Meet Elizabeth (Lisa) O’Hara, LCSW

counseling Lancaster, PA

Meet Elizabeth (Lisa) O’Hara, LCSW, a new therapist at Move Forward Counseling, LLC:

What inspired you to pursue a career as a therapist?

I have always been interested in people and how they work. As a child, my friends would call me on the phone to tell me about their problems. My parents made me a sign that read “The doctor is in. Five cents please.”

What is your favorite thing about being a therapist?

Being a witness as people begin to understand that there are always reasons for behavior choices and if they can understand the reasons, changes can be made. It reduces peoples’ sense of isolation with their issues, reduces shame, and instead invites curiosity and a willingness to explore.

What is a personal challenge you have overcome that makes you a better therapist?

I had a challenging relationship with my mom that impacted my self-concept for a long time. Learning how to identify the inaccurate cognitions (or thoughts) that created the struggle and to challenge them was life changing. I believe that experience has helped me to be more empathetic and aware of the power of inaccurate cognitions that form when we are kids.

As a therapist, what are you most passionate about? 

I am passionate about helping people to understand how their early life experiences shaped their brain development and how they think about themselves and their relationships with others and the world. When people begin to see that the things they experienced as a child had a significant impact on how they see themselves and cope with the world now, it helps to normalize experiences that they might be ashamed to talk about.

What are your specialties and what drew you to them?

I specialize in attachment and trauma. I was drawn to these aspects of practice both from my early experiences as a new grad in community mental health and when I had my daughter and learned about attachment parenting. At the community mental health center, we were seeing multiple generations of families bringing their kids in with the same issues over and over again.  As I learned about attachment and trauma, I learned that “talk therapy” wasn’t working and that due to the way our bodies are impacted by trauma, we needed to do things differently. As a parent, I learned about the importance of a child’s needs being met and the role this plays in the development of self-concept, bonding/relationship and the ability to make sense of the world. I realized that many of the children I was working with never had their basic needs met and that this pattern of unmet needs was intergenerational. At that time, shifting the focus to the relationship of trauma and attachment seemed like the clinically appropriate thing to do.

What makes you unique as a therapist?

My clients tell me how they don’t feel shame when they are exploring sensitive experiences or issues. They tell me that I provide a good balance between listening and active exploration that encourages them to look inside themselves and at the impact their own life experiences has on their self-concept.

How would you describe your therapeutic approach?

Eclectic — because each person has a unique history, set of concerns, and way of interpreting the world. Sometimes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy-based work is the way to go after we’ve identified that inaccurate cognitions are driving anxiety or poor self-concept. However, if a person presents with a significant trauma history, I would begin with more non-verbal work to allow for safe exploration of the experiences in terms of how they impact the client’s sense of safety and efficacy in the world. I use narrative, somatic, cognitive, and creative interventions based on where I believe the client is in their process. First and foremost, I take the time to establish rapport and to look for possible tender places. I also give time for clients to identify their treatment goals and to discuss a treatment plan to address them.

Everyone needs self-care. How do you practice self-care?

Self-care is extremely necessary as the work I do is demanding and requires that I use myself as the tool of my trade. I do yoga, spend time with my dog Bea, make sure I take time with family and friends, eat well, and try to get enough quality sleep. I also try to take good care of my relationships because they are the foundation of my life and if they are not healthy, it creates a level of stress that impacts all areas of my life.

What is your favorite… Quote, Movie, Book

My favorite movie is Manon of the Spring, as for books, anything by Barbara Kingsolver, Rebecca Solnit, Cheryl Strayed, and Anne La Mott. Mary Oliver is my favorite poet and her work takes my breath away to the extent that I can’t choose any one piece. I will say that I use Wild Geese in therapy and that my favorite quote of hers is “What will you do with your one wild and precious life?”.

What is one thing that is important for anyone to know? 

It is possible to learn to see yourself as enough, regardless of the past.

What’s most important to you?

If I had to pinpoint one thing, I would say that love always matters no matter what and that it is a choice.

What is your take on a current social issue?

I am concerned about division and the seeming difficulty so many people are having focusing on the things we have in common rather than the things that are different. I am also concerned that we have stopped talking to each other and are struggling to maintain meaningful connection, leading to loneliness, hopelessness, and isolation.

Do you have any passion projects or interests? 

I have many interests that include cooking, spending time outdoors, gardening, films, the arts in many forms, attending music events, especially festivals, scrabble, and I always appreciate a good nap.

Author: Alison Pidgeon, LPC

Alison is the owner of Move Forward Counseling, a boutique private practice in Salunga (East Hempfield), PA. She loves helping clients find practical solutions to improve their lives and her therapy is cooking. She can be reached at: alison@moveforwardlancaster.com.