Meet Our Team

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Shari Finney-Houser, LMFT

Clinic Director

Shari oversees all clinical operations at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. The Southern California city is, at heart, a military town and Shari, a San Diego native, is thrilled to bring her more than 20 years of experience in nonprofit management and clinical experience to the clinic, with a long history of deep ties to the local community.

Shari has spent many years in nonprofit service in San Diego. For eight years she served on the Board of Directors of the Regional Task Force on the Homeless, as well as the Social Action Collaborative. Additionally, she served on the Council to End Homelessness during its inception.  She also received commendations from the Mayor of San Diego from 2009 to 2014 for excellence in treatment programs; recognition for innovation from the United Way of San Diego for creating the Recuperative Care Unit for medically fragile homeless and in 2007 she received the San Diego Business Journal’s Woman of the Year award.

A licensed marriage and family therapist, Shari received her Master of Arts in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of San Diego. Prior to her appointment to the Cohen Clinic, she was the Executive Director of Peninsula Shepherd Center and prior to that was the Vice President of Clinical Programs for San Diego Rescue Mission. She enjoys utilizing her skillset and experience to manage effective treatment programs that assist veterans in attaining recovery, self-sufficiency, and healing.

Having grown up with a father who served in the Air Force and in a military city, Shari knows it is an incredible honor to provide care to those who served our country.  She also understands the endless stress and sacrifice military families experience and looks forward to providing care for all military family members, including children and spouses.

In her spare time, Shari enjoys spending time with her husband and daughter, and 3 dogs, gardening and working out. She also volunteers at the local YMCA by working at gymnastics meets and as a captain of an annual fundraising camping to support underprivileged children.

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Dr. Nikki Watkins, LMFT

Lead Clinician

As Lead Clinician, Nikki is responsible for all clinical training and supervision of clinical staff at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD.

Prior to coming to the Cohen Clinic, Nikki was Program Administrator for Telecare, where she provided clinical oversight of three outpatient mental health programs serving the parole and probation populations. She was also Vice President of Clinical Programs for the San Diego Rescue Mission, where she oversaw seven clinical and residential programs serving the homeless population.

Nikki received her bachelor’s degree in Journalism with an emphasis on Public Relations at San Diego State University. She later received a master’s degree in both Religious Studies and Counseling Psychology and doctoral degree (PsyD) in Clinical Psychology at Southern California Seminary. Nikki is a BBS approved Clinical Supervisor with clinical training in CBT and grief/loss.

Both of Nikki’s parents are Airforce veterans who met in Okinawa, Japan where she was conceived. Her grandfather was an Army and Marine veteran, and four of her uncles are veterans of various branches of the military.

Nikki enjoys attending trainings and conferences on mental health to learn new concepts and updated research, which allows her to provide the best service possible to clients. At the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, one of Nikki’s goals is to help veterans and their families who have immediate needs. “They have sacrificed so much to ensure our safety and freedom, and I am grateful to have this opportunity to serve them,” she said.

Nikki grew up in Los Angeles and currently resides in San Diego with her family. In her leisure, she enjoys crocheting, reading, puzzles, traveling, and going to the beach.

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Marla Monk, MA, MSW, LCSW

Clinician

Marla has more than 15 years of experience in the social work and mental health field.  Prior to joining the team at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Marla worked with children and families in child welfare. Most recently, she served as an Adoption Social Work Supervisor and conducted Structured Analysis Family Evaluation (SAFE) Resource Family Biopsychosocial Assessments and Clinical Case Management for children placed in resource families as well as transitional-aged youth.  Marla also has experience working with the active duty military population and their families.

Marla worked in Marine and Family Programs within Marine Corps Community Services as a Prevention and Education Specialist and as Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Victim Advocate. Additionally, she has volunteered as a Command Ombudsman with the Navy and a Key Volunteer with the Marine Corps in San Diego and Hawaii.

In 2013, Marla earned her Master of Social Work from the University of Southern California with a concentration in mental health and sub-concentration in military and veteran services.  In 2011, she earned a master’s degree in Human Services with a specialization in marriage and families from Liberty University, and in 2001 earned a Bachelor of Arts in Criminology from the University of New Mexico.

Marla is experienced in working with those impacted by trauma and domestic violence as well as children and families.

Marla is originally from Albuquerque, New Mexico and currently lives in Coronado, California with her active duty Navy husband who has more than 20 years of active duty service and their two children.  As a military spouse, daughter of a service member and mother to two military children, Marla is aware of the challenges associated with military life and beyond.  She enjoys serving and working with veterans and their families.

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Kelly Williams, LMFT

Clinician

Kelly is a clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. She works with families using a mindfulness-based approach through individual and group therapy.

Prior to her role at the clinic, Kelly worked on Naval Base San Diego and MCRD Miramar, where she worked with active duty sailors to improve day-to-day life challenges and then with Marines and their families towards building resiliency against the challenges that a military lifestyle can provide. Prior to those roles, Kelly provided trauma therapy to youth in the foster care system and child therapy for families at emergency children shelters.  Most recently, Kelly has been working in private practice with adults, children, families and couples.

Originally from Phoenix, Arizona and currently residing in La Mesa, Kelly received her Bachelor’s degree from Arizona State University in Psychology with an emphasis on early childhood development. She later received her Master’s degree from San Diego State University in Counseling.

Kelly enjoys helping military families in an environment that was created just for them. In her words, “It’s difficult enough to find a therapist who you can connect with, and then the added stress of finding one who can be sensitive to your specific military background can be even harder.”

In her spare time, Kelly leads community workshops on maintaining a healthy lifestyle. She is also a dog lover and enjoys reading, spending time at parks and exploring San Diego through kayaking, beach days and bay walks.

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Hanna Marie Guenther, LMFT

Clinician

Hanna is a clinician with the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. Previous to this role, she was an Associate Therapist at San Diego Rescue Mission and Carlsbad Village Counseling, providing individual, couples, family, child and group therapy.

Hanna received her bachelor’s degree at Colorado State University in Human Development and Family Studies. She later received her master’s at Bethel Seminary in Marital and Family Therapy. She has various family members who are veterans and currently serving in the military.

She enjoys pursuing training and learning advanced techniques and interventions to implement effective treatment for trauma and other stressors and difficulties. She integrates a variety of evidenced-based practices into her treatment with clients with the goal of creating an individualized approach where clients can feel connected to their own treatment. She said, “I believe there is usually a good reason as to why we think and act the way we do and when we finally hit the point where we acknowledge what we are doing is no longer working, we can lean into the healing change that occurs when we discover new ways of being and living.”

In her spare time, Hanna enjoys hiking, painting, reading and exploring the outdoors. Raised in Santa Barbara, Hanna currently resides in San Diego.

Hanna said she considers it “a privilege to help those, who have sacrificed so much for the freedom of others, to find and regain their own freedom from whatever might be challenging deeper connection with Self and others.”

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Kirsten Alfaro White, M.A., NCC, APCC

Intake Coordinator

An Associate Professional Clinical Counselor, Kirsten serves as the Intake Coordinate for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. In her role, she welcomes each prospective client with a clinically informed background to complete the initial referral screener as their first step toward receiving services.

Born and raised in San Diego, Kirsten received her Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from California State University San Marcos. She then went on to receive her Master of Arts in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of San Diego. She completed her practicum experience for her graduate program in a residential treatment center for homeless veterans with substance use disorder and other co-morbid disorders. Having a passion for the veteran population, Kirsten continued her clinical experience at the residential treatment center as she accrued hours towards licensure.

Prior to joining the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Kirsten worked as the Clinical Manager for PsychArmor Institute. At PAI, she managed their national Support Center and worked to help disseminate educational courses and resources to those who work with, live with, and care for military members, veterans, and their families.

Kirsten first started her clinical work as a behavior technician for children with autism in the field of applied behavior analysis, working mostly with military families.

As the daughter of a retired Navy veteran, Kirsten is excited and honored to continue her work to with veterans and their families.

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Germaline Salazar

Business Office Manager

As the Business Office Manager, Germaline is responsible for all office administration at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD.  She supports clinical, outreach, and case management staff, and supervises the office assistant. She is also a key member of the billing team.

Previous to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Germaline was the Clinic Director at Samahan Health Centers, where she oversaw several community health centers and its operations. Prior to that position, she was the Administrative Manager there, overseeing all of the central administrative staff including referrals and the call center.

Germaline has a Medical Administration Certificate and is currently working on her bachelor’s degree in Healthcare Administration from the University of Phoenix.

A native of San Diego, Germaline is a former military spouse and her father was a Navy veteran. She is interested in giving back and serving the veteran population and their families. She is excited to engage in the community and see positive outcomes.

In her spare time, Germaline is a Jiu Jitsu practitioner and coach. She also enjoys Tahitian dance and performs in local shows.

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Elizabeth Sparks, MSW, ASW

Post-Masters Fellow

With a passion for partnering with and empowering veterans, as well as their families and significant others, Beth hopes to help clients at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD find healing, balance and hope for their futures. She specializes in conducting trauma-focused therapy using evidence-based treatment modalities, care-partner stress and family-centered holistic treatment.

A veteran herself, Beth was active duty in the Marines from 1997 to 2002. As part of Operation Freedom, she was forward deployed at the time of the 9/11 attacks and her unit was deployed to Afghanistan and Pakistan.

Her husband was on active duty for 12 years before he retired from the Marines and, during this time, Beth volunteered her time to counsel families experiencing deployments. During her volunteer work, she became deeply familiar with familial stressors unique to military service families.

Beth received a bachelor’s degree in Literature and Writing Studies in 2008 from California State University San Marcos. She received her master’s degree in Social Work from Columbia University in 2019.

In her free time, Beth enjoys spending time with her family, including her two children ages 9 and 12. She also likes to go to the beach, running and reading mystery novels.

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Mark Shideler, M.D.

Psychiatrist

Mark Shideler M.D. serves as a Prescribing Psychiatrist at the Cohen Clinic at Veterans Village of San Diego. He joined the Cohen Clinic after 28 years in the Air Force and served as an operational physician in Aerospace Medicine (aka “Flight Doc”) and Group Surgeon for the 548th ISR Group. He also served as a psychiatrist teaching and mentoring at the 60th MDG at Travis AFB, CA.

Dr. Shideler earned his bachelor’s degree in Biology at the U.S. Air Force Academy, went to medical school at the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences (USUHS), served as an operational, medical physician and later went on to complete psychiatry training at Wright State University.

He enjoys treating and helping people with psychological trauma and posttraumatic stress and, most importantly, helping them get their lives back. Dr. Shideler is trained and clinically experienced in Prolonged Exposure (PE), Cognitive Processing Therapy (CPT), Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) and Imagery Rehearsal Therapy (IRT) for nightmares.

In his spare time, he enjoys hunting, fishing and spending time with his daughter and wife. He was raised by a family that moved a lot and has called the following places home: Alaska, Ohio, New Mexico, Virginia, Colorado, Northern California, Alabama, Maryland and South Korea.

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Ashley Tatum, MHA

Case Manager

After serving in the Navy for nine years, Ashley obtained her Bachelor and Master of Science in Healthcare Administration from National University. During this time, she also worked in the Department of Veterans Affairs office at National University in the Benefits and Enrollments Department while taking care of her two children and supporting her husband’s Naval career.

While on active duty Ashley was able to work alongside great people and see many amazing places. Her passion for wanting to help veterans with their mental health started after going through the transition from the military to civilian sector herself and realizing the importance of having a strong support system. As a case manager at the Cohen Clinic, she helps other veterans with their needs by connecting them to resources in the community that will ensure their success.

Ashley is originally from Findlay, Ohio but thanks to the Navy, she has lived in Southern California for 17 years and is currently living in San Diego, California. She loves to spend her spare time with her family and reading.

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Cesar Padilla, BBA-IMC

Data Manager

As Data Manager at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD, Cesar oversees the clinic’s various data and IT systems. He is responsible for organizing, storing, and analyzing data as effectively as possible, while always upholding agreed-upon security standards.

Previously, Cesar worked as the Executive Assistant to the Chief Operating Officer at Veterans Village of San Diego. A Purple Heart Recipient and Operation Iraqi Freedom veteran of the U.S. Army, he held the following military occupations during his 11 years of service: M1 Armor Crewman, U.S. Army Recruiter, and Public Relations Specialist.

As a veteran, Cesar is excited to be part of the Cohen Clinic at VVSD’s vision of helping veterans and their families address mental adversities. However, more importantly, he believes the services provided at the Cohen Clinic are an essential step in bringing down the stigma around mental health, especially debunking the stigma that claims asking for help is a form of weakness.

Born and raised in San Diego, Cesar earned his bachelor’s degree in Business Administration with an emphasis in Integrated Marketing and Communications from San Diego State University. In his leisure time, Cesar loves to spend time with his daughter, play Airsoft, Paintball or just be outside enjoying the San Diego weather.

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Celeste Gomez

Receptionist

As the Office Coordinator for the Cohen Clinic at Veterans Village of San Diego, Celeste provides administrative support to the office by organizing daily patient schedules, triaging incoming patient reports to appropriate locations, preparing billing information and documenting insurance pre-authorizations and pre-certifications, among other office responsibilities.

Prior to this role, Celeste was the Administrative Assistant for Veterans Village of San Diego, where she provided daily support to the Executive Staff. While there, Celeste learned about military culture and how, as a team, we can help change veterans’ lives. She is currently working towards a bachelor’s degree in both Psychology and Criminal Justice.

Celeste was born in Los Angeles and raised in San Diego.

Celeste’s goal is to make each person’s experience at the Cohen Clinic positive, and to make them feel fully understood, comfortable, and satisfied. Her main objective is to help clients leave feeling better than when they arrived.

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Jenny Lynne Stroup

Outreach Coordinator

Jenny Lynne is the Outreach Coordinator for the Cohen Clinic at VVSD. She comes to this role as a seasoned military spouse who has spent her time at each duty station fostering community.

She is also freelance writer who uses stories to bridge the gap between the civilian and military communities. She is passionate about being a bridge builder and sees her role as a military spouse as an opportunity to reach both communities.

Jenny Lynne has a background in marketing and education. Jenny Lynne received her Bachelor’s degree in Marketing Management from Virginia Tech and her Master’s degree in Elementary Education from Old Dominion University.

Prior to her role at the clinic Jenny Lynne taught elementary school and spent her time working with several military organizations and spouse groups. She has been a key note speaker for United Through Reading at both the Storybook Ball and the Tribute to Military Families events.

Jenny Lynne also worked for the USO of Metropolitan New York as a special event coordinator. During her time with the USO she worked to provide comfort and care for the wounded warriors participating the US Army Warrior Trials.

Originally from Virginia, Jenny Lynne has taken her loved of Southern cuisine and hospitality to create community wherever the Navy has sent her.

Grace Charlton

Grace Charlton, MA, NCC, APCC

Intake Coordinator

As Intake Coordinator, Grace welcomes each prospective client with a clinically informed background to complete the initial referral screener as their first step toward receiving services.

Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, she was as a counselor at a correctional facility in Houston, TX where she worked with incarcerated clients on their substance abuse patterns, anger management, PTSD, and also taught a psychoeducational class on Healthy Relationships. Before that position, she completed her Practicum at the VRC.

Grace earned a Bachelor of Arts degree in Psychology and Forensics from Loyola University Maryland in Baltimore and a Master of Arts degree in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from University of San Diego. 

She enjoys helping to foster self-awareness with clients in order to support them in creating healthy relationships with their support system. She also works from the relational-cultural theory, which acknowledges the identities (both individually and culturally) that people belong to in order to help them move towards connection with others. She said, “It’s important for me to work toward being the best Counselor I can be, which includes being multiculturally informed, gender affirming, and always willing to learn from the client about what is important for them. I believe nothing is more important than the human connection and I’m incredibly grateful to be in a therapeutic position to be a part of our clients’ journey toward healing and peace.”

In her leisure, Grace loves spending time with her rescue dogs and finding ways to be creative in art and music. She also enjoys traveling to new places, eating good food, and visiting friends and family from all over. Grace was born and raised in Newcastle, England and moved to the United States in 2009. She currently lives in San Diego.

Jillian Mayer

Clinical Intern

Jillian is an intern clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD and works with individuals, couples, and families.

Prior to her role at the Cohen Clinic, Jillian worked as the evening manager at Little City Foundation, a neighborhood of group homes for individuals with Autism and other diagnoses related to developmental disabilities. Jillian received her Bachelor’s degree from Northeastern Illinois University in Communication, Media, and Theatre with an emphasis on vocal performance, and she is currently in the second year of her Master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at San Diego State University.

Jillian’s clinical training has had an emphasis on Narrative Therapy and postmodern ideas, and she has also been trained in Trauma-focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy. Her main professional interest is the study and treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, and she plans on dedicating her life to working with individuals who identify as having PTSD and Complex PTSD. 

Jillian used to work as a professional actor at various theaters around her hometown of Chicago and still loves spending her free time singing, acting, and performing.  Currently residing in the Ocean Beach area of San Diego, Jillian also enjoys any time she can spend outside with her dog. It was a dream of Jillian’s to be offered this position at the Cohen Clinic as she is honored to be able to serve those who have served our country and is thrilled about the opportunity to learn from the incredible clinical team. 

Irina Weitzen

Clinical Intern

Irina Weitzen is an intern clinician at the Cohen Clinic at VVSD and works with individuals, couples, and families.

Prior to her role in the clinic Irina worked with teens who have experienced trauma, as part of a clinical study, and completed her first year of practicum working with individuals at the Center for Community Counseling and Engagement.

Irina received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Diego State University (SDSU) and is currently in her second year of her Master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at SDSU. Irina’s training focus thus far has been in Narrative Therapy and Emotionally Focused Therapy.

Irina grew up in Israel, where she served in the Israel Defense Forces (IDF) as a Personal Affairs Coordinator supporting service members regarding socioeconomic concerns. She is also the wife of a combat IDF veteran.

Some of Irina’s professional interests include honoring and supporting individuals and relational systems as they go through significant changes in their lives, as well as working with individuals and relational systems that have been impacted by trauma. Irina is interested in centering her clients’ experience and is honored to be a part of a professional and kind team and to work with the military community with whom she feels connected. In her free time, Irina enjoys spending time with loved ones and in nature, as well as jamming with friends.