Interview with Karin Stortz, LCSW on Child and Family Social Work

About Karin Stortz, LCSW: Mrs. Stortz has been in private practice for six years, and specializes in educating and training individuals, groups, and organizations in bullying prevention and positive youth development. She implements a thorough and solutions-oriented approach to guide parents, teachers, school administrators, and students through the necessary steps to identify, prevent, and address bullying. Mrs. Stortz offers private therapy services to families, children, adults, and couples, and has extensive experience helping adolescents recover from self-injury behaviors. In addition to counseling, she provides life coaching services to people who want guidance in achieving their personal and professional goals.

Mrs. Stortz earned her Master of Social Work from Dominican University, where she completed extensive international work in South Africa, Uganda, and China. Before opening her private practice, she was a workshop facilitator at the Illinois Center for Violence Prevention and a community mental health worker at Thresholds. Currently, she resides in Chicago, Illinois with her husband and two children. She has also led mental health and stress management training sessions at the Cook County Sheriff’s Training Institute. Karin Stortz was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] What types of clients do you usually work with in your private practice, and what kinds of challenges do they face?

[Karin Stortz, LCSW] Children and adolescents make up the majority of my practice, though I occasionally work with adults and couples. What I find with most individuals, regardless of their age, is that they feel “stuck.” Sometimes that means they’re trying to figure out a career or relationship, and other times they feel trapped by anxiety, depression, or uncertainty. I also work with many young people who are either targeted by or exhibiting bullying behaviors.

Regardless of whether or not my clients have been in therapy before, they are often enthused by my level of engagement. Most of them come to me because they want some type of change, and I play an active role in helping them figure out what that change needs to be. Helping create tangible, attainable goals for clients is incredibly powerful–it gives them confidence as they tackle their challenges step by step.

Finally, the value of strong client rapport cannot be overestimated. I spend many of my first sessions really getting to know my clients, which builds trust and helps us explore things more deeply in subsequent sessions.

[] What are the most challenging aspects of your job? How do you recommend students who wish to work as child and family social workers prepare themselves to face these challenges and hardships? On the other hand, what is the most rewarding part of your job?

[Karin Stortz, LCSW] As a therapist in private practice, you’re not just helping people with their problems. You’re also running a small business, so you have to think about your location, your office, marketing, insurance — the list goes on. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that if you don’t know how to do something well, elicit someone’s help! Paying for professional services is worth it. Personally, I rely on a website designer and an insurance specialist. Knowing that they’re taking care of more technical matters relieves a great deal of stress. I’d also say that it’s important to stay on top of things as you build your practice. Find ways to stay organized–for instance, I use an online appointment-scheduling service that sends automatic reminders to my clients.

The rewards are incredible. I love seeing growth in my clients and knowing that I’m able to help people through challenging times. Knowing that I’ve built a referral-based practice gives me a tremendous sense of accomplishment. It can be hard to see such tangible results in other types of professional settings.

[] What do you feel are the benefits and drawbacks of running your own private practice as an LCSW, as opposed to working for a social work agency or larger organization?

[Karin Stortz, LCSW] As someone in private practice, you have to be extremely mindful about the potential for burnout. Self-care is critical when you’re dealing with the mental and emotional health of others; you can’t let your clients’ burdens affect your own mindset. For this reason, it’s very important to have a supervisor or join a support group for therapists. There are also online resources for support, including webinars, classes, and forums.

Time management is also key. As a self-employed professional, it can be tempting to take on “just one more” client, but you have to be realistic about your workload. For that reason, I set limits to the number of clients I’ll take and the amount of hours I’ll work. Though time management can be a stressor, it’s also a benefit. I can set my own schedule and maintain a sense of autonomy, which typically isn’t possible when you’re working for an agency or a larger organization.

[] For MSW students who are interested in a career in child and family social work, what advice can you give them about optimally preparing for this field while pursuing their degree?

[Karin Stortz, LCSW] Don’t underestimate the value of entry-level jobs. They’ll help you build your clinical hours and develop critical skills. I also tell students to explore jobs they might feel challenged by. The fastest way to grow is to put yourself in a situation where you feel challenged, even if it’s a little intimidating at first.

If you’re a new graduate, try to keep your options open. Discover what your strengths are andwhat you find challenging. Any experience you have–whether you see it as a long-term fit or not–will inform your journey and make you a better therapist.

Finally, don’t be afraid to ask for opportunities! While you’re in school, start building your network and fostering connections with people. Look for mentors and stay in touch with your educators and peers. It’s something that many people say, but it’s true: your network can be an incredibly valuable tool.

[] For MSW students who wish to eventually set up their own private practice as an LCSW, is there anything they can do while they are still in school that will help with the process once they are licensed?

[Karin Stortz, LCSW] First, I think it’s important to understand why you want to be in private practice. As I mentioned earlier, it’s important to experience a variety of environments as a therapist, because it will give you a better idea of where your strengths lie. Even if you do ultimately enter private practice, those early years in entry-level positions will always inform your work.

While you’re in school, develop your leadership skills and take business and marketing courses. You can always take continuing education later on, but it never hurts to get a head start. If you want to work with young people, I can’t stress enough the importance of getting to know their worlds–the social media platforms they use, the music they listen to, and the things they care about. Familiarity with these things will go a long way in building rapport with younger clients.

[] How can social workers who work mainly with individuals and families branch out into mezzo and macro social work? Do they need additional training to do so?

[Karin Stortz, LCSW] Additional training is always beneficial, but I don’t think it’s necessarily a requirement. One of the best ways to get started with mezzo- and macro-level work is to offer your services for free. Many organizations–especially nonprofits–are always looking for people who have a strong understanding of current research and can offer tangible skills to their employees. If you do a research project in graduate school, offer to present it to a group that would be interested. When you’re breaking into this type of work, it helps to have confidence–put yourself out there, offer your services, and see what happens!

Another route is to find someone who’s already doing the type of work you want to do, and then ask to shadow them. Volunteer to help them put their materials together or do behind-the-scenes work for a presentation. You’ll gain valuable insight and grow your network in the process. These types of engagements often lead to future opportunities.

Thank you Mrs. Stortz for your time and insights into child and family social work.

Last Updated: April 2020