Dr. Fran Walfish is a leading couples relationship and family psychologist and author working in Northern and Southern California. She runs her own practice, treating many celebrities and their families. She said her passion is playing detective, piecing together the psychological puzzle, finding the root cause of the trouble and offering patients tools to move forward.
Dr. Walfish already knew she loved working with children when the opportunity for a psychiatric clinic “substitute” job presented itself via a former camp counselor colleague. She was 17 but already had two years of college at Antioch University.
She couldn’t know that a temp job would pave the way to her career.
“Little did I know there were brilliant psychiatrists behind two-way mirrors watching me work,” Walfish said. “They offered me an internship.”
This was at the Julia Ann Singer Preschool Psychiatric Center. When a part-time position opened up, she was hired – with an agreement. “I would stay in college,” she said. “My motivation was working with those kids.”
Once she earned her bachelor’s degree in Clinical Psychology, she was hired full-time. But success cultivated an unexpected benefit.
“My confidence grew. My self-esteem grew. I became brave enough to try what I secretly always wanted to do: I started singing.”
That was 1978. She opened for such artists as Joan Rivers and Rodney Dangerfield, even recording four songs. She performed four nights a week and worked full-time.
But eventually, her need for more intimate, meaningful work won out and she returned to school for a master’s degree, and more.
“A friend said, ‘why don’t you just pick up a doctorate along the way?’ – as if it’s easy? And I enrolled right away in the doctoral program. I whizzed through the four-year program in two years.”
Now a noted couples relationship, family psychotherapists and author, she runs her own practice.
“When I was a 23-year-old, I had a relationship with the staff psychiatrists, psychologists and pediatricians. I didn’t think anyone would remember me, but they all did,” she said. “The referrals came pouring in.”
For aspiring students, Walfish says motivation is key.
“Be sure to love this work passionately because if you don’t, you may resent how much work it really requires. In my master’s field work, I remember hearing graduate school interns say, ‘I won’t work Friday and Saturday and I want some Mondays off’ and I remember thinking, ‘when I start my private practice, I will work seven days a week.’ When I started my practice, I saw patients Sunday mornings. Whatever they needed. And I didn’t resent it,” she said. “There’s a fine line between competence and greatness.”
Carol Terracina-Hartman is a freelance writer based in Sacramento. She covers all things environment. In 2012, she received the Outstanding Service Award from the Knight Center for Environmental Journalism. See her work at Examiner.com.