By Sahar Chmais
Seeking help from a psychologist used to be socially stigmatized. This has changed in the last two decades and Luann Sandahl, Licensed Professional Counselor in Kyle, was there to watch the change rapidly unfold.
“It’s almost a 20-year career and I spent most of it in Kyle,” Sandahl said, recalling that she ventured into a trade discouraged by many. “People thought I was wasting my time a little bit. Nobody would admit they saw a counselor. People were kind of jokingly wondering ‘what will you do with that.’ They thought nobody would come.”
Sure enough, many people saw Sandahl from Kyle and other surrounding cities. Some of her clients even came from San Antonio. Her line of work was so demanding that Sandahl found opening one day a week, with eight patients a day, did not suffice. She expanded to three days a week. Within the same year of opening her office doors in 2007, Sandahl turned her part-time office hours to a full-time job. After serving her community for 13 years, Sandahl retired at the end of 2020.
At the beginning, Sandahl got help from a good friend and Kyle’s then-doctor – Dr. Danny Rouch. He gave her an office for free the first year so she could try it out. When Sandahl saw the large demand in the small city, she decided to pay rent until she could find a bigger space.
In 2012, she moved to a larger building and brought in five other counselors. Even then, Sandahl was still very protective of her clients in fear of the negative stigma around mental health help.
“I remember turning the yard into a parking lot and the contractor wanted to tear down fences,” Sandahl said. “I said no; people might not want to be seen. Even in 2012 people would not want to be seen coming in to the office. That has changed a lot. Most of the people I see, I think, have no problem saying they are seeing a counselor.”
The fear around the taboo of therapy has changed.
In fact, many clients openly discuss advice they might receive from their therapists with family and friends, Sandahl explained.
Kyle now has 15 therapists and Buda, Wimberley and Dripping Springs have a similar number. This growth in seeking mental health help grew due to multiple factors. The first, according to Sandahl, came from media normalizing seeing a therapist. Then in 2010 the Affordable Care Act opened a door for people by making mental health help more financially accessible.
People also began realizing that there are professionals who could dole out better advice than their friends or parents, Sandahl said.
Younger generations also played a big role in normalizing the relationship between a therapist and a patient. Sandahl said she has seen people in their 80s who never thought of meeting with a therapist start to come in, thanks to the influence of their grandkids.
Reasons and willingness to see a therapist has changed over the years.
“Some people need to see a therapist if they are bipolar or have schizophrenia, for example,” Sandahl told the Hays Free Press/News-Dispatch. “But most come because they want to have a better life. I see people with anxiety every day.”
Seeing a therapist does not always have to be for a reason. It can be used as a method to unload, better understand the self, treat a mental health condition or learn how to be present in the moment. Therapists even need others in their field to help them out sometimes.
This was an even bigger need in 2020 due to the collective stress and trauma people experienced; therapists were no exception.
That year affected Sandahl in many ways, it even influenced her retirement plan. Sandahl wanted to retire earlier than Dec. 31, but felt she needed to be there for her patients. Some weeks Sandahl worked seven days straight — no breaks.
Postponing retirement was not an easy decision, but working with patients who needed her was an honor, she said.
Now that she has reached retirement, Sandahl has plans to travel, spend more time with her six grandchildren, write and more.
“It’s very bittersweet,” Sandahl said about retiring. “I’ve said goodbye to so many people that I’ve grown to really care for and love. I’m humbled and honored to have this space in their life. It’s been unexpected to process, this uniqueness of my spot on this earth.
Sandahl added how delightful it has been to serve patients in Kyle. “I’m so glad Dr. Rouch told me to come to Kyle. It’s an open-minded community and has been really good to me. I’ve loved Kyle and I’m grateful.”