When asked what is the best part of her work as a therapist, she says it’s working with the clients. “For me, there is nothing that compares to the fulfillment of seeing the transformation that occurs when an individual seeks support and allows me to bear witness to this intimate journey.”
As a Marital & Family Therapist for the last 14 years, Jennifer brings deep and highly personal insight to her work in private practice. Her career as a formal therapist started in 2007 providing clinical services at a local outpatient non-profit in Southern California.
For the most recent six years, Jennifer served as the Clinical Director of 449 Recovery, an outpatient treatment center that aimed at providing quality therapeutic intervention to those afflicted with addiction and dual-diagnosis. There she oversaw the clinical program serving a wide variety of clinical needs, including case management and psychiatric support, trauma-informed care and substance abuse issues. Prior to that Jennifer worked in community non-profit mental health in the greater Los Angeles area, including work supporting young teens struggling with depression, anxiety and drug use and implementing programs that bridged the gap between mental health and substance abuse programs.
With an academic background that includes a Bachelor’s in Psychology from Cal State, San Marcos, and a Master’s in Marital & Family Therapy from Alliant International University in Irvine, CA and Mexico City, Mexico, Jennifer’s studies have prepared her for a diverse background of client needs. Her academic accomplishments include a minor in Spanish Language studies and a certificate in Latin American Family Therapy as well. She adds, “After about a 2-year break from college studies to travel and live abroad, I decided to start a Master’s program so I could really begin to get into the ‘therapy’ part of my field. I really wanted to get into a room with individuals and sit face to face with them.” Part of Jennifer’s desire to stay abreast with the ever-changing landscape of therapy and trauma involves a commitment to continuing education, which she both enjoys and takes seriously. “Not only is it mandated for maintenance of my licensing status with the Board of Behavioral Sciences, but it is also something I’m really committed to because the profession is constantly evolving. It’s critical for me to stay up to date on law, ethics, cultural diversity, specialized populations, and new research with treatment implications.”
Jennifer’s background includes growing up in a ‘recovery’ influenced home, where she often attended 12-step, Al-Anon and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings with her parents. She credits this experience with helping her to better relate to and understand the challenges faced by those struggling with addiction and mental illness and the power of a community to help them overcome these challenges. “I pretty much always knew I wanted to work as a therapist. However, it wasn’t until later in my career that I decided to really delve into working in dual-diagnosis, trauma and family therapy.”
Jennifer lives in Mission Viejo, CA with her husband of 15 years and two sons, 7 and 4 years old. Her interests outside of work include traveling, cooking, attending her sons’ soccer games, and enjoying traditional backyard barbecues with friends and family. She also enjoys spending time at the beach, hiking, and playing with her sons, which she is quick to point out, “keeps me on my toes!”
Is there an example from your daily life where you practice what you preach?
I’m a big believer in the importance of meditation and self-care. It’s something that I often talk with my clients about, and I speak truly from my own experience. After having neglected myself in so many ways for many years of my life, I’m fortunate to be at a place now where I have adopted those daily practices and made them part of my routine. Each morning, I get out of bed and I make a point of sitting down and taking the time for myself to meditate—to be present with myself and find stillness. I also try to engage in some informal practices throughout the day. This can look like pausing to take some deep breaths when needed or connecting with my surroundings in my environment or in nature. I wouldn’t have been able to continue working as a therapist for as long as I have without adopting a diligent practice of self-care. Making sure that I’m prioritizing my overall wellbeing has made my life sustainable and has allowed me to continue doing what I love most which is being present with people, having compassion, and just showing up to life.
If you hadn’t become a therapist what profession would you have chosen and why?
I love being a therapist, but if I were to have chosen a different career path, I would absolutely, without a doubt have studied eastern medicine and become an acupuncturist. I had a friend who studied acupuncture and acquired her licence to practice, so I got to see first-hand what acupuncturists learn about how the body works. Acupuncture really embraces a total mind, body, spirit connection, which resonates with me. I try to get acupuncture regularly as part of my self-care practice, not for treatment of a chronic condition or a specified physical ailment, but for stress and anxiety reduction and to improve my quality of sleep. Being less stressed, less anxious and more well rested has drastically improved my overall health. Because acupuncture has played such a big role in my being able to function as a healthy human being, I think eastern medicine would have been the other path I would have chosen.
How do you approach the stigma surrounding mental health and therapy?
I love this question because I believe that a lack of conversation surrounding mental health is one of the reasons that a stigma developed in the first place. I always try to be really open and honest with others about my own experience in personal therapy. I have never tried to hide the fact that I go to therapy regularly and have been for the greater part of my career (and at various points even prior to that). For me, it’s just a staple in my life and I can’t imagine not having access to therapy. When I share my mental health experiences with such full transparency I do so with the intention of helping reduce the stigma. As a therapist, I obviously have a strong bias about the importance of mental health awareness, but I truly believe that having an open dialogue about these issues makes all the difference.
What was one of the most challenging experiences during your training to become a therapist? How did you overcome the challenge and what did you learn from it?
I think the most challenging thing during my training and something that still challenges me today as a practitioner is fighting against burnout and compassion fatigue. I have a really open heart and I’m very intentional about being present and showing up fully for my clients. While I feel like this aspect of my personality makes me a better therapist, it also means that after a while, my heart can grow weary and heavy. I can be prone to feeling down and can sometimes be quite adversely impacted by some of the things I hear in my line of work. And, if I’m not careful, all these feelings can take a toll on my presence and awareness and my ability to continue showing up to fully support others. This is exactly why I have come to be so diligent with my own self-care practices. I have no doubt that practicing self-care in order to combat burnout and compassion fatigue is something that I will continue to prioritize for the remainder of my career. Not only does it make me a better therapist, but it helps me to be more present in my roles as a mother, a partner, a daughter, a sister, and a friend.