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Featured Therapist Interview
Dr. Shannon Couture O’Flinn earned her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 2007. She was mentored by David Penn in his lab studying social cognition and treatments for schizophrenia. After graduating, she moved to Manchester, United Kingdom, to work with Tony Morrison and to facilitate an international research collaboration with Aaron “Tim” Beck. Returning to the U.S., she worked with Jack Blanchard at the University of Maryland, College Park, for 3 years, where she also served as the Associate Director of Clinical Training. While there, she was honored as a Beck Scholar by the Beck Institute in 2013. Dr. O’Flinn then relocated to Los Angeles where she served for 7 years as the Clinic Director for the training clinic in the Clinical Science Ph.D. program at the University of Southern California. Toward the end of her tenure at USC, Dr. O’Flinn opened a small private practice in Pasadena, California. She found the sessions she was having with her clients to be values-consistent work that gave her career a great deal of meaning. Thus, this experience led her to open a full-time private practice in Pasadena in January 2019. In her practice, she specializes in the treatment of anxiety in late adolescence and adults (offering exposure therapy for OCD and panic disorder in particular), and has a special interest in perfectionism and how it impacts individuals over the course of their life. Her treatment plans often focus on CBT and ACT methods, helping her clients take a step back to examine old stories along with thinking and relationship patterns. Recently, she has been developing expertise in couples’ therapy using the Gottman method.
First, we would like to know a little about your practice.
What are your personal strengths as a practitioner?
Since I spent many years teaching psychologists-in-training, I have thought a great deal about the process of therapy and how to tailor it to the person, as well as how to explain therapy-related concepts in a variety of ways. I think my clients would report that while I bring a specific perspective to their problems and help them consider the best ways to make changes in their everyday life, I also take time to ensure ideas resonate with them and that there is some investment on their part, as otherwise many of the new behavior patterns developed are likely to be dropped as soon as treatment concludes.
What “tips” can you offer to colleagues just opening a practice?
I recently opened my practice myself, so I think I could use the tips! I do think networking with other professionals in your community (especially if therapists in your community are likely to have full practices) helps with referrals. It also helps to have an expertise that other psychologists you network with do not have. This is why I have been working on Gottman certification as many of my colleagues do not offer couples therapy in their practice.
How do you remind your patients of their strengths during the therapy process?
Reminding patients of their strengths should be a part of every session in my view. Many of my clients have shown extraordinary resilience, given the events that have occurred in their lives, yet they rarely recognize it. In addition, given my interest in perfectionism, many clients dismiss their achievements if it doesn’t meet an exceedingly high bar. I look for opportunities to point out these processes in every encounter. I also point out strengths that emerge during the course of therapy – for example, a patient who has the courage to engage in an exposure exercise or thoughtfully reflect on their experiences are clearly demonstrating strengths right in the therapy room.
Are you involved in other types of professional activities in addition to your private practice?
I have been involved with the American Psychological Association (APA) for the past few years. I served as a member of the Continuing Education Committee, and am now on the advisory committee for this group. I am also involved with the Central Programming Group, where we plan much of the activities associated with APA’s annual convention. Given my lifelong interest in education, these activities are an excellent fit for me, and help to keep me abreast of the latest developments in the field.
We would also like to know a little about you personally.
Who was your mentor?
David Penn has been a hugely important mentor in my life, both during graduate school and as a friend and mentor post-graduation. I turn to him for advice frequently, and am grateful for the skills I developed under his supervision. David Smith was my mentor when I was an undergraduate at Notre Dame, and he is one of the main reasons I chose to become a clinical psychologist. I have been lucky to work with many wonderful colleagues who have also mentored me over the years including Tony Morrison (University of Manchester), Aaron “Tim” Beck, Gayla Margolin and Steve Lopez (USC), and Jack Blanchard (UMD), who have all shaped the way I think about psychology and helped me on my career path.
When not practicing CBT, what do you do for fun?
I go to Pilates 4-5 times per week, enjoy seeing movies with my film-editor husband, and spending time with my adorable cat. I’m also an avid reader and have been in the same book club for the past 8 years.
We are also interested in some of your views of CBT.
What do you think is the single most important thing CBT can do for your clients?
One of the most powerful and transformational ideas from CBT is that our thoughts are not facts. This is a very simple idea, but I have found that many people have not thought to question the accuracy of their thinking until they come into therapy. I have seen many clients struck by the concept that it is possible to take a different perspective on the thoughts and stories that they have been telling themselves for years. In line with this, I think the focus on utility and implementing changes that bring meaning to daily life further enables clients’ willingness to relate differently to their thinking.
Where do you see the field of the behavioral therapies going over the next 3-5 years?
I think more efforts to understand the active ingredients of therapy, with a particular focus on which active ingredients may work for which clients, would be helpful. Making therapy more efficient and having more data available to guide conceptualization is important. Whether a client has a certain number of sessions from an insurance company, or limited resources to pay for therapy out of pocket, it is often necessary to provide briefer interventions in today’s environment.
Finally, we would like to know your opinions about ABCT.
How long have you been a member of ABCT?
I joined ABCT in my first year of graduate school in 2001. Our lab (David Penn at UNC Chapel Hill) attended ABCT every year. Today, I still meet up with his lab as an alumna at the conference each year. I have long considered ABCT my professional home.
What services do you consider the most valuable from ABCT?
One of the services that I find most valuable is the list serve. The ability to locate practitioners in different locations is so helpful when clients move out of state or someone you know is looking for a therapist. But more importantly, it is so helpful to read the advice that is provided in response to difficult or complex cases. Often, I read about an idea someone has that I can integrate into my own practice.
What service(s) are missing from ABCT in your role as a practitioner?
It would be nice if more potential clients were aware of the existence of ABCT and used its website to locate providers. It is difficult for clients to sort through the many profiles on Psychology Today (especially in a saturated market like LA!), and there may be many who would be interested in more easily finding a provider who practices evidence-based care.
Thank you very much for taking the time to answer our questions!