Recommended East Bay Therapists for Individuals and Relationships

Below are the names of some skilled therapists I often recommend to folks. If you're looking for individual therapy or couples therapy in Berkeley, Oakland, or San Francisco, I encourage you to check out their websites.

Psychedelic Integration Providers

If you're looking for psychedelic integration services, visit the MAPS listing of providers.

If you're trying to find a guided psychedelic experience, please note that I do not offer this service and I'm unable to provide referrals to other providers. You may be interested in learning more about the current MAPS trials to see if you qualify to participate. 

Low-Fee Psychotherapy Clinics

If you're in need of a lower sliding-scale fee to access therapy, I recommend contacting the following clinics:

What No One Says About Mindfulness

Neuroscience has confirmed at least this tenet of Freud’s: the vast majority of our thinking and behavior happens outside of our conscious awareness. Pop psychology and “productivity” books abound these days about how to harness our tendency to go on autopilot. How do we form “effective habits”? 

This line of thinking is actually not so very far away from the questions I hold in mind as a psychodynamic therapist. Since so much of our behavior is habitual, unconscious, and automatic, it can be hard to see why certain things keep going wrong in our lives. Changing our seemingly intractable patterns of painful relationships, frustrating career dead-ends, and relentless free-floating anxiety requires bringing to light these unconscious ways of being, examining them, understanding their context and origin, and giving them an opportunity to shift. 

The fact is we can’t completely escape the reality that most of our emotional and mental activity happens unconsciously. We’d be constantly overwhelmed by the amount of internal and external stimulus our brains are constantly processing if we were aware of it all. Tuning certain things out is how we manage to function: we focus on what’s novel, unfamiliar, or extremely painful. 

So what about this whole mindfulness craze that’s happening in the West? In my opinion, it’s certainly aligned with the principles of psychodynamic therapy: making the unconscious conscious. What’s funny to me is the marketing around mindfulness. It gets touted as a gilded road to bliss. But if you’ve ever done any mindfulness practice, you know the truth: being mindful often means coming into contact with a lot of pain, discomfort, and unpleasantness.

Somatic (body) awareness is a crucial component of mindfulness practice. Many of us are quite good at not being fully in our bodies. Our modern world has been built by people who were somatically out of touch with themselves, and it shows if you’re brave enough to tune back in. Things you might notice when you “drop in” to your physical self: the metallic, artificial taste in a great deal of food; assaultive, toxic smells; aches and stiffness in your body that you’ve acclimated to over months or years; and maybe a profound restlessness or exhaustion. 

No wonder we don’t care to be in our bodies.

The same thing can happen when we open up the vault of our unconscious emotions, memories, and beliefs. There’s a lot of shit in there that can make us feel overwhelmed, helpless, and despairing. And so, when the door creaks open a little and we get a whiff of what’s waiting for us, our impulse is to shut and lock that thing as quick as we can.

Here’s the problem with that: when we aren’t in touch with what feels wrong, we’re very unlikely to be able to figure out how to change it. 

Just because all that suffering and discomfort is out of our conscious awareness does NOT mean we’re not experiencing it. It continues to affect us in invisible ways. And as long as we can’t bear to look at it, we won’t get to see how it links up to the stuff that consciously bothers us in our lives.

Here’s an example: There’s a reason your massage therapist (hopefully) tells you not to take pain relievers before your appointment. Those pills mute the pain signal in our brains so we simply don’t feel (or don’t feel as accurately) what’s gone wrong in our bodies. So if we pull a muscle and take a painkiller, then subject ourselves to extensive tissue manipulation at our massage appointment, our body can’t tell us whether what our massage therapist is doing is actually hurting us more. Similarly, taking a painkiller for muscle pain as a strategy for jumping blithely back into “activities of daily living” puts us at great risk of further injuring ourselves. 

Pain is our system’s way of telling us “Something isn’t OK!” Numbing it doesn’t fix the problem. Not only that, it’s likely to make room for things to get worse without our realizing it—until they get bad enough that we once again take notice. Our pain—somatic and emotional—may feel like a nuisance or worse, but it is in fact the beacon that will guide us back to health if we allow ourselves to attend to it.

In psychotherapy, as in mindfulness practice more generally, we allow ourselves to really feel and witness the pain we’ve been trying to escape, so that we finally have the opportunity to learn what it’s teaching us and resolve the root of problem. This process takes a great deal of courage, and in a culture of numbing and escapism, we don’t get a lot of support or instruction in how to do this challenging work. That’s why a therapist can be such a valuable ally. 

I’m not going to bullshit you: undertaking the process of becoming aware of the places in yourself where you feel discomfort is no cake walk. It requires a great deal of resolve and a continual recommitment to the work. If you’re considering it, chances are you’re either someone who deeply values personal growth, perhaps as a vehicle to collective healing and transformation, or you’re in so much pain in your conscious life that you’re willing to do whatever it takes to address it. 

Either way, welcome. I’m glad you’re here. If you’re willing to attend to your pain, you’ll find yourself rewarded with a more nuanced ability to experience the pleasure and joy that mindfulness also offers us. You’ll also find a greater sense of agency, a growing ability to create a life and world around yourself that truly fits.

If you’re ready to start this process with a skilled and dedicated ally, I’d love to hear from you. You can book your free 15-minute phone consultation today.

What is Spiritual Empowerment?

Spirituality is not spiritual bypass.

Even though spirituality seems to be more accepted here in the Bay Area than in some other places, the word itself can often spark wariness or contempt. For some people, spirituality has become almost synonymous with spiritual bypass: the condition of using spiritual concepts and practices to avoid, diminish, or dismiss the very real and pressing difficulties of our world.

The Law of Attraction teachings are often seen as being guilty of encouraging this form of "spirituality": it can seem as though creating a better world is just a matter of thinking positive thoughts and banishing negative thoughts, which also implies that bad things happen in the world only because we're letting ourselves think negative thoughts. A lot of people have fallen down this rabbithole and had to climb their way back out of manic avoidance and self-recrimination.

Particularly in an age when neo-Nazis are showing up brazenly and violently in public spaces, environmental disasters escalate, and police brutality against black, brown, and trans communities continues to spike, using spirituality to justify turning away from these horrific realities is simply unconscionable. And yet here we are, with "Love Trumps Hate" signs displayed proudly in the yards and windows of East Bay homes. 

So I understand some people's skepticism of spirituality.

When I encounter it myself, I often think of the Zen saying, “Before enlightenment: chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment: chop wood, carry water.” 

Even if we, for a moment, take the overwhelming realities of the larger world out of the equation, spiritual connection and awakening don’t exempt us from the tedium and crap of our daily lives. Our annoyance at coworkers and our hatred of commute traffic don’t simply evaporate after a mystical experience. But, with the help of spiritual connection, we can come to these difficult realities changed in some way—maybe simply in the awareness that there’s something powerful and awe-inspiring beyond banal conference room chatter and self-esteem-crushing Instagram feeds.

When we're spiritually tuned in, we can move through the world with the knowledge that we have the capacity to plug into that feeling of deep connection. And it really can change how our lives look to us, even the boring and tedious, the horrific and intolerable parts. Not only that, it can change what we choose to do with our lives, in big and small ways.

Incidentally, this capacity to tune in can also give us strength and resilience in the face of greater, seemingly insurmountable global and systemic problems.

Spirituality is not idealism.

Youth is notoriously idealistic, and the adult world tends to sadistically enjoy beating that "idealism" out of us as we grow up. So our vision and our optimism can become obscured as we get older. We can begin to believe, as we face the harsh reality of the world, that we are powerless, and that there's no point in hoping or trying for something better.

We may find ourselves in jobs that we had lots of solid pragmatic reasons to take, but that leave us with a vaguely hollow feeling at the end of the day. Even when we work for organizations that are aligned with our values, something may feel off: maybe our skills and talents are being underutilized, or our boss is just really not getting the spirit of equity, collaboration, and respect that the organization claims to embrace.

The "adult" voice in us tells us, "This is just how it is. Get used to it." But something in us resists, saying "No" in all kinds of ways: the missed deadline, the forgotten alarm, the lingering cold that requires yet another sick day, the dread each morning as we get out of bed.

We may come up with a thousand reasons—none quite adequate—to explain the strange, persistent dissatisfaction that lingers each day. Is it because we once again ate too many potato chips last night instead of making dinner? Or is it because we're working at a job that feelings meaningless and disconnected from what we want to be changing in the world? Are we being entitled, ungrateful, and self-absorbed, or is something legitimately wrong with our lives that requires a major change? 

To find what’s missing, we must go inward.

Part of what happens as our idealism is beaten out of us is that we also lose touch with our innate sense of what we need, what we’re drawn toward. I absolutely don’t buy that these inner twinges are just youthful indigestion, rumblings of a stomach in need of antacids. (But getting in touch with your intuition will likely mean learning how to feed your body what it needs to function well enough to do the work you're here to do.)

When we disconnect from our intuition, which is housed in large part in our bodies, the result is inevitably a sense of disconnection from the world around us. We can get so used to this disconnected feeling that it seems to be simply how life is.

Hopelessness and meaninglessness can rear up in our lives both when our attention drifts too far away from the larger world around us, and when we get swallowed up in the overwhelm and hopelessness of the big picture. In both cases, reconnecting deeply with our own impulse toward healing, wisdom, and growth is the way through.

Spiritual empowerment is not about self-absorption. It’s fundamentally about connecting with something beyond our individual selves. But this process paradoxically begins with forging a deeper connection with what’s inside of us. We each have an inner compass that can direct us toward healing, wholeness, and growth. It also directs us toward connection and meaning. 

And this is what I mean by spiritual empowerment: entering a perspective from which we can effectively care for both ourselves and the world around us. 

Are you ready to connect more deeply with your sense of purpose and meaning? 

Relationship Therapy vs. Individual Therapy: Which One is Right for You?

If you're here, I'm guessing your relationship is in trouble. In fact, it probably has been for months (or maybe years). Your life feels pretty miserable right now, and it's hard to tell whether it's because the relationship isn't working or because something's "wrong" with you. Is it your shit, or their shit? How do you choose what to work on? 

In general, I recommend investing in both couples therapy and individual therapy if possible. And get your partner(s) their own therapist(s), too. In other words, it's their shit AND your shit. (Such is the nature of relationships.) You’ll probably discover that you can make better use of relationship therapy sessions when you’re also in individual therapy, and vice versa.

Some of our shit comes out only in the context of relationships, and it can be valuable to have a relationship therapist who's seeing the whole dynamic rather than just hearing one person's side of it. At the same time, our personal stuff can get activated in relationship therapy and it could be really helpful to get some dedicated time to sort through what's coming up, via individual therapy.

If you need to choose between one or the other, here are some tips.

If you think your relationship is the main problem:

Trust your gut and see a relationship therapist. The fact that you see the relationship as the site of the problem reflects what is likely a healthy balance of personal accountability and realism about your situation. Plus, a good relationship therapist will refer you to an individual therapist if it becomes apparent that some of your relationship issues are stemming from personal stuff that would be better worked on in individual therapy. And they'll be able to give you some referrals to individual therapists so you don't have to go hunting for one yourself. Easy.

If you think you're the main problem in the relationship:

Then individual therapy will be the obvious choice for you--which does not mean it's actually true that you're the sole reason the relationship is on the rocks! You might be the kind of person who takes responsibility for everything, even stuff that should not be your responsibility. Hypercompetent "fixer" types can fall into the trap of believing it's their job alone to save a relationship from failing. That faulty belief is a super important thing to address in individual therapy. 

If your partner is the one telling you that you're the problem--as in, when you bring up relationship therapy, they say, "I don't need to go to therapy. You're the one who needs therapy," that's a red flag for an unhealthy and possibly abusive relationship dynamic. Get yourself some individual therapy to help you get clear about what's really happening. (Your partner probably isn't going to agree to come anyway.) And if you're at all afraid of physical violence or material harm to yourself or your kids, get a safety plan in place ASAP. 

If you think your partner is the main problem:

If your partner has been suggesting that you go to relationship therapy together, and you've been telling them "I don't have a problem. You're the one who needs therapy," that suggests to me that you're not taking enough responsibility for what's going on. If you're assigning all the blame to your partner, then already it's clear that part of the responsibility lies within you. Because even if it's true that your partner has managed to cause all the problems, why are you still with them? You should seriously consider relationship therapy, and also find an individual therapist to help you figure out why you're staying with someone who seems to be the cause of your misery. 

If you know something's wrong but you can't quite get yourself to commit to relationship therapy:

Start with individual therapy. It will give you a chance to begin figuring out exactly what doesn't feel right to you, and help you develop the clarity and courage to make some changes to your relationship (which might also mean getting the courage to finally call that relationship therapist). Plus, your individual therapist will be able to refer you to some good relationship therapists, which might help reduce at least one barrier to making that phone call. 

Why I Work with Individuals

I hope it's clear that even though I don't personally work with couples or other relationship configurations in my practice, I believe relationship therapy is great. I've got lots of fantastic colleagues who work with couples and other relationship configurations, and I'm grateful for the important work they do.

That said, while couples or relationship therapy is an awesome resource for addressing the difficult dynamics in an existing relationship, I find that adding individual therapy for each partner can be a game changer. 

Besides this, most of the people I work with are already too good at attending to their partner(s) at the expense of their own individual needs, and sometimes this dynamic gets played out in relationship therapy too. That’s why I believe it’s so important to attend extra closely to the individual. If you're already in relationship therapy and don't feel like you're being understood or having your needs taken seriously, you might need some extra support believing your voice deserves to be heard in your relationship. 

The other reason I love working with individuals is that the relationship doesn't need to continue in order for our work to continue. I find that there's so much potential for healing and transformation in seeing people through dating experiences, partnerships, separations, and other relationship transitions.

"Relationship work" happens in individual therapy too--it just looks a little different. My focus is on helping you be the kind of person you want to be in all the roles you occupy (partner, friend, parent, child, coworker, roommate), rather than focusing exclusively on the health of one specific relationship. 

Intrigued? Learn more about how I work with relationships in individual therapy.

Not All Self-Care is Created Equal

Despite the buzzword status of the phrase “self-care” these days, I think U.S. dominant culture has a pretty screwy idea of what self-care actually means. This phenomenon is what I’ve started calling “remedial self-care.” It’s the half bottle of wine and three hours of Netflix every night to take the edge off a too-long workday full of unreasonable deadlines that left no room to cook an actual dinner rather than eat saltines and peanut butter in front of the TV. Or the long weekend in Vegas that’s supposed to relieve three months of randomly-crying-in-the-bathroom-stall stress that’s been building up amid OkCupid disasters, roommate drama, office politics, and unanswered passive-aggressive voicemails from parents.  

What I’m calling remedial self-care is the lifestyle equivalent of depositing that $35 in your checking account to cover the overdraft fee you just incurred. Overdraft fees are the worst; they punish you for having an empty bank account by driving your balance further into the red, like you needed that extra kick when you were down. But if you see that -$35 balance and deposit $35 back in to cover it, well, then you’re at $0. Which means the next purchase you make with your ATM card, even if it’s just a pack of gum at the corner store, will send you back into the negative, incurring yet another $35 overdraft fee. So that pack of gum actually just cost you $36.59, and you’re back where you started: at zero, with no reserves.

If we treat self-care as resetting to zero when we’ve overdrawn our emotional, mental, or physical resources—in other words, simply paying the overdraft fee—then how can we ever hope to start building that nest egg that our parents’ generation keeps telling us we’re supposed to have? The one that will let us take that big vacation we’ve been dreaming about, or buy a house, or change careers with a safety net in place? We’ll just be paying fees for the rest of our lives, making the banks richer but staying at zero, without room to think about what we could be building rather than just recovering from

Remedial self-care is basically the least we can do for ourselves. It’s self-care that’s focused on survival. Don’t get me wrong, survival is no small feat, especially for those of us facing multiple axes of oppression—AND I want you to get to dream bigger than that.

Yes, for sure we need reminders to drink water and eat something when we realize we can barely restrain ourselves from taking a baseball bat to the fax machine. When we feel utterly crushed by life to the point where we can’t think straight, some basic protocol is super helpful. But what if we didn’t have to hit rock bottom so frequently? What if we could build up enough resilience that the baseball bat fantasy happened only a couple of times a year instead of every week? What if we could save up all those $35 fees and get to invest in something we actually wanted?

That’s what progressive self-care is for, and my wish is for us to value it as much as the remedial kind. Figuring out the difference is a crucial part of learning how to build a life that feels not just survivable but nourishing, rewarding, and at least occasionally awesome. 

Looking for help with your self-care strategy?