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Hidden Gems: Meet Gavin Shafron, Ph.D

Today we’d like to introduce you to Gavin Shafron, Ph.D.

Gavin, we appreciate you taking the time to share your story with us today. Where does your story begin?
My story began here in L.A., in particular in the West San Fernando Valley. I was born and raised here, growing up in the Calabasas area, attending college first at Pierce in Woodland Hills, then later transferring to UCLA. Even though I’m a psychologist now, I actually started out as pre-law. I really thought that my future would be defined by arguing court cases in front of judges and juries. Coming from a family of lawyers, that path was very familiar to me. I spent my summers clerking for law firms and one of the biggest things that stood out to me was that, although I respected the profession immensely, the more I was exposed to it, I visualized myself less and less in it. I remember talking to young associates fresh out of law school, seeing how burnt out they were, and thinking to myself that I wanted to help these people more than I wanted to be in their profession myself.

At around the same time, things were changing dramatically in my family life and there were two major and defining moments for me – the first one was the loss of my grandfather. He had been suffering from a slow and painful decline in health that ultimately took his life. He and I had been tremendously close and I took his loss very hard. I remember during that time, I sought refuge in my studies, in particular, in the Psychology of Stress Management course I was taking at Pierce College. This turned out to be the second defining moment for me – my choice to dive deeply into the material. I remember those early lectures from the professor, Dr. Jeff Cohen, still to this day. Ultimately, I ended up taking every class he offered in the department and I was hooked. This also inspired me to seek healing from grief in my own therapy and to lean into my desire to foster healing in others.

By the time I finished my bachelor’s at UCLA, I had a dream clearly established, I was going to be a psychologist and do for others what Dr. Cohen and my first therapist did for me. After college, I moved across the country to pursue my dream, initially earning my master’s at Columbia University and later my Ph.D in Clinical Psychology. Both during and after my Ph.D I worked as both a therapist and college professor in New York and San Francisco, but L.A. was never far from my heart. Moving back to L.A. has been an enlivening experience for me and now that I’m here, I’m thrilled to say that life has come full circle. I currently serve as an Assistant Professor at Los Angeles Valley College and an adjunct at my alma mater, Los Angeles Pierce College. By doing this, I try to pay it forward the same ways that Dr. Cohen inspired me. I’d say my passion, however, is in my therapeutic work. I split my time clinically between my in-person private practice here in Calabasas, which is slated to open by the end of this summer and my virtual group practice with Clarity Therapy NYC. In addition to my clinical work, I haven’t left my connections to law completely behind me. I maintain ongoing legal/clinical forensic psychology consultation services for law firms whenever possible. You could say I wear many hats, and that’s exactly the way that I like it.

Can you talk to us a bit about the challenges and lessons you’ve learned along the way. Looking back would you say it’s been easy or smooth in retrospect?
What’s the saying? A smooth sea never made for a skillful sailor? It definitely has not always been easy. My road to deciding on this career was one that was born of personal loss and my own therapeutic healing and growth. In addition to that, when someone pursues a Ph.D in psychology, it’s not for the faint of heart. It’s the better part of a decade of grueling, backbreaking intellectual labor that breaks you down and builds you up into something new. It changes the way you think, the way you process information, and the way you hold your own emotional space in relation to others. It also opens you up to critically look at yourself in ways you might not have otherwise done. To say it is a challenge is definitely an understatement. That being said, it’s one I welcomed. All of this allows clinicians like myself to be present for clients and maintain objectivity, putting the needs of every client first. This has been so key as I have worked as a therapist in numerous contexts, from a hospital-affiliated HIV clinic to community mental health centers and college counseling centers, and now to my group and private practices. It gives an openness to and joy in honoring the experiences of others who may have walked differing paths than my own. The biggest blessing for me in this career is to be able to bear witness to and be of service for so many different people with so many different stories. It’s really a gift to do this work and even with the clients that I served in settings where I no longer work, I think about them often with admiration for them allowing me to be of service.

Great, so let’s talk business. Can you tell our readers more about what you do and what you think sets you apart from others?
In both my private practice in Calabasas and the group practice I work with remotely in New York, Clarity Therapy NYC, I have a few targeted specialty areas. In particular, I work with people experiencing anxiety, depression, relationship stress, addiction, career challenges, and burnout. Regarding career challenges, I work often with high-achieving entrepreneurs and creatives who often feel that their success comes at the expense of other important areas of their lives. A lot of the clients I work with struggle to find balance when they’ve been so rewarded for their hard work, creativity, and entrepreneurial spirit. This often puts them at odds with the people they value most in their personal lives and causes them to struggle in their relationships. This can also lead to burnout when so many people believe that they need to have a 100% success rate or achieve peak performance in all things, which is often pretty unrealistic, even for the best among us. When we expect perfection in all things, failure becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Ultimately, regardless of what my clients are struggling with, I’m most proud of how I work with clients and what I offer them. What sets me apart is, I’m not the kind of therapist who sits quietly and nods throughout the entire session. I work using data-driven and empirically supported methods, basing every intervention I engage in deeply within the sciences. As a professor who teaches research methods more than any other class, I’m passionate about basing my practice in what has been validated to work using the same scientific methodologies that validate medical interventions. I tend to be very solution-focused. I use what are called psychodynamic and cognitive-behavioral therapeutic principles to help my clients understand why they are experiencing their challenges and what role their past experiences, present behaviors, and current contexts play in them. I do this while working to both build skills to handle what life throws at them and help them break free from problematic, repetitive patterns so they can do more than return to an absence of what brought them into therapy. To me, therapy should be as much about healing as it is about personal growth and building more opportunities for happiness in one’s life. I also want to make sure that therapy is in no way a hindrance on my clients financially. Even when I am not in-network on a client’s insurance, I do everything in my power to make sure my clients receive their policy’s maximum out-of-network reimbursement for my fee whenever possible.

Risk taking is a topic that people have widely differing views on – we’d love to hear your thoughts.
To me, risk is part of life. We take risks every day with so many decisions that we make. I took a big risk in devoting so much of my life to my education, to leave L.A. and the people that I love more than anything and start a new life in two other cities to pursue my goals, and to choose to pursue a career as a professor while being in a Ph.D program that was a full-time job in and of itself. I think overall, I’d describe myself as a calculated risk taker. I believe that with the risks we take, we should understand the odds that things might not go our way, but we also need to understand the odds that might just work out in our favor. With any risk, I think that it is important to be as educated as possible. Regardless of one’s approach, I believe that one thing is clear, a certain amount of risk is required for any successful path, it’s really about a balance of having good information, good intuition, and ultimately, trusting your gut. I have found that when I lean into what I know deep down is right, the risks that I take with that in mind are often the ones that are most rewarded. It strikes me that engaging in therapy itself is a risk of sorts. For so many I work with, first sessions are defined by questions of “What will come up for me?” “Will it be difficult?” “Who will I become on the other side of it?” I’ll tell you what I tell them: I have found that for the clients who make that all important choice to invest in themselves, it most often pays dividends.

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Image Credits:

Karen D Photography (for headshots only)

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