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Our Team | Leadership 


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Steve Berkowitz MD, Medical Director 

Steven Berkowitz, MD is a Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Colorado, School of Medicine and the Director of the START center. His career has focused on the treatment development and research on the impact of childhood traumatic exposure and reactions across the lifespan. After 20 years at Yale as both and trainee and faculty member, he moved to the University of Pennsylvania where he worked closely with the city of Philadelphia to develop a more effective Child and Family Behavioral Health system within the public sector. He moved to the University of Colorado in 2018 to initiate the START center. He has developed a successful model of secondary prevention for children exposed to a traumatic event and has been an author on several manuals for acute responses for disasters and other critical incidents. He has authored over 50 articles, chapters and books. 

Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?
A: If I weren’t a mental health professional I would become a policy analyst.



Amber McDonald PhD, LCSW, Deputy Director 

Amber McDonald, Ph.D., LCSW is the Deputy Director of and Assistant Professor for the Stress, Trauma, Research, Trauma & Adversity (START) Center at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Department of Psychiatry. She is responsible for strategic planning, grant writing, research and treatment in the clinical outpatient trauma-treatment center, with a specialty in complex trauma. She has taught numerous times in the areas of interviewing children, complex trauma, and building and sustaining outpatient treatment programming for emergency responder professionals, children and families. She provides counseling services to individuals aged 3+, specializing in trauma, complex trauma, brain-based treatment strategies, anxiety, depression, and co-occurring disorders, clinically manages a Colorado police-mental health co-responder team and serves as a Clinical Advisor for the Denver FBI Joint Terrorism Task Force.  She provides consultation services to public and private-sector agencies and businesses. Dr. McDonald has created, developed, and sustained successful multidisciplinary teams and she provides criminal and civil case consultation, training, and support for law enforcement, attorneys, and other investigative parties regarding cases involving major crimes.

Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?
A: I’d arrange flowers for a living!

Our Team | Providers 




Leslie Choi PMHNP 

Leslie Choi (she/her) is a Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner. She completed her Bachelor of Science in Nursing, Pediatric Nurse Practitioner, and Psychiatric Nurse Practitioner degrees all at the University of Colorado. She works with individuals across the lifespan for medication management and primarily solution focused therapy. Before joining the START team she worked in a wide variety of settings over the years as a Registered Nurse then an Advanced Practice Nurse including in the Navy, inpatient pediatrics, oncology, outpatient pediatrics, radiology, school health, and general outpatient psychiatry. Collectively, these diverse experiences exposed to her the pervasive impact of persistent and often unaddressed mental health concerns and trauma for individuals, families, and communities. She is passionate about decreasing stigmatization of mental health treatment, increasing access to care, and using a healing centered approach to restore, promote, and enhance well-being. Her focus is on working with first responders as well as providing medication management for both children and adults.   

Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?
A: I am a big nature lover so any job that took me out to explore the natural world, take photographs, grow something, create something, and feel the sun on my face would be right up my alley. Is “Artist Farmer Animal Researcher” a job?



Mandy Doria LPP, NCC, RYT-200 

Mandy Doria (she/her) is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Registered Yoga Teacher, and Assistant Professor at the University of Colorado’s Department of Psychiatry. Before joining the START team, she was the walk-in counselor and outreach coordinator for students and resident learners at Anschutz Medical Campus for 4 years. She has over 12 years of experience providing mental health care to children and adults in a variety of community, school, home, and college settings. In addition to CBT, DBT and ACT, Mandy incorporates mindfulness and trauma-informed mindful movement and somatic approaches into her therapeutic work and practices from a person-centered, relational, and strengths-based framework. She directs the Past the Pandemic program, which has provided tangible tools and support to mitigate burnout and prevent stress injury among the healthcare workforce since March 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. She has presented extensively on mental health education, suicide prevention, grief, mindfulness, stress management and burnout.

Mandy is in training to be a facilitator in Trauma Center Trauma Sensitive Yoga (TCTSY). TCTSY is an evidence-based complementary therapy for complex and developmental PTSD. 


Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?

A: I’ve always wanted to be a therapist. But I would love to go back to being a barista! I’d make latte art in the morning and open a community center where I could also teach dance & yoga.



Lizzie Hoff PsyD

Dr. Lizzie Hoff (she/her), PsyD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist working as a child trauma therapist at the START Center. She earned her BA in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Wisconsin – Madison. She went on to receive her Masters and Doctoral degree from the University of Denver, where she specialized in working with children, adolescents, and families. She developed a passion for recognizing and treating symptoms of traumatic stress through her work in various settings including a residential school, chronic pain clinic, and family trauma organization. Lizzie completed her Predoctoral Internship at the University of New Mexico, where she honed her skills in supporting families through numerous rotations such as a trauma-focused clinic, inpatient children’s psychiatric hospital, and children’s inpatient rehabilitation hospital for spinal cord and brain injuries. She deepened her commitment to preventing symptoms of medical traumatic stress during her Postdoctoral Fellowship at Children’s Hospital Colorado’s Center for Cancer and Blood Disorders. She is trained in several evidence-based treatments to best meet the unique needs of each child and family she works with. Among others, she utilizes Attachment, Regulation, and Competency (ARC) Framework, Trauma-Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Parent Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT), and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT). Lizzie recognizes trauma has a ripple effect, influencing emotions, behaviors, and family dynamics. She promotes strength-based, family-focused, and anti-oppressive values in all the work she does to support healing and resilience.


Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?

A: I love all things that include getting outside, working with children, and being around animals. If I was not a mental health professional, I think I would enjoy working at a children’s summer camp or taking care of goats, horses, and other animals on a farm.




Laurel Niep LCSW

Laurel Niep (She/Her/Ella)is a bilingual trauma therapist. She received her BA in Psychology and Spanish from the University of Denver and her Master’s in Social Work from the University of Denver – Graduate School of Social Work. During her master’s program Laurel also completed the Social Work with Latinx Certificate as part of a program for bilingual providers. Laurel is also trained in TF-CBT, EMDR, and DBT among other modalities for evidence-based trauma work.  

Laurel began her career in mental health as direct care staff in residential treatment and spent additional years as a therapist working in residential, community-based, and school-based settings before joining the Department of Psychiatry at the CU School of Medicine. Much of her career has focused on working with children, adolescents, and families who have experienced a wide variety of traumas – including grief and loss, community violence, sexual violence, abuse, and neglect. Laurel is also passionate about working with the Spanish-speaking community and addressing impacts of immigration trauma and oppression.  Her approach to therapy emphasizes anti-oppressive values with a client-centered approach and is grounded in evidence-based practice tailored to the unique needs of each client and family. 


Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?
A: I’ve wanted to work in a helping profession my entire life, but if I wasn’t in this field I would want to be a stay at home Mom.








Ashley Sward PsyD 

Ashley Sward, PsyD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist and endorsed Infant and Early Childhood Mental Health (IECMH) Specialist in the state of Colorado. She holds a full-time faculty position in the Department of Psychiatry at the CU School of Medicine.  She teaches and supervises post-doctoral and community fellows, residents and medical students through the Harris Program for Infant Mental Health and Early Child Development. She is the Program Director of Warm Connections, an integrated behavioral health, developmental support, and early childhood consultation program supporting the Special Supplemental Nutritional Program for Women, Infants, and Children (WIC) clinics around the state.  She is a clinician at the Stress Trauma Adversity Research and Treatment (START) Center providing trauma-focused interventions to individuals, couples and families, as well as clinical consultation and support to hospital and community organizations on attachment, abuse and neglect, and trauma-informed care.   


Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?

A: As a young child, I wanted to be a flight attendant but somewhere along the way I was told, and grew up believing, that there was a minimum height requirement that I would never meet!





Pari Thibodeau PhD, LCSW (she/her)

Pari Thibodeau (she/her) is an Assistant Professor for the Stress, Trauma, Adversity, Research & Treatment (START) in the Department of Psychiatry at the School of Medicine at the University of Colorado. Pari’s clinical experience is from a wide array of areas, and she is specialized in working with individuals and families coping with trauma, chronic illness, life stressors, and health related adverse mental health. Pari uses several person-centered and strengths-based approaches to therapy. Pari’s research is focused on the integrated healthcare system, with a specific emphasis on workforce well-being and mental health. Most recently, Pari conducted a study examining the experience of moral injury amongst healthcare workers. Pari is trained as a mixed methodologist with experience leading and supporting quantitative, qualitative, and mixed methods projects at both the local and national level. Pari has additional skills in grant writing, public dissemination of research, and team leadership.

Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?

A: If I wasn't a clinician and researcher, I would love to do something with the arts- be a painter, novelist, or music critic.




Alyssa Tran DO 

Dr. Alyssa Tran (she/her) is a forensic psychiatrist who is passionate about first responder mental health, forensic psychiatry, obsessive compulsive disorder, integrated care, psychotherapy, and trauma. She was born and raised in Denver, Colorado which led her on a path to her current role as a faculty member of the University of Colorado, Department of Psychiatry. Dr. Tran received her Bachelor of Science in Psychology from the University of Colorado at Denver in 2012. She subsequently received her Doctor of Osteopathic Medicine (D.O.) from the Rocky Vista College of Osteopathic Medicine in Parker, Colorado in 2016. Her passion for medicine and mental wellbeing began at a young age and continued to blossom after medical school as she entered the field of psychiatry.

Dr. Tran finished her psychiatric residency training at the University of Colorado in 2020 where she thrived with the support of strong mentors. Dr. Tran also completed the psychotherapy scholars track during her residency. Dr. Tran completed her forensic psychiatry fellowship at the University of Colorado in 2021. She is board certified in both general and forensic psychiatry. Dr. Tran is grateful for each step in her career that has illuminated her path, enlightened her vision in the psychiatric field, and allowed her to help those in need. She aspires to help eliminate the stigma associated with mental health issues and treatment.

Dr. Tran dedicated part of her residency training to gaining the cultural competence, experience, and knowledge required to work with first responders. Dr. Tran started a private practice during residency to help address the need for culturally competent psychiatric medication providers in Colorado. She continues to work closely as a consultant to police psychology groups in Colorado, including Nicoletti-Flater Associates. She has continued to provide psychiatric treatment to first responders through the S.T.A.R.T. Center at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Tran completes court ordered forensic evaluations through the State of Colorado Office of Civil and Forensic Mental Health, works with the Mesa County Competency Enhancement Program, works with the Fire & Police Pension Association as an independent evaluator, is a consultant to the West Metro Fire Peer Support team, is a member of the CARE team, works in the obsessive compulsive disorder specialty clinic, and works on the integrated care telepsychiatry team at the University of Colorado.

Dr. Tran uses a thoughtful, caring, open-minded, and collaborative approach to psychiatric assessments, psychiatric treatment, and forensic assessments based on each person’s individual and diverse needs. She strives to create a safe, comfortable, and trauma sensitive evaluation and treatment atmosphere.


Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?
A:  “I have dreamt of being a professional racecar or motorcycle driver or a pastry chef.”




Dara Lynne Tabugadir LPC, NCC

Dara Lynne “DL” Tabugadir, LPC, NCC (she/her/hers) is a Licensed Professional Counselor in Colorado, and is also licensed as a Mental Health Counselor in Hawaii.  She is a therapist dedicating her healing craft specializing and providing trauma focused care and interventions to individuals and families across the lifespan recovering from complex trauma, abuse & neglect, and adversarial experiences at the START Center. In addition to her work at CU, she shares her time on an interdisciplinary team at the Kempe Center at Children’s Hospital Colorado integrating mental, emotional, and behavioral health, providing trauma support & psychoeducation, consultation, and therapeutic recommendations to advocate for those who are victims of abuse and neglect crimes. Dara Lynne also provides support for supervision needs for interns and post licensure.  


Dara Lynne received her Bachelors in Psychology with a minor in Anthropology from the Metropolitan State University of Denver, and her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling from the University of Northern Colorado.  She has specialized trainings in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), Synergetic Play Therapy (SPT), Trauma Focused Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (TF-CBT), Emotion Focused Family Therapy/ School Support, & the Neurosequential Model. She has over a decade of experience helping underserved communities, military families, first responders, at-risk youth, disordered eating, neurodivergent individuals, LGBTQIA+, and refugee & immigrant in a variety of clinical settings including residential, inpatient, outpatient, school based, and community mental health.  In her work, Dara Lynne strives to bring awareness of impacts of various systems, intersectionality, and oppression, and commits to supporting those feeling marginalized.  Dara Lynne finds joy in educating others on the intricacies woven into the impacts of trauma on mental and physical health, emotional well-being, and to help empower one’s resources and stress resiliency skills to thrive. 


 Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?

A: I would be either a food traveler/critic, an interior designer, or a cultural anthropologist.








Jodi Zik MD

Jodi Zik MD  is an Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine. She is a Child and Adolescent Psychiatrist who specializes in trauma/early life stress and family-centered care. Dr. Zik is the medical director of the Trauma-Sensitive Assessment for Kids (TASK) Clinic, which offers multidisciplinary assessments and treatment recommendations for children with trauma and concerns for developmental delay in or at risk of Child Welfare involvement. She additionally provides psychiatric consultation for clinics across the state of Colorado as part of an integrated care model.


Dr. Zik received her BS in Psychology through the University of Texas at Austin and her MD from the University of Texas School of Medicine at San Antonio. She then went on to complete her adult psychiatry residency and child and adolescent psychiatry fellowship through the University of Colorado School of Medicine where she was the chief of research. She has completed advanced trainings in trauma and family work. Dr. Zik has engaged in research regarding the complexities of childhood emotions, early life stress, and development. She has created curriculums, given presentations to providers and programs across the state, and published several data-driven articles and chapters on these topics. Based on these trainings and research endeavors, Jodi’s approach to clinical work includes a family and systemic lens as well as the use of evidence-based psychopharmacology and psychotherapy tailored to the unique internal and external system of each individual she treats.  


Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider, what career would you have chosen?

A: “An English Professor” 


Our Team | Staff 



Sarah Nickles (she/her) BS, Senior Clinical Sciences Research Assistant and Project Coordinator 

Sarah Nickles (she/her) is a Professional Research Assistant, and has been at the University since June 2023. She is responsible for coordinating care for clients seeking services at the START Center. She also assists with coordination and family navigation within the TASK Clinic. Sarah spends majority of her time assisting with and coordinating the Senseye study under the supervision of Dr. Steve Berkowitz. When Sarah is not fulfilling her roles in the START Center, she is also working as a Professional Research Assistant in the Child Division of Developmental Pediatrics. Previously, Sarah worked as a Policy Analyst trainee at the NIH, in the Institute of Mental Health, and she worked as a Clinical Coordinator in a Emergency Psychiatric Treatment Unit in her home state of Maryland. Sarah received her Bachelor’s of Science in Neuroscience, with a minor in Biology. Sarah hopes to pursue her PhD in Clinical Psychology and continue working with individuals with complex trauma histories and co-occurring neurodevelopmental disorders.

Q: If you weren’t a mental health provider/researcher, what career would you have chosen?

A: If I wasn’t a healthcare lady, I would be a chef!






START Center

Stress, Trauma, Adversity Research, and Treatment 

Contact Us

START Program

Fitzsimons Bldg, Floor 2

13001 E. 17th Place

Aurora, CO 80045

Phone: 303-724-1669



Psychiatry (SOM)

CU Anschutz

Anschutz Health Sciences Building

1890 N Revere Ct

Suite 4003

Mail Stop F546

Aurora, CO 80045


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