Introducing Karen Levine, LMFT
Karen Levine, LMFT is a Marriage and Family Therapist with specialized training in neurodivergent couples including couples in which one partner has Asperger's Syndrome, an Autism Spectrum Disorder, ADD/ADHD, or identifies as highly sensitive or gifted.
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M.A., The Wright Institute, Counseling Psychology, 2011.
MBA, Walter A. Haas School of Business, UC Berkeley, Master of Business Adminstration, 1999.
B.A., University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, Comparative Literature and Women's Studies.1993. Member of Phi Beta Kappa.
Marriage and Family Therapist: CA: MFT 85942
Advanced Training in the Gottman Method & Certification Track
Couples and Addiction Recovery, Gottman Institute
Gottman Trauma and Affairs Recovery
Additional Certifications & Trainings
Relational Life Therapy Level 1 & 2 and Experiential
Developmental Model of Couples Therapy
Dan Wile Collaborative Couples Therapy Intensive
Divorce Mediation Certification
I work with couples who say that they feel stuck. Maybe they’ve been fighting about the same topic and not making any progress. Or maybe they notice that their relationship is in a rut. Maybe they’re going through a major life transition, like parenting or becoming empty-nesters, or healing from an affair or grief. I specialize in working with neurodiverse couples, in which one partner has a diagnosis of ADHD, an autism spectrum disorder (ASD), or is self-diagnosed. I also work with clients who identify as highly sensitive or gifted. Many couples come to me because they’ve discovered that their relationship has become “transactional”- they are focused on the business of parenting or managing their household; when they spend time alone their time is focused on practical tasks. They want to figure out how to enjoy spending time together again, whether that means increasing intimacy or just finding ways to reconnect.
I work only with couples in my therapy practice, and this is very intentional. I find that I am most energized and delighted by my work with couples. While it’s not an easy job, it is one that continues to bring me joy and hope. I incorporate research-based therapy tools into my practice, giving couples greater understanding of their situation, and real strategies that they can practice at home.
Relationships are not easy! They force us to constantly pay attention to both who we are and who our partner is, while also thinking about the relationship itself. I know from my own relationship that this can require some mental agility; we all eventually realize that the relationship we thought we had at the beginning is not the same as the one we are in now. The myth of the fairy tale marriage is exactly that: a myth! And this means that we have to adjust expectations, adjust our notions of what relationships mean, and- most importantly- adjust who we are. I don’t mean that anyone should compromise their values in order to stay in a relationship. At the same time, I believe that we always need to be thinking about becoming the best version of who we are, in order to truly live in a relational way. Terry Real, a therapist who I admire greatly, said that “changing one’s own behavior is a much more promising strategy than insisting on change from the other.” I’ve seen many clients have an “a-ha!” moment when they understand this.
I work well with clients who really want to roll up their sleeves and make changes. I always begin my work with clients by explaining that most of the work of couples therapy involves learning skills that you can apply to all of your other relationships: being a better communicator, dealing with conflict in more productive ways, developing empathy. When couples are interested in self-growth and increasing their awareness of their own patterns, I find that therapy can be extremely rewarding. When clients are unwilling to look at their own contributions to their current dynamics, therapy doesn’t tend to progress as smoothly or as quickly.
Being a couples therapist is a deep honor. I greatly admire the vulnerability that couples demonstrate, from their very first interaction with me. Sharing these most private and sometimes embarrassing parts of yourself with a stranger takes courage, and I have a great amount of respect for that bravery and dedication to improving relationships. I take a “strength based” approach to working with couples, trying to first understand what is working in the relationship.
Couples therapy is my second career. After college, I wanted to work in the nonprofit/public sector, and worked in several organizations within the San Francisco Unified School District. I then went to grad school at UC Berkeley to get an MBA with a specialization in nonprofit management. After this, I was hired as the Managing Director for a school reform organization in Oakland. I found this work fulfilling and my management skills grew significantly in this role.
After having children, I decided to stay home and evaluate what I wanted to do next. I spent five years as a stay-at-home parent, a time that I view as one of the most rewarding and most challenging of my life. I have experience as both a working parent and a stay at home parent, so I can identify with the joys and challenges of both of these roles.
My family and I spent two years living in London when my children were both under three years old. I loved the experience of living in another country and exploring Europe. While there, I also had time to explore my own interests and rethink my career path.
After getting home from London, I decided that I was ready to pursue a new field, and I got my masters in Counseling Psychology at the Wright Institute in Berkeley. Since graduating, I’ve worked in a variety of clinics and school settings. I have been working in private practice since 2014.
I feel grateful to have become a couples therapist after having a previous career in a different field. I also believe that being a parent and a spouse were great preparation for this work.
I have been told that I am empathic, kind, sensitive, and patient. I tend to be somewhat quiet at first, and definitely meet the definition of an introvert. But I also value my relationships and socializing, and feel that my friendships are a vital part of my life. I am a curious person who likes to observe and understand people.
I also believe that laughter and humor are a critical part of therapy, and of life in general. I remember talking with a very experienced therapist when I first started this work, who specialized in working with grief and chronic illness. Her advice, which I’ve taken to heart, is “remember to encourage your clients to take themselves seriously, but not too seriously.” She taught me that even in the most difficult sessions, there’s a place for some levity and humor. I try to remember this (though I do sometimes find myself taking things too seriously).
My parents divorced when I was eleven years old. I remember this as a time of many transitions, both logistically and emotionally. Fortunately the divorce was amicable and there was no rancor or hostility in the family. The divorce was the first time that I realized that relationships are both fragile and sometimes not permanent. Seeing how gracefully both of my parents handled their divorce was inspiring to me, and allowed me to understand that positive outcomes can result from events that feel negative at the time.
After divorcing, my mother went back to grad school to become a software engineer. She had taken a few engineering classes while she was still married, and hoped that this new field (in the 1980's) was a way that she could support her family after the divorce. She was one of a few women in her class, and went on to become a successful engineer for many years until retiring. I find her story of re-inventing who she was after her divorce to be very inspirational.
Since Covid, I’ve been doing all of my therapy work online from my home in Oakland. I also have an office in the Rockridge neighborhood of Oakland where I can see couples on the weekend for intensive sessions. The office is spacious and warm, with great natural light. Rockridge is a beautiful neighborhood with easy access to public transit, excellent restaurants, and many cafes.
When I’m not reading or learning about couples therapy (this is actually a hobby of mine!) I love being outside in nature, biking, running and hiking. I grew up in suburban New York, and have lived in California’s Bay Area for over 30 years. The Bay Area is a magical place for exploring the outdoors. We have amazing weather year-round and hiking trails with giant redwoods and ocean views within minutes from home. LIke many others, I came to California thinking I was coming to visit, and ended up falling in love with the place and the people.
I’m also passionate about food and cooking, and I spend a lot of time thinking about what meal I will make next. I tend to get somewhat obsessive with food projects and researching to find the very best recipe. For example, when one of my kids had to stop eating gluten, I decided that I would learn to make the very best gluten-free pizza crust. I bought twelve different gluten free flours and tried many combinations, all with the hope of perfecting a pizza that would taste as good as one made with regular flour. (It turns out that gluten is what makes a good pizza crust, but I haven’t given up my quest yet!)
I recently started taking modern dance classes at a local dance studio. I danced as a child, and remember the joyfulness and freedom that dancing brought me as a slightly awkward and shy child. I was surprised to discover how difficult it is to re-learn a hobby like dancing. My brain and my body had such a hard time connecting with each other. Remembering a combination of dance steps felt like the most difficult challenge I could imagine, like trying to put together pieces of a puzzle that somehow just don’t fit. I’m sticking with it, and hoping that it becomes easier eventually, so that I can regain that sense of flow and joy again.
I’ve been married for over 20 years. My husband is Colombian, and we often travel to South America to visit his family. Our children speak Spanish, and they proudly identify with both their Jewish and Latin heritage. Travel and exploration have been an important part of my family culture and my relationship with my children and my husband.
I have two teenage sons, who teach me new things every day. Watching them grow up and become young men with their own interests, personalities and voices has been an amazing process. We spend a lot of time together as a family, traveling and also having dinner together almost every night.