Sarah Presson, LICSW, believes in the importance of meeting clients where they are, and staying present with them throughout their healing process. Sarah treats every client as a unique individual, and affirms that there is no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy. The overarching goal of her work as a therapist is to help her clients identify their inner strengths to meet life’s challenges, and develop new insights about their emotions and behaviors to live more fulfilling and authentic lives.
Sarah draws upon her two decades of experience in the mental health field, providing support to local communities and families, and working in multiple levels of inpatient and outpatient care, to skillfully guide clients to a place of connection, understanding, and growth. She provides individual therapy for adults experiencing a wide range of life challenges including depression, anxiety, personality disorders, grief and loss, attention-deficit hyperactivity disorders (ADHD/ADD), post-traumatic stress disorder and trauma, and LGBTQIA+ concerns.
Learn more about Sarah’s background, her unique approach to therapy, and what to expect from working with her in our office in Amherst.
Can you tell me more about your background in the mental health field?
When I was younger, I wanted to be three things when I grew up: a social worker, an actor, and a disc jockey.
I went to college, worked many interesting jobs along the way, and returned to this deep longing to help people. I knew that I wanted to work with people in a supportive environment, where I could help them meet life’s challenges and improve their wellbeing. Life can feel difficult at times, and when we’re unsure of the root cause, we can get stuck in repeating patterns of negative behaviors and thoughts that no longer serve us. We need support through the ups and downs of life, and I wanted to make it my job to help people feel understood. No one needs to walk through life alone.
Eventually, I went back to school and received my MSW from Springfield College. I worked on a crisis team for 11 years, where I discovered how pervasive and profound suffering can be. Everyone experiences some form of suffering, having a strong therapeutic relationship can help us understand and resolve the difficulties that we face. I worked as a supervisor at the crisis unit for 10 years, where I learned about the strength of teamwork, and the resilience of clinicians. Social workers are not immune to mental health problems- the nature of these professions demands an excess amount of mental energy to care for others- it became evident to me that mental health professionals need support too.
I also worked in Tri-County High School as a guidance counselor, supporting the needs of students who were on an individualized education plan. I found the students to be very inspirational, and I loved hearing their perspectives on school and our society. I learned how to be present with the students, and build rapport and trust with them to support them through complex situations.
Eventually, when I wanted to do more clinical work, I took the opportunity to work with HBH.
How would you describe your therapy style?
My treatment style is relational and strengths based. As a trauma-informed therapist, I believe in the importance of meeting the client where they are. Everyone forges new insights into their emotions and behaviors at different times, and it’s my job as a therapist to stay present with them throughout the process.
I believe there is no one-size-fits-all approach to therapy, and I think it’s important to explore different approaches to choose from. I’m currently taking an online training course on solution focused therapy, a goal-directed approach to therapy that focuses on the client’s strengths, skills, and abilities, and how they will use their personal resources to solve their problems. Rather than focusing on the client’s problems, solution focused therapy encourages the client to concentrate on what’s working or not working in the here and now, and how to move forward with the solution. I think it’s so helpful for the client to envision what they want their life to look like and feel like moving forward, rather than focusing on what didn’t work in the past.
What clinical modalities do you typically use?
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) helps clients gain greater awareness of, and as a result become more intentional with their thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. Together, we’ll explore the client’s internal dialog: including what thoughts occur when they’re experiencing stressful situations, and how we can reframe their thoughts to result in more intentional positive behaviors.
I’ve found mindfulness therapy very positive and helpful in the long term. For people who’ve experienced a traumatic event, mindfulness can help them stay centered when difficult emotions or memories arise. We’re almost always concerned about something to come in the future, or stuck on a situation in the past. Mindfulness is being able to stay centered in the here and now, and not miss out on the present moment.
How do you create a strong therapeutic alliance with your client?
I build trust by staying present with my clients, and taking all the time necessary to get to know them and their experiences. It’s not easy to unload your emotions and thoughts onto a new person, so I strive to create a non-judgmental environment where the client feels free to express their thoughts and feelings.
I’ve found that a strengths-based approach can also strengthen the therapeutic bond, as it involves working together with the client to identify and utilize their inherent strengths and abilities to create a sense of purpose and fulfillment. When we can identify and build on our own positive qualities, then we flourish.
What do you like about working in Western Massachusetts?
I love working out of the Amherst office. It’s a vibrant college town that feels both caught up with what’s going on in the world and like it preserves its old fashioned heritage. There’s diversity in the population, and I love having the opportunity to interact with so many different types of people, on a daily basis.