Grace Malonai, Phd, LPCC
she / her / hers
Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor #LPCC252
Phone: 925-954-6229, ext. 1
Hello, my name is Dr. Grace Malonai, and I want to welcome you, and congratulate you on your search for change. If you are here, then that means you are probably ready for something to be different, or you might be looking for information, support or new tools.
Maybe you are a parent looking for solutions for your children, or maybe you are seeking help for your relationship, or perhaps you or your family are neurodivergent, gifted/2e or highly sensitive, and need a therapist who really gets that. Well, that’s my job—to help you, and I want very much for you to succeed.
I am interactive and integrative, and am considered a strengths-based therapist. I am a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC252), and I hold both a Ph.D. and M.S. in clinical psychology.
I have been providing psychotherapy and counseling services in the San Francisco area since 1998, and have been in private practice since 2005. I specialize in parenting and couples, child and family therapy, and neurodivergent populations, including autism, ADHD, gifted development, twice exceptionality (2e), learning differences/disabilities, and high sensitivity.
I hope you look around this website to learn more about how we can serve you—and don’t forgot to contact us for a free phone consultation.
Since 2006, my clinical work has focused on neurodivergent populations. With a keen interest in the traits, differences, challenges and strengths associated with both neurodivergent and highly sensitive people, I have developed extensive experience working with the particular challenges and mental health issues that are most commonly seen in these populations.
All Ages Served
I work with (and enjoy!) people of all ages, and I have nearly twenty years of experiences working with people in all walks of life, from very young children, to older kids, teens, young adults, adults, and older adults.
Therapy for teenagers
Individual adult therapy
Relationships and couples counseling
High sensitivity, highly sensitive people
Giftedness and twice exceptionality (2e)
School, education, and homeschool support
Workshops, Presentations and CE Courses
Workshops, Presentations and CE Courses
Dr. Grace’s Approach to Counseling, Psychotherapy and Consultation
I value authenticity, empathy and the therapeutic connection, and I practice these while working with my clients. I actively participate in the therapy work. I believe that true, meaningful connections can be an important part of the healing process, and can help build confidence and deeper self-awareness.
Likewise, a safe and engaging environment is crucial for growth and healing, and it is my aim to provide clients with a welcoming and safe atmosphere.
I believe that therapy is a place for self-expression and healing, and I work to provide a venue that is just right for each client to learn and practice emotional skills, improve communication, and develop a keener awareness and understanding of themselves and others.
I also believe counseling is a collaborative process, where my job is to facilitate my clients’ growth. This means that while my clients get relief from the pain of their challenges, they also come to know themselves better. In other words, my clients learn to understand and work with their emotions, they gain skills to manage their emotional reactions, and they gain insight about their families and other relationships.
Together, we create a game plan. As a strengths-based, humanistic, and eclectic therapist, I believe it is important that we work together interactively. I also often use family systems, cognitive, interpersonal, narrative, holistic-oriented, relational-cultural, developmental approaches, a spiritual approach, mindfulness techniques, play therapy, art therapy, music therapy, and sand tray work.
Essentially, I am an integrative therapist. What that means is that I have extensive training in a variety of modalities and use them as called for.
An Integrative Approach
I describe some of the approaches I use below (please click the tabs below to learn more).
Strengths Based Therapy
I start looking for strengths upon first meeting my clients, and no matter how long the list already is, I keep finding them. They might be obvious, or maybe not yet even realized, but I believe that seeking, learning about, and emphasizing my clients’ strengths is essential to therapy.
Personal strengths are power-houses for the work of overcoming challenges. As a strengths-based therapist, I see my clients as experts in their own work, and because of this belief, even if I am the facilitator to change, I see myself in partnership with my clients as they face the challenges and triumphs of their work
A Humanistic Approach
I believe each person, each client, is incredibly and beautifully unique. Humanistic psychology describes the individuality of each human, and supports a holistic approach to counseling work.
One focus of humanistic psychology views how deep feelings and self-concept influence behaviors. This motivates an exploration of each client as a whole person in all his or her unique individuality, where multiple perspectives are used to regard a situation.
I deeply value the humanistic view that people are innately good.
With existential therapy, we work together to create balance, and to promote acceptance without overwhelm. This perspective helps us explore how you make meaning in life, your connections, relationships, and sense of purpose.
Existential therapy adds additional perspective, so that you can process internal conflicts (and subsequent choices) in a way that supports you to blossom in the present, without becoming overwhelmed or preoccupied with a potential future.
Family Systems Therapy
Family systems theories, including Narrative Therapy, are foundational to my work. From this therapeutic viewpoint, individual clients are seen as part of, and interconnected with, larger systems— primarily the family. As a systems therapist, I believe it is important to explore how my clients relate with their own extended personal contexts— and not only their families, but also their school or work, their community, their culture, era, and other external influences.
As a Narratively informed family systems therapist, I see my role as partner to my clients, on their journey of authoring their own stories.
Relational Cultural Therapy
When I say I that I work relationally, I am describing a specific type of empathy, a sense of mutuality, and a contextual awareness that I believe is essential to therapy work. Relational-cultural counseling includes a sense of partnership in therapy, where I work to help my clients experience feelings of being truly understood and partnered on their path. Part of this includes providing a safe “container” for my clients, so that they can more easily trust me to hold them in compassion and care.
Another important aspect of Relational-cultural therapy is that it explains growth and development as part of learning about relationships, as well as the disconnections and re-connections in life.
A Spiritual Approach
Incorporating spirituality into psychotherapy is part of a holistic approach. A sense of connection with matters of spirit—whether it includes an experience of nature, devotion to spiritual or religious beliefs or practices, the wonder of science, meditation, or other ideas, values or beliefs—can be part of healing, gaining a sense of being better connected with the world, and feeling more whole.
Play therapy is as diverse as it is fun. It is an important part of my practice, and can be essential when working with children. It can involve games, toys, puppets, cars, costumes, crafts, or even physical movement (such as sword play, dance or catching lizards). Play therapy is way to help clients, especially children, achieve optimal mental health.
Even neurodivergent children (and adults) who have strong verbal skills can benefit from play therapy, which provides an alternative means to process emotions, challenges, and what is going on in their lives. Play therapy has been shown to improve social, emotional, behavioral and other mental health issues.
Not just for children, I also have therapeutic games and crafts geared specifically for teens and adults. Play therapy can help clients resolve conflict, solve challenges, and learn positive preventative coping skills.
For further information, please view this short video, which explains how play therapy works:
Many of my clients really like doing art projects. More than a fun and entertaining way for children to learn therapeutic skills, art therapy can be part of a deep healing process for people of all ages. It can also provide an enjoyable way to practice positive coping skills, as well as providing space for for creativity and personal reflection.
Child, teen and adult clients can make meaning of their lives via art projects, improve self-esteem, find strengths, and become more self-aware. Creating art can also bring about profound insight and understanding of relationships, coping, responses to stress and trauma.
Sandplay (Sand tray therapy)
Sandplay is the process of arranging small figurines and representational objects in therapy sand that represent an inner state of being. Therapy sand has the properties of both wet and dry sand, so it can be light and sandy or molded and sculpted.
Sandplay is a powerful therapeutic technique in that it can change how clients view themselves within their world, and bring their inner world out, to an expressive world. It also gives space for deep healing, processing and discovering new outcomes. Sandplay is especially helpful because it can be a non-verbal way to communicate when verbal communication is difficult or does not feel right. I utilize a complete sandplay set-up in my office, and children, teen and adult clients are all welcome to sandplay.
To start sandplay, I ask clients to choose figurines to place in the sand. Clients typically shape or mold the sand before placing the figurines. Molding play sand can feel really good—it allows for expression of emotion, plus the texture of the sand on the hands can be calming and relaxing.
When choosing figurines, clients pick whichever they are most drawn to, even if there is no obvious reason for making those choices. It is actually very easy to get into the process of building a sandtray world. It is an inner experience of creativity, guided by the subconscious. Also, it is okay not to know the meaning of the scene that is created. The strength of sandtray work is that it is healing and powerful, even if the outcome is not explicit.
Focus on Neurodivergent Populations
In 2006, I brought my clinical focus to learning about neuroatpical populations, giftedness/2e, high sensitivity, and sensory issues with the gusto of a highly educated, information-seeking momma bear (that’s a lot of gusto). Back then, I used the term neuroatypical because I hadn’t yet heard of the word neurodivergent. Even then, I came to understand the intersection of giftedness, autism, and ADHD, as well as saw how neuroatypical individuals were often not identified (missed) due to twice exceptionality, such as learning differences.
Decades long clinical focus on neuroatypical populations has allowed me to assist many highly sensitive, intense, neurodivergent children, as well as their parents and families. Correlating with that, my dissertation focused on maternal identity (published by ProQuest, 2004), and my 2012 research with Gifted Identity℠ is on parental identity in parents of highly gifted children. I am also a certified SENG model parent group facilitator.
“Each person’s map of the world is as unique as the person’s thumbprint. There are no two people alike… no two people who understand the same sentence the same way… So in dealing with people, you try not to fit them to your concept of what they should be.” ~Milton Erickson
Credentials and Training
I am licensed by the state of California as a Licensed Professional Clinical Counselor (LPCC). I completed my graduate work at the California Graduate School of Psychology (which eventually was bought by Argosy University). In addition to a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, I hold a M.S. degree in Clinical Psychology, and a B.S. degree in Nutrition Science, with an emphasis in physiological chemistry, from the University of California, at Davis. I have also received intensive training in family systems, child and adult development, trauma and recovery, play therapy, Relational-Cultural work, Depth Oriented Brief Therapy, Narrative Therapy, and psychological assessment and testing.
Dr. Grace Malonai is the Director ad founder at TheraThrive. She is a warm therapist who truly cares about her clients, and it shows! Dr. Grace specialize in counseling and consultation in neurodivergent adults, children, teens, parents, couples, and families.
I have been a part-time adjunct professor at St. Mary’s College of California since 2003, where I have taught Human Development and Family Relationships, Group Theory and Practice, Psychopathology, Supervision, Self Management in the Workplace, Human Services Special Projects, Personal and Professional Assessment in Management, Adult Development, Writing for the Learning Resource Program (LERP), and served on thesis committees.
In addition, I have taught and presented many workshops and CE courses on topics pertaining to neurodivergence.
Projects and Speaking
I am a co-founder of the Gifted Identity℠ project. My interest in the study of neurodivergence, twice exceptionality, and gifted development blossomed when I began homeschooling my neurodivergent child.
I regularly offer workshops, presentations and continuing education (CE) classes at state, national and international gifted workshops and conferences, including the National Association for Gifted Children (NAGC), Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG), Global Center for Gifted and Talented Children (GCGTC), and others.
I believe in service to my local community, and have presented at training workshops for Contra Costa County’s Children’s Mental Health, have served on a committee for the American Association for Women In Psychology, and have been a contributor to their newsletter.
Please contact me directly if you are interested in having me speak at your event or write an article for your publication.
American Psychological Association (APA)
American Counseling Association (ACA)
California Association for Marriage and Family Therapists (CAMFT)
Collaborative Assessment Association of the Bay Area (CAABA)
Los Angeles Psychological Association (LACPA)
Glendale Area Mental Health Professionals Association (GAMHPA)
Supporting Emotional Needs of the Gifted (SENG)
“The level of differentiation is the single most important aspect distinguishing a therapist from a technician. Differentiation is the ability to maintain a non-anxious presence in the face of another’s anxiety. It does not mean being uninvolved or indifferent. It is the ability to tolerate pain for growth.” ~David Schnarch
An Integrative Approach
I describe some of the approaches I use below (please click the tabs below to learn more).
My personal interests include gardening, baking, hiking, swimming, family adventures, science, arts and crafts, alternative and punk music, C-Dramas, and a big love for animals.
How I got into this clinical work
I am native to the city of San Francisco, born into a large, multi-cultural family. I have lived in or near San Francisco for most of my life. The exception was in my 20s, when I was on a mission to figure out who I was and what that meant. During those ten years, I lived in some beautiful places: Camden (Maine), Santa Barbara, Santa Cruz, on the American river in Sacramento, and in Telluride (Colorado). I currently live in the San Francisco Bay Area with my spouse of 30 years, along with various winged, finned, and 4-legged creatures.
My interest in counseling psychology started when I was an undergrad. I had always loved science, and chose a major in nutrition, with an emphasis in physiological chemistry. That meant that I took chemistry classes every quarter of my college career. My major felt challenging and stressful at times, and I found reading my psychology-major roommate’s textbooks more interesting than my own. I was fascinated by the human psyche, connections between mind and body, and family relationships. These psych texts were also surprisingly relaxing and engaging. So, I perused them for pleasure.
Later, while working as a nutritionist for a national clinic and at my own nutrition private practice, I realized that most people who came to me for nutrition help suffered from emotional or psychological challenges. I was often frustrated because I genuinely cared for my clients, but my particular science degree didn’t teach me to treat these underlying problems and real needs of my clients. Many who came to me for weight loss support or for healthier lifestyle tips suffered from eating disorders, anxiety or depression. Back then, I sought advice from mental health help lines, and I referred most of my case load to counseling. Like I said, I really cared for my clients, and did my best, but ultimately, to really help, I needed more training.
Still, I was in my 20s and didn’t feel quite ready for graduate school. That’s when I traveled about, pursuing divergent careers, including food chemistry, cooking, marketing, fine art and photography, and even got nationally certified in therapeutic massage therapy. Then, it struck me again, that sense that I wanted formal training in psychology, when I worked as a sports massage therapist in Telluride. It seemed ironic to me that my massage clients wanted to tell me their troubles, sometimes stalling their actual massage in order to keep talking with me eye-to-eye. Massage clients often experienced cathartic relief on the table (usually crying, but sometimes laughter), yet somatic work alone didn’t seem enough.
By the time I completed my M.S. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology, I was in my 30s, married, and fairly settled—a much better place and time to do the self-reflective work that I believe is essential to become an effective psychotherapist. I loved graduate school and thrived on attaining skills that I had waited many years to learn. Now, decades after my interest in counseling psychology was first sparked, it remains my goal to help you thrive.
I cannot speak highly enough about Dr. Grace Malonai. She is both an excellent instructor of psychological knowledge and a caring, thoughtful and comprehensive clinician. She demonstrates her clinical expertise with her students and her clients of all ages, gender or culture. I would recommend her without hesitation to anyone seeking support, instruction or therapy.
Licensed Psychologist, in Private Practice
Dr. Grace Malonai is a knowledgeable and informative professor. Having a professor that was also a practicing Psychologist proved to be invaluable. Her knowledge base in the different approaches in counseling is beneficial for those training to get into the counseling profession.
She is a very engaging teacher which always made for an exciting and interactive class. I would encourage any student to take her class.
Academic and Career Counselor, at a California State University
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