursing experience, including medical/surgical, pediatric, maternal/newborn, neonatal intensive care unit and mental health nursing. Candace was trained at Penn Medicine Behavioral Health and currently works there in their acute partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient program. She works with men, women and young adults at Penn Medicine Princeton House, providing care in multiple tracks such as psychiatric, emotional regulation, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), trauma, and addiction. Candace believes in working together with the client to help them live their best life possible. She counts on her many years of working with patients in diverse settings to assimilate a course of care that best meets each client’s unique needs.
Gary Levine is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and a Licensed Professional Counselor. He earned a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Rutgers University, as well as a Master’s degree in Applied Psychology from the State University of New York at Plattsburgh and a Master’s degree in Social Work from Rutgers University-Camden.
Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Gary worked as a vocational rehabilitation counselor and managing the vocational rehabilitation unit at Harbor House in Patterson, NJ. He also provided emergency mental health services at St. Mary’s Hospital, as well as crisis intervention services to youth and their families, during his time as part of Helene Fuld Hospital’s crisis team in their startup program, Youth Emergency Services (YES).
Gary has 30 years of experience at the Poplar Guidance Clinic, a satellite program of John F. Kennedy CMHC, located in north central Philadelphia, during which he became skilled at implementing evidence-based approaches, such as Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), to a clinically and ethnically diverse clientele. Gary also provided supportive mental health services to Health Center #6, the city health center where the Poplar Clinic was housed, offering assessments, recommendations and referrals for medical patients. Additionally, Gary worked at the Comprehensive Psychological and Wellness Center in Forked River, NJ.
Gary continues to use evidence-based approaches in therapy with children, adults, couples and families. Gary offers a collaborative approach to therapy, recognizing the client’s expertise regarding themselves. In a safe and supportive environment, Gary encourages his clients to achieve their potential through effective skill building, while respecting the strengths each client brings to the relationship.
Joanne Pawelko is a Licensed Professional Counselor with a Master's degree in Mental Health Counseling from Capella University's Harold Abel School of Social and Behavioral Sciences and a Master's degree in Literature from DePaul University. She joined Village Counseling Services in 2011.
Joanne is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) and facilitates weekly DBT skills training groups as part of the DBT treatment team. Joanne's treatment emphasis is on the role of mindfulness and its use in the treatment of depression, anxiety and associated disorders in children, adolescents and adults.
She has additional training in play therapy, ADHD/ADD, meditation and Sandtray Therapy, which helps integrate memories, emotions and traumas hidden in the unconscious mind.
Joanne began working with individuals and families in 2009 at All Access Mental Health. She has advanced training and experience working with families who find themselves in the supportive care-taking role of a family member suffering with mental illness, including children (and adult children) of parents with mental illness. She is a member of the American Counseling Association, a National Certified Counselor and a member of Sigma Chi Iota, the International Counseling Honor Society.
Mary C. Puschel is a licensed clinical social worker with over twenty-five years of clinical experience specializing in individual, couples and family therapy. With extensive experience in clinical crisis assessment and teaching clients how to improve their communication, assertiveness, emotion regulation and relaxation skills, Mary works with clients who suffer from anxiety, depression, addictions and family conflict. She offers an accepting, caring and engaging approach while promoting change.
Mary is a National Board certified Clinical Hypnotherapist. Cognitive-Behavioral Hypnotherapy is an evidenced-based treatment for reversing core self-sabotaging behavioral and cognitive patterns created in childhood. Mary holds a certificate in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) Fundamentals Skills Training and is trained in teaching meditation as a method for preventing and healing depression and anxiety. She has been trained by Rutgers University in Professional Mediation. Mary holds her Master Teacher Certificate in Reiki healing methods from the Infinite Light Healing Studies Center in Sedona.
Kristina D. Rago-Solomita, MSW, LCSW, CEC Psychotherapist and Personal Coach
Kristina Rago-Solomita is a Licensed Social Worker and Certified Life Coach. She brings nearly 10 years of experience working with adolescents, adults and families to her practice. Kristina is intensively trained in Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and is the DBT Program Coordinator at Village Counseling Services. She facilitates the DBT Family Skills group and works with families to better understand and support their family members in DBT treatment. Kristina provides individual and weekly adolescent DBT Skills Training groups and is a vital member of the DBT consultation team.
Kristina also has over 6 years of experience as a teacher in both private and public education and has worked in local and state government as a Program Coordinator.As a Certified Life Coach, she helps individuals reach their potential to achieve personal, academic and career goals.
She specializes in helping adults and adolescents suffering from anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and out-of-control emotions. She is also skilled at helping youth and their families open the lines of communication and improve family dynamics.
Additionally, Kristina has been trained in Mindfulness Based Cognitive Therapy (MBCT), which combines the ideas of cognitive therapy and meditative practices, and facilitates weekly MBCT groups. She has also completed her externship with Sue Johnson, EdD in Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), an intervention based on the scientific study of adult love and bonding processes in couples, designed to address distress in the intimate relationships of adults.
Kristina graduated from Rutgers University School of Social Work with a Master's degree in Social Work and completed a Bachelors of Arts in Psychology at the State University of New York at Oneonta. Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Kristina worked for Isles, an award winning, non-profit, community development and environmental organization, founded by the students and faculty of Princeton University, with a mission to foster self-reliant families in healthy, sustainable communities. She also holds a TESOL certification (Teaching English to Speakers of Other Languages) and is experienced in teaching English as a Second Language to adults, children and families in public schools and private organizations.
Kathy Ryan is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who received her Master’s degree from West Virginia University, with degrees in Research and Clinical Psychology. Kathy has strong and results-oriented supervisory skills, and extensive clinical experience with over 25 years in practice as a psychotherapist working with adolescents, adults, families and couples.
Kathy provides clinical supervision and consultation for the therapists as part of the support services provided by Village Counseling Services. She is an experienced, Board Certified Clinical Supervisor for mental health professionals, and a Certified Direct Practice Supervisor for student interns. Prior to providing consulting at Village Counseling Services, she was a Direct Practice Supervisor of master’s level students for New York University, Monmouth University and Rutgers University, and an Adjunct Field Instructor for Rutgers University School of Social Work.
Kathy draws on many years of experience and advanced training in multiple, varied therapeutic orientations to encourage the development of professional confidence and competence, and to ensure high standards of professional practice.
In addition to her work as a clinical supervisor, Kathy maintains a private practice in Pennington, NJ and has advanced training and experience as a certified Level II Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) therapist for the treatment of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and trauma recovery, and a Certified Imago Relationship therapist for working with couples and families. She is an active leader and member of various peer supervision groups for advanced mental health clinicians. She is a full member of the National Association of Social Workers, and former chair of the Mercer County Unit of the New Jersey Chapter.
Melissa Slappey is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with a Master’s Degree in Social Work from the University of Pennsylvania and a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Psychology from Loyola University Maryland.
Melissa believes in a client-centered approach, based on empathy, support, non-judgement and client self-determination. She aims to hold the space for her clients while empowering them to make positive changes in their lives. Melissa helps facilitate transformation through assisting clients in improving their self-esteem, emotion regulation and communication patterns, as well as challenging cognitive distortions and enhancing their strengths. Melissa holds an emphasis on a holistic view and encourages clients to make changes in all areas of mind, body and environment. Melissa hopes to build strong alliances with her clients, tailoring an intervention approach specific to each client.
Prior to joining Village Counseling Services, Melissa worked with a diverse selection of clients in a variety of programs. Most recently, Melissa worked with adolescents in a partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient setting. She worked to help stabilize and promote recovery through providing coping skills and improving communication within their families. Melissa also has experience working with youth and families in crisis in mobile response, where she gained a calm and empowering approach in dealing with crisis situations. Since working with domestic violence and sexual assault survivors, Melissa uses a trauma-informed approach in her practice.
Lizbeth A. Smith, DrNP Board Certified Doctor of Psychiatric Nursing
Lizbeth A. Smith has earned her Doctoral degree from Rutgers University School of Nursing in New Jersey, her Master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania School of Nursing in Pennsylvania and her Baccalaureate degree from Columbia University School of Nursing in New York.
Dr. Smith began her nursing career in 2004, specializing in family psychiatric nursing while studying at Columbia University. She then gained valuable experience in general psychiatric nursing while working in partial, outpatient and acute care program settings at AtlantiCare Regional Medical Center in Atlantic City, NJ, one of Southern New Jersey's largest behavioral health organizations.
Her Capstone scholarly project “Educating behavioral health providers of the management of patients prescribed atypical antipsychotic medications” was a quality improvement project aimed to improve health outcomes for patients with severe mental illness.
Dr. Smith is certified in family psychiatric care and treats patients throughout the lifespan. As a doctorally prepared advanced practice nurse, Dr. Smith is a leader and innovator in translational nursing, integrating nursing theory to improve clinical practice.