Born and raised in Southern California, Steve earned his BA from USC and his MBA from Columbia University. Steve had launched, grown and sold several highly successful businesses over the years and began to realize what he thought was the American dream – independence and abundance amidst an early retirement. Once that dream materialized Steve became increasingly aware of a profound emptiness and felt something essential in his life was missing. He craved a life of more substance, where he could give back and make a difference, and so began his journey inward in search of meaning and connection.
During his self-reflection, Steve began to gain insight into the profound impact his family of origin experiences had had on his development and, in turn, his ability to have meaningful connections with others. The lives of his father, grandfather and uncles were fraught with alcoholism and addiction and his mother had suffered an eating disorder which contributed to her early death. With his primary caregivers living in the grips of addiction and an eating disorder, Steve was left to fend for himself in a household full of fear and dysfunction. As an adult, despite his best efforts to change the intergenerational patterns of dysfunction that he experienced, Steve saw his own familial relationships continue to suffer. In 2007 Steve had a spiritual awakening when he realized he had been living only as a survivor. This realization in conjunction with inspiration from his personal experiences manifested a desire to create a place to help, a peaceful place for people to heal. La Ventana Treatment Programs became that place: a home for professionals deeply invested in the recovery process, and a place for those suffering from substance abuse and mental health issues to find help and long-term recovery. La Ventana is held up by a stellar staff that carries the same passion for recovery and service that Steve does. With the birth of La Ventana Treatment Programs, Steve has found a way to give back to the world, fulfilling his passion to help others live long and prosperous lives.
There is hope. There is help. This is the message I want clients to hear. Our team has a profound understanding of the recovery experience which allows them to deeply hold space between themselves and the client. It is in this very space where clients gain trust and change manifests.
Diahann grew up in New York, the daughter of a union president and high school math and chemistry teachers, within a household that respected academic achievement and social and political activism. Working hard to live up to what she interpreted as the highest of her familial and societal standards, she catapulted forward daily in a relentless pursuit of perfectionism and accomplishment. Diahann graduated cum laude with a B.A. in Political Science and Music from Middlebury College in Vermont, and she studied at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and the London School of Economics and Political Science. She went on to pursue careers in politics, real estate, and entertainment in NYC and Los Angeles. She found financial success and her life on paper appeared to be one of abundance. Simultaneously, she was desperately attempting to navigate a progressively debilitating eating disorder with secrecy and shame. She was using anything she could consume in an attempt to fill a void for which there would never be enough. Eventually she ended up in treatment, catapulted into a journey inward. Her ensuing life in recovery led her to get an MA in Psychology from Antioch University and to become a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. Thereafter, she became immersed in the substance abuse and mental health treatment worlds. Diahann offers a unique combination of extensive clinical and executive experience along with a personal connection to recovery in all aspects of her leadership. At the helm of the La Ventana team, she is the face of the company externally, and internally inspires and empowers staff at all locations, while coordinating effective and client-focused care.
Diahann says, “Witnessing and facilitating the healing process is what drives, inspires, and sustains (her) in every aspect of (her) day-to-day work.”
Her plans for La Ventana’s growth and expansion have been in alignment with her profound understanding of the complexities of addiction and mental health, supporting her commitment to comprehensive care and further advancement of ethical practices and professional standards.
Diahann also serves the greater addiction and mental health communities at large in various advocacy, advisory, and Board positions. She is an active member of International Association of Eating Disorder Professionals (iaedp), and is immediate Past President of the Los Angeles Chapter. She held a board position on the Women’s Association of Addiction Treatment (WAAT), San Fernando Valley Chapter, and is also a member of the California Association of Marriage & Family Therapists (CAMFT) and the Academy of Eating Disorders (AED). In her various Board positions, she has developed addiction and mental health educational workshops, intervention and awareness campaigns, and high-level professional training for practitioners.
A board certified psychiatrist with over a decade of experience, Dr. Carol Kiriakos is best known to her clients as, “Dr. K.” A warm, passionate, and approachable expert in the field of recovery in various aspects, Dr. Kiriakos comes from a long line of “shrinks.” Her family legacy runs deep in Los Angeles. Her Father is a psychoanalyst, addiction specialist, geriatric specialist and also works with the eating disorder population. Her brother is a cognitive behavioral specialist and works primarily in helping people work through their phobias and anxieties. With this lineage, it is not surprising that Dr. K believes that client-centered work within a multidisciplinary team helps people and benefits the community.
Dr. Kiriakos’ passion lies in working with individuals who struggle with disordered eating, eating disorders, and addiction. She is regarded as a psychiatric expert in addiction, eating disorders, and dual diagnosis in the Los Angeles area and has held roles as Medical Director and Psychiatrist roles within the field. Dr. Kiriakos completed her B.A. in Psychology from the University of California, Los Angeles and went on to earn her M.D. at the Pennsylvania State College of Medicine.
Prior to entering the field of psychiatry, Dr. Kiriakos worked as a Physician Utilization Reviewer for 30 insurance companies throughout the U.S. for 5 years. In her work, she made determinations regarding medical necessity on behalf of insurance companies using approved clinical criteria. Her clinical opinion was sought regarding levels of care, frequency of services, types of care and other modalities of treatment.
In addition to her work in day treatment centers for eating disorders and substance abuse, she has held a private practice psychiatrist in Beverly Hills for over 10 years doing both medication management and therapy covering a wide ranges of diagnoses: addiction, depression, Bipolar Disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety, Panic Disorder, ADHD, women’s health issues and eating disorders.
Dr. Lisa Benya is an internal medicine doctor servicing the Malibu community for many years. Her caring and compassionate approach has earned her a great reputation for being one of the area’s favorite doctors.
She is a board-certified physician who as an internist broadened her scope to include more serious and chronic conditions including addiction medicine.
Dr. Benya has been in practice for more than 20 years and affiliated with many hospitals. Her undergraduate work began at the Boston University School of Medicine and attended Medical School at Ohio University College of Osteopathic Medicine.
Dr. Craig V. Smith, M.D. is a former organ transplant surgeon, who now dedicates his practice to addiction medicine. He received his M.D. degree from the UCLA School of Medicine. Dr. Smith then completed his general surgical residency at Harbor-UCLA medical center and his multi-organ transplant surgical fellowship at the University of Pittsburgh medical center. He returned to UCLA medical center to start his career in academic transplant surgery, performing transplants, teaching students and residents while also conducting research on transplantation for the treatment of diabetes. During his academic career as an associate professor of surgery, Dr. Smith performed more than 500 organ transplants at UCLA, UC Irvine and the City of Hope National Medical Center.
Since alcohol and drug use are leading causes of organ damage leading to the need for a transplant, Dr. Smith learned about addiction by listening to his patients. More importantly, since a requirement to receive an organ transplant is abstinence from using alcohol and drugs, Dr. Smith learned about recovery from listening to his patients. After listening over the years, pursuing self-study and continuing medical education in the field of addiction, in 2009 Dr. Smith decided to dedicate his career to addiction medicine.
Dr. Smith is board certified in Addiction Medicine by both the American Board of Preventive Medicine and the American Board of Addiction Medicine.
Dr. Darren Lipshitz is an Addiction Medicine specialist who recently joined the 90265 Medical Group in Malibu.
Originally from Cape Town, South Africa, he moved to the USA at a young age and has been an American citizen since 1985. Although his country of birth has had a profound impact on his values of social justice, he has found that the United States shares those ideals of liberty and equality. This can be seen through volunteer work throughout his career.
Dr. Lipshitz attended the University of Nevada Las Vegas where he earned a Bachelors of Science degree in Biology. He then attended the Medical College of Wisconsin in Milwaukee for his degree in Medicine. After four cold winters in the frozen tundra of Wisconsin, he moved to the more appealing climate of Northern California where he continued his medical training and completed a Residency in Family Medicine at the UCSF-affiliated program in Salinas.
He ran a solo, private practice in Sausalito CA in the early part of his career, where he was the “town doc” for many families. This included all demographics, from the affluent in the vista-rich hills to the anchor-outs on the water to the underserved population in neighboring Marin City, where he also helped the community establish their own Federally-Qualified Health Center.
Eventually, Dr. Darren relocated to Southern California to be closer to family and to enjoy the warmer sands of Santa Barbara.
Also looking for new challenges professionally, he became Board Certified and working in the field of Addiction Medicine. He has never stopped seeing patients through primary care eyes and still has a “town doc” heart which lends itself well to the specialized field of Addiction Medicine and the complex physical and social issues often encountered.
When not working Dr Darren enjoys taking his only child, the four-legged furry Billi, to the beach or park for a game of fetch. He may also be spotted reading at a coffee shop or exploring a hiking trail.
Dr. William D. Stanley received his Doctorate of Medicine degree from UMDNJ – Robert Wood Johnson Medical School in Piscataway, NJ. He did his Residency training at Albert Einstein Medical Center in Philadelphia, PA. He received his Bachelor of Science degree from Morgan State University in Baltimore, MD. He did 1 year of a Master’s program in Anatomy at the University of Maryland Baltimore City campus prior to matriculating to medical school that next year.
He has worked in Internal Medicine for the majority of his professional life both inpatient and outpatient. He started Parkside Medical Assoc, PA in Trenton, NJ, employing 4 physicians. He noticed he had an interest in substance abuse and started involvement with ASAM (American Society of Addiction Medicine) in 1998. He completed his Boards in ASAM in 2000 and, later, by ABAM (American Board of Addiction Medicine) in 2010. Since 2013 he has concentrated his time exclusively to the treatment of Substance Abuse Disorders. Prior to his joining Dr. Benya and her team in California, he was Medical Director of both an inpatient detox unit and 2 outpatient treatment programs, all located in New Jersey. He has an active license to practice medicine in both New Jersey and California.
“My philosophy is that people, whether they are struggling with mental health or addiction issues, need to know their reality.”
Sharon brings a broad range of experience to her role as the Clinical Director of La Ventana’s Thousand Oaks Chemical Dependency Program. She has over twenty years experience working with at-risk youth, couples, families, and adults in the field of mental health and addiction. She has worked at various rehabilitation centers with youth and adults struggling with issues of addiction and their underlying psychological causes. Sharon has worked as a trainer and operator on a crisis suicide hotline. Sharon has worked directly with the homeless population in assisting them in stabilizing severe and persistent mental health and substance dependence as well as gaining housing and employment. Sharon maintains a private practice in Westlake and is a Clinical Supervisor to registered interns working towards their licensure. Sharon’s approach is multi-modal: she addresses the biological, psychosocial, spiritual, and nutritional aspects of addiction and treatment. Sharon earned her MS in Counseling with Distinction from California State University. She is a member of CAMFT, and a Co-Leader of her daughter’s Girl Scout Troop in efforts to help young girls develop empowerment and leadership.
“If I can make a difference in one person’s life, restore hope to an addict’s heart, my job is done. One person can make a profound difference.”
Gwendolyn Casella got clean and sober in 1997. She worked at Cri-Help, Inc. for over a decade in a variety of direct care and administrative roles while attending Drug and Alcohol Studies at Pierce and Mission Colleges. Since 2002, Gwen has been tied to the recovery community through her considerable experience as a sober coach and by conducting “extreme interventions” (defined as “recovery by any means necessary”). She has her own business, Recovery Services Unlimited LLC and, notably, was featured on A&E’s “Relapse, the Sober Coach Chronicles.” Identifying integrity as the underpinning of her approach, Gwen considers herself very lucky to be trained by some amazing mentors for whom she has always had a tremendous respect. Having worked at several treatment facilities, Gwen now passionately devotes all of her professional efforts to her role as Director of Detox and CD Services at La Ventana. She believes she was meant to do this work and loves doing it. When Gwen is not working, she spends time with family and sings in her band.
Karla has worked in the treatment center field for many years as a therapist & program director focusing on individuals who suffer from chemical dependency and mental health issues such as BiPolar disorder, Anxiety disorders, and Major depressive disorders.
Her goal is to provide a nurturing, non-judgmental, compassionate environment in which to heal from overwhelming feelings, negative thought patterns, and behaviors that hold clients back from leading the life they are meant to live.
She utilizes EMDR as a therapeutic modality that facilitates the rapid processing & healing of traumatic events from the past that may contribute to PTSD, and negative self beliefs. Cognitive Behavioral Therapy and Mindfulness Based practices are also used to heal long term patterns of anxiety, depression and addiction.
Karla achieved her MA in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in Santa Barbara and is also a Clinical supervisor to registered interns. She believes that an empathetic, collaborative, and trusting relationship is the key to growth and change. Karla has a private practice in Westlake village and keeps busy with her twin 15 year olds.
Other than the people I love and my precious pups (Chips and Oz), there is nothing more important to me than recovery, my recovery and the recovery of those in need. As a teenager, before I had even reached the legal drinking age I became a resident at the newly opened Betty Ford treatment program in Rancho Mirage. This experience changed my life forever. My newly found life in sobriety brought a smile to my face and gave me a twinkle in my eye. It gave me love in my heart and I found myself repeatedly discovering that all things were possible. However, while my life was full and I was in the throes of a successful career, it was in 2009 when I realized something was missing. I wanted and needed a more meaningful career path, one that filled my heart and soul; however, I had no idea what that looked like. It seemed that it was time to do a little soul searching. After months of prayer and meditation, I attended a Memorial Day party at a friend’s house and spent the better part of the afternoon talking to her 20-year-old daughter about treatment and sobriety. As I walked away from that discussion, I had an epiphany. The thing I am most passionate about is helping people who are struggling with addiction to find and get the help they need. Again, I didn’t know how that translated into a career; I just knew there was something there. A couple of weeks later, I came across an admissions position at a young adult treatment center. That was 5 years ago. I have been in the field of recovery ever since. My heart has never been so full. Nothing is more fulfilling to me than connecting families and those fraught with addiction with the resources they need. My position at La Ventana not only allows me to introduce our program to families and those seeking help for themselves, but it also gives me the ability to present our services to countless professionals, facilities and institutions who have direct contact with so many who are in need. La Ventana has given me the platform to reach more people than I ever imagined.
Prior to joining La Ventana, I was employed at Sober College, a young adult rehabilitation program. During this time, I had the opportunity to collaborate with La Ventana on many occasions. Since we shared many clients I saw firsthand the treatment and level of care La Ventana’s team provided our clients. Through these experiences, La Ventana earned my deepest respect and trust. Over the course of the last 5 years, I fell in love with the entire LV leadership and clinical teams and they became my extended family. When Sober College opted to close their doors, my LV extended family reached out to let me know that I had a home at LV if I wanted it. How could I say no? Not only do I work with people I adore, but I am also blessed with doing that which brings me tremendous joy!
Kere Blair is the Clinical Director of La Ventana Mental Health Treatment Programs in Santa Monica, California. Kere is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and a dance and fitness instructor. Originally from Virginia, Kere moved to California with the dream of becoming a therapist and helping individuals through a more holistic approach to mental health. Kere’s background in dance and fitness allows her to utilize movement as an important therapeutic tool . Kere’s experience with dance therapy skills lead her to international work in Ghana, Africa where she did HIV prevention and outreach through cultural dance with the Sankofa Center. Kere also has extensive clinical research experience regarding the study of mental health as it relates to physical health through Psycho-immuneurology of HIV research. In addition, Kere’s background in community mental health and substance abuse treatment has allowed her to hone in on her clinical expertise regarding the mind body connection as well as the impact that trauma has on our mental health and behavior. Kere values holistic treatment in which clients are approached through a mind-body informed perspective. Moreover Kere is inspired to provide the best care for client’s with the latest forms of treatment available. La Ventana Mental Health program provides CBT, DBT, Neurofeedback, Communication skill building, Coping skill building, Group process, Art Therapy, Music Therapy, Yoga, Meditation and much more.
Sam Pow, LCSW brings an eclectic strengths-based approach to his role as Adolescent Program Director at La Ventana. Rooted in positive psychology, Sam incorporates ideas from existential therapy and narrative therapy with the practical skills of dialectical behavior therapy. His goal is to cultivate a space in which clients feel empowered to heal emotional wounds while creating the foundation of safety and stability they need in order to build healthier habits. Art, music, mindfulness and meditation are tools Sam invites clients to utilize along their journey of recovery and transformation. Helping clients discover their authentic selves and teaching them how to tap into the self-compassion they need in order to turn their pain into growth are hallmarks of Sam’s work.
Sam has been working in the field of dual diagnosis, supporting clients through their process of healing and recovery for 14 years and has been running intensive outpatient programs for clients struggling with mental health and substance use for 3 years. Sam got his master’s degree in social work from California State University Northridge. His license number is LCSW #88131.
“One of the most rewarding things about my career choice in drug and alcohol treatment is the fact that I am able to see tangible results in our clients. Detox is only the beginning of an alcoholic or addict’s journey to recovery, but working at this integral stage of development provides me the opportunity to witness the splendor of life and light as it returns to a client’s eyes.”
Paige has worked in the mental health/recovery field for many years in different capacities.
Jessica Paul has been in the recovery field since 2012. She is currently becoming a drug and alcohol counselor and earning her Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology.
Jacklynne Marder is a Marriage and Family Therapist Associate. She completed her undergraduate studies in Psychology and Buddhism at University of Colorado.
Wendy Roehr is an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, who comes to La Ventana with 12 years of clinical experience.
Carrie attended Antioch University Los Angeles for her graduate degree in clinical psychology then accrued her 3000 hours @ a Malibu dual diagnosis treatment center.
Celebrating over 13 years in recovery and in the field as a chemical dependency for the past 12 years.
Jennifer earned her Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy at Argosy University in Denver, Colorado.
“People often say, ‘Music is my Therapy’. I believe that we all are musical beings and most of us have naturally been drawn to use music to match and/or shift our moods through music. My intention and passion as a music therapist at La Ventana is to help clients recognize their own abilities to use music to transform, become their best self, and to fully express and achieve ultimate health.”
Lahila Oppenheimer works as a sound-healer conducting private one-on-one sound healing sessions, workshops, and Healing Sound-Baths for larger venues. With great love, compassion and dedication, Lahila seeks to help heal, uplift and transform those around her who desire personal transformation and well-being.
Yoga gives people the opportunity to be alive, loved, and free. I am grateful to share something that I am passionate about with other people.
My deep passion for fitness led me to begin practicing yoga over 10 years ago. I quickly learned that there are significantly more important gains from practicing yoga than just the physical ones. My classes are carefully planned as observing students’ bodies and adjusting their poses with the help of props such as pillows, straps, and blocks as needed is part of my teaching routine. I am grateful to share something that I am passionate about with others.