This Hollywood Therapist Can Help Sort Out Your Story

Johnny O'Callaghan, who stepped away from a promising acting career to become a leading Los Angeles therapist, shares his tips for a happier life.

Words by Pete Samson
Portraits by Reto Sterchi

Irishman Johnny O’Callaghan moved to Los Angeles in 2002 as he chased his dream of becoming a Hollywood actor. He had earned rave reviews starring in a one-man show, ‘Rum and Vodka’, in New York City, and the talent spotters of Tinseltown were circling.

“It was a crazy time,” he says. “Everyone wanted to represent me. Fast-forward three years and I was living in the Hollywood Hills, getting massages and facials, but completely depressed.”

Looking for a change, Johnny grasped an opportunity to head to Uganda to work on a documentary with a friend, and it was there he met a toddler called Odin, now 21, who he brought back to LA and adopted as his son. This huge life shift led to Johnny deciding to try a different career path, and he went back to school to train in psychology.

Johnny O'Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi
Johnny O’Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi

“When I became a parent, I was not as good at it as I thought I would be,” Johnny says. “I was obviously a single parent, and a mom and dad rolled into one, which was always going to be challenging. But as with any parent, the child triggers whatever we haven’t healed. And kids learn by absorbing the behavior you are modeling, rather than what you say. So I went back to school to heal myself, become a better parent, and a better version of myself.”

Johnny has since become one of LA’s most sought-after therapists, popular with the city’s high-profile actors, guiding his clients using a unique and powerful blend of spiritual psychology, meditation, and practical coaching. “I can’t guarantee you an Oscar,” he chuckles. “But I can certainly help you get out of your own way.”

Here are some tools Johnny recommends to help us rewrite the storytelling that goes on in our heads, and achieve our Hollywood ending.

Johnny O'Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi
Johnny O’Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi

Become the winner in your story

When my son was five, he said to me, “Daddy, I want skin like yours.” I like the Buddhist approach, which talks about reincarnation, that you’ve already lived many lifetimes, and that you choose everything before you come in. So I said to him, “You’ve already been white, you did that in a past lifetime, in this lifetime you chose to be brown.” I saw him recalibrate in front of my eyes. He was able to apply this new story in his mind. The mind is a storyteller, and it’s very important that we’re the winner in our own stories, because often we’re not. Raising Odin has been great for my practice. He just loves being himself, there’s no resistance — it took me many years to learn how to do that.

Don’t believe all your thoughts

Don’t believe everything that you think, because most of what you think, especially negative thoughts, are not true. It’s very important to question your thoughts. You should switch the storytelling, and talk to yourself as your best friend. And check-in on yourself. I get everyone to check in and say where they are today, with one being terrible and 10 being fantastic. I see a lot of actors, and if you’re walking into an audition at a six, you tend not to book the job. You’ve got to be walking in at a ten.

Johnny O'Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi
Johnny O’Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi

Identify your lighthouse

It’s very important that as we heal, we know where we want to get to. People normally walk through my door because there’s something wrong; it could be situational, like a breakup, or sometimes they are just sad and don’t know why. We then talk about where they want to be in nine months time, what kind of life do they want to be living, so at least we have a lighthouse. I think life is like learning how to sail. You can’t stop the weather, but you can learn to navigate it. So when it’s stormy, you know what to do, and when it’s sunny, you know what to do.

Practice gratitude

Live your best life. Not everyone gets to come here, so we have won the lottery just by being alive. Sometimes we can take that for granted. I’m always just taking note that I’m alive, because I think that’s the real gift, and brings me into the present moment. And gratitude lists are great, but you have to do it properly. Write down five things in the morning you are grateful for, but also really experience that gratitude when you write it out, because you have to feel it.

Johnny O'Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi
Johnny O’Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi

Purge your darkest thoughts

I have another tool which is similar to Julia Cameron’s ‘The Artist’s Way’, but I tell people to destroy the notes afterwards. So write freely in the morning, about your wife, your partner, your kids — write whatever is bothering you, and then shred it afterwards. It’s all energy and sometimes you just need to get that out of you. Not everyone can afford to go to therapy all the time, so if you do that every morning you declutter yourself. Let the crazy stuff out, then rip it up.


I’m a big believer in a daily routine, and think meditation is a very important component. The hour you spend in therapy each week is not going to be very impactful unless you do some homework. So I set people up with a simple meditation practice and a mantra. Meditation makes people aware of the relationship they are having with themselves. How you talk to yourself, and how you show up for yourself. Try an espresso meditation, which is seven breaths in through the nose and out of the nose, then seven in through the nose and out of the mouth, then seven in and out of the mouth. It helps you feel more present, and your ego goes into the background. Whatever gets the thinking, the ego, out of the forefront, that’s what we’re after.

Johnny O'Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi
Johnny O’Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi

Treat yourself with compassion

There was a moment when I leased a house in Topanga Canyon, and shortly after I moved in it turned out the guy hadn’t paid his mortgage, and it went into foreclosure. In the past, I would have beat myself up for making a bad choice, but I had compassion for myself in that moment and was loving with myself for making a mistake. And that was also when my practice became very full, because I also had compassion for whoever was sitting on my couch. It’s about having compassion for ourselves. And if you are having a healthy relationship with yourself, it then allows you to have a healthy relationship with life.

Johnny O'Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi
Johnny O’Callaghan // 📸 : Reto Sterchi

Johnny can be reached at

Pete began his career on Fleet Street more than two decades ago, and has worked for some of the world’s biggest news, entertainment, and wellness companies as a writer, editor, and media executive. He co-founded Mr Feelgood to help demystify the world of personal development, and to encourage men to discuss and improve their mental health, by sharing the wisdom and lessons learned of inspiring artists and leaders.

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