Dr. Sara Pointer joined the Sovereign Health Group in San Clemente as a Program Director at the end of October, after completing a one-year post-doctoral residency at Kaiser Permanente in Antioch, California. She completed her B.A. in Psychology at the University of Georgia
, and spent the last six years in the San Francisco area where she earned her Psy.D. from John F. Kennedy University
. The title of her dissertation is Clinicians’ Training and Clinical Experience Working With Older Adults With a History of Childhood Sexual Abuse
Therapists often overlook the well-documented connections between childhood abuse and adult health issues ranging from depression and anxiety disorders to substance abuse, anorexia nervosa, fibromyalgia and irritable bowel syndrome later in life. And only a small percentage of patients voluntarily disclose histories of sexual abuse to physicians. But Dr. Pointer is a good listener, and in the role of a therapist she is always alert for telltale clues.
Interested At A Young Age
“When I was young, I was always the person my friends would come to with their problems. I was always interested in talking to other people and learning about their struggles and success, so I had no hesitation about following my passion to make it my career,” says Dr. Pointer, explaining her interest in behavioral health.
“Mental health symptoms can be masked by substance abuse, and vice versa. It’s difficult to know which comes first,” says Dr. Pointer. Sometimes it’s difficult to tease out the distinctions between the two, particularly when one exacerbates the other, she adds. “Sometimes it’s a chicken-and-egg issue,” but it is essential to find the root problems in order to create an effective treatment plan tailored to a person’s needs, she observes.
“I get a great deal of personal satisfaction working with stigmatized, marginalized and underserved populations,” Dr. Pointer says. Such groups include a disproportionate share of some of the most vulnerable member of society. Her compassionate desire to help them in the healing process has given her extensive experience working with people – mainly adults – who have severe and chronic mental health disorders as well as histories of substance abuse.
One secondary issue that such people experience is a sense of low self-esteem and isolation. Clients may gloss over information that could be valuable during assessment, often minimizing their experiences because they blame themselves or feel that others will not take them seriously. Dr. Pointer notes that having a person in front of them who is actually engaged can be therapeutic in itself.
Health care reform is “an ongoing challenge,” says Dr. Pointer. One transformative aspect that has been underway for several years now is that users of health care services are increasingly demanding or being given a greater role in their treatment.
“I think there’s still a lot of stigma associated with mental illness and substance abuse, but it is slowly fading,” she says.