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Woman Being Free

Meet Our Team


 Our Founder, Niki Picogna, PsyD, MS, LCPC, LPC, RPT-S, is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Maryland, Licensed Professional Counselor in DC,  and has over 13 years of clinical experience working with all ages. She's a Board Approved Clinical Supervisor in the State of Maryland, as well as a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor. She is certified In Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and has extensive training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.  She enjoys traveling internationally and nationally  to train mental health professionals on various play therapy topics. In one of her most valued roles, she served as Chapter President of the Maryland/DC Association for Play Therapy (APT) from 2014-2019, enhancing the status of play therapy in the community by organizing continuing education trainings, networking, and outreach events. She still serves on the local board and Nationally, is a 2019 APT Leadership Academy Graduate and a member of the 2020 and 2021 APT International Conference Committee.  Niki is the proud recipient of the 2020 Outstanding Service Award from the MD/DC Association for Play Therapy.  In her free time, she enjoys working out, playing tennis, biking, spending time with her family, all things music, and volunteering at a local children's hospital, spreading joy and smiles with her certified therapy dog, Lulu. Animal-Assisted Therapy services are also offered on a case-by-case basis.

Over the past several years, Niki has had experience working with children, teenagers, and adults in school-based, intensive outpatient, and community based therapy, group practice, as well as crisis intervention in a hospital setting. For many years, she passionately managed a child and adolescent school-based and clinic-based mental health program in Baltimore. Throughout that experience, training and supervising developing professionals became one of her passions. She received specialized post-graduate training and certification from the University of Maryland School of Social Work in Trauma Treatment for Children and Adolescents and in Managing and Adapting Practice (MAP), an evidenced- based systems practice that improves outcomes in child/adolescent mental health. She later brought MAP to a local agency by training and supervising agency staff who became certified in the practice. She was both a MAP Certified Therapist and Agency Trainer/Supervisor for several years and still utilizes the evidenced-based treatment protocols with her child and adolescent clients. Additionally, Niki is a Certified Positive Parent Educator, helping parents to work from a strength-based and positive perspective when disciplining their children.  Due to the amount of experience and strong partnerships she has formed with schools over the years , she enjoys supporting and empowering families navigate the school system. Her focus is simple yet essential- to help her clients reach their full potential in a non-judgmental, supportive & nurturing environment while utilizing an array of creative and evidenced-based interventions to meet her clients' unique needs. Her integrative approach to therapy draws from client-centered, strength-based, trauma-informed, and cognitive-behavioral theory, that is uniquely tailored to each client. Her dedication to continuing education allows for a truly customized approach to counseling.

Niki enjoys and has extensive experience supporting adolescents and young adults navigate and thrive through life's toughest moments while helping them discover who they truly are. Having provided school-based services in a middle and high school for several years, she understands the unique complexities involved in adolescent development and strives to help them navigate such issues related to physical and mental health, body-image, identity, social, academic, and college/career goals.

In addition to traditional talk therapies, Niki offers play therapy services to children ages 2-12. As an experienced registered play therapist-supervisor and trainer, Niki will discuss the best play therapy approach to fit your child’s needs from Cognitive Behavioral Play Therapy to Child-Centered Play Therapy. Play therapy is structured and theoretically based and can be used alone or in conjunction with talk therapy. Since having certifications in both Play Therapy and EMDR, she sometimes weaves these modalities together when indicated to help children heal from traumatic and other adverse life events.  

Niki comes from a unique background that involved sports and the performing arts and enjoys working with youth to discover their talents and enhance their motivation and performance through CBT and positive psychology techniques. She enjoys incorporating art, yoga, physical activity, sand, and music into her therapy and has found it to be very helpful with children, teens, and adults.

Niki is a member of several professional associations including: The Association for Play Therapy, The Alliance of Therapy Dogs, The Maryland Counseling Association, Licensed Clinical Professional Counselors of MD, and the EMDR International Association. She has been presenting on Introduction to Play Therapy and Integrating Yoga and Play Therapy for various organizations and conferences since 2012 when she was invited to present during the International Play Therapy Conference in Jamaica. Clinical supervision, training, and consultation services are also offered.

Education: Doctor of Psychology- California Southern University; Master of Science in Clinical Community Counseling- Johns Hopkins University; Master of Science in Human Services Administration- University of Baltimore; Bachelor of Science in Psychology and Family Studies- University of Maryland College Park. 

Phyllis Zhu, LCSW-C

As a therapist, Phyllis believes that every client has the ability to heal within themselves. She guides her clients in their journey to finding their "voice," sharing their stories, and building self-esteem through art, play, music, mindfulness, and talk therapy. Phyllis graduated from Hunter CUNY with her Masters in Social Work in 2016 and has focused on working with children and families during her career as a clinical social worker. Phyllis has previously worked in community school-based programs with youth and families and a non-profit setting with survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault. She specializes in working with children, adolescents and young adults who may be dealing with life transitions, traumatic experiences, academic difficulties, and family conflicts, as well as various diagnoses, such as ADHD, depression, anxiety, Autism Spectrum disorder, and adjustment disorders. Phyllis utilizes an integrative approach through creative and trauma-informed modalities and is trained in CBT, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, play therapy, and certified in sandtray therapy. She is currently pursuing her Registered Play Therapy credential and is also a Board-approved clinical supervisor with the Maryland Board of Social Work Examiners. Phyllis is also an avid knitter and loves to hang out with her dog, go for hikes, and explore new places in her free time. Phyllis has immediate availability to see children, adolescents, adults, and families over telehealth. Phyllis speaks conversational Spanish and is an independent contractor for Bethesda Play Therapy and Healing Center. 

Stephanie Lerma, LGPC

Stephanie is a Licensed Graduate Professional Counselor in the State of Maryland who works with individuals and families throughout the lifespan. Her integrative treatment approach includes play therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, and person-centered therapy. Prior to joining the group, Stephanie worked as a therapist in private practice as well as a clinical specialist who assessed and stabilized clients in crisis. She earned her MA in Clinical Counseling with a concentration in Trauma Studies from Eastern University. She is currently pursuing her Registered Play Therapy Credential and is proficient in Spanish. She strives to make therapy a safe space where she can work together with her clients on developing healthier coping skills and resiliency. Stephanie is an independent contractor for Bethesda Play Therapy and Healing Center and has immediate openings with flexible evening and weekend hours. 


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