Jo Ann McKarus first read this famous quote from Henry David Thoreau's Walden when, at age 25, she was sitting in an English literature class, six months pregnant with her only child, Jillian. It made a deep impression on her, as she recognized the universal truth in Thoreau's words. They became both a mantra of how not to lead her life and a precursor to the career to which she feels she was born.
"This line became a guiding principle in my life," Jo Ann explains. "Ultimately, I came to believe in personal growth and self-awareness as antidotes to 'quiet desperation.' This is really the backbone of my work as a psychotherapist, because while people may come in with a specific complaint, once that is addressed, they often find an underlying malaise that requires some soul-searching."
After taking a year off from her studies to stay home with her infant daughter, Jo Ann continued to pursue her education, and she went on to graduate summa cum laude and Phi Kappa Phi from California State University in Northridge, with a major in journalism and a minor in English. She was also a nominee for the Wolfson Scholar Award for Outstanding Graduating Student of 1982, one of 36 nominees selected from 5,500 graduating students.
"I loved to write," Jo Ann says, "and I was always a people person, so I naively thought public relations would be a good fit. To my surprise, it wasn't, and it took me a few years to admit that my heart wasn't in it. It was a difficult admission, because after four years of college and three more as an account executive, I had to ask myself if I really wanted to start over in a new career, especially when I didn't have a clue what that might be! Here was a dilemma in which Thoreau's quote lay smack at the heart of the matter. After some of my own soul-searching, I realized that what was missing for me was the sense of fulfillment that comes from feeling that the work I was doing could make a real difference in the quality of people's lives. This was when I began to consider psychotherapy."
However, not wanting to make another mistake, Jo Ann decided to start with a "trial run," signing on as a peer counselor at Cedar Sinai's Rape Response Center. It was a nine-month commitment, and before she was halfway through, the director of the program told her she was "a natural" and strongly encouraged her to move forward.
"I knew it also," Jo Ann says, "and I went back to school without any doubts and got my master's degree in marriage and family therapy. Licensed in 1991, I've been in private practice treating adult individuals and couples ever since, and I feel blessed to have found work that I feel so ideally suited to and love so much."
Jo Ann also believes strongly in the importance of continuing professional education and growth, and she enjoys using her clinical skills in her writing, presenting, and teaching. Since beginning her career in psychotherapy, she has earned certification in clinical hypnosis and psychoanalytic psychotherapy, among other areas, providing her with the expertise to address a wide variety of clinical problems. Jo Ann is currently pursuing a doctor of psychology degree in psychoanalysis at the Los Angeles Institute and Society for Psychoanalytic Studies.
"Training in psychoanalysis provides psychotherapists with the most in-depth and sophisticated understanding of human development, personality, and motivation," she says. "Regardless of the treatment issue, you're going to be that much more effective and qualified. Without question, this is one of the most meaningful undertakings of my life. The only thing that tops it is being a parent."