Profiles in Telehealth: A Psychology Nerd and Mental Health Champion Finds Purpose

LMFT and LPCC, Sarah, has clearly found her life's purpose. Follow along as she candidly shares her professional journey, the challenges she faced with a career transition, and the inspiring shifts she's noticed in mental health care post-pandemic.

What’s your professional story?

I am an LMFT and LPCC licensed in California (and, hopefully, New York soon!) who has been practicing since 2014. I specialize in ethical non-monogamy, the LGBTQ+ community, and men’s mental health issues – especially male identity, trauma, and moral injury. I am most informed by Postmodern therapeutic modalities.

My journey as a mental health provider began when I was a therapy consumer in my teens. I was lucky enough to connect with a therapist who played a significant part in changing the course of my life after it was turned upside-down. After experiencing the power of therapy firsthand, I decided to take an enormous leap of faith and moved 3,000 miles across the country to attend college.

One semester, after many of the classes I needed filled up, I decided to take an elective counseling course. When I was in that first class, everything suddenly felt right and I could envision my life’s purpose unfolding before me with crystalline clarity. A chain reaction followed in which I held several campus roles that included peer counseling, volunteer coordination for the campus’ harm reduction program, and a position in SFSU’s Education and Referral Organization for Sexuality.

In what seemed like a logical progression, I obtained a Master’s degree in Counseling which has led me to who I am presently: pretty much an all-out psychology nerd who loves helping people have more satisfying, meaningful lives.

In 2015, I was awarded CAMFT’s Education Foundation Scholarship which funded my EMDR education and allowed me to bring this modality to homeless adults. This is my first year in fully-remote private practice following over seven years as a community mental health provider.

In addition to providing individual therapy to adults, I am also a freelance clinical documentation coach, clinical supervisor, Clinician Champion for Wheel, and occasionally serve as a guest lecturer at SFSU. I love connecting with other therapists, and I am an outspoken advocate for Counseling and Social Worker Associates.

What’s your life like outside of work?

I am originally from Long Beach, NY, and I have lived in San Francisco for over 20 years. I live with my husband (Tim) and three cats (Mojo, Marzipan, and Licorice), and we are in the early stages of moving to Long Island.

In my spare time, I love learning new things and have spent the last two years brushing up on Spanish and learning German from scratch.

I read a lot...a lot-a lot: fiction, non-fiction, whatever I can get my hands on. My biggest comfort comes from spending time in nature, especially with my husband, and ideally close to an ocean. I’m also a big fan of animals and find everyone’s pets adorable – even the scary ones.

Some fun facts about me include: I have the rarest birthday a person can have, I am really into true crime (my dream job is psychological crime-solver a la “Mindhunter”), and I love video games.

My heroes include Fred (Mister) Rogers, Carl Sagan, David Bowie, and my grandpa.

What brought you to virtual care?

When the pandemic started, I was working for a community agency and rapidly transitioned to telemedicine out of necessity. Many of the clients with whom I was working were already meeting with me by phone because they were in other counties and often had limited internet service. If anything, the transition to video was an upgrade.

The biggest challenges I have faced using telemedicine have been creating a physically contained therapeutic space in collaboration with clients, adapting EMDR for remote therapy, and finding solutions and workarounds for random tech issues.

The best part of telemedicine is the convenience and expansion of access. I can be anywhere in the world and my client can be anywhere in California, and therapy can happen. Clients who once frequently missed sessions because they forgot or overslept (a common symptom of some diagnoses), can now receive a reminder call 5 minutes after their appointment time, roll out of bed, and get the care they need while still wearing their pajamas.

Telemedicine has also vastly expanded access to clients in rural areas and to individuals living with disabilities.

It’s an exciting time to be a therapist!

What’s it like to work with Wheel?

Wheel has made my transition from agency to contract work much easier than I thought it would be. I was not planning for my entry into private practice and independent contract work to be so abrupt. My agency position was eliminated as a result of pandemic-related budget cuts, and I found myself in a predicament in which I needed to pivot and quickly figure out my next step. At first, I was really hung up on my departure from the non-profit sector – especially with only three years of public service loan forgiveness remaining!

Then, one morning, it hit me how less stressed out I was feeling. I no longer had to commute. My morning and evening commutes were easily the most stressful part of my day. I now had an extra hour to hour and a half to myself. I was able to use the pockets of time in the middle of my work days to do things to nurture myself and my environment such as preparing meals, playing with my cats, doing quick chores, taking walks, and working on my other sources of income. Most importantly, it allowed me to do the exact kind of work I enjoy without compromising.

Having this much flexibility over my schedule gives me greater freedom to carve out space for the things that matter to me.

If you are interested in working with Wheel, you really have nothing to lose. I have nearly complete autonomy over my caseload size and the types of clients with whom I work. Wheel staff, clinical and otherwise, has been consistently supportive and pleasant to work with.

What do you think the future of healthcare holds?

In a word: access. More people can access therapy than ever before and the implications are potentially far-reaching and profound!

Two of the most common reasons I hear for why people do not pursue therapy are cost and location. I have seen potential therapy clients spend months trying to find a therapist that takes their insurance only to discover their therapist does not match their needs. Telemedicine platforms make the process of finding a “good-fit” therapist so much easier to navigate. Also, in-person therapy can feel intimidating for first-timers. Anecdotally, I have seen an increase in clients who are trying therapy for the first time, and I would not be surprised if the safety of meeting remotely had something to do with it.

There seems to be a societal shift in how people view therapy. There are fewer social assumptions and stigmas about seeking mental healthcare, and less stigma around mental illness, in general. More and more people are understanding that therapy can also be used to promote wellness even when someone is already doing ‘well enough’.

Technology isn’t only affecting how we provide care, it’s also expanding the depth and scope of research which, in turn, is enabling mental health professionals to learn wildly exciting and new things about psychology at an unprecedented rate.

I am excited to see an increase in mental healthcare legislation that improves the availability and quality of care for consumers – it is also very likely to improve career satisfaction and open new opportunities for therapists.

Plus, if I haven’t stated the obvious, providing care from home is amazing!

Wow, Sarah! We loved learning about your professional journey and getting a glimpse into your life. It’s clear you are passionate about what you do and dedicated to your clients. It’s clinicians like you that make the Wheel Care Team the best in the biz. Thank you!

For more, check out our previous Care Team spotlight interviews with a virtual care DNP and world traveler, an NP's journey from candy striper to virtual care, and an NP looking for work-life balance.

Interested in joining a team of virtual care clinicians? Learn about working in telehealth with Wheel.