Today we’d like to introduce you to Malena Ally.
Malena, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
Well, I started out wanting to be a kindergarten teacher! How I am an adolescent therapist today includes some twists and turns….
I went to school to study Art-Elementary Education. I was sure that I wanted to be an elementary school teacher, but each class and practicum ended up exposing me to older children until I got to a 6th grade classroom. I said I NEVER wanted to teach 6th grade and I thought I would be annoyed at dealing with the hormones and taking notes away in class (this was before cell phones)! I ended up loving the older students and started to consider becoming a middle school art teacher, since I would be certified to teach kindergarten through 8th grade.
At the same time, I saw a lot of students struggling socially and emotionally. This was in northwest Washington and there were a lot of migrant students, Native students (mostly Lummi Indian) and a large Russian population at one of my schools. Some of the struggles I saw students experiencing were related to teachers being biased or prejudiced, some were related to difficulties at home, and other situations, like the bullying, simply wasn’t addressed because the teachers were unsure of how to handle these types of situations. This made me sad and I began to wonder how students could learn anything when they were homeless, or dealing with a death in the family, or being bullied by a classmate daily.
I started to express my concerns to a friend of mine who was studying social work. I was near the end of my college career and was minoring in psychology. I was more passionate about talking to the students than teaching them how to make a pie graph on a paper plate. I had no idea what a Social Worker was or what they did, but I looked into the profession and it sounded like me. I also loved the focus on social justice in this profession, as I was volunteering and spending a lot of my free time focused on multicultural education and social justice issues on campus and in the community.
I never taught at all (except for 1 summer of student teaching in Lima, Peru)! I ended up going straight to Chicago for grad school to study School Social Work. In grad school, I still wasn’t convinced that I loved working with adolescents, but then I was placed in a junior high school for my yearlong internship. I was dreading this age going into the internship, but I ended up LOVING the students and was hired on after I finished my master’s degree. I worked there for 7 more years and enjoyed working with the students and families in the community.
When I moved to Los Angeles 4 years ago I got a job at Dynamic Interventions in Santa Clarita. They do amazing work in the schools up there and also run tons of social skills groups for kids and young adults on the spectrum. I found that I was drawn to my teen clients and the college students I saw, so when I was ready to start my own practice in the summer of 2017 I decided that I would only work with adolescents! 🙂
Overall, has it been relatively smooth? If not, what were some of the struggles along the way?
The biggest “struggles” – I’m not even sure I would call it that – was just the change in my interests. It’s funny how you can feel so clear on your path, but you end up somewhere completely different. I feel like my bachelor’s degree was still useful because it sparked my passion for addressing students’ social and emotional wellbeing. It has also been helpful for running groups because I know how to plan a lesson and teach! I also love to incorporate art into my groups or my work with individual clients, when appropriate.
Malena Ally, LCSW – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Teens! I think I’m a bit different from many therapists because I love to work with adolescents and I have a very specific niche. I only work with tweens, teens, and college-aged adults. I mostly see clients for depression, self-harming behaviors, suicidal ideation, anxiety, and social skills difficulties (whether that is due to social anxiety, shyness, or high functioning Autism).
I run groups to teach social skills and coping skills. I am also starting a teen process group – just a place for teens to check in, talk about how they are doing, and get support from their peers.
I’m most proud of my ability to connect with teens and parents. A lot of times, the families who come in are having difficulty in communicating and connecting with each other. I love helping parents to understand their teen better and I post regularly on my social medial pages for parents. I also hop on Facebook live each week to offer advice to parents. The cool thing is, parents will show my videos or my website to their teen to see if they want to come in and meet with me and I’m discovering that I appeal to both! I feel proud that both teens and their parents like me and I can help everyone to feel happier and have more meaningful relationships. * I just noticed that I’m smiling while thinking about this. 🙂 I really love my work!
What is “success” or “successful” for you?
….when an adolescent talks to their parent about a struggle, instead of holing up in their room.
….a parent telling me that they wanted to yell at their teen for something, but they bit their tongue and gave an understanding nod – and their teen noticed this change in behavior and really appreciated it!
….seeing a student passing their classes and feeling the relief that they don’t have to attend summer school.
….a college student who was feeling suicidal and depressed reaches out to friends for support.
….that teen boy who never talked to his friends about his feelings or anything deep, but finally connects in group over shared experiences and disappointments and finally gets real support.
….that junior high student who was struggling to make friends and then they learn how to check their anxious thoughts about being judged by others and they start a conversation with someone.
….it’s that teen who refused to go to therapy and had that hard outer shell, but you see the relief in their shoulders, hear the sigh, and feel the shell crack when they realize that they are in safe space and can be themselves.
Sometimes they are small changes, like a teen telling a parent how they feel or the change is bigger, such as a college student going back to school after struggling with depression. It can require some patience to work with someone over a period of time and wait for them to gain skills and confidence, but when they take that first baby step it is a success!
- Individual therapy – $150
- Groups run $40-50 per session
- Sliding scale is available
- Address: 16055 Ventura Blvd., Suite 555
Encino, CA 91436
- Website: www.MalenaAlly.com
- Phone: (818) 276-9345
- Email: MalenaLCSW@gmail.com
- Instagram: Malena_therapy
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/MalenaAllyTherapy/
- Yelp: https://www.yelp.com/biz/malena-ally-lcsw-los-angeles
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