Hi, my name is Sarah O’Leary. I am an Associate Marriage and Family Therapist, as well as the Clinical Manager and Director of Marketing here at Estes Therapy. First I want to commend you for taking this step – the step that brought you to this page on this website. Whether you are browsing through therapists to start individual or relationship counseling, browsing through websites as you contemplate if therapy is for you (it is!), or are here reading our blog, the step you are taking is towards becoming a you that feels fulfilled, joyous, and comfortable in your own life, relationships, and skin. My first priority as your therapist is cultivating that safe space for you. When you feel safe you can be your most authentic self, you can take chances, and you can overcome obstacles. When you feel safe you can be vulnerable in your relationships. Know that this takes time, but I am here for you every step, and misstep, along the way. I will support you as you work towards your goals. You will gain tools and skills that will help you face the obstacles coming up in your life now, and feel prepared for those to come in the future. Most importantly, you will learn about yourself.
I have a holistic viewpoint on therapy, whether you are coming in for individual therapy or couples counseling. I work from a biopsychosocial-spiritual model. This means I take into consideration your biology – your genes, traits, and predispositions; your psychology – emotions, behaviors; your social environment – past, present, the different groups you belong to and roles you play; and spiritual – regardless of your religiosity. I strongly believe in the interconnectedness of each of these aspects of one’s self. People are complex. It is essential to keep in mind the many aspects of the self in order to live in a space that allows you to feel fulfilled and yourself.
What first drew me to working at Estes Therapy was the importance and value of emotions in our daily lives and in our relationships. Our emotions can help us feel fulfilled, connected, safe, and in tune with ourselves. But we often receive the message that our emotions don’t matter, that they aren’t valid, or that we should have only positive emotions. Consistently receiving this message creates a lot of dissonance within the self. It leads to conflict in relationships. It leads to feelings of low self-worth. All this can lead to unhealthy and unhelpful coping behaviors, which can feed right back into continuing the cycle. The reality is that your emotions are conveying something to you. For example, your anger is letting you know your values are being challenged or boundaries are being violated. Our thoughts, behaviors, and emotions are all interconnected and influence each other. The first step in stopping this cycle is learning to identify your emotions.
Throughout my time in college – both undergrad and graduate – I worked at Estes Therapy. I’ve spent time researching and reading to help provide content through blog posts, social media, and resources for clients to take home. I’ve helped run workshops. And have had a unique opportunity to be able to learn from so many impactful and amazing therapists through this experience. I received my Bachelor’s degree in psychology from San Diego State University, with a minor in Counseling and Social Change. In May of 2020, I received my Master’s in Marriage and Family Therapy from the University of San Diego. Here, during my practicum year, I worked as an individual and group therapist at the University of San Diego’s Eating Disorder clinic. I worked as part of an interdisciplinary team (alongside nurses, dietitians, psychiatrists, and other therapists) in partial hospitalization and intensive outpatient settings with adolescents with eating disorder diagnoses and their families.
Trainings from UCSD Eating Disorders:
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy*
- Dialectical Behavior Therapy for Eating Disorders
- Family Based Therapy for Eating Disorders
- Meal Coaching
- Cognitive Remediation Therapy
- Acceptance Commitment Therapy
- Unbroken Bonds: EFT and Restoring Relationship Betrayals
- Addiction Interaction of Sex, Drugs, and Tech in Young Adults
- Supporting Mental Health Clinicians During a Pandemic
- Changing the Dancer and the Dance – Emotionally Focused Therapy with Individuals (EFIT) and Families (EFFT)
Areas of Focus:
I work with adolescents & adults, in relationship/couples counseling, family therapy, or individual therapy.
*Note that I do not currently offer true Dialectical Behavior Therapy as my out-of-session availability is limited.
Sarah O’Leary is an AMFT#123449, supervised by Jennine Estes Powell MFT#47653
Get to Know Marriage Therapist Sarah O’Leary
Sarah, when did you decide to go into Marriage and Family Therapy?
In high school, my interest in psychology began. But my interest in people, their inner world, their outer interactions, and social influences have been of interest to me since childhood. If I had to guess on a moment that made a lasting impact, I always come back to my immigration to America. I was a child, so it could just be a timing coincidence, but that’s what I typically come back to. I vividly remember being so interested in those around me and those in this new world of mine. I have always had an interest to understand why people are the way they are, why people act and interact in the way they do, etc. In college, I had two professors who guided my psychology passion toward Marriage and Family Therapy. One even introduced me to Jennine, and that’s where my Estes Therapy journey began!
Counseling is for everyone. The sooner you begin, the sooner you will start your journey towards your goals and make the formidable changes to become the you that you want to be (or figure out who that is!). And, the sooner you will make the changes in your relationship so the parties feel safe, heard, valued, and fulfilled. Counseling is wonderful for self-discovery, relationship tune-ups, overcoming specific obstacles, relearning communication, and rediscovering (or discovering for the first time) love for yourself. Additionally, therapy makes the world of a difference in recovering from anxiety, depression, addiction, eating disorders, loss, infidelity, or trauma. You are not your diagnosis, but therapy can help you learn to make sense of, and live with, your diagnosis. Physical or mental.
What would you say to someone who is nervous about setting up their first counseling session with you?
I would say take a deep breath: breath in deeply for 4 seconds, hold for 7 seconds and exhale slowly for 8 seconds. Do that two more times: inhale 4 — hold 7 — exhale slowly for 8. It makes sense that you are nervous. Therapy is centered around vulnerability, and being vulnerable is scary. You are showing your most open, true self. You are also prioritizing yourself. Possibly for the first time in a long time, or ever. That can be an odd feeling. Take a moment to remind yourself: starting therapy means honoring yourself, and your relationship. You are saying this is important to me, I am important to me, and I am taking action to feel fulfilled. And that is amazing.
Is there a special area you focus on within the therapy field?
I work with couples and individuals, adolescents and adults. I have worked in a partial hospitalization setting with adolescents diagnosed with eating disorders. And I have worked at Estes Therapy, an LGBTQ+ EFT couples therapy practice, since 2014. I am excited for this next phase of my therapy journey where I can work with an assortment of issues and a variety of people. I love being able to give my clients tangible tools they can implement in their everyday life. Distress tolerance, understanding and regulating emotions, mindfulness, relearning communication, and challenging cognitions are particularly important topics to me. As it helps people in getting reconnected with themselves and comfortable in their own bodies. This includes understanding, being comfortable in, and sharing their needs and emotions with important people in their life.
How do you pass your time when you are not working with clients?
I love exploring new places – cities, forests, deserts, coastlines… you name it. I love being out in nature hiking, swimming, running, snowboarding, stargazing, surfing, and camping. I also enjoy good coffee, food, and beer/cocktails. I bartended in a brewery/bar through college, so the brewery process is dear to me. I love having dinner parties where we make a full meal, appetizer to dessert, and often a drink to go with it. I also love art! I love music, especially live, and my favorite mindfulness activities are drawing and painting.
If you were not a therapist, what would you be doing?
In an ideal world, I would be paid to travel. I have traveled through Europe, and Central America, and once I drove from the top of Washington back down to San Diego — staying in a truck with a camper shell the whole way. Again, I love exploring. The only career I think I would pick over therapy is being paid to travel.