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November Featured Therapist, Lisa Handler

November 1, 2018

Lisa Handler, PhD, MFT joined Council for Relationships in 2018 after completing the Post-Graduate Certificate Program. Learn more about Lisa’s background and approach in the intro below. 

Tell us a little about what makes you unique as a therapist and person.

I grew up in Southern Illinois, and though technically a Midwesterner, I come from coastal parents and immigrant grandparents. A corn tortilla smeared with cream cheese was the comfort food of my childhood. My family travelled and lived other places when I was young, which very much shaped my relationship to people, place and self. Since my teens, I’ve lived on the east coast and worked my way down the megalopolis. Philadelphia was a temporary stop, but I fell in love here – initially, with the city’s grittiness and small town/big city feel, then with my partner, and ultimately with the cutest Philly pibble ever.

I’m a career changer, or more of an expander. Sociology became my field because it answered many of the questions I had about people, and teaching became my vocation because I find great meaning in learning and aiding others in their own growth. Over the years I’ve become more interested in the emotional and relational for both professional and personal reasons. It’s been, and continues to be, quite the journey.

As an inveterate generalist, I can be and am interested in many things, but I’m continually interested in people’s stories. I became a qualitative sociologist because it allowed me to interview people and hear their stories. As a teacher, students’ stories have sustained me over many office hours and years in the classroom. When I’m at my best, I’m open to what is unexpected and surprising in people, in each of us. That’s why I love thrift shops. You never know what gem you’ll find. This American Life is one of my favorites because the stories move me. People move me. We are often such complicated, messy, and pained creatures. Yet, we are resilient, and creative and hopeful. And, we can grow and change and connect. It really is quite the journey.

What do you consider to be the goal of therapy?

I think the goal of therapy is to help people grow into the people they are and want to be on their own and in their relationships. Therapy is a resource for that growth, and it can be used in different ways. Some people use therapy for a short-term time limited goal – dealing with a life transition, an unexpected traumatic event, a particular challenge that has emerged in their life or relationship. Others will use therapy for a longer period of time – maybe because their challenges merit more work, or they’re interested in more support, or they want to go deeper into their understanding of who they are, what has shaped them and how they might want to change. Any of these are reasonable ways to approach therapy and I help clients work towards where they want and need to go.

Who is your ideal client?

My ideal client is interested and curious about themselves and others. They are thoughtful and reflective, open to exploring parts of themselves in the service of growing and changing, which for many of us is not the easiest or most fun process. Still, they courageously show up — sometimes cautious, scared, ambivalent, skeptical and even angry — and continue to work on deepening their understanding and moving in their desired direction.

Why did you decide to become a therapist?

Becoming a therapist is a natural continuation of work I’ve done for years with students – listening, coaching, championing, and advising — creating a safe space in which to quiet fears, explore challenges and stretch into better selves. It’s also a natural continuation of my own process of growth and change.

I delight in watching people unfold and grow. I have had the privilege of working with a wonderfully diverse student population dealing with a broad array of challenges in and out of the classroom. Learning, like most human endeavors, is hugely shaped by our emotional experiences and an increased appreciation of that fact led me in this direction. Unpacking emotions and the experiences that shaped them has been powerful for me personally, and becoming a therapist allows me to share in that process with others.

What is one piece of advice you would like to give people who may be struggling emotionally and would like to seek to counsel but may not be ready?

Think about it. Trust yourself. You’ll call when you’re ready.


Push yourself a bit. Call. You can always hang up.


Good news! Lisa Handler, PhD, MFT is currently accepting new clients at Council for Relationships Center City and University City. Request an appointment today