Kari Holman is a Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor in Illinois specializing in trauma, mood disorders, and LGBTIQA+ & gender topics. We asked Kari more about her work with clients and her guiding philosophies on therapy.
Kari’s background and personal life
How did you decide to become a therapist?
My own therapist looked at me one day and said "Have you ever thought about being a therapist?" He then gave me a book saying "Because I know you'll read it. I'll see you next week." I read that book cover to cover and here I am!
What was your previous work before going into private practice?
I was an ESL teacher in South Korea, and an office grunt before that.
What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
Historical rapier swordswomanship is my biggest hobby. Yes, I'm a big nerd. I even wrote a manual last year on the psychology of training women in this predominately male sport.
Kari’s specialties and therapy philosophies
What guiding principles inform your work?
Everyone has an innate and natural ability to heal that needs to be coached and trained just like any other skill or sport. My job is figure out your brain's own personal logic and teach it how to heal using what it already wants to do naturally.
What clientele do you work with most frequently?
I work with teens and up because my teens keep me young and I, of course, enjoy working with other adults. My special passions are the LGBTQIA+ community, especially my trans clients, and trauma of all sorts. I've been recently diving deeper into religious trauma and how to help clients heal and redefine their relationship with the divine whether that is to reconnect or break up entirely.
Can you tell us more about your specialty in trauma?
I love working with trauma. A common challenge is finding the right way to stabilize each client so that they can safely engage in deeper trauma work. This includes identifying what kind of trauma work they need whether its EMDR, current resourcing, etc. This also includes knowing when to push, back off, or redirect therapy so as to stretch the client but not cause dysregulation that the client can't handle.
The thing that used to surprise me is just how prevalent trauma is and how little clients know about what it can look like. I've seen the light bulb of relief go on so many times by saying "That was a trauma." I've made too many clients cry just by saying "That was traumatic, and I believe you."
Can you tell us more about your work with LGBTIQA+ clients?
My LGBTIQA+ clients are such a mixed bag! Some want a therapist who does not assume "You're depressed because you're queer." Others want support in transitioning to their identified gender. Many are teens that are figuring themselves out in all kinds of ways.
My teens present some of the biggest challenges. Sometimes it is navigating and supporting parents who are really not sure about this whole "queer thing." Other times its working with a teen who wants to go call in with medical interventions and it can be challenging to identify how much of that desire is dysphoria or teen enthusiasm (or both!).
Another challenge is appropriately checking a teen's assumptions about transitioning can and cannot fix while still being respectful, supportive, and validating. It is not in any way my place to tell someone what their sexual or gender identity is. My job is help each client be the most fully actualized version of themselves with as a few bumps as I can manage!
Can you tell us about your specialty in working with clients on mood disorders (e.g. bipolar, depression, and anxiety)?
I also particularly like working with mood disorders. Bipolar can be tricky to navigate in unexpected ways. I have many clients who absolutely hate the lows but miss the highs and it can be a challenge for both of us to convince their brains that the highs aren't worth the lows and that treatment and overall stability make for a less stressful life. Sometimes their brains will also play tricks on them that can make remembering to take their medication every day a real difficulty. That's when I try to get friends or family members involved if it is safe to do so.
As for depression and anxiety - my poor teens! They have been put through the ringer the past few years and it shows. I work in an area with a number of high-achieving, college-focused high schools so many of my teens come to me thinking they have failed and are broken in some way. I then get to educate them on brain development and basically say "Your brain isn't ready for what it's been put through. Can you really be mad at it for doing its best with what it has?"
The challenge with them sometimes is they want to feel better but don't like the idea that a pill can't make all the bad feelings go away for them. I really wish it did! But sometimes it takes some convincing to prove there are not enough drugs in the world to completely remove depression or anxiety, and that trying not completely remove them isn't a good idea to begin with! After suffering from these things so deeply it can take some time before they are ready to reengage in a healthy relationship and mindset towards these emotions.
What do you find most rewarding about your work?
Seeing clients' progression from the moment they walk in to the moment they leave for the final time.
Therapy sessions with Kari
What will our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?
Our first session is a get-to-know-you session. Therapy can be nerve-wracking so I try to make the first session easy going. In our on-going sessions I always start with "get me up to speed" on what has happened since our last session. That is usually our jumping off point for our work. I also like to check in just in case something big happened and I need to throw my original plan for the session out the window!
Are there any books you often recommend to clients?
I'll recommend Tapping In by Laurel Parnell to my EMDR clients once they are ready for a little more self-directed work.
How do you help ensure I'm making progress in therapy?
I review and update my treatment plans every three months. If I see we aren't making progress then I reassess what I'm doing as a therapist, review any life events that may have put progress on hold, and then discuss this with the client. I tell all my clients they are equal partners in their treatment. I may be the "psychology expert" but they are the experts on themselves so we need to work together.
How do I know that it’s time to start seeking therapy?
Do you have an issue, challenge, or problem that keeps coming up or just never gets resolved? Do you wish you had the ear of a "knowledgeable yet neutral third party" that will care about you but also not run into you at the next block party? Therapy is not "just for crazy people." Therapy is for anyone who needs an ear or a helping hand when things have gotten tough.
How will I know it’s time to end my time in therapy with you or reduce session frequency?
You will know when your life overall just hasn't been as bad as it was for multiple months. That means you are able to regularly apply what you've learned in therapy to your life and you realize the challenges that brought you here just aren't as big and scary as they used to be.
Likewise, when I see these things I will ask my clients what they think about reducing sessions. If the client is still doing good with reduced sessions we then work towards termination. Even after termination my door is always open in case life turns upside down either for regular sessions or just an as-needed check in.
Why should I seek therapy, rather than turning to my partner, friends, or other loved ones?
Therapy may be more expensive but you'll get better results! Your loved ones can support you but if they knew how to help you resolve the issue they would have already done so.
What advice would you share with therapy seekers?
It is okay to fire your therapist. It is okay to tell them you just aren't clicking. It is okay to search until you find the one you like best!
Visit Kari’s profile to watch her introductory video, read more about her, and book an initial call!