We were lucky to catch up with Stephanie Risinger recently and have shared our conversation below.
Stephanie, appreciate you joining us today. If you had a defining moment that you feel really changed the trajectory of your career, we’d love to hear the story and details.
My professional and person lives have been deeply interwoven over the last 15 years. I’m currently a perinatal mental health therapist, which means I help women, and their families, who are experiencing infertility, pregnancy loss, pregnancy, or postpartum mood and anxiety disorders. But this is not at all what I set out to do. When I started graduate school in 2007 I had hoped to work primarily with children. I had enjoyed working with children and teens for years in other capacities and I knew that’s the direction I wanted to go. At that same time, my husband and I started trying to conceive a child of our own.
Conceiving a child turned out to be much more difficult that we had ever anticipated and by the time we finally conceived, 4 years after we started trying, I had graduated with my masters degree and was a therapist in a school for children classified as Emotionally Disturbed. My husband and I lost that baby at 8 weeks due to an ectopic tubal pregnancy. We were devastated. I took a few days off from work and returned to meet with a sixteen year old client, only to learn that she was pregnant; due at the exact same time as I would have been due. After my session with her I left work and cried the remainder of the day. I remember feeling a terrible sense of injustice that a sixteen year old would accidentally get pregnant and be totally unprepared while I wanted nothing more than to have a baby. At the same time I felt incredibly guilty that I couldn’t be helpful to her at such a difficult time in her life. I had to refer her to another therapist who could really be present and engaged with her.
This became a defining moment in that I began to see how deep my own pain was in this process and began learning that I was not alone. After our first pregnancy loss (yes, there were more) women began sharing with me their own stories of loss and I saw, for the first time, that so many women were experiencing this deep pain in silence. On the other end of the spectrum I saw this sixteen year old girl faced with an unexpected pregnancy and less than supportive home life and realized the extent of the support she would need to bring this child into the world.
The process of childbearing and childrearing is complex. We live in a culture that expects women to get pregnant quickly and easily, when they are ready, and then expects these women to provide everything these children need, basically all on their own or with the sole help of a single partner. But we need so much more. We need connection and support. We need practical and emotional guidance. We need to know, without a doubt, that we are not alone. I’m beginning to see a shift in this perspective within our culture, but we have a long way to go and I’m determined to be part of that change in my work and in my personal life.
There’s much more to my story but not quite enough space for it here. I went on to struggle with infertility for 5 more years before giving birth to my first daughter in 2017. Then my second daughter in 2019. These personal experiences (with a little postpartum anxiety sprinkled in) led me to move into a specialty in perinatal mental health and it is, without a doubt, exactly where I’m supposed to be.
As always, we appreciate you sharing your insights and we’ve got a few more questions for you, but before we get to all of that can you take a minute to introduce yourself and give our readers some of your background and context?
I am a Perinatal Mental Health Therapist. I serve women and their families in the reproductive years. This often included pregnancy, postpartum, infertility, loss, and parenthood. I became a therapist because I wanted to help people get to the root cause of their life challenges and find ways to live healthier, more fulfilling lives. I initially wanted to work with children and families but shifted my focus after several years of infertility, pregnancy loss, and postpartum anxiety. I found that I had a unique perspective and could help other women through similar experiences.
I take a holistic approach to mental health and take into consideration all possible contributors to mental health and emotional challenges. I may make some referrals to nutrition therapists, acupuncturists, functional medicine doctors, and other practitioners when appropriate. I am also a Christian and offer faith-based counseling to those who request it.
I find getting into nature can be an important part of the healing process. Whether it’s simply sitting outside for 5 minutes a day and breathing fresh air and taking in the sunshine, taking daily walks, eating real, whole foods, walking barefoot in the grass. This is by no means a complete picture of how we heal, but our lack of time in nature is certainly a contributor to our overall stress experience, as a society.
How about pivoting – can you share the story of a time you’ve had to pivot?
In March 2020 I returned from maternity leave and started working with the premier perinatal mental health group practice in the area. It was an incredible opportunity, and I was thrilled. Then two weeks later the world turned upside down due to COVID. I spent the next year attempting to balance meeting the needs of my family, with the ever-changing challenges of childcare, along with meeting the needs of the practice. After a year it became apparent that these two things did not align, and I had to leave the practice and launch out on my own. I was heartbroken, as I had come to adore this team of women and I had gained much knowledge and wisdom from my time there. But I knew that I had to do what would work for the needs of my family in such a unique time. As much as it pained me to leave, it turned out to be better than I could have imagined. Although being out on my own feels scary at times. There’s a lot of responsibility as a sole proprietor. But the freedom is wonderful. I have total control over my brand, how I serve my clients, and the setting I choose to work in. I couldn’t be more pleased with my decision to create something for myself.
Training and knowledge matter of course, but beyond that what do you think matters most in terms of succeeding in your field?
I think what’s most helpful is finding a specialty and doing your best to serve those specific clients. There are far too many intricacies of mental health challenges and far too many treatment modalities to be an expert in everything. Focusing your attention helps you to become the best therapist you can be to the clients you’re most passionate about working with. It’s a win for everyone.
- Website: hopefulandwhole.com
- Instagram: @hopefulandwhole
- Facebook: Stephanie Risinger LMFT
- Linkedin: Stephanie Risinger, MS, LCMFT