Not everybody experiences a watershed or anointed moment in their life when they discover and decide what they want to be, but for Jennifer Guttman it happened when she was a shy, timid, alienated 13 year-old wallflower during sleep-away camp. While conversing with an inquisitive camp nurse, she was asked, “What do you like doing?” Jennifer replied, “I like listening to people.” The nurse informed her there was actually a profession for doing just that, and from that day on, the attentive and avid listener made psychology her mission and passion. Today, that awkward and unassuming teenager has morphed into Dr. Jennifer Guttman, a leading a clinical psychologist and cognitive-behaviorist, with over 20 years of experience in the field of mental health. She has built thriving practices in New York City and Westport, Connecticut that provide services to over 120 clients. About five years ago, Jennifer had reached a point where her business was excelling and she was managing her life as a mother in an equitable co-parenting arrangement. Then she was forced to face and cope with a couple of unforeseen and life-altering events that forever changed her. She discovered she had multiple pulmonary embolisms that almost killed her. Six months later her father passed away. She was personally devastated by both occurrences, and in that brief time period she realized there was truth to the cliché that “life is short.”
At that moment of awakening, she became defiantly resilient. She decided it was time to start acting on one of her most passionate dreams of reaching more people. Since that time, Jennifer has developed a treatment theory that encompasses some of the fundamental techniques of traditional Cognitive Behavior Therapy, but pushes clients on certain aspects in a more robust way to create a blue print to help them become more self-reliant and able to maintain sustainable life satisfaction after treatment. Dr. Guttman does not rely on “psychobabble,” and her client’s have termed her brand of psychology, “Jennifer’s Jiu-Jitsu moves,” as a commentary on her use of everyday language and strategies to help her clients move forward.
Dr. Guttman reinforces her brand concept, “A Path To Sustainable Satisfaction” by utilizing a number of techniques and strategies including starting is easy, closing is hard, decision-making, facing fears, reducing people pleasing behaviors, avoiding assumptions and active self-reinforcement. When her techniques coalesce they are designed to assist individuals in believing in their personal effectiveness in the world, as well as giving them a sense of personal control of outcomes to the best of their ability.
Presently, 40% of Jennifer’s clientele suffer from some serious form of mental illness: bipolar disorder, schizoaffective disorder and major depressive disorder. The other 60% come to see her for transient or developmental life issues. She works with children as young as seven years old through individuals in their eighties. Primarily her clients are 17-55 years old. Her clientele is also a homogeneous cultural and religious mix of people from all walks of life and sexual identities.
Published in the area of cognitive-behavior therapy and anger control for adolescents, Dr. Guttman has been quoted in the New York Times and has appeared as a guest on both radio and TV shows. She has lectured around the country on effective cognitive-behavioral techniques for treating mental health issues, and also mentors students in the doctoral program at Long Island University.
However, Jennifer’s own path to success hasn’t been what one would refer to as smooth sailing. In fact, it has been quite the opposite, mired by a myriad of roadblocks, rejection and sometimes an ominous sense of adversity. She grew up in Scarsdale, NY, the older of two siblings, and her parents, (her father was an attorney and general counsel of Time Inc., and her mother has a doctorate in medieval literature) divorced when she was five years old. She lived with her mother in Scarsdale and visited her father in Manhattan on weekends. Upon graduation she applied and was accepted at Drew University. Drew is well known for its psychology department and it was the only school to which she applied. Her goal was to earn her Bachelor’s degree and move straight on to a doctoral program in Clinical Psychology.
After graduating from Drew University, she applied to numerous Clinical Psychology doctoral degree programs, but was rejected by all of them. Refusing to fuel her disappointment, she secured a job working for Planned Parenthood and also took doctoral level classes at St. John’s University. During the spring term of that year, she reapplied to Clinical Psychology Doctoral Programs and was accepted to the Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at Long Island University. It was the only acceptance letter she received. While there, she met the noted professor Dr. Eva Feindler, whom she not only credits as her mentor, but also for steering her in the direction of Cognitive Behavior Therapy. Dr. Feindler was also the first person to really push her beyond her limits, which proved to be valuable to her future personal and professional growth. Dr. Feindler is a renowned expert in Cognitive Behavior Therapy and specializes in Anger Management in Adolescents.
Jennifer also admired Dr. Aaron T. Beck's work on Cognitive-Behavior Therapy, Albert Bandura's work on self-efficacy and loved Heinz Kohut, who is considered a theoretician of self-psychology (which involves a person's self-concept or beliefs about themselves). Fresh out of graduate school, Jennifer accepted an offer to work for the Mental Health Association of Westchester County and was assigned to work off-site as a clinician at WestHelp-Greenburgh, a family homeless shelter. The shelter was personally endorsed and supported by Andrew Cuomo and was housed on the campus of Westchester Community College. WestHelp was a haven for minority and disenfranchised mothers with children under the age of five. It was a challenging and exciting task, but Jennifer was undeterred. She helped to empower the women and broke the traditional protocol that mandated all appointments needed to be requested in advance. Instead, she offered every woman carte blanche access to meet and talk to her about anything and everything. While she was working at WestHelp she tried to spread her wings and launch her own start-up practice as a Clinical Psychologist in Tarrytown, NY. She relied mostly on referrals from insurance companies for clients. She was attempting to refine her treatment approach with a different client demographic then the demographic she was seeing at the shelter. Although she was accomplishing her goal, in less than a year she realized this business model wasn’t sustainable and she closed the practice.
She also got married (1995) and four years later had her first child, a son. In 2001, she gave birth to her second child, a daughter. That year, she resigned from the Mental Health Association of Westchester County to parent full-time. However, during her eight year tenure she had secured a staff, serviced close to 1000 women and was promoted to several positions including Assistant Executive Director of the Mental Health Association. In that role, she was responsible for all clinical care throughout the agency and supervising over 200 mental health staff including social workers, psychologists and psychiatrists.
After taking a professional hiatus for a year, she opened a private practice in Westport, CT (2002). Within the first six months she was introduced to Dr. Susan Finkelstein, a highly respected child psychiatrist in Fairfield, County, CT. Eventually, the two would decide to practice in the same suite of offices, frequently sharing clients in a professional relationship that would last fifteen years. Jennifer’s practice grew to include another practitioner, Samantha Gilbert, LCSW, who she had previously hired to work with her at the WestHelp shelter. Gilbert was able to provide clinical care, within her vision of cognitive-behavior therapy.
After sharing office space with Dr. Finkelstein for the past 15 years, Jennifer decided it was time to break out on her own. She moved into another office space in Westport after previously expanding her practice to Manhattan two years prior. She has embraced and immersed herself into city life and has enjoyed the opportunity to work with clients in Manhattan and interface and network with other professionals. Jennifer balances an already energizing work-life with being a mother of two teenagers. In the little spare time she is able to carve out in her daily regimen, she continually fuels her passion for going to the theatre by adding another playbill to her collection.