Real Therapists for Real People: Laura Johnson, LMFT, LPCC

Laura Tahiti beachHello there. My name is Laura Johnson. I am the founder and director of the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley. I was born in New York and my family moved to Miami when I was four years old. I am multicultural product of an American mother (of Polish and Austrian descent) and a Cuban father, who came to the United States as a teenager.

I went to college at the University of Miami and majored in Advertising Communication. I loved my major because it is the study of what makes people tick and it was creative as well (lots of writing and art classes). After college, I worked for awhile in Miami in market research. Even though I didn’t consider myself very business savvy, I got inspired by some of my colleagues to get an MBA.  I only applied to MBA programs out of state because I wanted to gain life experience in another place.  Due to my origins in New York, I was thrilled when I got accepted by Columbia University.

I worked for 16 years after getting my MBA in corporate marketing. I spent the first 11 years in brand and product marketing roles for a variety of large companies. I never felt that corporate marketing in big companies was a fit for me due to all the corporate politics and I don’t have the naturally assertive and competitive personality so highly valued in business. I experienced an existential crisis in wondering about my purpose and the meaning of life. I learned about a position developing and leading the Corporate Philanthropy and Employee Volunteerism initiatives where I was working and spent the next 5 years of my career in corporate philanthropy. It was more meaningful and a better fit with my values and personality but it was even more political because everyone wanted to have a say in where we made donations.

While I was still working full time, I decided to explore the field of psychology since my heart had always been in understanding how people think, feel and behave. At first, I considered becoming a career counselor because I thought it would be a good fit with my business background. I applied to Santa Clara University because they had a career counseling program. The Dean encouraged me to also get licensed as a psychotherapist because she said it was hard to survive as just a career counselor. As I started taking psychology classes, I found I absolutely loved it. I had always been reading psychology books anyway and had been in many years of therapy myself.

I knew immediately that I would specialize in cognitive behavior therapy because I had worked with an executive coach/licensed psychologist in the late 1990s on some of my professional issues in the business world. She taught me how to use CBT skills to change my thinking and look at other possible interpretations instead of jumping to conclusions, personalizing and assuming my thoughts were facts. I realized that I had been operating my entire life with a very narrow, biased view of myself and others. I gained a new perspective with CBT and was able to finally feel peace and joy. CBT helped me learn to be satisfied with myself and my life and to be grateful for all my blessings.

After a couple of years working full time and going to school part time at night, I decided to take the plunge and make a 100% commitment to becoming a therapist. I loved psychology so much that I dropped the career counseling courses so I could take more electives in psychology. I figured I knew a lot about business and careers already and I wanted to take classes in health psychology, positive psychology, cognitive behavior therapy and mindfulness.

Since 2005, I have immersed myself in the CBT world by participating in many specialized conferences, advanced workshops and consultation with CBT experts every year in addition to my clinical work. I became interested in specializing in anxiety and OCD during my internship at Kaiser as I noticed that people with anxiety and OCD are the kindest, sweetest and most responsible people who really want to grow and improve. As Kaiser learned about my interest, they directed as many anxiety and OCD cases to me as possible and I co-led several groups for anxious kids and families. By the time I started my individual private practice, I had absolutely no doubt that I would focus on evidence-based CBT for anxiety and OCD with all age groups.

With my passion for CBT and the lack of therapists focusing on evidence-based therapy for anxiety and OCD, I discovered the perfect niche to serve the South Bay area community. As my individual practice grew, I founded the Cognitive Behavior Therapy Center of Silicon Valley. We now have four therapists and an assistant and we moved the office from San Jose to a charming, homey space in Saratoga this year.

Horseback riding1On the personal side, I got married in 2006 to a wonderful, caring man. Since we married later in life, we were not able to have children. However, we have many pets. We have two Cavalier King Charles Spaniels named Rusty and Moon, and two cats – a large black Maine Coon named Frankie and an orange tabby named Sunny. In terms of hobbies, I enjoy reading (I read a lot about psychology in my free time), light jogging, walking, hiking, camping, yoga, and movies. One of my most difficult accomplishments has been maintaining a 70 pound weight loss. It’s not about the numbers but how good I feel now physically and how much more active I have become when I don’t have to lug around the extra weight. For example, I’ve taken up new hobbies in the past few years, like skiing and horseback riding.

I work with all age groups and especially love helping children with anxiety and OCD because they change more quickly than adults and I get great satisfaction from knowing I helped “save” a young life from years of unnecessary suffering. I, myself, was a shy, anxious child so I know the pain of feeling different and having low self esteem. Many of my clients say they feel I truly understand their anxiety because of my personal struggles. I am open to sharing small, relevant pieces of my history with my clients when I believe it could be therapeutic. As a cognitive behavior therapist, my greatest joy comes from seeing people have an “aha” moment that changes their life.