So You Want to Be a Therapist

Since starting a private practice almost 6 years ago, I’ve been asked to attend multiple career fairs and to host visits with middle and high school students interested in mental health professions.  It’s exciting to see young people interested in the field and I hope I can inspire their professional ambitions and offer perspective on the realities of mental health as a career.

First, I share that becoming a therapist will require a bachelor’s and a master’s degree.  There isn’t a specific bachelor’s degree, but therapists often start in a field like social work, psychology, sociology, or family studies.  I started out as an undergrad thinking I wanted to become a physician but quickly I found I don’t like chemistry.  Looking ahead I saw a whole lot more chemistry and realized that path wasn’t for me.  I spent a couple semesters discerning my major until I took a course called Introduction to Human Development and it changed the trajectory of my career.  I loved studying for that class and I felt inspired to learn more, so much that I made it my bachelor’s degree major.

After earning a bachelor’s degree, therapists need a master’s and there are several paths to get there, including social work, marriage and family therapy, counseling and psychology.  Each has its own particular flavor and I’m happy to talk through those with students interested in becoming therapists.  I took the social work path and it was a great decision for me.  

Next I share with students the Bureau of Labor Statistics ( information about six important skills needed in this work.  The first three I summarize as the direct client work, including communication, empathy, and interpersonal skills.  If you generally don’t like people, this is not the field for you.  The second three are the indirect work, including problem-solving, time management and organizational skills.  Having supervised at least a dozen bachelor’s and master’s-level students, I can attest that these skills are key.  I believe they can be improved, but a baseline in those six areas is necessary to be successful in the field.

In the last section, I highlight the pros and cons of practicing in an outpatient private practice clinic in a rural area.  Positives include the rewarding nature of the work, a growing field due to a high demand for therapy, and flexibility in setting your own schedule.  Some negative aspects are combating burnout, difficulties with insurance reimbursement, and the potential for dual relationships in a small town.

I’m hopeful as I see young people prioritizing their mental health and de-stigmatizing seeking therapy.  I love my work and I love sharing that passion with others, hopefully inspiring the next generation of helping professionals.  

Mental Health First Aid

In response to our nation’s mental health crisis, First United Methodist Church of Hiawatha in partnership with Horizon Therapy will bring Mental Health First Aid training to Hiawatha for a two-day training event on Sunday, November 20th and December 11th from 12-4pm each day. This groundbreaking skills-based course gives people the tools to identify, understand and respond to someone who might be struggling with a mental health or substance use challenge — and connect them with appropriate support and resources when necessary. 

One in five Americans has a mental illness, and the pandemic has dramatically increased depression and anxiety, but many are reluctant to seek help or don’t know where to turn for care. Unlike physical conditions, symptoms of mental health and substance use problems can be difficult to detect. Friends and family members may find it hard to know when and how to step in. As a result, those in need of mental health services often do not receive care until it is too late.

Just as CPR helps even those without clinical training assist an individual having a heart attack, Mental Health First Aid prepares participants to interact with a person experiencing a mental health crisis. Mental Health First Aiders learn a 5-step Action Plan that guides them through the process of reaching out and offering appropriate support. 

“Never has it been more important for our communities to talk about mental health and substance use,” says Chuck Ingoglia, president and CEO of the National Council for Mental Wellbeing, which helped bring Mental Health First Aid to the U.S. in 2008. “This program is breaking down barriers and stigma so that together we can learn how to better support one another. Without mental health, there is no health.”

In just 12 years, Mental Health First Aid has become a full-blown movement in the United States — more than 2.5 million people are certified Mental Health First Aiders, and that number is growing every day. 

Lunch and materials are provided by FUMC Healthy Congregations committee. The training is limited to 30 participants and interested persons can email to reserve a space.

Last week driving in to my office I was struck by the beauty of the maple trees lining the blocks on my route.  I paused to watch the leaves, nearly neon red, as they floated down in the breeze and the best way I could describe them is confetti or a ticker tape parade.  It was breathtaking.  In that moment I was mindful of the beauty in nature and grateful to experience it.  That mindful moment was incredibly bucket-filling and I found myself thinking about it later in the day with a sense of peace.   

So often my life is the opposite of peaceful.  I’m running around on auto-pilot, rushing from one task to the next, never caught up.  Many of my clients report the same level of frantic living.  Sometimes I assign therapy homework to hit pause and savor one thing each day – a gorgeous sunset or the smell of a fresh brewed cup of coffee in the morning.  Mindfulness doesn’t have to be difficult – it’s basically hitting pause, noticing thoughts/feelings/sensations, and paying attention just to this moment. 

Halloween is a few days away so the ‘holiday season’ officially is here.  There are so many opportunities for mindfulness during the holidays – the smell of turkey baking on Thanksgiving, the crisp morning air when it snows, twinkling Christmas lights, and more.  I’m taking a mental note to deliberately pause, to drink in the beauty of these moments and feel gratitude for my life.  

Finding Your Unicorn Space

I haven’t written here in a long time.  Actually I checked and it’s just shy of two years.  We all were knee-deep in the pandemic then, virtual school and all.  That post was on creating a gap plan and it reflected where I was emotionally.  Just survival. 

With gratitude I don’t find myself in that level of stress today.  I’d like to hope I, and all of us, have grown since that time, including re-prioritizing our lives to focus on what’s most important.  I’ve been reading more in the past couple years, most recently a book by Eve Rodsky called Finding Your Unicorn Space.  The tagline sold me – “reclaim your creative life in a too-busy world.”  Boom.  Part of the re-prioritizing for me involves creativity, slowing down, and reflecting.

The book defines a Unicorn Space as the active pursuit of creative self-expression and reinforces that creativity is not an option but rather an essential part of being human.  We crave this.  I enjoyed reading about other folks’ unicorn spaces, ranging from common pursuits such as gardening or woodworking to amateur trapeze artistry or joining a hip hop dance troupe.  

This sent me on a quest to consider my own Unicorn Spaces.  Where do I feel creative and uniquely me?  It was hard to think of something initially.  Basically I spend a lot of my time working or driving kids to practice.  I do enjoy making craft-y things but my Cricut is covered in dust.  I enjoy cooking or baking on occasion.  I’m a fan of a heart-pumping group fitness workout but I’m not sure if that even counts as Unicorn Space.  I like to write but my mind tells me “I’m not a writer.”  I heard Eve Rodsky say in a podcast interview that we need to get away from “noun-ifying” our lives with comments like “I’m not a gardener” or “I’m not an artist” and instead to “verb-ify” our lives with “I grow stuff” or “I paint.” It’s process over perfection.

So here I am creating a blog post for my business website.  I’m not a blogger.  But occasionally I write.  It’s a creative outlet.  I enjoy the process.  I have no idea if it makes any impact in the world but it impacts me as a pursuit of creative self-expression.  It’s a Unicorn Space and I’m planning to spend more time actively pursuing this.

FYI I’ve grown increasingly interested in mental health for all, not just for folks who have a mental health diagnosis. Everyone can improve their mental health and work toward a more fulfilling life. I think that’s the purpose of this blog – to bring awareness and some tidbits for anyone to use. Perhaps this will spark an interest in someone to find their own Unicorn Space.

Creating a Gap Plan

I looked at the case numbers today and my state is ranked 10th in per capita Covid cases in the U.S.  Not a place where anyone wants to make the top ten. The county next door has the third highest rate for counties in Kansas and I can only assume that my county is headed on a similar upward trend. 

Starting Monday we begin the third stretch of remote schooling since the pandemic started. And it’s stressful to think of trying to work full-time and teach full-time while staying sane. Gratefully I have a partner who will share the responsibility of virtual school, but the truth is, our family functions better when there is in-person school. It’s good for all our mental health.

What to do now?  I keep thinking back to an episode from Brene’ Brown on her podcast Unlocking Us {found here} that introduced to me the concept of creating a Family Gap Plan.  Basically she outlines creating a plan for handling situations when we’re feeling stressed and run ragged and can’t show up in a relationship with 50% of the needed energy for the relationship.  I love that she says “strong, lasting relationships are rarely 50/50 because life does not work that way.”  Sometimes I have 20 and my partner picks up the 80 and vice versa.  But the pandemic has made it so there are days where each of us shows up with only 20 and we have a gap of 60 and that’s where the Family Gap Plan comes in.

Brene’ talks about sleep and movement, how to apologize, and puns and knock knock jokes as part of her Family Gap Plan.  My Family Gap Plan includes sleep, walks, saying “no,” letting go of perfectionism, and movie nights with frozen pizza.  The plan is still a work in progress but in the last few months I have taken myself off several volunteer boards, reduced my work hours and prioritized sleep and exercise.  And today I will be stocking up on frozen pizza because next week when I am trying to work full time, educate my kids at home, and show up as a therapist/business owner/wife/mom/daughter/sister/friend I know I will need to access my gap plan.

Update on Teletherapy

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Photo by Andrew Neel on


It is with a heavy heart that I announce I’m moving to telehealth-only for my clients for the foreseeable future.  This only affects clients working with me (Sarah Olson).  The other therapists are working on a case by case basis regarding teletherapy.  Each therapist works with a different client population and has multiple factors to consider.

Two factors have influenced this decision for me.  One is that Kansas school closings have created challenges with having childcare for my children ages 4, 7, and 9.  Grandparents have been helpful but the total of this childcare does not equal the 37.5 hours per week previously provided by public school attendance.  The other factor is social distancing.  I finalized this decision after a day of working in my office and then coming home to read this article about a therapist and coronavirus.  I’m the only therapist in the office who can take Medicare and I want to be extra mindful of not spreading infection to that vulnerable population.  I also want to prevent the possibility of bringing illness home with me.  In truth, I strongly considered not making this move.  Sitting one-on-one in a therapy office, it is possible to maintain close to 6 feet of social distance and I have had clients be very mindful of any illness symptoms and cancel if they feel sick.  Surfaces are being wiped down more frequently.  These factors fit in with KDHE’s current recommendations about social distancing.

So, what does this mean?  I’m reaching out to current clients to work on shifting appointments to telehealth whenever possible and working on alternative arrangements when that is not possible.  Once that is finalized, I’ll determine if I have openings for additional client appointments.

I’ve been trying to find any positive in the current situation.  One aspect is that the huge reduction in personal activities and obligations means that I can set appointments at times I normally wouldn’t have been able. For example, not having evening school events or Saturday sports has opened up therapy spots outside the traditional work day.  I look forward to being flexible in order to meet the needs of my clients.

The current situation has increased our anxiety as a culture in unprecedented ways.  There are so many unknowns about health, education, employment, finances…the list goes on.  Social distancing is stressful and isolating.  Please know that I, and all the staff at Horizon Mental Health, will continue to serve the needs of our community in all the ways we can.  If you are a current client and need to discuss your appointment, please call the office at 785-740-4647 and leave a message with your therapist.  If you are a potential new client, please call the office or email Jennifer at

Book Report: Talking to Kids about COVID-19

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If you are a parent of school-age children, you may have heard some talk coming home about COVID-19, or coronavirus.  We don’t watch news with our kids, but mine have already gotten a snippet here or there from parent conversation, the radio in the car, or kids talking at school.  They’ve had questions.  Worries.  I’m sure, like me, your kneejerk reaction might be to dismiss this as “everything’s fine” or “you’re safe, that won’t happen here.”  I believe anything we don’t talk about speaks volumes to kids.  When presented with untouchable topics, kids will fill in the blanks, often creating their own worst case scenario.  The kid thought process goes “if we don’t talk about it, it must be really bad.”

So how to handle the current infections disease epidemic with children?  Everything I’ve seen and read speaks to good hygiene.  Wash your hands.  Avoid sick people.  Stay home if you’re sick.  The same rules for preventing influenza or any other illness apply here.

I love the book Germs are not for Sharing by Elizabetha Verdick that I think fits nicely into the current discussion for talking to kids about infectious disease.  It’s geared toward preschoolers but I think even younger kids up to mid-elementary could find this useful.  I used to read it to kids in elementary classrooms and I’ve read it to my own kids.  The book sticks to a positive and helpful message…germs are everywhere, they’re not all bad, but we should work to keep ours to ourselves because some of them can make us sick.

If your kids are asking about coronavirus, this might be a helpful tool.  It goes into the basics of proper handwashing and highlights places where germs tend to hang out.  The pictures are engaging and kid-friendly.  Even the germs have a funny cartoonish fuzz-ball appearance, often doing funny things like wearing a scuba mask while being washed down the drain.

Bonus is at the back of the book there are grown up tips for talking about germs.  If you’re at a loss with younger children asking about sickness, this is a great place to start.  Remember that it’s ok to talk about worries with kids.  Helping them feel empowered that they have ways to stay healthy is a good place to start.  Regarding coronavirus, at my house we’re going to stick with the message that 1) the illness is not widespread in our area now, 2) springtime tends to be a healthier season when we can play outside more and hopefully spread fewer germs, 3) most people who do get the virus recover, 4) and kids have ways to keep themselves healthy (i.e. tools from Germs are not for Sharing).

Germs are not for Sharing paperback can be found here

And the board book here

Disclaimer: This post is no way intended to be a replacement for mental health therapy but rather basic tools for parents.  If your child is worrying excessively in a way that is interfering with school or home life, reach out to a therapist for more help and support.

Bittersweet.  I’m reflecting on that word as I sit in my favorite coffee shop in my old hometown, The Little Apple, Manhappiness, my home for half my life.  I’ve been gone a year and a half and I’ve only been back a handful of times.  I left thinking it would be more.  I’ll be back.  I’ll visit people.  I’ll keep in touch and maintain all the good things I have going here.  And I have maintained many of them but time has limited this to a great extent.

There have been ups and downs since we moved.  Starting two new businesses and working 60+ hours a week at the beginning.  The rockin’ Saturday nights at my office trying to get the thing off the ground.  And then the working 60+ hours per week because the work was there.  When you pray for something so intentionally it’s hard to turn down opportunities when they come.  Sometimes I have overextended, needing to set the very boundaries I help my clients learn to set.

And at every step, the next right thing we needed has come, including a building just right for our work, a fantastic receptionist when we desperately needed one and the next fantastic receptionist when the first one moved.  Three amazing clinicians and enough work for all of them to have schedules as full as they can manage.

Our new hometown has enabled us to build two successful businesses doing work we love, a house we love, a school we love, friends we love, and our kids see grandparents multiple times per week.  And I’m so grateful for those things.  This is the sweet part of the bittersweet.

The bitter comes when I’m back in my old hometown.  I remember that we had work and a house and a school and friends and so many good things here, too.  We left something good hoping for something great.  And if I’m being honest, both were great.  I’m embracing that, sitting with both the comfort and discomfort of that understanding, enjoying a delicious blueberry scone and a latte in my favorite coffee shop.

I’m not sure where you are in December.  I find lots of folks are feeling pretty bittersweet this time of year.  Maybe it’s the short days, cold weather, sickness, and lack of sunlight and vitamin D bringing down some of the joy of the season.  All the holiday cheer bringing up memories of loved ones who aren’t here to celebrate.  The ending of a year highlighting the shadows of the year in review as well as the sunlight hopefulness of the new year to come.  I’m going to use Dr. Seuss’ words to apply to bittersweet in this way, “don’t cry because it’s over, smile because it happened.”  And I am.  I’m smiling for all the good that was, that is, and that is coming.

“Should” is a Cuss Word

My 2018 New Year’s Resolution was to increase Mindfulness and I’d like to address mindfulness in the words we use, especially the ones in our own heads.  This idea of self-talk is important.  The words I tell myself absolutely impact my mood, my approach to life, and my well-being.

Many of us are guilty of using the word “should” frequently in our self-talk.  It sounds like this…

  • I should be thinner/more fit/more attractive
  • I should spend more time with my kids/partner/family/friends
  • I should work harder/ get that promotion/earn more money
  • I should be more organized/keep up on housework/finish projects

Psychologist Albert Ellis coined the tongue-in-cheek term “musterbating” to describe this concept.  Musterbating is not that helpful, it doesn’t actually get the things done, and it’s a general drain of emotional energy.

Mel Robbins is a motivational speaker and talks about The Five Second Rule, which is “If you have an instinct to act on a goal, you must physically move within 5 seconds or your brain will kill it.” I love this.  Rather than sitting around making mental lists of all the things we’re not doing well – take the first one and make any one step toward that goal.  I find Mel’s words inspiring like a little motivational java hit.  Check out more at:

Start noticing that word should in your self-talk.  Recognize when it’s not helpful to you.  Find something different to focus on.  Take a step toward the goal.  You really should.

Mindfulness: My New Year’s Resolution

It’s day 4 of the new year.  I had intended to post about this a few days ago, but illness has befallen my household.  Since New Year’s Eve it’s been like dominoes at my house with one family member after another falling with what appears to be influenza.  So resolution one is to actually get up from the couch (I’m the latest victim) and then sanitize every surface in this house.

But resolution two is to increase my daily practice of mindfulness.  Mindfulness may bring up mental images of Buddhist monks or hard-core yoga folks “omming” away in a lotus pose.  Those things are great, but more practical mindfulness is as simple as noticing your thoughts and feelings and being fully present in the moment.

Our increasingly harried lives are full of so many things drawing our attention away from being mindful.  Smart phones, full-time jobs, kids’ activities, family obligations…you get the idea.  I can relate to clients and friends who report feeling over-scheduled, busy, anxious, and stressed.  Increased mindfulness can help with those feelings and a variety of resolutions you might have made for this year.

For example:

  • Mindfulness in eating = stopping when you are full
  • Mindfulness in fitness = noticing your body’s need for movement and doing it
  • Mindfulness in parenting = less Dinosaur Mom
  • Mindfulness at work = increased focus on important tasks
  • Mindfulness in decision-making = giving a best yes (I’ll post about this later)
  • Mindfulness in relationships = being present and enjoying time together (a.k.a back away from the smart phone)

Great.  So how does one go about this?  Here are a few easy-to-do ways to begin:

  • Deep breathing.  I like 4-7-8 breathing: breathe in for 4, hold for 7, then out for 8.  It feels like a really long time to hold for a count of 7, but a couple of those sequences can be very calming.
  • Naming your feeling.  So you’re stressed about something at work and it’s coming out at home.  With mindfulness, get specific about the feeling behind the stress, such as disappointment a project did go well or feeling undervalued by a supervisor.
  • Recognize your self-talk.  We’ve all got a coach in our heads either building us up or tearing us down.  If your self-talk sounds like “I’m a loser.  How could I mess up like that!  I’ll never get past this.” etc., work on changing those thoughts into more positive ones like “I made a mistake.  Mistakes happen. I can work to make this better.”
  • Gratitude.  I love this one.  Be mindful of positive things in your life.  Take a time every day to focus on one aspect of your life for which you are grateful.

Here’s to a mindful 2018!