February's feature is one you don't want to miss. We're bringing you the story of Sarah Pendleton, LICSW, owner of Journey Clinical Services. She's a UT grad with more than 15 years of clinical social work experience, and she currently provides online counseling services in Alabama. Sarah and I connected through the Business Boutique community, and I instantly knew I wanted to share her story and expertise! Without further ado, here's our interview with Sarah.
Sarah, what led you to pursue a career in social work and counseling?
Early on in life I always knew that I just wanted to help people. There really was no other clarity beyond that, and of course there are a million different ways and careers that help others. While in college at the University of Tennessee, I was really drawn to the field of social work because it is such a flexible degree and provides you with the education and credentials to do many different things. Over the course of my career, I have worked in child welfare, juvenile delinquency programs, suicide prevention and Veteran mental health and now I am a service business owner who provides exclusively online counseling. In all of my roles I have been able to provide counseling and that is the common thread among all my experiences that ties them altogether and I can look back and see how each opportunity I have had has led me to where I am today.
I have always been a very relational person, preferring a few good friends to a dozen others and counseling is very relational and so it is just such a natural blending of my passions and strengths. Many times people think counselors have some magic words they say to make people’s problems go away, but I am convinced that it is the counseling relationship itself that is often the thing that can provide such healing for people. For some people, they have never had a person in their lives where they can be fully open and get complete acceptance, and that is what you can get from counseling. Complete acceptance. It is truly a gift to be able to walk alongside someone on their journey to wellness and wholeness and get to witness the strength and resiliency of people. I cannot imagine doing anything else.
What is the mission behind Journey Clinical Services? Explain your online approach.
The mission of Journey Clinical Services is to provide convenient, confidential and high quality counseling for those who want an alternative to the traditional in-office counseling model. At different times in my life when I have been in counseling, or had to bring a family member to counseling, I was often struck with the disruption to life that simply getting to a counseling appointment caused. It usually involved missing some portion of work, dealing with traffic in a drive across town and the occasional awkward run-ins with colleagues or acquaintances in the waiting room where they would unnecessarily feel the need to explain why they were seeing the counselor. I just kept thinking “there has to be a better way.” People who seek out counseling, at least initially, are usually under some sort of stress or pressure that motivates them to seek help. Given that, it seems reasonable to me that the counseling experience itself should be as simple and convenient as possible. Online is the obvious approach that provides flexibility, convenience and confidentiality that traditional in-office counseling does not. Everyone who provides online counseling is required by their state to have the same degrees, licensure and training as someone who provides in-office counseling. With Journey Clinical Services and similar online providers, you are simply gaining convenience in your counseling experience.
I really could talk for hours about the benefit of online counseling as there are so many: added privacy for the person who is well-known in a small (or big) town, enables couples to have regular counseling even if they travel and are often apart from each other, enables you to have your 50 minute session and then immediately get back to your job, your kids, or your life. Much research has been done on the efficacy and client satisfaction of online counseling and it clearly shows online counseling is just as effective as in-office counseling and client satisfaction is often higher when using online counseling because of the convenience factor. As with any counseling experience, it takes finding a good fit between the client and therapist, so I encourage people not to be discouraged if your initial experience isn’t a good one. Keep looking for that person you “click” with and you will find an amazing opportunity to change and grow and get the help you need in a very convenient manner. I posted a video on my website just to give people a glimpse of online counseling, and you can check it out here.
What fears did you have to overcome when opening your practice?
The fears I had when opening my own practice were many, and just because my practice is open does not mean that they have all disappeared. The fear of ultimate failure, and imposter syndrome have always been my two biggest fears. At times they have been quite paralytic causing me to want to avoid any and everything to do with business because of the fear of failure. Both of these still linger, but thanks to many wonderful podcasts like Christy Wright’s Business Boutique and others, I really try to focus on doing the next thing that needs doing rather than focusing on my fear. I have had the dream of Journey Clinical Services in my heart for at least 5 years and I only opened my practice about a year ago. For years, I mulled it over, thought about it, was too afraid to pursue it and pushed it aside. I finally accepted that this was God’s idea and not mine, and so I had better get on with doing it. It is easy to think that ME starting a business has a lot to do with ME. That thought process drives a lot of fears, because I have a lot of shortcomings. This business is not about me, but is about serving others in a capacity for which God has called and equipped me. That mindset makes it easier to go full steam ahead. Taking the focus off of me helps quiet my fears. So, I try to focus on the Lord and His plan and focus on others. I pray for clients I haven’t even met yet, for the ones that may come my way, and for the ones I have or have had. I would be lying if I made it sound like this is an easy fix and I still didn’t battle with fears, because I do, but when I have an outward focus it makes the fears much more manageable. I never want this to be about me, because I am too limited in my wisdom, my knowledge and abilities. I always want this to be about serving others in a way that is meaningful and helpful to them, and I cannot do that if my focus is on my fears. In bible study not long ago, our leader said, “You can have faith and you can have fear. But you cannot have them both at the same time.” That really resonated with me, and so I am consistently trying to choose faith, or the belief in things unseen, over fear.
You wrote an interesting article about why counseling is important, and you said, "Going to counseling does not mean you are not fine." Can you touch on this and highlight some of the key points you made throughout this article?
I wrote the article “Why Would I Go to Counseling? I Mean…I’m Fine” because I feel like the word “fine” is one of the most often used words I hear and I felt like maybe that would resonate with people. I think we, collectively as a culture, often minimize our existence to being “fine.” What does that even mean, really? The word “fine” is actually defined as “of high quality,” yet, when most people use the word I think it’s used synonymously with “OK.” My hope is that people will really strive for a life that is ACTUALLY fine—a life of high quality in every way: relationships, careers, personal growth, physical and emotional health.
I wrote the article trying to highlight a few key reasons that it may be wise to seek out counseling even if someone feels like they are doing OK. One of the main reasons I encourage people to consider counseling is because there is more to life than our culture’s definition of “fine.” It is possible to have a life that is of true high quality and live it to the fullest. Often in counseling we can discover the things that have been numbing us from living a life that is full of joy and high quality relationships and it is my passion to help others uncover these things. In counseling we can also find a place to actually talk about ourselves, our fears, our shame, our hopes, our past, our future and our longings. We may put a lot of information out there on social media for others to see, but people are reporting higher levels of feeling isolated than ever before. If we have unparalleled ability to “share” aspects about our lives with others, and they with us, then how is it we are feeling more isolated? I would contend it is because the content we are sharing does not hit at the core of who we are. It may in part do that, but there are things we all hide for a variety of reasons, and being in counseling allows us to be in a place where we are fully known and fully accepted. We may feel like we are the only one who deals with certain issues because those issues of ours aren’t surfacing on anyone else’s newsfeed. The bottom line is there is no right or wrong reason to go see a counselor. If it’s important to you then it’s a supremely valid and worthwhile endeavor. I would encourage everyone to prioritize themselves and look into counseling if it’s something you have ever thought about, especially with all of the convenient options available today.
6. What else would you like people to know?
I wrote another article on my blog Myths about Counseling. I would encourage people to read this because I think it speaks to some reasons people may be scared or hesitant to reach out. I want people to know that counselors are just normal people who have specialized education and training. I’ve sought counseling a handful of times in my life and it has always been a good decision. Sometimes it was for help in a specific area, but sometimes it was just a general feeling of “blah” I had and I wanted to get to the root of what that was about. Every time it has been so helpful and typically winds up being much more meaningful than I had even hoped. I would just encourage people that if you’ve thought about counseling before then to go for it. With many convenient online options similar to Journey Clinical Services, it really is something that can fit into any lifestyle now. I also want people to know that there is always hope and always help available. There is a National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255) that can handle everything to helping someone who is having thoughts of harming themselves to being a listening ear if someone needs that in the middle of the night. Please always reach out for help if needed and they can point you in the right direction based on where you live. You can also contact me (for non-emergencies) and I will be glad to help point you in the right direction however I can.
I am so thankful to Sarah for sharing about her journey. Such wisdom!
KORE Talents Consulting