You were meant to live a life of wholeness. Karen Strange ’14, LMFT, CST, and CSAT Candidate, believes this is true for every person. It forms the foundation of her business, the Center for Intimacy and Relationship Wholeness, LLC. Karen is a relationship counselor and sex therapist with a Master’s degree in Marriage and Family Therapy (MMFT) from Converse.
Wholeness cannot be realized in isolation. Whether helping clients suffering from body image issues, gender identity issues, sexual pain or dysfunction, porn addicts, partners of addicts, or victims of abuse, trauma and sex trafficking, Karen approaches every individual as nested in a network of human relationships. Part of the journey to wholeness is helping her clients understand the contribution of each relationship to brokenness or healing, and this can happen one-on-one, or in couples’ and group therapy sessions. This systemic approach is a hallmark of the Converse MMFT.
When you’re in the clinical practicum, Karen explained, you’re required to have 500 hours of client contact and half of those hours have to be with more than one client in the room. “Because we are marriage and family therapy, we work with individuals, but we look at them systemically.”
“In the real world, we partner with other professionals and other therapists.”
The client’s system of relationships is not the only network vital to Karen’s work. Throughout her education, MMFT faculty helped Karen plug into a powerful network of professionals in the community – supervisors to offer feedback as she conducted her first counseling sessions in practicum, mentors to offer wisdom on marketing her practice, and fellow therapists and health professionals who both refer clients to Karen and partner with her on treatment.
“There was a real emphasis – I didn’t appreciate it then, but now I do – on partnering together with people for projects and assignments. In the real world, we partner with other professionals and other therapists.”
For example, Karen partners with pelvic floor physical therapists to treat women suffering from dyspareunia, a term used to describe difficult or painful sexual intercourse that can be caused from a number of conditions. While the pelvic floor physical therapists handle the physical piece, Karen works with the client to handle the emotional and psychological effects associated with this challenge.
Now a successful practitioner, Karen will not speak of her own professional success apart from the profound influence of her network of relationships.
“I’m very grateful, and I stand on the shoulders of many good people that trained me and were available to me when I had questions or needed direction. They were willing to spend the time and invest in me. I’m very cognizant of the accumulation of all the investment in my life.”
Among Karen’s heroes stand the Converse MMFT faculty. “They were always very helpful to me when I was struggling with something – very kind.”
Beyond the personal, Karen has a deep respect for and the faculty and the partnerships they have built in the community, especially evidenced in Emerge Family Therapy Center and Teaching Clinic, which helps Converse students fulfill their clinical requirements while providing much-needed services to underserved populations in Spartanburg.
“They did a beautiful job of networking in the community, building these partnerships and making our services available. They were so invested in knowing how to get what we offer out into the community. These were very uncharted waters at the time.”
Another very significant relationship helped shape Karen’s career as a therapist:
“My oldest daughter had gone to Converse and she kept telling me about the program; however, I dismissed it until I felt like the time was right. I had been a stay at home mother and as my youngest child was getting ready to leave, I wanted to do something that was making a positive contribution. I took an assessment about career paths and, based on the results, I decided to go to Converse’s program.”
“They were so invested in knowing how to get what we offer out into the community.”
This daughter was Anna Grace Strange, who graduated from Converse with a degree in Music History in 2010. Anna Grace’s experience helped familiarize Karen with the school. It felt like a natural fit for other reasons as well.
“They worked with me. You could pace yourself in the course. It felt very congruent with what I needed at the time.”
Karen is describing another distinction of the Converse MMFT: the flexibility to attend either full-time or part-time. The full-time track allows you to complete the program within two years, attending year round. Part-time students have up to five years to complete the program.
“I can tell that I see growth, but it’s not until they can see it that it has the potential to catapult them to a different place.”
While at times emotionally challenging, being a therapist is incredibly fulfilling work for Karen. Her favorite part?
“When you see your clients recognize the growth that they are experiencing. I can tell them that I see growth, but it’s not until they internalize it enough that they can see it that it has the potential to catapult them to a different place.”
“I love what I do.” Karen concludes. “I love the part that Converse played. They opened a door for me to experience learning and challenged me to continue learning. Taught me that even when you finish the program, there’s still so much that you don’t know, because you can’t. It wasn’t until I was in the trenches, doing the work, that I realized the depth and breadth of all that I didn’t yet know. The supervisors came alongside me to mentor, challenge, and encourage me to continue the learning process, to potentially develop a specialty, and to be open to opportunities to always better myself and my skill set. I am most grateful for that.”