Sherman Oaks Team

Hiruy Gessesse, M.D.

Medical Director, Sherman Oaks

An expert in child and adolescent psychiatry, Dr. Gessesse leads our team of professionals with enthusiasm and an unparalleled commitment to each and every teen who walks through our doors. As the driving force at Sherman Oaks, Dr. Gessesse, affectionately known as “Doctor G.”, provides top notch psychiatric care to our teens while simultaneously directing our treatment team. As Medical Director, Dr. Gessesse oversees all treatment plans and tirelessly searches for opportunities to maximize the therapeutic value of our services. His commitment to helping troubled adolescents has had an impact on countless teens who have sought refuge with us in their darkest times.

Dr. Gessesse earned his medical degree at UCLA and received his DEA and medical licenses from the University of Southern California. He went on to complete his residency at the University of Southern California (USC). This in-depth training aptly prepared him to specialize in the treatment of depression, addiction and anxiety. Dr. Gessesse’s practice has taken him to the LA County Hospital and the Child and Adolescent Psychiatry department at UCLA. This in-depth medical training makes him a leading expert in the treatment of mood disorders, addiction, anxiety and trauma.

As medical director, Dr. Gessesse guides our team of professionals while rigorously upholding our core values and unwavering commitment to the family. For Dr. Gessesse, psychotherapy and psychopharmacology are intimately linked. He appreciates that medication management is only one small part of a treatment approach that includes mind, body and soul.

In his spare time Dr. Gessesse enjoys traveling, golf and basketball. “Adolescence is such a challenging time in our lives and I care deeply about all of the teens who come to us. The work is never boring.”

Kara Vesely, M.A., L.M.F.T.

Program Manager

Esteemed clinician Kara brings to the Sherman Oaks team a passionate commitment to the health and wellbeing of today’s youth and an unparalleled ability to connect with our clients and their families. Using her extensive experience working with teens, Kara steadfastly supports the clinical team in their mission to bring hope and healing into the lives of struggling young people.
Kara describes her choice to begin a career in psychology as a desire to bring something good into the world. She holds two graduate degrees from Notre Dame de Namur in Belmont, California, one in marriage and family therapy and a second in art therapy and psychology. She is also a licensed marriage and family therapist with thousands of hours of experience counseling teens and families.

After graduation, Kara completed a practicum as an MFT student in the eating disorders program at Lucille Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford. As a clinician in their comprehensive care program, Kara led groups for teens in art therapy, journaling, parent support and consultation as well as meal support, milieu therapy and process groups.

Kara believes that authenticity and integrity are the two most important values to adhere to when counseling teens. For Kara, being able to hear and see clients for who they really are and to understand them at a most fundamental personal level is essential to providing meaningful and effective treatment. Kara’s experience is extensive as she has helped countless teens heal from their struggles with eating disorders, self esteem, body image, anger management, self harm and more.

When she is not at Adolescent Growth, Kara enjoys spending time with her beloved boyfriend, going to the gym and staying active. She also loves to cook and her favorite cuisine is Mexican. In her spare time she is also an avid painter who creates surrealistic portraits. She brings her love of life with her to the facility every day and we are grateful to have her with us.

Abraham Rios

Karen Cohen, M.A., M.F.T.I.

Primary Therapist

With strong interpersonal skills and an uncanny ability to connect with young people, Karen helps teens at Adolescent Growth gain a new found sense of confidence and self worth. Karen is adept at helping teens build the skills they need to maintain the changes they’ve made in therapy. Her personalized treatment plans always reflect the complex nature of the adolescent experience as well as the individual needs of each teen. As they change throughout their treatment, Karen adapts each teen’s treatment plan in accordance with the strides they have made and the strengths that they have identified together.

Karen has an extensive background working with young people. Prior to her work at Adolescent Growth she counseled adults, couples and children and facilitated group therapy with youth under eighteen. Many of the psychotherapeutic techniques she used in her earlier work are also applied at Adolescent Growth, including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Dialecitical Behavior Therapy, the Twelve-Step Model and more. Karen is known for the energy and enthusiasm she brings to our facility as well as the warmth and compassion that permeates all of her interactions with our teens. Karen says she chose to specialize in working with adolescents because of their incredible adaptability; provided the right care, teens are capable of remarkable transformations in very short periods of time.

Karen was born and raised in Los Angeles, California where she received her Bachelor’s degree in psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles.  She entered UCLA with a thirst for psychology and an excitement for learning about individual and social behaviors as well as the science involved.  In an effort to expand her knowledge base and to satisfy her intellectual curiosity, Karen conducted research alongside UCLA professors in a language and cognitive development lab.  Karen continued her education by obtaining her Master’s Degree in Science with an emphasis on Marriage and Family Therapy at California State University, Northridge.  She graduated Summa Cum Laude and completed a graduate thesis on the impact of terrorism on children.

When she is not working, Karen enjoys going to the beach, hiking, exercising and spending time with family and friends.

Lauren Dunlap

“I love the work I do and being able to impact a child’s life is the most rewarding job in the world.”

Lauren Dunlap, M.A., M.F.T.I.

Primary Therapist

Lauren has always known that her heart lies with helping others. As a primary therapist at our Sherman Oaks location, she spends her days working one on one with teens to improve their self worth and support their efforts to improve their relationship with themselves, their peers and their families. Lauren’s client-based treatment philosophy aids teens who struggle with mental health, substance abuse and eating disorders by helping them build confidence and obtain happiness and deeper meaning. With a vivid understanding of what makes teens tick, Lauren’s methods go beyond “treatment as usual”, fostering a therapeutic relationship that provides powerful insight and instigates lasting and meaningful change.

Born and raised in sunny California, Lauren knew early on that her career path would take her to the therapy room. Living in a household with an addict mother, Lauren was forced to grow up too quickly. She was a stand-in parent for her younger sister and never had time to be a teen. With the help of a counselor, Lauren came to terms with her loss and was inspired to help others in the same way she had been helped. She now aids teens in our program in coming to terms with their own struggles and take charge of their lives and futures.

Lauren earned her Masters of Arts in Counseling Psychology from Pacifica in Carpenteria, CA and promptly began her career as a therapist working closely with children, teens and families. Lauren says that helping teens and their families find hope and brings her a sense of mastery and accomplishment she has never found anywhere else. She strongly believes that care, compassion and understanding are the keys to compelling teens to make better decisions and ultimately learn to love themselves and embrace life.

In her spare time, Lauren is a dancer and a self professed foodie. Her favorite food is sushi. She is also a fan of board games and going to the movies. Her favorite movie is Coming to America. Most of all Lauren enjoys spending time with her beloved family and friends.

“There are no failures in life, just lessons, and we gain just as much from our losses as we do our gains.”

Vanessa Booth, B.A.

Academic Coordinator

Vanessa has been providing top notch academic support and instruction to the teens in our program at Sherman Oaks for years. Her encouraging presence and unwavering positivity are known to spark an excitement for learning in even the most discouraged teens. Vanessa has said that the key to connecting with teens who struggle in school is expending the time and effort to understand how they think and perceive things, rather than asking them to learn in ways that do not come naturally to them.

For ten years before her arrival at Adolescent Growth, Vanessa worked as an academic tutor, guiding peers who needed help in a variety of subjects including English, History, Science and Math. During this time she furthered her own education by earning a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology with a minor in Rehabilitation Services. Vanessa has also volunteered as a peer health advocate for Substance Abuse and HIV/AIDS education.

Vanessa has a big heart and cares deeply about education. True to her vision of committing her life to helping others, she went on to gain extensive training in Applied Behavior Analysis Therapy and became a Behavior Therapist for children and young adults with autism. Vanessa soon found that working with troubled youth was her true calling, and it was in the light of that realization that she came to find Adolescent Growth.

During her time as Academic Coordinator, Vanessa has continued her studies independently by researching technology and its effects on the social and intellectual skills of young people. She regularly completes college courses online to further her studies and enrich the services she provides to the teens in our care. Vanessa is passionate about self improvement and follows a personal ritual to learn something new every day.

Vanessa has close ties to her family and friends and enjoys spending her free time with them, strengthening bonds and enjoying life. She has a strong Christian faith and a close relationship with God, which gives her the strength she needs to be a most exceptional teacher and mentor to the clients in our care.

“Prevention of chronic disease starts with nutrition and how we take care of our bodies – It’s never too late to start!”

Brooke Horn DeKofsky, M.P.H., R.D., L.E.


Brooke takes care of the nutritional needs of our clients by planning healthy, balanced meals that provide complete nutrition and taste good too. She also works one-on-one with eating disorder clients to help them plan their path to a healthy relationship with food, cope with food-related stressors and learn appropriate ways to keep weight on or off. Brooke is sincerely dedicated to keeping our teens well and teaching them about the mental, emotional, physical and spiritual benefits of eating a healthy, balanced diet.

Brooke graduated Cum Laude with a Bachelor of Science degree in Nutrition from California Polytechnic State University, San Luis Obispo. While she was earning her Bachelor’s Degree, Brooke became a Peer Health Counselor. It was during her stint as a health counselor that Brooke discovered her passion for Public Health. To further her education in this field, she went on to earn her Masters of Public Health from UCLA in combination with a Deitetic Internship at the Veteran’s Affairs Medical Center in West Los Angeles.

After completing her internship, Brooke worked for a Federally Qualified Health Clinic as part of their Comprehensive Perinatal Services Program (CPSP) in collaboration with the Los Angeles Best Babies Network. During this time, Brooke learned a great deal about perinatal nutrition and how it sets the foundation for a lifetime of healthy eating habits. As a Registered Dietitian, Brooke understands the critical importance of good nutrition on mental health and human development. In her work at Adolescent Growth, Brooke shares her knowledge with teens and inspires them to take care of their bodies and reap the wonderful rewards of a balanced diet.

Brooke also has specialties in weight loss and chronic disease management. She assists teens who are most in need of nutritional guidance, such as diabetics and the overweight, underweight and obese. She instructs our teens in groups on good nutrition, weight management, diet and wellness and much more.

“Nutrition is not just what you eat but more importantly it’s about how you feed your body to support your mental and physical state”

Lauren Schmitt, M.S., R.D., C.P.T.


Lauren is a results-driven Registered Dietitian and a certified personal trainer who specializes in individual wellness, eating disorders and weight management. Lauren has a genuine gift for inspiring young people to think twice about the food they eat and its effect on their health and well-being. Many of the teens in our care attribute their marked improvement in part to Lauren’s healthy meal plans. Once they begin to enjoy a noticeable increase in energy, focus and engagement, teens at Adolescent Growth swiftly inherit Lauren’s enthusiasm for proper diet and physical fitness.

As one of our team dietitians, Lauren creates meal plans, works one-on-one with teens who have eating disorders and leads educational groups on the vital importance of diet and good nutrition. Lauren has been the catalyst for countless success stories among our clients and continues to be a driving force behind the holistic treatment approach at Adolescent Growth.

Intrigued with diet and fitness and their effects on mental and physical well-being, Lauren earned her Masters Degree in Family and Consumer Sciences from California State University at Northridge with a concentration in Nutrition. She then went on to become a registered dietitian and an NASM certified personal trainer. With a refreshing attitude and a savvy way with teens, Lauren generates genuine excitement among adolescents in the interest of paying mind to eating habits and physical exercise.

Lauren specializes in working with teenagers who struggle with anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa and binging/compulsive overeating. She treats each client individually and formulates unique plans based on the client’s needs and goals. She is known for her vibrant demeanor and her ability to convey even the most complex concepts in simple terms for teens to grasp and understand.