Marisa is a Marriage and Family Therapist, Couples Therapist, and community educator.
Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist Texas License (# 201375)
M.S. Our Lady of the Lake, San Antonio, TX (Marriage & Family Therapy) 2008.
B.S. University of Houston, Houston, Tx (Psychology) 2001.
I love the challenge when I encounter a giant wall of negativity, doom and gloom in a client and have to find a way to engage him/her in the work... Couples who come to me for help often feel despair, anger, and feel stuck, unable to contemplate a happier future...
I will forever be grateful!!"
- Recent Client
I am a Marriage and Family Therapist. I help people who are “stuck” find a way to move forward.
I believe that a good therapist is one who connects with clients and their worldview in a meaningful way and can help change a person’s life forever. The change can create ripples of wellness/happiness/hope/enjoyment of life/purpose for everyone in the person’s life and even for subsequent generations. I feel almost an evangelical zeal for the work and what it can do to effect positive change in people’s lives.
I'm so excited to work with couples who are willing to work hard at improving the quality of their lives and their relationships.
Part of my job as a therapist is to instill hope for one or both of the individuals in a relationship so we can move forward with the work of repairing and improving the relationship. I love the challenge when I encounter a giant wall of negativity, doom and gloom in a client and have to find a way to engage him/her in the work.
It makes a great deal of difference to the couples who come to me for help – they often feel despair, anger, and feel stuck, unable to contemplate a happier future of how their relationships can change for the better. If I can find a way for them to even entertain the possibility that things could be different, I can begin to work with that.
When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” I was particularly inspired by the idea that: "What we do as a community, as a society, for each other, matters as much as what we do for ourselves.”
Understanding and serving my community have always been important to me. Knowing people in their context is part of my work as a marriage and family therapist.
The Women's Home, Houston, Texas
Volunteer - Facilitated and led individual and family therapy sessions, as well as anger management classes, intensive family therapy weekends, and women’s empowerment workshops. Wrote chemical dependency assessments for admissions. 2007- present
Mental Health America
Offered clinical services to this community-based nonprofit dedicated to addressing the needs of those living with mental illness and to promoting the overall mental health of all Americans. (2012-2014).
We were one the brink of divorce and had trust, infidelity, communication, partnership issues...My husband thought we couldn't possibly benefit from just three days. Marisa was down to earth, genuine, kind, nonjudgmental, a good listener, creative, funny, sincere, caring, compassionate... I feel like she was truly partnering with us to save our relationship. She showed that she cared about us early on and seemed to have a vested interest in seeing us succeed together and to learn to love each other better than we ever thought was possible. What changes resulted in your marriage from the work you did? Life changing, earth shattering, amazing changes --- I am not kidding when I say this absolutely hands down saved our marriage, saved our lives... - Recent Couples Retreat Participant
I have had so many careers! My very first job as a teenager was working in part-time in a daycare, where I learned how hard it can be to balance a career and a family. I worked as an Activities assistant in a nursing home, where I learned more about complicated family relationships and the value of working on a team with different disciplines for optimal patient care. I’ve waited tables, which taught me how to connect with people in the shortest time possible and how to work quickly and effectively in an ever changing environment.
I’ve worked in offices (corporate and at a University), where I learned how the pressures of the workplace can have a profound effect on people’s lives.
I once tried my hand at independent filmmaking while living in the San Francisco Bay area, where I learned how hard it is to pursue something you love without much financial reward, how many people and viewpoints it takes to tell a story and how much I hated the process of filmmaking!
I’ve been a stay-at-home wife and mother – which I’m still trying to master! – where I’m learning the value of patience, forgiveness, and how things change over time. I’ve learned how much my own upbringing has impacted how I behave as a wife and mother, and more importantly, that I have the power to keep the positive aspects and change the negative. I’ve also learned the value of my connection to community and friends, and how those influences help give me perspective and help to really enjoy the good times and sustain me through the bad times. Most of all I’ve learned to view this period of my life as a marathon, not a sprint, and to try to be fully present and enjoy every stage because it always changes!
When I sat down and thought about going back to school, I thought hard about all the things I’d done over the years and what I enjoyed most. I think all of the jobs I’ve had I’ve worked with people in a more or less customer service setting. I believe that background informs what I do as a therapist. I know without a doubt that many things happen extra therapeutically (outside of my office) that can have all kinds of influence on a person’s mood or willingness to engage in the work. I want people to leave my office believing that they’ve gotten something of value in their encounter with me.
I think the fact that I’ve always been genuinely interested in people, and their stories have allowed me to be inspired by just about anyone’s courage and ingenuity in just trying to get through life. When I read Malcolm Gladwell’s “Outliers,” I was particularly inspired by the idea that: "What we do as a community, as a society, for each other, matters as much as what we do for ourselves.” My training as a systemic therapist confirmed what I’ve always believed, that our communities and our families have enormous influence on us, and I always consider these things in therapy.
I work out of my office in West Houston, in the Energy Corridor. People from all over the world live and work in this area. My office is in the executive suites wing, at the end of a hall, a very private setting.
My office feels like a living room, comfy and calm. It's pretty roomy as well. It's easy to move the furniture around to suit the work I'm doing in Couples Therapy.
I have a poster with a Carl Jung quotation:
"I am not what happens to me. I am what I choose to become."
I chose this quote because it's the way I approach things with clients. We're always in the process of becoming. Our past is certainly a continuing influence on us, but we can choose to change the present and future. Sometimes we just need a little help doing that, and that's my job.
Houston is unique in its diversity. We also have the greatest (and probably cheapest) restaurant scene in the country. My office is easily accessible to a lot of the enormous Houston area.
This is just a small list: one supervisor of mine was in a long-term marriage that gradually became abusive as her husband experienced business reversals and turned to alcohol. After their divorce, she put aside her hurt and disappointment (they had a daughter together) and came to his rescue when he had a stroke and became incapacitated. Over time he apologized for his behavior, and they found friendship.
Another boss had the worst luck ever with a husband and found a way to talk about it and heal through humor (those were the best staff meetings ever!). My sister-in-law decided early on that she did not want to raise children, so she and her husband ride Harleys, rescue abused dogs (she even helps to raid puppy farms), and have dedicated themselves to caring for my aging in-laws. “Caring for” is not an accurate term – she keeps them active and involved, working out and volunteering and taking small trips. As my mother-in-law was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s and other issues, my sister-in-law, a nurse, starting working in hospice care so she would be prepared for what was ahead. I could go on and on, but if you care to listen you find that people are truly amazing.
My dad was an inspiration. He passed away in 2008. He had a difficult childhood and was very unusual for an Indian in that he had no close family. He was on his own. He had an optimistic nature and never let anything get him down for very long. He was forever grateful for those who helped him along the way, and he tried to pay it forward for his entire life.
I think my dad reached out to and learned from others.
There is so much to learn – I feel transformed from each experience I have with my clients. I am in awe of their resourcefulness, their strength, their capacity for love and forgiveness.
I think he was inspired by people’s stories, too, and I think he also enjoyed helping people reach their goals. I think because he was open to the possibilities of the world, he wanted others to be open to what was possible, too. He was always learning – I remember getting into his car and seeing the “great philosophers” CDs he was listening to on his long commutes. He got excited and inspired by big ideas and creative problem solving. He invented the Indian fish taco with a local restaurant!
I think I get that attitude from my Dad.
What free time?
My only problem with my hobbies is that I don’t have enough time for them all!
I participate in neighborhood caroling at Christmas and help host Neighbors Night Out every year. I knit, crochet, embroider, do all manner of crafting. I garden, exercise (run, swim, bike, Zumba, walk my dogs daily). I enjoy cooking, being with friends, trolling thrift stores and art shows with my daughter, going to museums and talking about science with my son. As a family, we like to travel, play games, hike, and camp and do activities with other families. We go on an annual trip with my daughter’s preschool playgroup (she’s 15 now), and we like to find new ethnic grocery stores and restaurants. I love to read – fiction, non-fiction, memoirs.
I love anything that sets me off on a creative tangent. We’ve had some awfully creative birthday parties, Girl and Boy Scout events and art projects in my household. Anytime I can learn something new.
And I read, exercise and cook every day.
I use my grandmother’s needles when I knit and crochet. We were close, and it helps me feel more connected to her when I use them.
When I was in grad school, I did a presentation on how important it is to me to continue these arts because it’s a way of celebrating the creativity and artistry of many generations of women. My grandmother grew up poor, then lost everything in the war and came to the US as a refugee – so indulging in art was out of the question. But if it could be practical – well, that was different. I still have the scrap yarn afghan she made when my grandfather died as a way of working through her grief.
I make time for myself for exercise; it’s my meditation, the way I can set the tone for the day or unwind from the day. Netflix or a good movie once in a while feels like a delicious indulgence.
I did not come from a close family, unfortunately, so we try to create closeness with friends. I have a three-year-old niece who is adopted and is the extrovert in our introvert family. We try to make time to spend with her once a week. She adores my kids, and they adore her, and it’s been a great experience for them to take care of a baby and toddler.
In my family, we hang out together and look for new things to experience together. We try to alternate game night and movie night on alternate weeks. My philosophy about kids is that we’re preparing them to leave us, so I want them to be self-sufficient, feel connected to the world and be able to interact well with others. My husband and I work to help them learn how to achieve their goals. And we want to have fun together because we want them to want to come home after they leave!
Whatever I’m doing at the time. I can get obsessive about public policy and politics sometimes, which is a shame because no one wants to discuss it with me!
I’m a Midwesterner by birth and childhood, then moved to Houston, and we all hated it for a few years!
It was a huge culture shock.
Now after living in several different places, I returned to Texas, and I love it here. I love Houston for its diversity and “can do” attitude. I was so proud of my city when we took in Katrina evacuees and made it work. 175,000 new people overnight. The people are warm, and it’s pretty easy to live here.
My kids are involved in Girl and Boy Scouts, and I’ve been a Girl Scout leader since 2007. We do a lot of community service projects and have volunteered at "Plant it Forward", "Trash Bash" (cleaning bayous), wildlife rehabilitation shelters, homeless shelters and food banks. On my own, I’ve volunteered over the years at an AIDS hospice, the Firehouse Art Gallery, community events, Mental Health America, The Women’s Home. I’ve also helped out at vacation bible school, teaching CCE, Easter egg hunts, swim team, Halloween parties and whatever else my kids were doing.
I would like to champion and deliver real evidence-based strategies and treatments for depression and anxiety. I am working on becoming a health coach and want to work with Dr. Stephen Ilardi on expanding his program for an evidence-based program for treating depression. I would love to become a Certified Gottman Therapist eventually. I would like to create more personalized guided meditations and teach more evidence-based tools for anxiety reduction. I am good at negotiation and problem solving and would like to earn a certificate as a mediator. I’d like to teach, and pass on what I’ve learned and learned more from my students. I want to get great at what I do and help new clinicians. I want to help destigmatize mental health treatment and encourage people to have a therapist as part of their wellness team along with a doctor. I want to elevate our profession as something unique and uniquely helpful and impactful.
People consider me pretty friendly, and I make a special effort to make people feel at ease. I like to laugh, find absurdities in life, and connect small things to bigger things. I am persistent when problem-solving; I don’t like things unresolved. I’m genuinely interested in other people’s stories, and I sincerely want to help.
It’s SOOOO hard to engage in therapy, so the more at ease you feel, the more you can laugh the better! Also, my persistence means that if the first twelve things don’t work, the next thing might. It’s also where my creativity comes in because I will use just about anything to help facilitate change.
In grad school, I remember one of our professors, Harlene Anderson said: “You can say anything, you just have to hold it very gently.” I take that very seriously because especially in couples therapy sometimes people have to hear something that is NOT fun to hear about themselves. It helps to soften the blow.
I once had a client say (as a compliment), “You have the nicest way of saying the harshest things.” I take that to heart – it’s like my therapist superpower.
I was surprised recently when my son wrote me a Mother’s Day poem and mentioned my “big personality.” I was very shy as a child and still have a tendency to be more on the introvert side of things, but my character has changed a lot over the years. So I’m probably a mixture of introvert and extrovert. I also can have an intensity of focus and yet be laid back at the same time.
I have to think about this! I made a 4.0 in grad school. I had excellent feedback from my practicum supervisors.
My husband and I discovered after we bought our house that we enjoyed gardening. We now have several fruit trees: fig, pomegranate, persimmon, grapefruit, lemon, grapefruit, blood orange, kumquat and a herb garden. We’re working on a vegetable garden and last year won “Yard of the Month” for our flowers (too much pressure, don’t want that again!) Every year I ask for a day in the garden for Mother’s Day – no complaining!
Our lemon tree yields over 400 lemons, and when our kids were little my husband would take the kids in their wagon to distribute them to the neighbors. We still share our bounty. I exercise more for my mental health than for physical, although that’s a nice benefit. I had severe depressions in my teens and twenties, then found that exercising helped and now I see the research that it’s very effective for boosting and maintaining good mental health.
I honestly kind of have no interest in that stuff – awards or accolades, but I suppose that I really need to care a little to promote myself!
Private Practice -psychotherapy for individuals, couples, and families, adolescents, and adults. Particular emphasis on relationship issues impacted by depression and anxiety.
Staff Clinician, Katy Excel Clinic and West Oaks Hospital:
Individual and family therapy, and psychosocial assessments. Led inpatient and outpatient groups and facilitated individual and family therapy. 2013-2015
The Children's Ministry at Gracewood -facilitated weekly group therapy and individual therapy for resident single mothers.
Wellness Clinician - Dr. Rakesh Patel, Endocrinology - Conducted interviews and assessments.
Activities Assist. Director, Convalescent & Rehabilitation home in Oakland, CA
Planned resident care and assessments, creation and implemented adult/elder education and recreation classes for several differing levels of cognitive and physical abilities, volunteer recruitment, training and supervision. 2002-2004
In addition to using Gottman techniques, I use a Narrative and Solution focused approach. We live with multiple stories every day: our roles as a parent, spouse, employee, friend, sibling, neighbor, daughter or son and so on. A lot of how we feel about ourselves and our relationships depends on how we interpret and make meaning of these stories and try to integrate them into a whole of who we are. We also live with the influence of the dominant culture of where we live, and the legacy of the culture in which we grew up. Any of these factors may be cause for conflict for couples when they decide to share their lives together. Of course, insight into these issues is not enough; I work hard to help couples find solutions that will work for them and support their values as individuals and as a couple. We all can get stuck in a problem-saturated story; I will help you create an alternate story that opens more possibilities for real solutions.
MANAGING DIFFICULT PEOPLE