Meet Debbie Covino

William and Debbie Covino

When Cal State L.A.'s seventh president William A. Covino settles in on campus in the fall, he won't be coming alone. For the first time in decades, the university will have a first lady: Debbie Covino.

They met on the campus of San Diego State University in the mid-1980s and instantly connected.

"We just ran into each other and started to talk," says Mr. Covino. "It was one of those things. It was just fortuitous."

The couple easily bonded over common interests, including literature and psychology, and married in 1987. The Covinos have four adult children: Mr. Covino's sons, Chris and Nick; Mrs. Covino's daughter, Alexandra; and their son Danny, the youngest. Mrs. Covino, who has a bachelor's degree in psychology from San Diego State University and a master's degree in English literature from the University of Illinois at Chicago, taught composition and literature at the university level for 20 years.

After completing her doctorate in English language and literature from the University of Illinois, her teaching expanded into more areas of study, including literary theory, literature and medicine, and gender studies. Last year, Mrs. Covino shifted away from education and returned to her first academic interest, psychology. She became a certified hypnotherapist and opened her own practice, Hypnotic WellBeing, in Fresno, while Mr. Covino was employed as provost and vice president for academic affairs at Fresno State.

Hypnotherapy is a therapeutic technique in which clinicians make suggestions to individuals who have undergone a procedure designed to relax them and focus their minds.

Mrs. Covino specializes in treatment for anxiety, fear, and illness triggers, but the technique can be used to address depression, past trauma, insomnia, addiction, eating disorders, relationship issues, self-confidence, and decision-making.

The new career feels like a continuation of her role as a teacher of literature.

"I love it because it brings together from my background in psychology and English the value of narrative studies and listening to people's stories. It's helping them reinterpret the meanings and problems in their lives and find healthier, more constructive ways to orient themselves toward the world."

Mrs. Covino plans to move her practice to Southern California, but can also work with clients over phone or video call services, such as Skype.

"Being in a hypnotic condition is really just being open to suggestion. So you just find a focus within and openness to suggestion. You don't need to be sitting across from the person in the same room in order to take the person there."

In their downtime, the Covinos continue their longtime academic interests in film and popular media by watching movies and television series with intriguing plots and characters. They occasionally host movie nights for friends.

"We enjoy talking about the complexities of the characters and what their actions tell us about ourselves. You can learn so much about your culture by staying in touch with mass media," says Mrs. Covino.