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Daily Inspiration: Meet Carly Juarez

Today we’d like to introduce you to Carly Juarez.

Carly, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
I currently work as a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) at a group private practice in Newport Beach. The journey to becoming an LMFT is a long one – you need a bachelor’s degree (4 years), master’s degree (2-3 years), and 3,000 clinical hours (minimum two years, up to 10+ years depending on people’s situations). My grad school friends and I coined the hashtag #roadto3000hours to document and pay homage the journey.

I got my bachelor’s degree from Chapman University and graduated in 2015. I started as an undeclared major but quickly landed on psychology. I’d always been interested in and curious about people. I have memories from when I was really young, like early elementary school-aged, and I would look out the window in the car and make up stories in my head about the people I would see in the other cars. I found myself wondering about their lives (i.e. are they having a really good day or really bad day right now? I wonder who’s in their family? I wonder if they’re going somewhere they’re really excited about? etc.).

Anyway, back to the point, I was really drawn to psychology but still didn’t know what I wanted to do with my degree in the long term. Throughout college, I often gravitated towards jobs and internships where I could help or mentor people. At one point in my senior year, I was simultaneously volunteering at a preschool a few days a week, volunteering as a mentor to a high school student through the Boys & Girls Club, and working on campus at Chapman University as an academic mentor (I worked one-on-one with students who were on academic probation and taught them skills to help them improve academic performance). It was pretty clear towards the end of college that I was going to enter into some sort of helping profession, although becoming a therapist wasn’t at the top of my list. I was thinking teacher, nurse, or social worker.

Maybe I should go backwards a little bit. I personally attended therapy for the first time as an adolescent after experiencing a traumatic event. I didn’t realize it at the time, but that experience shaped who I was then, who I am now, and the direction my life ended up taking. Again, didn’t realize it at the time, but my trauma diminished any sense of self-worth I had during a time in life that’s already riddled with insecurity, uncertainty, and awkwardness. I didn’t see any value in myself or my body, and my behaviors began to show that. At a pretty young age, I was using substances to numb and distract myself from my pain and often sought validation in unhealthy ways. Back then, I saw myself as “the bad girl”, but I know now that I was really just “a hurt girl.” I think I attended therapy for a year or so, but honestly I have a hard time remembering (again, trauma warps our memories and sense of time). I can’t even tell you what I talked about in therapy or anything my therapist said to me. However, I definitely remember the way she made me feel. I remember enjoying going to therapy and even being open about having a therapist. I will note that my parents did a great job at normalizing therapy for me, so I never felt any shame in going. At a time in my life when I felt very alone and isolated, therapy was a place where I felt accepted and cared about. I felt very connected to my therapist and I think more than anything, that healthy therapeutic alliance was the biggest and most valuable takeaway for me.

Side note: in present day, when I’m at a loss with a client, I try to remember this part of my own story. That the most valuable thing we can give to clients is a space where they feel safe, seen, and cared for. That’s what people really need the most.

Way back then (when I was 12 or 13 years old), my mom had a hunch that I would become a therapist. She asked me several times if I could see myself becoming a therapist and I always said no – I didn’t think I would want to listen to sad stories all day (naive little me had no idea that therapy is so much more than that). My mom saw things in me that I wasn’t aware of at the time.

So back to the end of college, when I’m trying to decide what career path to take, becoming a therapist became a realistic option. I knew I wanted to work with people (meaning not behind a desk most of the day), preferably in some sort of helping/advocacy setting. After the many internships and jobs I had by that point, I knew I preferred to work one-on-one with people (so being a teacher was out). So it was sort of process-of-elimination, but I also believe that I was called to this profession from an early age. Even before my trauma occurred, I think I was given the innate skills to be a therapist (compassion, empathy, altruism, genuine curiosity about others, etc.). But then especially after experiencing my own trauma, I think I was pushed even more into this line of work. To be able to help people who are hurting, or who have been hurt, or who aren’t being seen and heard, or who need compassion, or whatever it may be – it really feels like I’ve come full circle. I personally believe that being a therapist is a two-way street – not only do we help our clients, but our clients help us too. The adult me, and little girl who still lives inside me, learn so much from the people who show up in my office and choose courage and vulnerability. It really does feel full circle.

P.S. Not sure where to fit it in, but I got my master’s degree from California State University, Long Beach in counseling, emphasis in Marriage and Family Therapy, and graduated in 2018.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
Being a therapist is both an art and a science (and most intro-level graduate school books will state that over and over and over). The science part refers to the static things – like diagnoses, theories, and interventions. The things you’ll learn in your textbook about how to be a “good therapist.” A good therapist uses active listening, knows the criteria for all the major DSM diagnoses, and knows all the interventions that you can utilize when using a Cognitive Behavioral approach (for example).

However, the art part refers to the therapist’s “way of being.” It’s more vague and nuanced and not something that can be taught in a textbook or in graduate school. You can sit with ten different therapists who all went through the exact same training and you’ll have ten very unique experiences – that’s the “art” part of this work. Who are you (the therapist) in the room? How do you develop safety and trust with a client? How do you apply the things you know in a way that feels authentic to you?

Accepting the “art” part of being a therapist has been one of the most challenging parts of this work for me. As someone who thrives on organization and direction, it has been very uncomfortable at times for me to not have a step-by-step manual on how to be a good therapist. Which makes sense of course, every therapist is unique and every client is unique. It’s been a years-long journey in developing my own “style” of therapy that feels authentic and true to who I am.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I am a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT) and I currently work in a group private practice in Newport Beach. I work with individuals of varying ages, although the populations I work most with are adolescents/teens (11-18yo) and young adults (18-35yo). I have a caseload of around 30 clients (some I see weekly and some bi-monthly). I am trained to treat a variety of different concerns such as depression, anxiety, trauma, relational conflicts, family conflicts, life transitions, etc. I utilize an eclectic approach to therapy, meaning I pull from various theoretical models that match my style of therapy and that fit the need of the client. I utilize mostly cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) and incorporate elements of mindfulness, attachment-based, and solution-focused theories.

From a business standpoint, I am most proud of the referral network I’ve created over the last 2.5 years at the office I currently work at (Smith Psychotherapy Group). Most of my referrals are word-of-mouth, meaning that current or past clients share my information with people they know personally, professionally, or in their community. I started with zero clients and over the past 2.5 years have grown to a caseload of 30+ clients. It hasn’t always been easy, it’s taken a lot of patience and trust in the process that my business will if I’m doing quality work with clients.

I think what sets me apart is my “way of being” and connecting with clients. I allow myself to be both professional AND human in the therapy room, which helps clients feel safe and connected and free to be their authentic selves too. I try to model for clients what I hope they’ll achieve for themselves (self-compassion, understanding, self-validation).

Is there anyone you’d like to thank or give credit to?
My husband (Nick Portillo)- my biggest cheerleader. We’ve been together for ten years (and recently married). We met on the second day of school during undergrad, thus he’s been with me every step of the way. He’s been supportive throughout all of my academic journeys (undergrad, graduate school) and in the first couple of years of my career when I was dealing with major imposter syndrome and uncertainty. He supports me in so many ways; I wouldn’t be where I am in my career if it weren’t for him pushing me to believe in myself and for him holding down the fort during the tedious graduate school years.

My parents – they’ve always believed in me and supported me personally and academically. They helped instill strong values in me that have been driving forces in my personal life and professional career.

My graduate school friends – I developed a strong bond with a group of girls from my graduate program (6 total, including myself). They’ve been integral in my personal development and professional development. So much of the work in graduate school is personal development and they were always (and continue to be) a touch stone for me to continue learning about myself. They are some of my biggest supporters and cheerleaders.

Past supervisor/current boss (Jennifer Smith) – she started out as my supervisor while I was an Associate MFT (not yet licensed, working towards hours) and is now my boss now that I’m licensed and no longer require a supervisor. She hired me straight out of graduate school and believed in me from day one. She’s taught me so much about being a therapist and also the business side of this line of work.


  • $175/50-minute therapy session

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Image Credits:

Jessica Bodas

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