Hanna Levenson

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Over the years, I have found that when new clients and I speak for the first time, they usually want to know at least four things about me. What is my experience and background? What kind of therapy do I do? Do I accept insurance? And how long will the therapy take?

I'll attempt to answer these generically, but of course a more personal answer is the most meaningful. If you have any additional questions/concerns, do not hesitate to call me (510-666-0076).

  • What is My Experience and Background?

    I have been practicing psychotherapy with individuals and couples for forty years. I can honestly say, I still look forward to meeting each client and beginning anew the process of trying to be of help, as much as I did when I started doing therapy three decades ago. Each time a new client walks into my office, I have the honor and responsibility of becoming a part of his or her story and co-creating a helpful, healing therapy experience. I find the entire process of therapy intriguing, meaningful, rewarding, awe-inspiring, and humbling.

    My B.A. is from Vassar College (1967) in New York and my Ph.D. from Claremont University (1972) in southern California. My clinical internship (1976) was at Langley Porter Institute, University of California Medical Center, San Francisco. In the past, I have held positions as a university Professor, and the Director Psychological Training at a medical center. At present, in addition to my private practice, I am a Professor at the Wright Institute in Berkeley and the Director of Brief Psychotherapy Training for the Psychiatry Department at California Pacific Medical Center in San Francisco.

    As a teacher, supervisor, and clinician, I am always updating my knowledge base through continuing education classes, formal peer consultation, certification programs, and interaction with the professional community. I am often asked to speak at universities, medical centers, and mental health programs about treatment and supervision issues and publish papers on my thoughts about therapy and training as well as research studies. I am involved in several scientific and professional organizations. All of this helps me stay current and involved.

  • What kind of therapy do I do?

    Over the years it gets harder and harder to answer this question succinctly, but I will attempt a brief explanation. The way I practice does not fall neatly into a particular category. Basically, I think of myself as practicing integratively-using a complex set of interacting principles and concepts to uniquely fit the needs of a particular client. Originally, my doctoral training in personality theory and social psychology led me to see people in the social context in which they exist. My earliest positions were teaching in university settings, where I learned the value of staying informed about developments in the field and the joy of imparting a love of psychology to beginning and graduate students. I also began a long history of doing research and writing, publishing my findings and viewpoints in articles, chapters, and books and giving workshops to professionals as a way of giving back to the field and staying current.

    As my interests grew more and more clinically oriented, I retrained as a clinical psychologist in the mid-1970's. I was intrigued by how our expectations about situations and ourselves can so profoundly determine not only how we perceive and evaluate things in the world, but also our basic self-esteem. My work in cognitive-behavioral theory allowed me to use these ideas in helping clients.

    However, I also recognized that people's conflicts about things-how they were torn between different feelings-and how they were raised, influenced their sense of self and could decrease their joy in life. My using psychodynamic perspectives is invaluable in dealing with these issues.

    Also I have a natural inclination to see difficulties in life from a systems perspective-seeing the extent to which a family or group (including an entire society) can exert an influence on the individual. Often unhappiness and anxiety can stem from the social system in which people live and not just arise from one's own issues. Related to this, I believe in being aware of the multicultural and social factors that play a role in a person's life.

    I place great importance on experiential change-change that comes about not just from insight, but also from having the experience of feeling differently about one's self and others. Consistent with this perspective, I use emotionally-focused therapy when appropriate. Emotionally-focused therapy helps distressed individuals and couples reprocess their emotions so they can be more emotionally responsive and can build more secure and supportive ways of interacting with others.

    From an existential and humanistic standpoint, I believe that there are two individuals (or in the case of couples' therapy, three individuals) in the room who are basically human beings, dealing with life's fundamental dilemmas such as death, loss, and meaning. I cannot tell you the number of times I have been inspired and grown as a person through my clients. In my practice, I try to do everything possible to allow myself to be emotionally present and available to another's pain and concerns.

    In general, I often find that an interpersonal orientation makes the most sense. I think that most difficulties are caused by stresses and strains in relationships with others now and/or in the past. People tend to make assumptions in life based on how they have been treated by others. I find that clients often repeat dysfunctional patterns learned through interacting with others and, therefore, find themselves in a rut-behaving in unfruitful ways over and over again. Based on this view, I see clients as stuck, not sick.

    So, my viewpoint is not simple, but research has shown that an integrative perspective designed to fit the individual, rather than the other way around (where the client must adjust to the theory of the therapist), is the most productive. I also find it is the most respectful of the individual.

  • Do I take insurance?

    I am not on any preferred provider panels, which means that if you can get a reduced rate by seeing someone already approved by your insurance company, I would not fit that category. I would be glad, however, to fill out any paper work necessary for you to be reimbursed by your insurance company. There are so many different insurance companies and plans today, I do not know all of their policies regarding reimbursement for psychotherapy. I do have a sliding scale, but only for students in training to become therapists.

  • How long will therapy take?

    My simple, but sometimes unsatisfying answer is, it depends. Let me explain. People come to therapy with different needs, but just about everyone is in some type of emotional pain. My attitude is to try to make every session count, so that critical issues may be effectively addressed and pain decreased as soon as possible. In sessions, I tend to be active and pragmatic, but hopefully not intrusive. It is my philosophy that the best treatment occurs when both therapist and client are collaborative-working together as a team.

    The length of therapy in part depends on what the client wishes from therapy-some want immediate relief of such symptoms such as difficulty sleeping, intense anxiety, compulsive eating, or depression. Others desire to understand their behaviors, thoughts, and feelings about some issue, difficulty, or trauma. Some want to get along better with their spouses/partners. Some want to heal old wounds. And still others are trying to cope with some life change or stressor such as an illness, the birth of a child, work pressures, or divorce. How long the therapy will take often depends on the goals for the treatment. Sometimes people start off wanting relief of some disturbing symptoms and once they are feeling better, start to wonder about the causes of these symptoms and decide to stay in therapy to explore more.

    Also, research has shown repeatedly that the length of the therapy (and its outcome) depends on how quickly the therapist and client can form an alliance-that is, the sense of working together. Do you feel you are in good hands? Does your therapist seem to understand you? Does your therapist have the knowledge and experience you need? Do you feel your therapist has your well-being in mind? These are the kinds of questions that can only truly be answered once you get to know someone. After an initial assessment period (usually one to three sessions), we can discuss the approximate length of your therapy.

    I do not assume that this answers all of your concerns. Again, please feel free to call me if you need to know additional information before making an appointment. Choosing the right therapist can often be a confusing and anxiety-provoking decision. Your questions will help you in this process. In addition, you should know that I always save time during a first session specifically to address questions and expect that they will come up throughout therapy.

    However, please do not e-mail me specifics regarding your therapy. While I treat an E-mail as confidential once I receive it, the process of E-mailing is not confidential.

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