Our Story


Clarissa Pinkola Estés once wrote, “When a great ship is in harbor and moored, it is safe. But… that is not what great ships are built for.” As a psychologist and educator, I have had the privilege of working with girls and young women for over 35 years. Witnessing the ways that girls and women take the necessary risks to set sail — to grow, heal, and change their lives — has been one of life’s greatest teachers. Another extraordinary teacher has been the work itself — discovering through contemporary research and practice many effective ways to mindfully support clients and students to learn skills, connect and find zest for life. In late 2004, after many years in private practice specializing in the social and emotional development of girls, I launched the Institute for Girls’ Development. Today, it is a joy to collaborate with my fellow Institute colleagues. We are culturally, linguistically, and theoretically diverse professionals who share vision, passion, and varied expertise in delivering our clinical, educational, assessment, and training programs.

The Institute in PasadenaSERVICES OFFERED

Today, the exciting news is that what we offer really extends across the lifespan. In the past, we were most known for our work with elementary, middle, and high school girls. Now, our individual, group, and family psychotherapy services combine with our empowerment-based educational workshops for girls, teens and parents, allowing us to serve hundreds of girls each year and their families. Dr. Vicki Chiang is the Clinical Director of our Child and Adolescent Specialty Practice. Our Perinatal and Postpartum Program offers nurturing therapeutic and educational support for pregnant and new moms, their partners, infants, and toddlers. Our Young Women’s Program, developed by Monica Valdivia-Aguilar, MA, LMFT, delivers individual, group and couple therapy to young adults in their twenties and thirties. The Institute’s Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) program for children, teens, and young adults, is also coordinated by Monica Valdivia-Aguilar. Dr. Chris Cooper leads our Comprehensive Assessment program, providing neuropsychological, cognitive, academic, and psychological testing for girls and women of all ages. Parents, grandparents, and other kin are involved at the Institute through our workshops, therapy, and skills groups. While most of our clients come from the San Gabriel Valley region, we have families who travel from as far as Claremont and Santa Clarita for the unique opportunities here.


Our most recent program launch is our Training Institute. For over 30 years, I have enjoyed teaching, training and consulting with mental health professionals, educators, and community program providers. Our Training Institute is the culmination of that work and part of our initiative to share expertise with fellow professionals in mental health, education, and organizations serving girls and women. In creating this community for learning, growth, and diversity, we hope to challenge ourselves and others to think deeply, creatively, empirically and to act boldly. Our training model incorporates what we call experiential and embodied learning, drawing on strength-based and mindfulness approaches in a relational context. Trainings and consultations are available for mental health professionals, educators, and community program providers throughout the country.


It is with great gratitude that we do this work and share this story. We are indebted to so many who have supported our vision and been our gracious teachers. As Elizabeth Gilbert reflected at the conclusion of her book Eat, Pray, Love, “In the end, though, maybe we must all give up trying to pay back the people in this world who sustain our lives. In the end, maybe it’s wiser to surrender before the miraculous scope of human generosity and to just keep saying, thank you, forever and sincerely, for as long as we have voices.”

Melissa J. Johnson, Ph.D.
Founder, CEO, Psychologist (PSY13102)
Institute for Girls’ Development, A Psychological Corporation


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