We had the good fortune of connecting with Jeana-Marie Allan and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Jeana-Marie, have there been any changes in how you think about work-life balance?
In the Psychology world, work life balance has often become synonymous with “self-care.” It’s a buzzword that everyone knows…some of us do it really well, and some of us are constantly striving for a better grip on it. For me, my conceptualization of work life balance has shifted dramatically over the last few years. When I took the leap of faith to open up my own private practice, I had to adjust to a new level of responsibility as a business owner. I was excited about the possibility of setting my own schedule and, you know, having the privilege of taking a pilates class in the morning if I felt like it. However, even though work hours were no longer rigidly set, steady pay was also no longer guaranteed. (They don’t tell you in school that you can’t just set up a shingle and expect people to come flocking). As a result, the “good student” mentality that had gotten me through graduate school kicked into overdrive once again. I continually felt pressure (mostly from myself) to hustle harder and network constantly. In therapy we have a saying, “trust the process,” which was something I was certainly not doing at the time. I was stressing myself out way too much in order to prove to myself that I had made the right decision by going out on my own. I had somehow made this unconscious connection in my brain that if I didn’t secure a full caseload after the first month then I wouldn’t be able to “hack” it as a business owner. (By the way, this is also textbook case example of unhealthy distorted thinking patterns). Once I was able to finally step back and calm my nerves, I realized that building a business was going to take time. I began allowing myself to finally breathe and trust the process…and yes, take that pilates class! As the clients started to roll in, I found myself beginning to detach from my “good student” bleed-myself-dry mentality. I was taking time to reflect on and consider my future wants and plans, especially as it pertained to a work life balance. How many clients ideally do I WANT to see? How many days a week do I WANT to work? What things do or do not bring me joy both personally and professionally? By trusting my own inherent learning process, and allowing myself to slow down, I was creating space within myself to actually think through and refine what does balance look like for me! As a go-go-go East Coaster, this is something I had not truly been able to do up until then. Now, a few years down the line, work life balance is an utmost priority for me (and not just an illusion). In particular, I’m constantly evaluating whether I have balance in my life among all my priorities (i.e., work, marriage, social life, family, hobbies, rest). I even compassionately allow for the balance to shift as my priorities shift! I am still a hard worker to my core, but I now no longer allow my inner overachiever to speak louder than any of the other parts of myself.
Let’s talk shop? Tell us more about your career, what can you share with our community?
From a young age, I was always very sensitive and attuned to the people around me. I was the kid crying at sad moments in Winnie the Pooh, or “reading the room” and knowing that there was tension (before even really knowing what that meant). I was teased a lot, even by loved ones, for being overly emotional about people, situations, etc. But it was a part of me that I couldn’t turn off, and I wasn’t really sure that I even wanted to. As I grew older, I became “the mother hen” of sorts for my friend groups. People would share their issues and confide in me often – knowing that I would listen and be supportive, but most of all that I would do all that I could to help them out. When the time came to graduate high school and move onto college, I had solidified in my mind that I needed to become a professional helper – a therapist. I left New Jersey and moved up to Massachusetts where I attended Boston University for undergrad. Having grew up in suburban NJ, this was a huge change for me, but I took to city life quickly and thrived. The night life, public transportation, restaurants, culture – it all spoke to me in ways I can only understand now in hindsight. The city had a pulse to it and I felt so much at home. These cultural experiences continued to influence and color my experiences over the next 8-10 years as I graduated with a Bachelor’s in Psychology and went on to attend a doctorate program at Massachusetts School of Professional Psychology (now William James College). My graduate school experience rocked me to my core. Looking back, I don’t know how I managed to juggle school full-time, along with part-time practicums/internships, as well as many side jobs in retail, academia, and the occasional babysitting to help make financial ends meet. But I did it. And along the way my cultural and psychological understanding and compacity expanded 10-fold. I actively sought out experiences that would enable me to learn and explore new cultures outside of my white, Italian/Scottish, Catholic bubble. During a few of my practicums, I worked with Cambodian refugee survivors of the killing fields and learned how to communicate psychologically with the help of interpreters, as well as what it meant to experience my own vicarious trauma. I also vehemently volunteered to work on what was the deaf unit at Worcester Recovery Center and Hospital during my last practicum year in graduate school. On a psychological level, I wanted to understand how psychosis manifested with individuals who are deaf, but on a personal level, I wanted to learn how to communicate and bridge a gap. Looking back, these two opportunities lit an insatiable flame for me. I became so enthralled with learning more, seeing more, meeting new people, going new places. I embraced change (as scary as it was at times) and decided to try my luck at an A.P.A. internship, knowing full well that I may need to leave Boston, my adult home for the last decade. I matched at The Help Group in Sherman Oaks, CA and readied myself to become a Californian. The first few years in California were challenging for me – all my family and friends were back East, and I felt very much like a small fish in a big pond. It was during this time that I found myself watching a lot of Anthony Bourdain television shows. I marveled at the places he traveled to, cried during the heartfelt moments when he connected deeply with people he encountered, smirked at his sarcasm and wit, and listened carefully and attentively to his words of wisdom. I knew I had already set a path for myself in the field of psychology (which I firmly intended to see through), but I began to develop a bit of an “itch”. I chose to ignore that feeling for awhile and continue on with my studies…I needed to get licensed after all! By 2016, after a few more years, moves, and tests, I was officially a licensed Clinical Psychologist in the state of California. However, it took me another 2 years before I put my own “shingle” up as a private practice business owner. While I was busy learning how to be a business owner and cultivate my love for helping others, it was then that Anthony Bourdain passed away. By that point, I had already been jokingly telling others for years that I basically wanted to be like him (sans the drug years). His passing was such an incredible blow. This man, for so many people, had symbolized humanity, authenticity, creativity, curiosity, and cultural connection. I couldn’t imagine our world without his presence….a man I didn’t even know but had touched so many parts of my life that fill me with joy and wonder. It was his passing that ultimately brought that dormant “itch” to the forefront. As a psychologist, one of the core things that I often discuss in therapy with my clients is the importance of self-care. For us in the field, self-care has become synonymous with other 4-letter words, mostly because we tend to work ourselves way too hard. Since graduating and becoming licensed, I had struggled to remember how to have hobbies and down time. So much of my days for the last 2 decades had been filled with readings, papers, therapy, clinical work…I couldn’t even remember what I liked to do? When Anthony Bourdain passed, something clicked. I felt like I needed to honor a man who had changed my life by re-connecting TO my life. While building my private practice, I began to cultivate the other parts of myself – the creative side of me that loves art, photography, meeting new people, and FOOD! I began documenting my excursions on Yelp and Instagram with no real goal in mind other than to have fun, be present in the moment, enjoy a creative outlet, and eat really good food (I am in L.A. after all). What has transpired over the last few months has brought me to tears. I have met so many amazing people, foodies and restaurant owners alike, and have been introduced to various new cultures and cuisines. The journey is never over, as I’m sure Anthony Bourdain would muse. But I do feel like the melding of psychology and food has been an important one for me – a left and right brain connection, or perhaps bridging together the gap between my head and my heart. However you want to conceptualize it, it has led me to be a better person for myself and an even more authentic and genuine clinician for my clients.
Any places to eat or things to do that you can share with our readers? If they have a friend visiting town, what are some spots they could take them to?
Given the unprecedented experiences and changes we have all experienced due to COVID-19, I find this question even more difficult to answer. SO many places that are near and dear to my heart are either no longer open or indefinitely closed due to social distancing practices and quarantine restrictions. However, the optimist in me is choosing to ignore these confines in order to create the ideal itinerary. In my opinion, the perfect trip would incorporate places both in and outside of Los Angeles! For touristy excursions, Griffith Observatory and The Getty Museum are definitely at the top of my list. I would also plan beach days at Zuma beach in Malibu, as well as at either Huntington or Newport Beach down in Orange County. But given that I am a “foodie”, I honestly would probably be more excited to take my buddy out to get some quintessential L.A. food! In particular, we would absolutely have to brave the long lines to get some hot chicken from Howlin’ Ray’s! I would also make sure that we grabbed al pastor tacos from Angel’s Tijuana Tacos, as well as birria tacos and birria ramen from Cocina Los V. And if their trip happened to coincide with either Smorgasburg, the LA Fair, or 626 Night, we would most definitely spend a few hours vendor hopping trying out all sorts of goodies like bone marrow from Golden Marrow, or triple cheeseburgers housed between Krispy Kreme donuts from Chicken Charlies.
Shoutout is all about shouting out others who you feel deserve additional recognition and exposure. Who would you like to shoutout?
I owe a great deal of thanks and gratitude to my family. My parents have raised me to be the person I am today and have helped instill in me so many important values and priorities, both overtly and covertly. I was also fortunate enough to have great relationships with my grandparents, all of whom played important roles throughout my development. And for me, family is not defined solely by bloodline. I wholeheartedly would not be where I am today without the unconditional love, support, and loyalty of my best friends and my husband. I am truly blessed with a growing, stellar support system.