Susan Overhauser, Ph.D.
Clinical & Child Psychologist
I am a Clinical Psychologist (serving adults) and a Child Psychologist (serving children, teens, and families). I have served individuals, couples, and families in a variety of contexts since I graduated with a Ph.D. from the University of Minnesota in 1993.
I have always been intrigued by how relationships impact one’s sense of self. I studied how early attachment, friendships, and family relationships influence development. Early relationships can have both positive and negative qualities. Relational trauma such as physical, emotional, and sexual abuse can leave lasting impacts on the personality, and impact life in profound ways. Over time, I have developed a specialty in treating trauma and attachment across the lifespan. Unraveling the effects of trauma leaves one freer to become who one really wants to be. Increasing secure attachment to current romantic partners and family members improves happiness and the ability to take risks and enjoy life to its fullest.
My early career focused on adolescents. My dissertation explored the impact of friendship intimacy and family warmth on the identity development of adolescents from late elementary school through the early college years. I have provided counseling for tweens and teens in school settings. I currently provide individual and group therapy for teens in my private practice.
During my early training, I was immersed in relational psychodynamic therapy, including Object Relations, which provides a solid foundation for effective talk therapy. Psychodynamic therapy considers subconscious and unconscious motivation for behavior as important, and considers insight an important route toward healing. Contrary to common understanding, psychodynamic therapy is an evidence-based practice backed by solid research, and psychodynamic therapy skills improve therapists’ success when implementing other therapy modalities as well.
Imaginal work can be very effective in therapy. Our minds respond strongly to images and symbols that have become important to us. Working with art, sand tray, dreams, journaling and active imagination can access aspects of our experience that elude our intellectual side. I include these powerful elements with clients who are open to doing so. Dreams, when tended to, can provide significant information regarding what is “really” going on that drives our behavior.
Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) is a very versatile and powerful therapy method which I use frequently and am certified in. It is the gold standard for treating trauma and PTSD, and can be helpful in treating anxiety, depression, behavioral disorders and other problems. EMDR involves identifying target issues or memories, linking associated thoughts or beliefs, related emotions and body sensations, and then allowing the inherent healing qualities of our brain and body to process and resolve the issue. With this method, issues can often be resolved quickly, and incidents that haunted us with flashbacks can be integrated into our autobiographical time stream, no longer hindering our movement into a better and freer future.
I am also experienced in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy, both of which are helpful for relieving a variety of forms of psychological distress. Learning specific skills and ways of coping can be a very important factor in symptom reduction.
Two essential ingredients to healing are mindfulness and developing an observing self. The observing self, or “witness consciousness” is that part of us that is able to notice what we are doing as we do it. This provides us with the information we need to change our behavior, and to reflect on it. It can take practice to develop our observing self, and I can offer many avenues for achieving this. Mindfulness refers to a great variety of ways of consciously altering our mental state to be present in the moment. Mindfulness is very effective in reducing symptoms and gaining a greater sense of ease and freedom in life.
I have undertaken ongoing training in trauma and dissociation, and belong to the professional association the International Society for the Study of Trauma and Dissociation. Dissociation is involved in processes from ordinary “highway hypnosis” to mental compartmentalization, to complete repression of segments of life experience. Most major trauma involves some amount of dissociation, which can then become a habitual coping response. Treating clients with significant dissociation requires specialized skills. I treat dissociation, depersonalization, trauma, complex developmental trauma, and dissociative identity disorder.
Relational work is a foundation of my practice. I was involved in early research on attachment, and I believe attachment is the foundation for a healthy life. I can help improve attachment between children and their caregivers, particularly when adoption is involved. I have helped improve relationships between foster and adopted children and their caregivers, including working with children who experience reactive attachment disorder.
It is not uncommon for attachment with caregivers in the family of origin to impact the quality of our romantic relationships. Intimate relationships invariably bring up any unresolved issues from the past. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy is a highly effective, evidence-based therapy for improving couple relationships. When we nurture our attachment and emotional connection with our primary partner, we feel more content and confident in life. Relational happiness is one of the strongest determinants of life happiness. Emotionally Focused Therapy is a powerful method to improve relationships, even when significant ruptures such as affairs have been experienced.
Bessel van der Kolk wrote a famous book titled “The Body Keeps the Score.” Indeed, difficult life experience leaves an imprint on bodily tension, eventually influencing bodily habits, and impacting posture, health, and vitality. Mental and bodily health are intertwined. Recognizing this, I began a three-year training in Sensorimotor Psychotherapy. This method utilizes the wisdom of the body to unlock and release prior trauma and bodily habits that no longer serve us. I have found that this work is very powerful in finally releasing fully tensions that have haunted us from our past.
As well as providing psychotherapy, I have worked as a teacher and administrator in private and public schools, and as an instructor of psychology in high school and at the university level. I continue to be engaged in training new generations of therapists.
I have a particular interest in helping develop Anthroposophic Psychotherapy, which is a form of therapy that recognizes that humans develop throughout life and over time, and that the human experience includes an interweaving of body, soul, and spirit. This form of therapy seeks, among other goals, to help an individual harmonize and balance their capacities of thinking, feeling, and doing, and to discover meaning and purpose in life.
I provide culturally sensitive and gender-inclusive therapy in a warm and nonjudgmental way. My experience living in other countries and working with English language learners contributes to my capacity to help individuals and couples from a variety of diverse backgrounds. Please know that you will be welcome in my practice, no matter your background, race, ethnicity, culture, gender, sexuality or affiliations.
Treating Trauma and Attachment at all Ages
Certified in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR)
Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy
Relational Psychodynamic Therapy
Trauma and Dissociation
Play Therapy, Parenting, SandPlay, Expressive Arts
Biography Work, Spirituality, Self-Development
Children, Teens, Adults, Couples & Families
Susan Overhauser, Ph.D.
Licensed Psychologist PSY#29951
3468 Mt. Diablo Blvd., Suite B203
Lafayette, CA 94549
Additonal office in El Sobrante