Therapy with Lynn Zakeri, LCSW

Lynn Zakeri is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker with offices in Skokie and Northfield, IL who works with adolescents and adults across the lifespan. She specializes in anxiety disorders, personality disorders, eating disorders, parenting, and college mental health.

We asked Lynn about her work with clients, and her guiding philosophies on therapy.

Background and personal life

1. How did you decide to become a therapist?

During undergrad at UIUC, I was part of a small cohort that worked with survivors of sexual abuse, as well as domestic violence. I went on to my first job working with foster families. Post-graduation, I was a school social worker and wanted to be able to use my clinical skills to help students and their families figure out WHY they were needing services, not just manage the issue at hand.

All of these experiences left me feeling really good about not just what I was doing, but how the people I interacted with were doing. I saw I could have an impact by finding resources, teaching skills, pointing out unhealthy patterns and suggesting coping skills. In full-time private practice, I can really spend time on figuring out why thoughts and behaviors are happening in order to offer guidance and support in changing thoughts and behaviors.

2. What guiding principles inform your work?

I always tell my clients that I will never judge them, or get mad that them. The whole purpose is that you trust me and no matter what you tell me, I will not be shocked or upset. I ask a lot of questions, because I am putting together puzzle pieces with you. The more I can figure out with you the better prepared you are to move forward. I always have strategies and tools to suggest- I will not tire of figuring out the right ones- but I also know that oftentimes strategies are no longer needed once clarity is found about the underlying issues.

I am also a social worker, and I am trained in a client-centered way. It is not about me. It is about what is best for YOU.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work?

Seeing progress of course! I love when lightbulb moments happen and when I see that shift from feeling more fragile to feeling stronger. It is powerful to watch the courage and the effort that my clients trust me with and when I see them walking lighter, confidently and with integrity and self-respect, that is priceless. I also like the process-- for example, when I think a certain outcome is happening and by my listening and using my clinical questions, I learn we are in fact going a different direction because it is YOUR compass.

4. What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

I work really hard to have a good relationship with my husband and my two kids. I love spending time with them. I also like reading books, working out, and spending time with my friends. I am on the NASW board, on the local high school athletic program board, and have also been interviewed frequently by media outlets which has been an additional fun past time.

Specialties and therapy philosophy

5. Can you tell us more about your specialty in college mental health?

Working with college aged people is one of my favorite parts of my job. Not only have I been trained and presented trainings on this transition time, but I am now an expert on this period of life. Diagnostically, things are starting to be figured out, and I love being a part of that insight. Oftentimes there are other things going on like eating disorders or substance use or depression or any number of difficulties.

Emotionally and cognitively, this age group is figuring out who they are, what works for them, and also what doesn't. Empowering and seeing the best in my clients is easy for me- the fun part is when, through therapy, they see what I see and own that.

6. Can you tell us more about your specialty in personality disorders?

Personality Disorders are interesting, and I am passionate about them. I think we all have some characteristics of every diagnosis, but when it is affecting your happiness, safety, relationships or any other significant area, it is helpful for a skilled therapist to offer insight, skills, and suggestions to move forward. I think the therapist connection, establishing and maintaining trust, is crucial regardless of the diagnosis, and I work hard to make sure that you feel you are progressing, feel validated, and feel successful.

7. Can you tell us more about your specialty in parenting?

I am a parent, as well as a daughter. I really enjoy working with parents, whether as the client, or as the parents of my client. Sometimes a parent will come see me simply for parenting advice, suggestions and guidance. This is often short-term and successful. Other times, parents of my teen or young adult clients will come in, if my client feels it will be helpful. Sometimes I would be a listener, other times a mediator, and other times a supporter. Whatever my client and I decide is best.

8. Are there any books you often recommend to clients?

The Gifts of Imperfection (Brene Brown) and Feeling Good (Green). I also co-led several Brene Brown groups and it was one of my favorite experiences as a therapist.

Therapy sessions with Lynn

9. What would our first session together be like? What happens in ongoing sessions?

I love first sessions. I completely get it that most clients do not and I work hard to make sure you are comfortable and feel safe. I use my judgment on how much to ask you and when to back off based on my clinical skills. I often have a good sense of what you are looking for by the end of the session and we talk about whether I am on the right track or what I am missing and how to get you where you want to be.

10. Do you assign “homework” between sessions?

I learned early on that assigning paper/pencil type of homework became a source of stress and even guilt for people. I have a zillion worksheets and online resources. If you want those, I have them. However, the homework I will typically assign is a Ted Talk if it is of interest to you, or perhaps a way to think about your shame triggers, or a way to teach yourself to take deep breaths, or a way to keep track of your "What Ifs" or cravings for a substance. I am also never ever going to expect homework is completed. Homework is more to keep you thinking during the week in a helpful apply-therapy-to-the-real-world way, and if you were not up to it this week, that is important information for us too!

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

Just as I cannot be a therapist to all of my friends, your friends and partners can not take on the role of being your therapist. It is draining and one-sided. Friends and loved ones are amazing supports. In fact, we all do better with these close relationships and connections. But when we are stuck, when their solutions and guidance and love and care are just not making us feel better and we get repetitive with them, it is time to seek professional help.

12. What advice would you share with therapy seekers?

Whether you ask friends or other professionals for referrals or you do some searching online yourself, follow your gut. If someone seems like they might be helpful, trust yourself and reach out. And then commit to that first appointment.

As a therapist, I will not push your own comfort level and boundaries and I want what you want. If you are not ready to commit, that's OK. I am always here if and when you do.