Random Sample

Zurita has been an APA member since 1991.

What she does

Since 1994, Zurita has been a psychotherapist in Stanford University's Faculty and Staff Help Center, which offers 10 sessions of individual, couples or family therapy to all faculty, staff and their families. "We could see a professor one hour and a person who takes care of the gardens the next," says Zurita, who also has a private practice. She finds her work with clients from diverse cultures particularly rewarding.

A cross-cultural journey

Zurita grew up in a tumultuous household in Quito, Ecuador. When she was 11, her parents divorced and sent her to boarding school. Although she had once thought of becoming a physician like her father, the trauma of her family breaking up helped steer her toward psychology. At 18, she left her Catholic girls' school and landed in New York, speaking no English.

"I would just walk around the city in awe," she remembers. She began teaching herself English by watching TV, listening to music and writing down 50 vocabulary words every day. Then she enrolled in an "English 101" class at the University of Tennessee. After earning a bachelor's degree in psychology, she got a master's from San Jose State in 1982 and then a PhD in clinical psychology from Pacific Graduate School of Psychology in 1993. She herself had a happy marriage with a Chilean man, who recently died.

Practical therapy

Zurita's training had a psychoanalytic bent, and she underwent psychoanalysis and other forms of therapy herself during graduate school. Now she knows that even brief therapy can be transformative for her clients, especially for her newest patient population—accident survivors with chronic pain or loss of physical function. A big believer in how the mind and body can help each other heal, she has patients get in touch with their bodies through diaphragmatic breathing, yoga, qigong or even dance. She learns from her patients, too. A former marathoner, she ruptured a disk in her spine and was told her exercising days were over. Then a patient told her about yoga and other types of exercise that helped her recover from back pain.

A Renaissance woman

Today, Zurita bikes, hikes and travels the world with her 19-year-old daughter. Her latest trip was a first-time visit to Brazil following a trip to Chile, where she held a memorial for her husband. Zurita is also a student of piano, which she started later in life.

"I struggle, but I enjoy it," she laughs. She also takes continuing-education classes at Stanford, dipping into classes on drawing, anthropology, film and writing. Says Zurita, "I am the eternal student!"

—R.A. Clay

Each month, "Random Sample" profiles an APA member. You may be next.