Dr. Heather Quagliana, a local college professor and clinical psychologist, has used her knowledge of issues like anxiety to help children who have been through horrific experiences.
Having grown up in Raleigh, North Carolina, she found her way to Cleveland through Lee University, where she teaches and directs its graduate programs in counseling.
As one of six children, she was always around other kids. Her mother, Sherry Lewis, also had a great interest in psychology and would read extensively. Both helped influence her decision to become a psychologist.
“I have always loved kids and wanted to learn how to help kids from an early age,” Quagliana said.
When she was 14, she was able to get a job helping with an after-school program for children. That was when she really became intrigued by the subject of child psychology.
She became interested in the children’s interactions with each other and would ponder the reasons for any misbehavior.
During her teen years, she also struggled with anxiety. Seeing how her mother would work to help her through difficult times, she realized she wanted to help others.
After moving to Cleveland to attend Lee, she began studying psychology. At one point, she was able to work as a teacher’s assistant for an abnormal psychology course. This allowed her to get a glimpse of what it would be like to teach.
“Once I realized I could teach, I knew I wanted to do it,” Quagliana said. “My first love has always been teaching.”
She graduated from Lee in 2001 and continued her education.
She said Dr. Trevor Milliron, a Lee professor, was a mentor to her. Milliron encouraged her to look into clinical psychology, which would allow her to be a therapist and diagnose and treat psychological disorders.
Wanting to learn more about the Christian faith and psychology, so she earned degrees in both. She holds both a master’s in theology and a PhD in clinical psychology from Fuller Theological Seminary in Pasadena, California.
Prior to returning to Lee to teach, she taught at Community Christian College in Redlands, California, and at Azusa Pacific University in Azusa, California. However, it was her goal to get back to Cleveland.
“Lee gave so much to me that I wanted to come back,” Quagliana said.
She became a professor at Lee in 2008 and is now finishing her 12th year there. In addition to teaching, she is now the acting director of graduate programs in counseling.
Her work has not gone unnoticed. She received Lee University’s 2019 Excellence in Advising Award, an award based on how she did while serving as an academic advisor to students.
Teaching this semester has been odd, with the COVID-19 pandemic forcing students out of classrooms and into online platforms like Zoom. Still, she said she and her students have lots to look forward to, including a new PhD program in marriage and family beginning this fall.
She has also stayed busy working in partnership with missionaries Bobby and Tamitha Lynch, who are ministering in Ecuador.
Through a project called Give Care, she has been providing webinars and other training materials for parents navigating the COVID-19 pandemic. These are available at www.projectm25.org/give-care
Although this was her first time doing a webinar, she has spoken with multiple groups about how they can apply psychological principles to daily life.
“That’s a big piece of what I do. I love it,” Quagliana said.
She is also big on talking about sexual abuse prevention. She said one in 10 children are sexually abused by age 18, causing a great deal of trauma.
She has held training talks for school counselors and has also offered talks about handling grief in school settings, such as grief caused by the loss of a student.
She has also taught during in-service sessions for teachers with Bradley County Schools and Cleveland City Schools. She is now working on training for teachers preparing to reunite with students after the COVID-19 closures.
Quagliana offers training for church children’s ministers, as they are “often the first responders” to childhood trauma.
Her work has focused on marriage and family therapy and play therapy, which involves encouraging children to share about their experiences while they play. She sees clients, separate from her work at Lee.
Many of the children she has worked with in play therapy and other sessions have been through some sort of trauma.
“I did not start out wanting to do trauma [therapy],” Quagliana said. “It was through a series of events I realized it was my calling.”
While attending Fuller Theological Seminary, she did an internship with the Department of Children’s Services in Los Angeles County.
She recalls the first time she was able to counsel a victim of sexual abuse — a teenage girl. Though she was nervous, she was able to lead the girl in a productive therapy session.
“It felt like a sacred space,” Quagliana said. “I felt I could do this. We were in a space where she was able to share her experiences.”
She has also worked with those who have experience other forms of trauma, like survivors of natural disasters and those suffering major losses.
“It’s heartbreaking work … and I think you are at risk for burning out,” Quagliana said. “The passion has to be there.”
She advises students considering work in trauma therapy to first address any trauma in their lives so they can help others. Though she struggled with anxiety, she is now able to help others who are anxious.
Though her work as a professor keeps her from seeing a large number of therapy clients, she realizes her students are going on to help many more clients than she ever could.
“I think my favorite part is that my experiences can help my students … and help others down the line,” Quagliana said.
Quagliana lives in Cleveland with her husband, Dr. David Quagliana, who is also a Lee professor and the director of the university’s counseling center. They have two children: Izzy, 8, and Lucas, 6.
When she has spare time, she loves reading and traveling. Another favorite pastime is cooking; she greatly enjoys concocting new dishes.
“It’s therapeutic for me,” Quagliana said. “It feels like art. I get to exercise my creativity in that way.”
Nowadays, she stays busy working from home and leading classes via Zoom. She is also at home with her two children, and the family is navigating homeschooling for the first time.
She said juggling everything has been hard, but she is happy she still gets to interact with students. At the end of the day, that is what makes her teaching career worth it.
“I love what I do,” she stressed. “It doesn’t feel like work to me.”