Shawn LaRe Brinkley,



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September-October 2019

Member Highlight — Quentin Dunne, M.S., MFT

Shawn LaRe Brinkley, M.S., LMFT

Whenever we pay truly close and caring attention to anyone, we find that they carry a whole world within them. Every individual’s experiences, dreams, and desires make for a rich and expansive story. Shawn LaRe Brinkley, however, seems to carry not only a whole world with her, but a whole universe, perhaps even an entire galaxy. Even after having already known her several years (during which time we collaborated on this very newsletter), I found myself captivated by the depth and breadth of her story. To begin, let’s go back to, well, the beginning.

Shawn LaRe was born and raised in Toledo, Ohio, with a father who was a singer in a band and later worked for General Motors and the Ford Company before eventually buying several trucks and starting his own trucking business. Although she currently brims with vibrancy and passion for being a psychotherapist, looking back, she claims such a profession was never even remotely considered for the first several decades of her life. “I think I was always helping people, but I never even considered being a mental health counselor,” she explains. “I only wanted to be an attorney or an entertainer.”

When it came time for higher education, her relationship with older sister Vanessa proved pivotal. Twice. “I originally went to Ohio University in Athens, Ohio, because Vanessa was a senior there.” Then she moved to New York City to dance in a company there, “so I told my father I needed to go to NYU because I needed greater academic challenge and what he said was, Yeah, right. What you need is lights, camera, action! Get outta here.” She took her dad’s advice and got “outta” Ohio, transferring to NYU and earning a bachelor’s degree in political science.

Ever the restless and creative soul, she acted and sang in Off-Broadway productions while in The Big Apple. And then, “I won the Miss Empire State Pageant in my senior year and they sent me to the Cannes Film Festival for two weeks and then Paris for one week. So, I went there with my director, who also had a modeling agency. It was the year that Steven Spielberg’s E.T. won the Palme d’Or . . .  It was an amazing experience.” Just spending two weeks in the heart of the world’s most famous film festival would have been an adventure for anyone. But Shawn LaRe being who she is and her story being what it is, the adventure didn’t end there. While in the French Riviera, “I had to sing for my supper. Literally. I actually sang in a restaurant!”

When she returned to the States, she held multiple jobs, ranging from running a jewelry business and a consulting business to managing a city council campaign and working part-time for The Jackie Robinson Foundation. “My motto at the time was, I’ll do anything to keep from working nine-to-five so long as it’s not illegal or immoral,” she wistfully recalls.

Eventually, her fluency in French — are you at all surprised to learn she’s bilingual? — brought her from the East Coast to the West. “I took a job with a French hairdresser — although he liked to call himself a hair designer — because he heard me speaking French. He had a salon in New York, and he was opening a new one in Beverly Hills and asked me if I wanted to join him. I said Yes, and that’s how I wound up in California.”

While she may have left The City That Never Sleeps, she was in no hurry to start taking it easy herself and more adventures (and, perhaps, a few misadventures, as well) followed, and soon her journey would include the steps that would lead to her current calling. “When I was 50-years-old, after leaving my job at Tiffany’s, I started working with children again. I felt they knew too much about they shouldn’t know and not enough about what they should know.”

Just as Brinkley’s relationship with her older sister was crucial to moving to New York, her relationship with her husband William played a key role in her becoming a therapist. “I learned what a marriage and family therapist was when my husband and I went to an Imago workshop,” she recalls. “Then, I later I learned a friend of mine was a marriage and family therapist, and I thought, Hmm . . .  that’s a thing?”

It was indeed a thing and, before long, Brinkley enrolled in the University of Phoenix’s Woodland Hills campus to study marriage and family therapy. “One of the greatest things was that my professors there were working in the field every day,” she enthuses. While she loved the program and remains passionate about her profession, she’s also quick to admit there are challenges to the work. “At the end of the program, I started my own therapy. It helped me to learn and get a first-hand look at how it’s done. It also helped me manage my own emotions because I was dealing with a lot of people with trauma and complicated grief, a lot of victims of crime. Some of them had been sexually assaulted, others had suffered intense, intimate betrayals. It was heart-wrenching stuff.”

Fortunately, she says she received some valuable advice along the way for handling the ups, down, and sideways of being a therapist. “One of my instructors told me that I was born to do this work because of my great big old heart, but she also cautioned me to take good care of myself because of my great big old heart,” she states. “Because of my personality, I have to watch my boundaries, so that’s something I work hard at maintaining.”

Challenges and all, she’s found being a therapist to be deeply fulfilling and rewarding. “I love the moment the clients get it. I love the process of watching someone muddle through the murky water and then come out triumphant on the other side. It’s like the lotus flower that blooms from the mud.”

Along the way, her involvement with the San Fernando Valley chapter of CAMFT proved vital to her professional development. “I attended my first meeting for a Law and Ethics workshop when I was still a trainee, around 2012. I started coming regularly in 2013. I loved the learning and socializing, meeting and befriending colleagues . . .  I learned a lot just from talking to people. And it was where I learned private practice was a viable option. My education hadn’t really prepared me for that.” Oh, and Brinkley being who she is, also became a prolific contributor to the Connections newsletter and, later, its editor. She also currently serves on the chapter’s Community Outreach Committee and founded the Diversity Committee.

What words of wisdom does she have to pass along to beginning therapists? “Be authentic. Seriously. Be authentic to who you are because if you’re not, it shows up in the room.”

When asked about her interests and activities during her free time, she offers ample evidence for the principle of once a performer, always a performer. “Dancing. Music. Performing.” Family also remains a priority. “I enjoy hanging out with my grandboys. And, of course, my husband is also fun for me.”

Yes, Shawn LaRe Brinkley is indeed one of those people who carries an entirely galaxy within, one in which the stars are always shining bright.

Shawn LaRe Brinkley, M.S., LMFT provides therapy through her private practice in Tarzana. She can be reached by her website,, or by phone, 818.798.3201. She also has a Psychology Today therapist finder profile:

Quentin Dunne, M.S., MFT provides nature-based therapy through his private practice in Calabasas. He specializes in trauma recovery, grief and loss/pet loss, and obsessive-compulsive disorder. He can be reached through his website, by e-mail, or by phone 818.636.8639.

San Fernando Valley Chapter – California Marriage and Family Therapists