Interview with Psychologist, Dr. Jenifer Talley

What do you like most about your job at The Center For Optimal Living?
I love our team and the passion they have for the work they are doing. It feels like a family and we are all impressed with and proud of one another’s work. I also love being able to participate in trainings and teach people about our integrative harm reduction model. It’s fun to watch the audience resonate with the material and think differently about how they are approaching their work.

What are some misconceptions about substance use/misuse?
Where to begin! So many misconceptions are out there about substance use and misuse. A big one is that substance misuse or “addiction” is due to a chronic, permanent disease that can only be arrested by complete and total abstinence. There is no one-size fits all model that explains why a certain person ends up having an issue with substances. I also think people don’t take the social/relational/political context into account when trying to understand the function and meaning of substance misuse and are more likely to blame the individual for their choices.

What do you think are the essential ingredients to helping people?
Curiosity, respect, compassion, collaboration, and empowerment

How did you get into this field?
There were two movies I watched growing up that shaped my interest in becoming a psychologist. One was the Prince of Tides which showed the devastating impact of trauma and I was in awe seeing Barbra Streisand acting as a psychiatrist. I found it fascinating. I was also really intrigued by the Silence of the Lambs and initially thought I would work as a forensic psychologist. I realized that I don’t have the stomach for it and then thought I would work as a child psychologist. Over time, I realized how passionate I was about working with adults and particularly women who were survivors of trauma who were also struggling to manage substance use issues so that became my focus.

Can you talk about a satisfying professional experience?
One of my clients who I had been working with for five years went through the most profound life changes while we were working together. He went back to school, changed careers, married his partner, and moved to another state that he had been hoping to move to for years. And, he also substantially reduced his alcohol and drug use- something he wasn’t sure he would be able to do or sustain when we first met. I watched him become more confident, brave and empowered. He also learned that he could survive social situations without alcohol and that was a very powerful moment and realization for him. It was a bittersweet good-bye this winter when he moved and we both reflected on what we experienced together. In my clinical work, I often get to hear things that no one else does and I get to be a part of watching people make meaningful changes in their lives- it’s a very special relationship.

What should we be paying attention to right now?
The scare tactics being used by the White House to promote fear and stigma against people who use drugs and alcohol.

How do aspects of your “self” factor into your psychotherapy practice?
There are subtle ways I bring myself into my psychotherapy practice. I listen to what’s happening in my body and how my breathing changes throughout session. I make adjustments to my voice and body language based on what is coming up in the room and feel that my presence and how attuned I am to my clients’ moment to moment experiences is critical. Becoming comfortable with silence and giving my clients enough room and space to reflect is important. Mindfulness practices have been an asset for me in my clinical work.

How do you deal with stress?
Lately, I’ve been working on unplugging from email and technology in the evenings and weekends. It’s become such a habit for many of us and its important to remember that it’s okay to not be attached to those things all the time. I’ve also been trying to slowly get back to more regular yoga practice which had been tough following an injury. It’s been humbling to begin again with yoga and make adjustments to accommodate how my hip moves differently now after my injury.

What would people be surprised to learn about you?
That I’m a big homebody and rarely leave my house on the weekends unless I need to.

Fill in the blank: If I wasn’t a therapist __________

…I’d be an interior designer or journalist.



Dr. Jenifer Talley is a clinical psychologist and Assistant Director of The Center for Optimal Living, an outpatient psychotherapy practice in New York City. She is also the Assistant Director of the Concentration in Mental Health and Substance Abuse Counseling and Assistant Director of Clinical Training at The New School for Social Research. Dr. Talley specializes in the treatment of substance misuse and co-occurring disorders from a harm reduction perspective. She has expertise in working with trauma-related issues and previously worked at The Women’s Health Project at St. Luke’s-Roosevelt Hospital. She has been trained in Mindfulness-Based Relapse Prevention and integrates mindfulness practices into her work. Dr. Talley’s approach is interactive and focuses on the development of practical skills to manage intense emotions, reduce self-judgment, and promote self-compassion.

Together with the Center’s Director, Dr. Andrew Tatarsky, she created the Harm Reduction Psychotherapy Certificate Program and they have co-led several trainings on Integrative Harm Reduction Psychotherapy. Dr. Talley also participates in the training and supervision of clinicians and graduate students. Dr. Talley offers trainings and workshops on harm reduction psychotherapy and integrating mindfulness in the treatment of substance use and trauma.

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