We had the good fortune of connecting with Malena Ally and we’ve shared our conversation below.
Hi Malena, we’d love to hear about how you approach risk and risk-taking
Almost every major change/event that has shaped my life for the better has involved risk, from going away to college, studying abroad, leaving stable jobs, and several moves to large, unfamiliar cities where I hardly knew anyone. I often do things that scare me or that I don’t believe I can do. Sometimes I need to prove to my brain that it’s wrong when those automatic negative thoughts pop up (whether it’s my own beliefs or other people’s doubts). I often ask myself a few questions when deciding whether I should proceed with a choice: (1) Will it help me towards my goals; (2) Does it scare me (probably an indication that it is something I should do); (3) Do the benefits align with my values and/or bring me joy; and (4) What is the worst case scenario and what steps would I take to get through it. When I wanted to start my own business as an adolescent therapist, I had a lot of doubts and the “what if” scenarios gave me pause. I left a great, stable job in a school district in Chicago where I had benefits, health insurance, and the summers off. I moved half way across the country where I had no job, no friends, and my husband would be out of town for the first 6 months. I got a job in a group practice (Dynamic Interventions, Inc.) while I transferred my license from Illinois to California. It was a great job and I stayed for several years, but I still had bigger goals. I started my own business slowly and probably had only a handful of clients when I left Dynamic Interventions. I reminded myself that, if it works out, the benefits of owning my own business, treating the clients with whom I do my best work, creating my own schedule, and working anywhere that I want will be a scary step to take, but ultimately exhilarating and worth it. Plus, so many people do it, so why can’t I? A lot of therapists teach clients to use something called ‘wise mind.’ It’s when we can make a decision using both logic and emotions. It’s helpful to think things through, check that our goal is attainable, understand the steps that we need to take, and maybe even make a plan B. However, emotions are also important and we should check in with ourselves about how we feel in regards to the decisions we make in our life. Sometimes, a decision to keep the status quo might be logical, but it makes us feel bored, unfulfilled, tired, angry, or even depressed. A decision to go in a different direction might be a little risky, but it can also make us feel excited, creative, focused, and motivated. I have always loved a quote by John A. Shedd: “A ship in the harbor is safe, but that is not what ships are built for.”
What should our readers know about your business?
I see adolescents and young adults for individual and group therapy. This all started with a goal to be a kindergarten teacher! It’s a long story, but I always wanted to be a teacher and got my Bachelors of Arts in Education. As I went through college and started teaching in the classrooms, I realized that the ages I enjoyed and wanted to work with just continued to increase. By the time I was finishing college, I felt less passionate about teaching math and language arts to students and more concerned with the social and emotional well-being of my students who were dealing with everything from poverty and homelessness to bullying, racism, or abuse, to the every day struggles of homework or arguments with friends. I went straight to graduate school and started studying social work. I still thought I enjoyed elementary school students, but then I was placed at a junior high school with 3,000 students for my graduate internship – I was terrified! However, I soon realized that I loved that age and that I was really effective in working with the junior high students and understanding their perspective and their struggles. I worked in a school setting for 8 years and learned a lot. I learned how to combine my teaching background and knowledge of lesson planning with the social and emotional skills that I was teaching to students. I ran a lot of classroom lessons and discussions, as well as smaller groups and I think this is what sparked my love of groups. I still run groups in my individual practice today (virtually right now) and it’s a big thing that sets me apart from other therapists. Teens can get so much from being in a group with their peers and I love giving them the safe space to connect and heal. Another thing that sets me apart from other therapists is my social work background, combined with my experience in the schools. I have 8 years of experience in developing and implementing Individual Education Plans (IEPs) and 504 plans to help provide accommodations for students with disabilities. I can help my school-aged clients with anxiety and depression gain some greatly needed help in the school setting. The school and social work background also mean that I’m used to being very collaborative. I’m often in contact with the school counselors, doctors, or other treatment providers for my clients so that I can work with their team of providers to give them the best care. My passion and life goal is to help young people feel loved and connected (to their peers, family, the world, and a greater purpose). I want all of my clients to feel important and know that they have something to offer. So often my clients feel anxious or defeated and they don’t believe that they can do hard things. They also feel sad, unloved, or disconnected from those around them. I want them to feel empowered to speak up for their needs and wants, to know that they deserve that love/attention/help, and to understand that their feelings are valid. This will give them a sense of control over their lives and the self-esteem and confidence to pursue their goals. Teens get a bad rap, but they are so smart, creative and full of potential.
If you had a friend visiting you, what are some of the local spots you’d want to take them around to?
Ooh, great question! We would hit a few touristy spots like the Griffith Observatory, Venice Beach and the Venice Canals, whale watching, The Last Bookstore, Melrose Trading post, and the Rosebowl Flea Market. During a pandemic (and because I love to hike and be outside) our itinerary would focus on beach trips, farmers markets (I love the Encino Farmers Market), a day trip to Catalina to hike across the island, an overnight trip to Solvang for some wine tasting, and lots of hikes. Some of my favorite hikes are Knapps Castle (on the way to Solvang), Gaviota Peak Trail (near Solvang), Big Horn Mine, Musch Trail to Eagle Rock, Solstice Canyon Loop, and Hermit Falls to Sturtevant Falls. I’m mostly familiar with the valley and we would be sure to stop at Brothers Sushi and Lodge Bread Co. in Woodland Hills. For some of the best vegan food we would to SunCafe Organic, Vinh Loi Tofu, and VeStation. If we are in the mood for meat, we would grab some empanadas at Johnny Pacific, tacos at Hugos Tacos, or sushi and udon at Daichan. For something sweet, we would stop at Philz for coffee, Susie Cakes for their mint chocolate cupcake, and Randy’s Donuts. I’m hungry now!
Who else deserves some credit and recognition?
My husband for sure! He is definitely less risk averse than I am and has encouraged me to take a lot of big steps in my life. My best friend, Erin U. Starkey, LCSW has also played a big role in my success. She has a health coaching business and is very driven, passionate about her work, and business-minded. For years we have been checking in with each other for accountability and she is strong in areas where I am weaker. Her advice, direction, and encouragement have helped me to take some tremendous steps in my business. Anita Avedian, LMFT was an early support to me when I first moved to Los Angeles. I met her through a Toastmasters group and she helped me with my public speaking skills and offered a lot of advice on starting a business. She also took time to check in with me about how I was doing and asked me to lunch or to meet for a hike.
Professional photos are by Sonia Alvarado (Headshot LA)