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APUS Alumni Stories: Creating an Unconventional Career

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By Melanie Conner, Student and Alumni Affairs and Victoria Leo, APU Graduate

Having a degree in psychology can lead to a number of professions, including career counselor, personnel recruiter, therapist and case manager. With her degree, APU graduate Victoria Leo has created a thoroughly unconventional career.

Start a psychology degree at American Public University.

Starting as a Hypnotherapy and Career Coach

In 2002, Victoria Leo became a career and life coach. By 2009, Victoria was not only an accomplished coach, but she had also earned 18 graduate credits in psychology. With the psychology credits and an 18-month therapist training program in hypnotherapy, she began her company, Soaring Dragon.  

For Soaring Dragon, Victoria focuses on mental health services and hypnotherapy. As a hypnotherapist, she helped her clients reprogram their beliefs and conclusions from their earlier years in order to live their lives in joy.

Victoria Leo at her graduation.

For example, one of Victoria’s clients who has spent her whole adult life suffering from the effects of severe childhood abuse now has a completely new view of herself. She has healthy relationships, has gone back to school for a math degree and plans to teach children that math is fun.

When Victoria enrolled at APU in 2011, she hoped to enhance her work as a hypnotherapist by taking additional courses for a second graduate degree, a master’s in psychology. Her first graduate degree is in biological anthropology, which she earned from Arizona State University. 

Victoria graduated with honors from APU in 2012. Her understanding of her clients increased by leaps and bounds as she took each course, and her APU degree jet-propelled her career path in hypnotherapy.

Writing Books: Transitioning from Non-Fiction to Fiction

Later there was a second career that burst into being, thanks to that psychology degree. While Victoria had been writing books since 1986 and teaching college online since 1993, it was after her studies at APU were completed that the wellspring of creative teaching and writing really awoke.

From 2012 to 2018, her hypnotherapy work included five non-fiction books focused on the needs of her clients:

  • “101 Healthy Meals in 5 Minutes or Less” — helps ease the transition to healthy cooking
  • “101 Stress Busters for Energy, Joy and Healthy Longevity” — includes 85 creative arts that are both fun and powerfully effective for health
  • “Journey Out of SAD” — explains self-help prevention strategies for depression, especially winter blues
  • “Red State: Blue Heart” – a memoir of Victoria’s living in a small town in eastern North Carolina, which focuses on how her understanding and her judgement of the south and its people underwent a radical transformation. Victoria says, “Blue America could learn some things from thoughtful Red, as Red America can learn from Blue. This book is a call to action, to cull what is universally valuable from the chaff of what isn’t.”
  • “Take Back Your Lost Heart” – (Note: This book is no longer in print.)

The last part of Victoria’s career journey began in 2018, when she retired from therapy work and from writing non-fiction. Hypnotherapy work relies on imagination for healing, so Victoria had an easy pivot to creating fictional worlds and people in her books. After two years spent learning the practical skills of fiction writing, she spent 2020 enthusiastically crafting a series of science fiction novels set 400 years in the future.

There are aliens and spaceships, of course, but she credits her work at APU, saying, “My degree has helped with my character development and plot development. I have no trouble creating lovable and memorable characters, and my degree at APU has really helped me to develop characters that grow and change.”

Reviewers have praised the well-crafted, unique characters. Victoria notes that all of those classes on motivation have come in handy as she creates a fleshed-out fictional ecosystem with people of various species who come alive in their dilemmas and in their solutions. The series includes the police procedural “Alliances” (2019) and the first two books in a new story arc:  “Heroes” (2020) and “Enemies” (May 2021).

As a writer, Victoria overcomes writer’s block by focusing her attention on another part of the story. She notes, “You see, I don’t write linearly. I map out (plot) the entire story arc, and I have the key steps on index cards. Then I start writing the key plot decision points. When I have these major elements in the first draft, I can fill in the intervening chapters with the preparation for the major shift points. That is why I never, ever stop.”

Victoria says that if she gets stuck while she’s writing, she lets the idea percolate in her mind and works on another chapter where she does know what’s happening. Victoria notes that she needs a lot of revision in later chapters with this type of writing plan, but says that there is a huge advantage in the “never stop moving forward somewhere” approach. She observes, “My graduate education in psychology really makes a difference in how clever I am about how I write; I understand my own process better!”

Reinventing Herself

In 2018, Victoria started teaching online classes on creativity. Creativity, including writing novels, may not be the usual career path for a psychology major, but the APU degree is what Victoria credits for her successful and unconventional career paths.

Victoria encourages others to retrain themselves to pursue what interests them. She says, “I looked at starting a new career as a writer, and I thought – I can be 55 with a new career, or I can be 55 with nothing, and I decided to go for the degree to pursue the new career.” She continuously asks herself what she can do to grow, which has led her to her joyful place – a fictional universe — and she shares that joy with her readers in her writings and creativity classes.

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