Hello. My name is Toni Heineman. I am a clinical psychologist with a private practice in San Francisco. I am also the founder of A Home Within, a non-profit organization dedicated to meeting the emotional needs of current and former foster children.
The information on this website will introduce you to my practice.
I have been in private practice for more than 40 years, during which I have worked with children, adults, and families in both short- and long-term psychotherapy. I have consulted with teachers, schools, attorneys, and organizations. Teaching, supervising, and mentoring have also been important in my career, and I have worked with a number of Bay Area training programs as well as individual mental health professionals. My current practice has two primary focuses. One is working with adult families, helping them to navigate the many transitions that the movement through adulthood brings to family life. My other focus is working with separating and divorced parents, helping them to develop and maintain strategies for working together to raise healthy children. In both areas, I try to help people find creative ways of working together to the benefit of all family members.
In my work with separating, divorcing, and divorced parents my focus is on helping them navigate the painful and often confusing process of reorganizing their family in ways that best meet the needs of their children. My work with parents frequently begins before their physical separation, and may continue, if needed, for many years as the needs of their children change and they learn to parent together in different households.
We know that the process of separation and divorce can bring incredible emotional pain and upheaval. Typically, parents are angry, sad, hurt, anxious, and confused, and are still trying their best to comfort and reassure their children, who are often equally distressed. Most parents do a remarkably good job of managing their feelings and the added day-to-day stress; most also find that having an experienced, neutral professional who can provide guidance through the time of turmoil and the process of resettling gives them a valuable sense of security and stability.
Over the years, I have also seen that in the course of separating and reorganizing a family, parents can learn new and better ways of communicating. They can work together to find creative solutions to problems that they found unsolvable when living together. Often, they can also regain the tolerance they might have lost for the other person’s shortcomings, and establish or reestablish a sense of respect and appreciation for the other parent.
I offer my clinical experience and knowledge of child development to parents in order to help them craft guidelines for working together to raise their children. My primary goal is to help parents successfully separate without the intervention of the courts because I believe that parents are in the best position to develop plans uniquely suited to their family. I particularly appreciate and enjoy the opportunity to work with families over an extended time as they move forward in their lives.
In my work with adult families I focus on helping them recognize the ways in which the movement through young adulthood, middle age, and older adulthood can both enhance and impinge on the growth and changing developmental needs of the family and its members. The reasons that families seek help are as varied and unique as the families themselves. Sometimes a transition disrupts familiar patterns of interaction. For example, a move may create more or less distance between family members or addition of grandchildren requires some adjustment in patterns of relationships. The process of dismantling the family home and distributing treasured heirlooms may bring to light feelings about fairness, loyalty, or favoritism.
Some families look for consultation because tensions that have quietly lain dormant for years rise to the surface for reasons may or may not be clear. In other cases what has been open, but manageable, conflict becomes unbearable. Some families arrive with modest goals—perhaps just wanting to find ways to get through family gatherings without an outburst from at least one person. Others recognize that they are missing out on satisfying relationships and want to do the hard work of learning to know and understand each other.
Though not always conscious or articulated, the recognition that there is limited time—whether months, years, or decades—before family dynamics are permanently changed by the passing of the older generation may also contribute to a family’s search for help. The premature loss of a family member because of illness, injury, or a tragic community event is sometimes more than even the most supportive family can manage on their own.
Certainly COVID-19 has added stress to all of our lives, including putting pressure on family relationships. Parents struggle to manage work and school under the same roof. Individual differences for risk tolerance heighten tensions as families try to manage what seems safe for some and not safe enough for others. And whether separated by miles or social distancing, the warmth of a hug to help soothe hurt feelings and repair misunderstandings may not be available for a long time. Now that video conferencing is a routine part of most of our lives, families—whether trying to manage the reorganizations demanded by separation and divorce or looking to improve the dynamics among adult parents, children, and siblings—no longer have to wait until everyone can gather in one place.