Hi.  My name is Gretchen J. Penner and I want to welcome you. Before we begin, let me tell you just a little bit about myself. I am currently a therapist with the Therapeutic Center for Anxiety and Trauma. After working in communications for over 20 years, I made a decision to go back to school, earn my master degree, and pursue a career as a Clinical Social Worker.fullsizeoutput_267 I graduated with my Master of Social Work from the accredited program at California State University, Fullerton. My concentration was in Community Mental Health where I focused my training on trauma informed therapy and mood disorders. Since graduating I have continued to expand my knowledge and experience working with adolescents and adults who have struggled with anxiety and depression.

None of us are immune from trauma. Some are able to walk through a traumatic incident with little to no scars. Then there are the times when we find ourselves struggling with fear, anxiety, panic attacks, depression, unable to sleep, decreased appetite, angry outbursts, and no longer doing the things we used to enjoy.  If you or a loved one is suffering from any of these symptoms, there is help. You don’t have to live with these limitations. I provide a safe, non-judgmental place where you can talk about your greatest fears, process your deepest pain, learn healthy coping skills, and regain your peace, joy, and life. You have the power within you to do this. We all do. Sometimes, we just need a little help.

More about me

Religion, Spirituality, and Mental Wholeness

Spirituality is a key part to our mental and emotional health. Many people find their spirituality in different areas. I find mine through my Christian faith. Having not only been raised in the church, but also the daughter of the church pastor, also known as a “PK” (Pastor’s Kid), I embrace my spirituality through my Christian beliefs.

Although I myself am a Christian, I have worked with people from all spectrums of faith, religion and spirituality, including self-identified atheists. In my professional experience, I have found religion and spirituality to be key aspects for mental wholeness. Why is that?

Well, let me first break down the difference between religion and spirituality.

Religion is a set of rituals, rules and expectations. Hawkins (2005) defined religion as “an outer expression of faith or behavior.” Religion frames our value systems.

Spirituality is the inner peace and feelings that you are connected with someone or something greater than yourself. It gives your life purpose and meaning. Hawkins (2005) defined spirituality as “an inner journey…an experience that takes us to a higher level of function.” Spirituality encompasses love, compassion, hope and/or forgiveness.

Religion and spirituality can exist separately. However, I am a believer that the two together form a stronger base. For me, my religion forms my values and personal belief system. My spirituality drives my spirit and inner peace, empowering me to love others, have compassion and forgiveness for myself and others, and to have hope for tomorrow.

For decades, going all the way back to Freud, psychotherapists believed that religion and spirituality was a symptom of mental illness. Today, however, that is drastically changing. Read more

Eating Your Emotions: It’s Not What You Think

Depression and anxiety disorders are prevalent worldwide. Globally, approximately 121 million people are affected by depression (Sanchez-Villegas, Toledo, de Irala, Ruiz-Canela, Pla-Vidal et al., 2012). According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), more than 1 out of 20 Americans over the age of 12 report symptoms of depression.

In recent years I have seen a growing interest in the connection between nutrition and depression. There is a growing body of scientific research that shows eating a healthy diet of fresh fruits and vegetables may reduce symptoms of mental illnesses.   Read more

Overcoming Consuming Fires

In October of this year I watched for two weeks with anguish and concern the consuming fires sweeping through Northern California, taking homes, incomes, and even lives. This past week I watched again as fires destroyed parts of Ventura County, Los Angeles, and San Diego. As a Native Californian, I have never seen such devastation from fires. As I watched the homes burn, I thought of the many who are now without homes this Christmas. I was also reminded of how my father lost his family farm from a tornado when he was a young man. Read more

Attack Anxiety with a New Frame

Hold up an empty picture frame and look through it. What do you see? Now move it to the right or left. Do you see something different? Now turn around and look behind you. What new thing are you now focusing on? How did the different frames make you feel?

Our feelings start with our thoughts. If you think someone is good looking and smells good, you may feel attracted to him. If you think that same person is rude and dirty, your feelings for him will most likely change. Anxiety is no different. Anxiety starts with a thought. A scary thought. A negative “what if” futuristic thought: Read more

Three Communication Mistakes to Avoid for a Peaceful Family Thanksgiving

As we prepare to get together with friends and family to celebrate Thanksgiving, feelings of anxiety and fear is normal. Being with family is not always a peaceful happy time for some.  

It may mean having to sit with someone who you would rather not be with;

Fear of criticism, judgement, and lack of acceptance starts to kick in.  

Maybe, you are going to be with someone whom you have a fractured relationship with and you are trying to heal it;

Fear of another family argument can cause increased anxiety and even depression.

Maybe you are confused as to why a family member or friend always ends up getting angry at something you said, and you feel like you are walking on eggshells every time you see them;

Fear of being blamed for “someone else’s problems” creeps up.

To help you reduce the risk of a painful and stressful family get-together, here are three communication mistakes to avoid: Read more