Patsy Tito against blue wave background with sun
Alumni News

An Ocean, Cheering

Community Mental Health graduate Dr. Patsy Tito on bringing mental health support to the Samoan and Pacific Islander community

March 11, 2024

Dr. Patsy Tito has been showing up for her Samoan community for years. Time and time again she has stepped up to advocate for and support young and old, individuals and families, and so it’s no surprise that her community was eager to show up for her in return. And they finally had that opportunity in 2020: friends and family arrived to cheer Dr. Tito on during a huge challenge, the culmination of years of hard work and deep thought that began with a simple desire to provide help.

Dr. Tito is the Executive Director of the Samoan Community Development Center (SCDC), a nonprofit that has been providing resources and opportunities to Samoans and Pacific Islanders since 1991. It offers family, youth, and senior programs to support the Samoan community in San Francisco and the Bay Area, as well as those who identify as Native Hawaiian and Pacific Islander. They offer cultural programs, mental health services, education, and much more.

“For thirty-plus years, we've been providing an array of services,” Dr. Tito explained. “And one of our visions here at SCDC is to build a mental health wellness center for Pacific Islanders in San Francisco.”

Historically, mental health has not been an easy subject to discuss in the community. “For all my life, mental health was always brushed under the rug,” Dr. Tito reflected. She wanted to help change the status quo and normalize conversations around mental wellness. One of the many ways she approached supporting her community was to pursue mental health education for herself.

After considering her options, Dr. Tito chose CIIS for several reasons, including its commitment to bringing healing via social justice. But most of all, she chose CIIS because she felt like she belonged. “I was able to be myself. I was still rooted and grounded in my values, and CIIS didn't change anything about who I was and about what I believe. I was able just to integrate it,” she said, going on to describe her connections with faculty and other students. She felt seen, and in being seen, was herself able to see all the more clearly what she needed to do.

“My Community Mental Health experience was really a big part of why I'm a clinician now,” Dr. Tito said, smiling. “[It] helped me think bigger, think outside of the box as far as how I wanted to bring back the education that I learned from them and integrate it into the community.” She continued to learn and grow in the program until she reached the final thesis defense, in which she would present the results of her research and thought, a new and unique work that, if accepted, would expand academic knowledge for all.

Dr. Tito was ready. Her years of learning and practice had given her not just knowledge, but confidence. “The transformation felt like I did right by my community, by going back to school, becoming a clinician, and to be able to give back to my community that has been longing for someone that looks like them, talks like them, and walks like them.”

Her community was here for it—literally. “When we had to defend our thesis, we were supposed to invite our families, our friends, and that one distinct day…the room was full of the community and I was able to share my work in that space. It was a moment that was priceless for me. I don't know if there's any words to describe the feeling, but to see a room full of your peers, your community...let's just say I had an ocean cheering for me in that moment. I had waves and waves of people in that space.”

Following this outpouring of love and support, Dr. Tito successfully defended her master's thesis and was awarded her degree in 2020. She went on to receive her Ph.D. in Transpersonal Psychology from Sofia University, with a dissertation focused on Samoan women's experiences of grief. Her work with the Samoan community continues, and she now also employs two clinicians at the SCDC to provide additional mental health support. She continues to encourage everyone to hold both their past and their future with hope and determination.  

“Don't give up on your dream of higher education,” she urged. She wants others to remember that there is no time limit on learning or achieving; in fact, higher education needs more people from all communities and all ages. She herself began her degree later in her life, but when she did, she was ready for it and brought her own values and perspective to it. “Stay rooted and grounded in your values. Know who you are, know your worth, and that when you're done, there are souls out there waiting for you to heal.”

If you would like to learn more about the Samoan Community Development Center, please be sure to explore their website and social media accounts.

To support students like Dr. Tito in pursuing their clinical degrees, please consider donating to our fundraising campaign to diversify the mental health workforce.

To learn more about the Community Mental Health program, one of CIIS’ five Counseling Psychology master’s programs, visit our program page or reach out to one of our admissions counselors.

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