MICHELE O’MARA, LCSW,
Happiness advocate, lesbian couples coach, relationship and sex psychotherapist for couples committed to blazing their own path in this life with courage, authenticity, and aliveness through kindness, love, and connection. Lover of good energy.
“Indianapolis’ Best Gay Couple’s Therapist“ according to the Indianapolis Monthly, 2005
Do you consider yourself a traditional therapist?
No, not at all. For starters, I am not comfortable with an emphasis on “disorders” or with the use of labels. I much prefer the “coaching” side of my work more than the “psychotherapy” side of my work for this very reason. (Counseling requires a diagnosis, coaching does not).
The mental health system relies heavily on labels and diagnoses to categorize and “treat” people. I much prefer to engage and connect with people (especially couples – I love relationship therapy or marriage counseling) and facilitate a meaningful understanding of who you are, and where you want to be in your life, so that I can offer useful tools, strategies, insights, and encouragement. I am grateful when I can walk alongside my clients as they move in the direction of their truth. I love to see people (even strangers) experience peace and happiness in life; I’m funny like that.
What are your credentials?
I hold a Ph.D. in Clinical Sexology from the American Academy of Clinical Sexologists, a Masters of Social Work from Indiana University-Purdue University, and I am a Certified Imago Therapist. My dissertation was on the Correlation between Sexual Frequency and Relationship Satisfaction among Lesbians. I am specialized in the care of lesbian couples, especially, but all couples in general. I am also a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCSW), and I have been specializing in the care of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender folks since 1994. Many heterosexual couples and individuals will write to me asking if I also work with heterosexuals. The answer is YES, I do work with heterosexuals too!
I am the author of two books which support healthy relationships. I have created a personal growth series of classes called Designing My Life, I regularly provide lesbian couples workshops using the Imago theory, as well as key research from Gottman. These are specifically designed for lesbian couples, and I also offer relationship and life coaching to folks all across the country thanks to the internet.
Tell me who you are as a therapist?
The client-therapist relationship requires a meaningful connection between both parties, one that is rooted in something that feels authentic and real. When you participate in therapy or coaching with me, you can expect to feel like you are sitting with a real, engaged, and a connected person who is concerned about what you have to share.
I am a resource. I am information, acceptance, understanding, a gentle nudge, one who encourages, and one who validates. I am a coach (without a whistle), a source of accountability. I am a guide. I am someone to challenge you, stimulate new thinking, and encourage deeper awareness and insight. I am an educator, someone who gives homework and other growth-oriented assignments offer levity and humor. I am someone who keeps it real.
My hope is to assist you in making your life as true to who you are, and how you wish to be in this world, as possible, so that you may experience the very best version of who you are, and love yourself for it!
Do you enjoy your work?
Yes! I love spending my days with people who are being real. I see the very best in people every day (because we are at our best when we are closest to our truth), and I am grateful to be trusted with the life stories of so many amazing people. I am fascinated by the human condition, by people, by our differences, by our dreams, and I am so grateful to have so many meaningful conversations with meaningful people, all day. I am most gratified by seeing people live their truth and find peace.
Is anyone too “broken” for therapy?
People are good, whole, and healthy – even when there are bits and pieces of their lives that aren’t working the way they wish they could. We are human. We are flawed. We all make mistakes, and every mistake has a story that supports how you got to that place. When we believe we are “broken,” one of the most ineffective coping responses to this feeling is to go silent, to stay alone with our pain, and with this silence comes a lot of shame. Shame is toxic and talking is the antidote.
I do not view people as broken – we just attach to stories about ourselves and our lives that don’t serve us well, and sometimes we lose the gumption to make it all better. That’s where I come in.
How long do people typically stay in therapy with you?
It depends on your goals. If you are interested in life coaching and proactive wellness in your life, you may engage in the coaching process indefinitely. You are the boss of that.
If you have a specific goal, we will work to achieve resolution, or peace, around that goal and decide together what makes sense about continuing or terminating our work together. That could be three sessions or thirty years (I think I have that many more good years of work in me).
This is a different type of intervention and it is designed to help people maximize their life, to stay very conscious of, and present to how they are living and what works and what doesn’t. Life coaching is about living life to the fullest and becoming the best version of yourself possible. There are no limits to how long people continue with coaching.
Couples will usually work with me on a weekly or every other week basis for 4 -8 sessions (1-4 months depending on frequency), and then they will reduce the frequency as they develop the skills to begin doing more of the work at home, on their own. Sometimes couples will continue for a year, meeting only once or twice a year, as an accountability check, and to ensure they continue moving forward.
A typical client (and not everyone is a typical client), however, will work with me for an average of three or four months and this will usually get them to a place where they feel ready to change how they utilize therapy. From there, most of my client will return on an as-needed basis. Maybe quarterly, semi-annually, or just when they are seeking a place to sort through things going on in their life.
It all depends on the reasons that bring you here and the way that you decide to use my services. Ultimately you are the boss, and the goal is for both of us to pay close attention to where you are and what you are needing. When your needs are met, therapy/coaching is complete.
Do you have a life philosophy?
Yes, I have a few, but most often I quote this simple formula that I created because it summarizes many of my beliefs:
Truth + Acceptance = Peace
When is the right time to go to therapy?
Trust your gut. When you are ready, go. If you are not ready, don’t.
What if I have had a bad experience in therapy before and have trouble trusting?
Trust that you will know how to respond if you experience “bad” therapy again. It’s not the therapist that you have to trust as much as it is yourself. If you do not trust that you can protect yourself from “bad” therapy – then don’t expose yourself to the possibility again until you have found a way to strengthen your ability to respond in a way that you will always feel safe, no matter how “bad” the therapy is.
Is anyone too “well” for therapy or life coaching?
No. Coaching, in particular, is suited for folks who are doing well and wish to take their life experience to a new level. Coaching is about growing, progressing, moving in the direction of your goals and dreams. It’s not about problems, it’s about possibilities. Everyone could use a little coaching now and then!
Will any therapist do?
No, you really need to click on them. Therapists are people. If you don’t like his or her personality – don’t spend your money on them. Trust your gut. (I’m like a broken record, here, huh?)
What is Imago Therapy?
In a nutshell, the imago theory says that we are born with a brain and our life experiences/environment gives shape to our mind. Our mind is concerned with one thing: our survival. So what we learn about how to be in the world comes directly from our immediate surroundings as we are growing up – and we tend to create and adopt coping mechanisms that we will then use for life. The problem is, these coping mechanisms are often not the best ones to use when we become adults and are no longer dependent on our primary caregivers. If unchallenged, our mind will continue to attract people, places, and situations that keep us reliving the pain or frustrations we experienced as a child. Think about your greatest frustration or hurt today. Now compare that to your greatest frustration or hurt from when you were a child. I’m guessing they are similar. Yes?
What if I feel too overwhelmed with my situation to take the first step?
It’s all about developing trust in oneself. Being overwhelmed is not the problem, it’s the thoughts we attached to feeling overwhelmed (such as, “I’ll never get better.”) – because the thoughts are what cause us pain, not the feeling of being overwhelmed. Gotta change your thoughts to change your experience.
Going to therapy is an investment in yourself, your life. You are the greatest resource you will ever have at your disposal and one of the smartest things you can do for every area of your life where you would like to see improvements is to consult others who specialize in what it is you want to achieve. If you want to get your financial house in order, seek a financial planner. If you want to run a marathon, get a running coach, or join a running club. If you want to learn yoga – take a class or get a video. If you want to make peace with yourself and live a life that works for you, consult a life coach or therapist who specializes in helping you feel more comfortable in your life. You can either focus on what you want (peace) or what you don’t want (stigma/weakness) – and I suggest you focus on what you want because I promise you you’ll feel better, faster, that way.
There are many experiences that are greatly influenced by genetics (addiction, depression, anxiety, small feet and brown eyes). The key is to find the areas of influence that you have – to focus on the part that you can make a difference. I am not a geneticist so we won’t be holding genes accountable for change in my office – we will be looking for behavior changes, thought changes, and new choices that will lead to a better way of managing the lemons you were dealt. Then we’ll enjoy a nice glass of lemonade together when it’s all said and done.
What are three areas of therapy that you do a lot of?
1. Imago Relationship Therapy. Though I identify as a lesbian relationship expert, I do offer services for all couples (gay, lesbian, heterosexual) including issues related to pre-marital or pre-commitment concerns, impact of children on relationships, sex therapy (differing libidos, orgasmic difficulties, loss of desire, decline in sexual frequency, etc.), as well as issues of infidelity.
2. All issues related to gender. Transgender, mtf, ftm, gender confusion, etc. I follow the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH) Standards of Care (version 7).
3. Personal Discovery + Authentic Living: I support all clients in truth seeking, (Who am I? What is true for me? What inspires me? What do I want from my life?), Self-Acceptance, (Who I am is okay. My opinion of myself matters most. I love who I am today), and the experience of personal peace in life. (Ahhhhhh, life is good.)
Where are you located?
My office is in Plainfield IN at 2680 E Main Street, Suite 121, Plainfield, IN 46168.
I also practice online.