Therapy with Jara Bender, LCSW of The Therapist

Jara Bender is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and the owner of the group practice The Therapist in Phoenix, AZ. Jara and her team work with a diverse range clientele—ranging from teens to older adults—on various mental health challenges, including anxiety, depression, and life transitions. Offering both in-person and virtual therapy options in addition to accepting most major insurance plans, The Therapist strives to make quality mental health care an accessible, affordable, and client-centered experience.

We asked Jara more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.

Jara’s background and personal life

How did you decide to become a therapist?

My journey to becoming a therapist began with my passion for being there for others and nurturing relationships. This inclination to listen, support, and help people through challenges has been with me for as long as I can remember. However, my career in therapy began almost accidentally when a friend suggested I work with people diagnosed with Serious Mental Illness (SMI) in a group home setting. This experience was transformative, as I realized the profound impact I could have on their lives.

It was then that I decided to transition from providing support to helping individuals create healthier and happier paths. This desire led me to become a case manager, where I could work more closely with individuals, assisting them in setting and achieving their goals. As I gained experience, my commitment to helping others grew, ultimately motivating me to pursue a Master of Social Work (MSW) degree and become a therapist. This journey allows me to combine my innate supportiveness with professional expertise to make a meaningful difference in people's lives.

What was your previous work before going into private practice?

Before starting my private practice as a therapist, I gained diverse experience in roles within the field of social work and mental health. I served as a School Social Worker, supporting students, families, and school staff in addressing social and emotional challenges within educational settings. I also worked as a Specialized Case Manager for individuals with Serious Mental Illness (SMI), coordinating care, ensuring access to services, and providing ongoing support.

In addition, I was a Behavioral Health Technician (BHT) in group homes, assisting residents in acquiring daily living skills and gaining independence. Furthermore, I worked as a Community Mental Health Therapist, providing counseling and therapeutic services to clients facing a wide range of mental health issues. These roles have shaped my understanding of mental health, enabling me to bring a comprehensive approach to my private practice, where I can connect with and assist clients from all walks of life.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

In my free time, I'm fortunate to have a range of interests and hobbies that enrich my life. Traveling is a deep love, offering inspiration and rejuvenation as I explore new places and cultures. Spending time with friends and family is priceless, sharing moments and heartfelt conversations. My furry friend, my dog, brings constant joy through companionship.

As a cinephile, I find relaxation and inspiration in the world of film. Attending live music concerts is a passion that connects me with the energy of music. Laughter at comedy clubs is a powerful stress reliever. These activities contribute to my overall well-being and happiness, creating a fulfilling life tapestry.

Jara’s specialties and therapy philosophies

What guiding principles inform your work?

My work as a therapist is deeply informed by guiding principles that shape how I approach my clients. I prioritize creating a safe and non-judgmental environment, believing that healing begins when individuals feel accepted and free from judgment. I'm passionate about social justice, aiming to address societal factors affecting clients and advocating for a more just society.

I recognize that healing is a unique journey for each individual and work collaboratively to tailor our approach to their specific needs, values, and goals. I meet clients at their own starting point, empowering them to take ownership of their healing process. These principles are the foundation of my approach, supporting clients in achieving a healthier and happier life while respecting their autonomy and individuality.

What clientele do you work with most frequently?

I have a diverse clientele, ranging from teenagers to seniors and covering all age groups in between. My practice is intentionally inclusive, and I welcome anyone who is seeking to find more happiness and contentment in their life. This open approach allows me to work with a wide range of individuals, each with their unique life experiences and challenges.

Whether it's a young person navigating the complexities of adolescence or a senior looking to find fulfillment in their golden years, I'm here to provide support and guidance to help them achieve their goals and improve their overall well-being.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in anxiety?

A significant challenge in working with anxiety is helping clients identify their triggers and the underlying causes of their anxiety. This often involves delving into past experiences and understanding how they contribute to current anxious responses.

Many clients come to therapy with acute anxiety symptoms, such as panic attacks, constant worrying, or phobias. Helping them manage these symptoms is a crucial part of the therapeutic process. Anxiety often leads to avoidance behaviors, where clients steer clear of situations or experiences that trigger their anxiety. This can limit their lives significantly, and therapy aims to help them gradually confront and overcome these fears.

Overall, working with clients with anxiety is about helping them build coping strategies, manage symptoms, and ultimately lead happier and more fulfilling lives. It's a collaborative journey where I provide support, guidance, and evidence-based interventions to empower clients in their struggle with anxiety.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in depression?

One of the initial challenges is helping clients recognize and accept their depression. Many individuals with depression may experience feelings of shame or self-blame, which can hinder their willingness to seek help. Depression can have various underlying causes, including genetic, environmental, and psychological factors. Identifying these root causes is essential to tailor treatment effectively. Depression often comes with a range of symptoms, including persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, changes in sleep and appetite, and low energy levels. Helping clients manage these symptoms and mitigate their impact on daily life is a primary goal.

Overall, working with individuals struggling with depression involves helping them rebuild a sense of hope, regain a positive self-image, and develop coping strategies to lead more fulfilling lives. It's a collaborative journey, and I'm there to provide support, guidance, and evidence-based interventions to empower clients in their recovery process.

Can you tell us about your work with clients navigating major life transitions?

One of the primary challenges during life transitions is adjusting to significant changes, such as starting a new job, going through a divorce, becoming a parent, or moving to a new location. The uncertainty and adjustment can be emotionally taxing. Stress management is a critical aspect of mental health.

Many clients struggle with chronic stress, whether due to work pressures, family demands, or personal issues. The challenge is in finding effective coping mechanisms to reduce stress and prevent it from overwhelming their lives. Clients often grapple with balancing various life roles and priorities, which can lead to feelings of overwhelm and guilt. Finding the right equilibrium between work, family, self-care, and other commitments is a common challenge.

My role as a therapist is to provide clients with the tools, insights, and emotional support they need to navigate life transitions and manage stress effectively. It's a collaborative process, and I'm there to empower clients to embrace change and build resilience, ultimately leading to a more balanced and fulfilling life.

What do you find most rewarding about your work?

The most rewarding aspect of my work as a therapist is witnessing the positive transformations in my clients' lives. It's incredibly fulfilling to see individuals progress on their journey towards healing, growth, and overall well-being. I find immense joy in helping my clients work through their challenges and achieve their personal and therapeutic goals.

Establishing a strong therapeutic alliance with my clients, witnessing the trust and connection that develops in these relationships, and knowing that I'm providing a safe and supportive space for individuals to open up and explore their inner worlds is deeply gratifying. I'm inspired by the resilience of my clients and their ability to overcome adversity. Witnessing them harness their inner strength, develop coping strategies, and build resilience to face life's challenges head-on is truly heartening.

I'm passionate about mental health advocacy and de-stigmatizing seeking help. Knowing that my work contributes to improved mental health and well-being for my clients and, by extension, their families and communities, is a source of great satisfaction. Additionally, the ongoing journey of self-improvement and expanding my knowledge and skills in the ever-evolving field of therapy is enriching. In essence, being a part of my clients' journeys to a happier, healthier, and more fulfilling life is the most rewarding part of my work as a therapist.

Therapy sessions with Jara

What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?

In our initial session, we'll focus on building a strong therapeutic relationship in a safe and non-judgmental space. You can express your concerns and goals, discussing the reasons for seeking therapy and the specific challenges you'd like to address. This first meeting helps us establish trust and outline your therapeutic plan.

In ongoing sessions, we'll collaboratively address your concerns using tailored, evidence-based techniques such as cognitive-behavioral strategies and mindfulness practices. We'll set and track goals, and I'll provide guidance, support, and insights to help you navigate challenges, develop coping skills, and achieve positive changes. Our sessions foster self-discovery, personal growth, and empowerment, working together to improve mental and emotional well-being.

How long do clients typically see you for?

The duration of therapy varies widely from one client to another and is highly dependent on individual needs and goals. There is no one-size-fits-all answer. Some clients may find that they achieve their desired outcomes in a relatively short time, while others may benefit from longer-term therapy to address more complex or longstanding issues.

My primary focus is on providing support and guidance for as long as it serves the client's well-being and aligns with their goals. The ultimate decision regarding the duration of therapy is a collaborative one, made between the client and me to ensure that they receive the most appropriate and effective care for their unique situation.

Are there any books you often recommend to clients?

I often recommend 52 Weeks of Self-Compassion. Developing self-compassion is crucial for self-care and emotional resilience. It equips individuals with the tools to navigate life's challenges and setbacks with greater ease and kindness toward themselves. Ultimately, the goal is to help people cultivate a kinder, more compassionate relationship with themselves. This isn't just about feeling better momentarily; it's about improving overall well-being and mental health in the long run.

Do you assign “homework” between sessions?

Yes, I often assign "homework" or therapeutic tasks between our sessions to enhance the progress you make during therapy. These assignments may include handouts, reading materials, or practical exercises that are tailored to your specific goals and challenges. You might find tasks that focus on practicing coping skills, self-reflection, and implementing strategies we discuss in our sessions.

These assignments are designed to empower you to actively engage in your therapeutic journey and integrate the insights and skills gained in our sessions into your daily life. It's all about providing you with the necessary resources and support to promote lasting change and growth.

How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?

I prioritize your progress in therapy through collaborative goal setting, regular check-ins, tailored assignments, and the use of assessment tools. Your feedback is essential, and I'm open to plan adjustments to better meet your needs and expectations. We work together to set milestones, ensuring a sense of progress and empowerment. Ultimately, my goal is to support your positive changes and personal growth, ensuring your confidence and satisfaction with your therapy progress.

How do I know that it’s time to start seeking therapy?

Seeking therapy is a deeply personal choice, and there's no one-size-fits-all answer for when to start. However, common indicators that therapy could be beneficial include experiencing intense, prolonged emotions that interfere with daily life, struggling to cope with life's challenges, issues affecting relationships, loss of interest or pleasure in activities, significant life transitions, a desire for personal growth, or past trauma impacting well-being. Trust your self-assessment and intuition; if you relate to these signs, exploring therapy is a valid and courageous step towards addressing your unique needs and goals with the support of a qualified therapist.

How can I prepare for our first session?

Preparing for our first session is essential for a productive therapeutic experience. ur first session is a collaborative effort, and I'm here to provide guidance, support, and a safe space for your journey towards growth and healing. Here some suggestions in preparation for a first session:

How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?

Deciding to end or reduce therapy sessions is individual and based on your unique goals and needs. Common indicators to consider these changes include achieving initial therapy goals, developing effective coping strategies, and gaining self-awareness. These decisions are collaborative, openly discussed, and made based on your evolving needs and preferences. Therapy is a dynamic process, and I prioritize your well-being and goals, ensuring you're confident and empowered in your choice regarding session frequency or ending therapy.

Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?

Seeking therapy is a valuable avenue for support and personal growth, complementing the care from your loved ones. Therapists offer professional, objective guidance and maintain strict confidentiality for open self-exploration. Their specialized expertise provides tailored strategies for mental health and relationships. With their focused attention, you can deeply explore thoughts and emotions, while structured therapy assists in effective goal achievement.

Therapists equip you with specialized tools for emotional support. Additionally, therapy helps maintain healthy relationships, preventing strain that can result from relying solely on loved ones. It enhances personal growth, mental health, and overall well-being, without diminishing the importance of your existing connections.

What advice would you share with therapy seekers?

When seeking therapy, prioritize finding a therapist who aligns with your needs and values. Be open, honest, and transparent with your therapist, fostering a strong therapeutic relationship. Set clear goals, using them as a roadmap for your journey. If you ever feel therapy isn't the right fit, consider exploring other options. Remember that personal growth is gradual, so be patient.

Practice self-care alongside therapy, and trust the therapeutic process and your therapist's expertise. Therapy is a collaborative effort, and your active involvement is key to your well-being and personal growth. Your therapist is your partner on this journey toward a happier and healthier life.

Visit The Therapist profile to read more about the practice and book an initial call!