Denise O'Neil San Diego Addiction Therapist


I’m Denise O’Neil, a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist with an office located in Del Mar, a North County Coastal area of San Diego.

Before becoming a psychotherapist, I spent 20 years as a clinical researcher developing medicines for advanced cancer and autoimmune disease. One of the most difficult parts of my job was knowing that despite all the scientific discoveries, the patients with advanced cancer would eventually become terminal. I started to wonder if there was another way to improve the quality of life for those who were struggling with incurable diseases; this is when I first became acquainted with mind-body medicine.

Mind-Body Approach

The fact that our thoughts and feelings have the power to positively influence our physical health fascinated me. More than anything, I wanted to learn how to guide people to tap into the natural healing force within themselves. I returned to school for a Master’s degree in Counseling.

Initially, I felt a strong draw to work with children because of my personal experience losing my mother when I was only 8 years old. I completed my clinical traineeship at Rady Children’s Hospital where I treated children and adolescents suffering from mood disorders, emotional trauma and disruptive behavioral disorders. In the vast majority of cases, there was intergenerational trauma, where the parent(s) struggled with untreated or poorly treated mental illness or substance abuse.

This experience piqued my interest in working with adults with co-occurring mental health and substance use disorders. Subsequently, I completed a clinical internship at The Fellowship Center, a residential rehabilitation facility for men with alcohol and drug addiction. It was there I found my passion, which is working with adults who’ve been affected by trauma and addiction.

Trauma-Informed Care

As trauma is almost always a part of a person’s life experience, I provide trauma-informed care. This approach acknowledges the complex impact of trauma on a person’s psyche and understands addictive behaviors are a person’s way of adapting to a world that has previously been unsafe. Trauma-informed care addresses the pain a person is trying to cope with through the use of substances. By treating the root cause of the addiction, permanent recovery is attainable.

A specialty I’ve developed is relational trauma. Relational trauma occurs when a child is abused, maltreated or neglected by a person responsible for the child’s care. Neglect does not have to be intentional. Childhood emotional neglect can happen when a parent is unable to consistently meet a child’s emotional needs due to mental illness, physical illness, disability, or addiction. In my professional experience, a significant number of adults struggling with addiction have a history of relational trauma from childhood.

Behavioral health is similar to medicine in that there’s a conventional way to practice and a holistic way. In traditional treatment, the focus is solely on the illness and symptom reduction. Holistic (integrative) care treats the whole person taking into account mind, body and spirit. It goes above and beyond conventional care and integrates complementary and alternative approaches. I am a holistic psychotherapist; I use scientifically proven (“evidence-based”) methods along with complementary and alternative approaches.


  • Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist in the State of California #100221
  • Master of Science, Counseling, San Diego State University
  • Master of Public Health, Boston University
  • Bachelor of Arts, Psychology, Emory University

Clinical Training

  • Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (Level I and II, EMDR Institute)
  • Attachment-Focused EMDR (Advanced Workshop, Parnell Institute)
  • 100-Hour Clinical Hypnosis and Strategic Psychotherapy Training (Dr. Michael Yapko)
  • Emotionally Focused Therapy Externship (Dr. Sue Johnson)