During this year’s Wellness Week, October 15-19, a week to promote well-being among Ursuline students, students attended presentations pertaining to mental health and social media. Dr. Kristen Ohlenforst, an Ursuline graduate of the class of 1996, addressed the juniors and seniors about social media, and how to use it wisely.
Ohlenforst reflected on the enjoyable time she spent with the Ursuline community during her years there. “My fondest and favorite memories from Ursuline center around the people – friends, teachers, and families!” says Ohlenforst. During her time at Ursuline, she participated in Intramurals, JV soccer, and theater productions. With a love for the arts, she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts in Studio Art and Design from the University of Notre Dame.
When asked about the correlation between arts and design and her work as a therapist, she related that her design degree was a factor in leading her to where she is today. “When you think about it, both design and therapy involve generating creative and effective solutions to existing concerns or problems; they’re quite complementary to one another, so I rely heavily on my creative training,” says Ohlenforst.
After college, Ohlenforst worked as a web designer but was not sufficiently fulfilled by this work and searched for something bigger. Brainstorming careers, she sought for a job that would fulfill her in three ways: intellectually, interpersonally, and creatively. Combining these qualities with her love for children and adolescents, she recognized being a psychotherapist would be a well-fitting and fulfilling career.
Ohlenforst obtained her Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology from the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center and completed her Postdoctoral Fellowship in Clinical Child Psychology from the Stanford School of Medicine. She later opened her own practice, Therapy Dallas, and works in individual and family-based interventions for children, adolescents, and adults.
“Starting my own practice – and later growing it into a collaborative group practice – has been such an adventure. I found starting my own business to be quite anxiety-producing… but equally (actually, more) exciting,” says Ohlenforst. She also credits her success to her support system, recommending that as an essential part of working toward any goal.
She is also the co-author of Moose the Worry Mutt Goes to Doggie Daycare, which is a therapeutic children’s book, teaching children to “bark back” at their worries. “I am passionate about starting conversations about anxiety and mental health at an early age. Given that approximately one in three children will be diagnosed with an anxiety disorder by the time they complete adolescence, it’s important that we provide children and their families helpful resources for identifying and managing worries during childhood,” says Ohlenforst.
Ursuline encourages all students to live a life of Serviam beyond requirements and the years spent at Ursuline, and Dr. Ohlenforst models this idea in her work. “[Serviam] is absolutely one of the most meaningful parts of my work – serving and impacting other people. We learned at Ursuline to always reserve some of our time/skills/energy/talent for those with fewer resources and great need,” says Ohlenforst. Through visibly bettering the lives of individuals and their families, she can see the effect of her service in herself and her patients.
Not only does she view her work as service, but she also serves as the Dallas Clinical Director for A Home Within, which is a national nonprofit that coordinates pro-bono psychotherapy for current and former foster youth. As Clinical Director, she helps to match youth who seek therapy with volunteer therapists. “I’m so grateful for the opportunity to use my clinical and business knowledge in this manner, and truly enjoy being a part of this amazing organization,” remarked Ohlenforst.
Dr. Ohlenforst serves as an excellent example to Ursuline students of someone who uses her talents and gifts in a way which fulfills both her and the community. It is important for current students to not take the Ursuline experience for granted, but to use their academic, personal, and service experiences to better themselves, and their communities, now, and in the future.