Erin Hartley is a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist in Seattle, WA specializing in anxiety, self-esteem, and work stress. We asked Erin more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.
Erin’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
I’ve always been curious about other peoples’ stories and knew I wanted to be a therapist early. After reading a psychology textbook in the 9th grade, I was hooked! While my career path wasn’t always linear, the more I learned about myself (often through life’s hard lessons), the more those teachings steered me toward a deep desire to connect to others.
Learning about mindfulness in my early 20s was a game changer. For the first time, I understood how my thoughts were “running the show.” I knew I wanted a career in helping others unlock the teaching and gifts of mindfulness.
What was your previous work before going into private practice?
For over a decade, I've worked at the intersection of clinical research, operations, the psychology of mindfulness, and behavioral health technology. After college, I was fortunate to secure a role at an esteemed university research center where I worked on several large, National Institute of Health-funded studies evaluating treatments for adults with depression.
Once licensed, I leveraged this training and expertise to provide evidenced-based short-term care to clients struggling with anxiety and depression. In 2017, I joined a venture-backed startup to help design and deliver a 12-week mindfulness program offered by App, guided by therapists, and backed by science (www.meruhealth.com).
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I love being surrounded by animals at every chance that I can get. Daily, you'll find me getting my dose of animals which fill my heart with abundant joy. I'm either on the floor - in the middle of a toy wrestling match with my two Australian Shepards, accosting strangers on the street to say hello to their pups, or taking my dogs down to the local beach for a game of chuck-it. On the weekends, I volunteer at a local animal sanctuary as I'm also training to become a certified equine/animal-assisted therapist later this year.
Erin’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
The most significant predictor of successful therapy is feeling safe, secure, and understood by your therapist. I'm committed to listening and building a shame-free space that encourages curiosity and compassion as you turn toward areas in your life causing pain.
I'm engaged, warm, and compassionate. I bring myself fully to our sessions. While I won't shy away from being direct, I'm more invested in asking you the right questions. In our sessions, you'll find me practicing curiosity- asking questions to help you examine old beliefs and unhelpful patterns or modeling how you can use compassionate curiosity to uncover the answers within you made clear through a deepening connection to yourself.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
People come to me expressing feeling anxious, depressed, and stuck. They sense the possibility that they could be living more fully, yet feel hopeless or confused about how to make lasting change. I especially enjoy working with women who express struggling with low self-esteem and holding back their relationships or careers. Many times these women are experiencing significant life transitions and recognize that without healing core wounds, these negative, self-critical, and sometimes toxic beliefs could jeopardize moving toward their deepest desires and dreams.
Partnering with clients as they invest in this journey is incredibly rewarding. They begin to understand why these beliefs were formed and how they served them at crucial periods in the past. As they cultivate a more compassionate perspective of themselves, there's an increasing space to release old, outdated scripts and be less held back by fear and the risk of failure.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in anxiety?
Unfortunately, anxiety impacts millions of people annually as it's the most common mental health condition in the US. When left unaddressed, anxiety can take a toll on our minds and bodies. The anxious brain is hijacked - often trapped in an endless list of worries, concerns, or intrusive thoughts, while our bodies feel nervous and on edge. At its worst, anxiety sends our nervous system into overdrive, leading to heart palpitations or difficulty breathing and panic attacks.
Using a mind-body approach to healing, I’ll help empower my clients to learn more about the powerful cycle of anxiety and how it's unique to them. We examine how anxiety keeps you from living the most meaningful life, often trapped in a cycle of fear or avoidance. We explore what they might be doing differently in their career, relationships or ambitions if their anxiety weren't so limiting.
Finally, I teach practice skills that help my clients learn to soothe their nervous systems when it's activated by anxiety, while tangible skills that help them confront the discomfort while building greater self-confidence in their ability to manage anxiety and fear.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in self-esteem?
Low self-esteem can look different for everyone, but it often manifests in negative or limiting beliefs that hold people back in critical areas of life. For example, taking the risk to begin a new career, making a big life decision, or being in situations that inherently cause vulnerability, like dating or building intimate relationships with others.
First, I work with my clients to dream about the possibility of what life could look like in the absence of these self-limiting feelings or beliefs. Next, I teach them how to bring curiosity to the different parts of themselves that may feel scared, unworthy, not good enough, or loved and how these beliefs may have formed to protect them. With this new curiosity, we then focus on how they can be compassionate to themselves when they feel scared, alone, or unworthy and how to develop a healthier internal dialogue as they update these beliefs to their present day. Finally, and most importantly, they work toward taking affirming actions and risks as they build greater confidence in themselves.
Can you tell us about your work with high-performing professionals on topics related to perfectionism, burnout, and other work-related stressors?
For the past five years, I've had a unique lived experience working as a therapist at a high-growth mental health startup. This experience gave me a wealth of knowledge about the environments contributing to burnout for many high-performing professionals in demanding industries like healthcare, legal/law, corporate finance, and technology.
People present with burnout often after long periods of sustained high productivity. They may be motivated by tendencies toward perfectionism, underlying fears about not being good enough (imposter syndrome), or unrelenting aspirations for success. Whatever the underlying contributing factor or driver toward burnout, the signs or symptoms are relatively the same. People feel out of balance, drained by work, and a sense that they are drowning in tasks with not enough energy to complete them. They often feel pessimistic about their environment or question whether this is the proper role or company, with many believing that quitting is the only way they can manage their burnout.
Ideally, before clients come to these conclusions, I enjoy helping them learn stress management techniques while beginning to explore what factors keep them hooked into cycles of overworking, high performance, or negativity. From there, we begin to map out the activities or relationships that give them a sense of meaning, value, and purpose outside the workplace so they can start to build a more harmonious relationship between work and life.
Therapy sessions with Erin
How long do clients typically see you for?
My average client works with me weekly for between four to six months and then bi-monthly (twice per month) for up to a year. On occasion, I will consider moving toward once monthly sessions if this is an appropriate discharge plan for my client and if they can benefit from infrequent sessions as a way to tuneup on skills or techniques.
Are there any books you often recommend to clients?
- No Bad Parts: This is a wonderful experiential workbook that gently guides clients through IFS exercises that helps them build healthier more adaptive conversations with the different parts of themselves (perfectionistic, self-critic, high achiever, etc) that my have formed during painful stages in their lives to protect them.
- The Body Keeps the Score: This is a great book for clients, as it really normalizes anxiety as the body's response to trauma provides a lot of psychoeducation about how trauma is held and manifested in the nervous system
Do you assign “homework” between sessions?
Homework is assigned depending on each client's needs, goals, and preferences. However, at the onset of care, I share my care philosophy that long-lasting therapeutic change occurs in the moments and days between therapy sessions. Therefore, I encourage my clients to try on and practice the new skills clients they learn in sessions as an essential strategy to support change. I partner with them to empower my clients in defining the terms of their "homework. I ask questions like:
- Is there anything we've discussed today that you feel compelled or drawn to try differently this week?
- What would it look like if you were to practice this in your daily life?
- Is there something I can do to keep you accountable to this goal before we meet next?
This non-heiractical approach is more congruent with my style, and I've found clients feel more agency in the process.
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
Regularly and at least on a monthly basis, I take 10-15 minutes to review your treatment goals. In our sessions, I'll ask you to reflect on the progress you're experiencing. For examples, if there are new ways your able to cope with difficult emotions like anger, anxiety, or fear or different perspectives your able to adopt when faced with challenges in your life.
We'll also reflect on whether the things we're discussing in each session are congruent with your overall treatment goals. Finally, I'll ask you to share with me what's working well in my therapeutic approach, while also providing feedback on what I could improve to best support you.
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
As we work together, we will actively review and update your treatment goals. This will include assessing your progress defined by the success metrics you set for yourself. We also use standard mood questionnaires like the Patient Health Questionnaire, a 9-item scale that measures common symptoms of depression, and the Generalized Anxiety Scale, a 7-item scale that measures anxiety symptoms.
You'll complete these questionnaires every two weeks during our work together, and the scores on these surveys can be another strong indicator of mood improvements as you begin to lower scores. As you begin feeling measurable progress or success, we'll begin discussing the reducing our session frequency,
Visit Erin’s profile to read more about her and book an initial call!