Liz Garone
December 12, 2023
Clinician Spotlight - Gary Lewis

Decades ago and long before he became a psychologist, Dr. Gary Lewis was playing a game with some friends and was asked the question: What do you want your tombstone to read?

The answer was easy, he says, and still holds true today.

“I want it to read: ‘He made a difference.’”

Dr. Lewis started out working as an orderly at a public hospital in Oklahoma where he grew up and then in a number of different medical settings. He also served as a Corpsman in the U.S. Navy. When he got out, he decided to get a nursing degree and went on to work as a nurse for many years. But eventually he was ready to do something different. Working at a drug and alcohol center gave him insight into the mental health field and helped him decide to move to San Diego, California, and go back to school and get his Master’s degree and doctorate in psychology.

“I fell in love with counseling and therapy and interacting with people in that setting,” says Dr. Lewis. “It was being able to really listen to the person and interact with them and see them change in front of you, sort of like seeing a flower bloom. It is just so gratifying and so satisfying.”

Dr. Lewis has worked in a variety of settings, from a children’s psychiatric hospital to 15 years in a state prison and a number of years in his own private practice. He is now going on his fourth year at Happier Living. “I'm really enjoying it,” he says. “It's wonderful to have such a supportive group of people who are there for me any time I have an issue.” He also participates in and leads weekly case conferences with other Happier Living providers, something he looks forward to each week.

Dr. Lewis has expertise in a number of areas, including substance abuse and addiction as well as men’s issues surrounding sexual, physical, and emotional abuse. But he is open to working with clients in whatever capacity they need. “I take whatever is thrown at me,” he says. For Dr. Lewis, the key component of therapy is the act of listening: clients need to know that you really hear them and are listening to what they are saying, he says.

Outside of work, Dr. Lewis spends a lot of his time volunteering with nonprofit groups, including a theater group, and with his local church. Something many people don’t know about him is that when he was in his twenties, he joined the circus for a summer as an acrobat.

“I never dreamed I'd be able to do the things that I've done in my life,” he says. “I’m just amazed at the things I was able to take advantage of and experience. I am making a difference in people’s lives.”

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