Therapy with Sara Pulsipher, CSW

Sara Pulsipher is a Certified Social Worker in Orem, UT passionate about helping teens and young adults navigate concerns related to body image, social anxiety, perfectionism, and/or shame. Much of Sara’s work centers around improving each client’s sense of self-worth in the face of everyday stressors and constant media usage. She utilizes Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT) and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) most often in sessions to help clients develop the skills they need to live more in-line with their values.

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

Sara’s background and personal life

How did you decide to become a therapist?

Though my career goals changed as I grew up (from princess to president, nurse to teacher), the desire to help make the world a better place never did. I decided to become a therapist after spending time living outside the states both as a volunteer for my church and as an undergraduate intern. It dawned on me how much privilege I have, how important families are to society (and myself), and how much good there really is in the world. I came to the conclusion that to help heal families, bodies, and nations, I could help people heal their hearts and minds. That is when I finally decided to become a therapist.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?

My answer to this question used to be, “what is free time?” Now, however, I have let myself start enjoying little moments of things that help me feel whole. I love adventure, whether it is exploring worlds in books or movies, or preparing to trek on my own through language learning, traveling, or simply spending time with family. Making time for free time (even just a ten minute break of some jumping jacks, burpees, and planking in between sessions) is so vital to my ability to function as a human. Life can be fun if we let it, and we should let it!

Sara’s specialties and therapy philosophies

What guiding principles inform your work?

I would narrow my guiding principles down to three things: everyone has an inherent, unchangeable worth and divine identity, everyone has a story, and connection is key to healing. First, if someone knows they have an inherent worth, that they are special and unique and have purpose, anything is possible. Second, by understanding everyone has a story, it helps me see them from an outside perspective to better hear them. I can then help them see themselves from a different perspective, thus creating an environment for them to decide what they can do to rewrite their narrative and forge ahead into their next chapters. Plus, if I see everyone has a story, it reminds me that everyone has a reason for doing what they have done. Does that mean they always made the right choices? Of course not! But, it does help me know how to help them make changes to create a more fulfilling future. Third, by understanding that healing comes through connecting to themselves mentally, spiritually, and physically, and to their social circles, I can help clients set specific goals based upon their values that can bring about real changes in their life.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in helping clients navigate questions of self-worth?

Self worth is inherent. Everyone has it! Unlike self esteem, which is reliant upon how you feel others see you and how you feel compared to others, self worth does not change. However, self worth is attacked everywhere you look. When someone questions their self worth, their mental health is impacted because suddenly their entire worth is in question. If you make a mistake, you feel you become your mistake! This makes it incredibly difficult to change thoughts and behaviors because you feel they are part of who you are, not something you do. This causes rifts in relationships, physical and mental health challenges, financial strain, and occupational/educational dilemmas. I believe this is the root cause of perfectionism, anxiety, depression, eating disorders, and addictions. I use. Variety of methods to help clients strengthen their self worth, including connection based goals, evidenced based modalities, and a place to feel safe and be heard.

Can you tell us more about your specialty in perfectionism?

Those who struggle with maladaptive perfectionism (toxic perfectionism) have a genuine desire to be perfect, but their approach leads to anything but perfect lives. They deal with stress in all portions of their life from unrealistic expectations of their abilities. They often procrastinate important tasks and projects. Commitment can be challenging, as they always ask “what if?” In order to help this population, we focus on switching to an adaptive perfectionist mindset. This looks like shifting perspective to an open vs closed mindset, making choices based upon values instead of goals, and focusing on the journey of life, not the destination.

Can you tell us about your work with clients who struggle with social anxiety?

Social anxiety appears to be increasing across many populations. The pandemic prevented many from engaging in social activities, and social media more often than not disconnects others instead of connecting them. Those struggling with social anxiety may find themselves fearing interactions with others, having panic attacks after or during social engagements, and over thinking previous conversations that prevent them from sleeping at night or accomplishing day time tasks.

Social anxiety can be overcome by strengthening one’s sense of self, experiencing social interactions in a safe environment, and using thought exercises to reevaluate fears and get to the root cause of the anxiety.

Therapy sessions with Sara

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

First sessions with me are a fifty minute get-to-know-you experience. I ask you to simply tell me about your life! It’s your opportunity to help me see where you're coming from and where you would like to go. This helps me understand potential triggers for the roots of your challenges in addition to personal strengths, social supports, and dreams that will help you through therapy. Sessions after that will be anything you want it to be, with some of my own insight thrown into the mix. These sessions are yours, and I do what I can to make it a safe space to explore your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors in a way that helps you know what you can do to create the life you want to live.

Are there any books you often recommend to clients?

I just recommend reading! Though I will occasionally recommend books that fit their situation, my main goal when it comes to inviting clients to read is to help them connect to themselves mentally. This means that I encourage clients to read about something that they actually enjoy, that makes them feel more alive! Do they love underwater basket weaving? I’m sure there is a book about it! History of ballet? Check! Do they want to learn how to knit! There’s a book for it! What about just winding down for a nice little adventure? Fiction is also wonderful! Literature is an amazing way to help you feel emotions and develop empathy for yourself and others in a safe space.

Do you assign “homework” between sessions?

This is totally up to you as the client! Even though I was that kid who actually loved homework, it is not up to me what you want to do with your life. I do believe it is valuable to have things to work on in between sessions, as we only meet for fifty minutes and you have 10,030 outside of the session. Change doesn’t happen overnight, and having an idea of ways to develop healthier coping strategies outside of moments of crisis are very beneficial. However, if you feel having things to work on outside of session will cause more stress than you can handle, I will honor that.

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

This is a tough question, but it comes down to simply trusting yourself. Your life is never going to be perfect, and yet over time, you will see improvement and get to a place where you really can go out on your own. This looks different for everyone, but we can set goals to help you better visualize where you want to be after therapy in a way that helps you get there. And it is ok to come back to therapy in the future! Or to start meeting more frequently if needed. I will check in with you each session to see how you feel about your progress and offer my own insight if you want it. When the time comes, you will know, even if it means taking a leap of faith.

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

Therapy is the one relationship in life that is all about you! Partners, friends, and other loved ones are vital to your healing journey (and your life journey in general), and yet that relationship is never just about you. Therapy is a place where you can go to someone who is trained to be a witness and a counselor for your pains. The therapeutic relationship is the most important part of therapy, and it gives the client an opportunity to have someone not involved in other aspects of their life to bring a fresh perspective. This creates the perfect environment for a client to safely face their pains and fears to better face them outside of the therapy room.

What advice would you share with therapy seekers?

Keep seeking. Therapists are out there who are a good fit for you! And at the same time, know that a perfect therapist does not exist. Find someone who is in your price range (or takes your insurance), who has values that align with your own, and give them a go. If they aren’t perfect, it might be the perfect opportunity to face a fear of yours in a safe environment.

Visit Sara’s profile to read more about her and book an initial call!