Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.

2011

Ilene Kastel, the founder of Next Step Counseling in Chicago, IL, opened in 2011. “My goal was to create a boutique practice specializing in niche areas based on what I was passionate about, with people I could relate to and who could relate to me. I believe creating expertise in specific areas allows client’s the best support to grow, change and thrive.”

Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.

2012

Shortly after, a respected colleague requested to be apart of what Ilene was building and joined Next Step as the first employee. During this time, our strong reputation in Chicago began to grow due to positive online reviews and clients loving their work with us and referring those in their networks.

Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.

2014

Next Step needed to expand due to the demand for our services and our investment in helping more people. NSC moved into a larger space in the Loop and carefully and thoughtfully grew our team. It was important to us that each clinician be honest and authentic individuals that value the ongoing growth and development that is inherent in our field.

“We honor the importance of connection and strive to build a sense of inclusivity, safety, and trust within the practice for our clients and for the team. Moreover, we know that life comes with ups and downs, and we do our best to instill resiliency in our clients and in ourselves.” Ilene Kastel, CEO

Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.

2019

NSC decided it was important to not only give back to the counseling community but honor social justice and find a way to offer services to those that don’t have the means. Thus, NSC began the internship program where we keenly training high quality graduate psychology students and affording the opportunity for those that might not otherwise be able to get the counseling support they need.

“We are able to offer sliding scale options to those in need while still offering safe, supportive and high quality services. ” Ilene Kastel, CEO

Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.

2022

Our success with clients as well as our positive reputation in the community, Next Step Counseling has maintained its mission as a boutique niche practice. Our success with clients as well as our positive reputation in the community, Next Step Counseling has maintained its mission as a boutique niche practice. We have expanded to providing both remote Telehealth and in person services, partnered with the non-profit organization Coffee, Hip-Hop and Mental Health to provide counseling to those in need, and grown our close knit team of warm clinicians, all holistically and expertly trained to focus on specific life & relationship transitions.

“We engage in ongoing practices to build connection with all clients, make sure everybody who enters the office feels welcomed and valued, and approach our work in a nurturing, collaborative and holistic manner. We are responsive to our clients, recognize that the client experience is a high priority, and do what we can to ensure clients feel safe from the first moment they interact with Next Step Counseling.” Ilene Kastel, CEO

You deserve to feel amazing,
we're experts at making that a reality.

Partners in Navigating Love & Life

Our Counselors

LIFE CAN BE HARD, HAVING A COUNSELOR WHO TRULY HEARS YOU CAN BE LIFE CHANGING.

We are well-trained, warm, and thoughtful clinicians who thoroughly enjoy getting to know our clients. Our therapy is based on working with you in a collaborative, genuine and productive manner. As counselors, it’s important to us that you feel comfortable and connected so that we can build a positive working relationship where growth and change happen. Browse our valued team members below.

Sandra Buecker Spears, MSW, LCSW

Clinical Director, Licensed Clinical Social Worker

• Almost 2 decades of academic, professional and clinical experience.
• Life transitions, substance use, domestic violence, relationship issues and eating disorders.
• Expertise in grief and loss, trauma (relational and family of origin), relationship with self, men's issues and anxiety
• Provides supervision and clinical training to emerging counselors
• LGBTQ+ ally and conducts informed and affirming counseling
• Utilizes psychodynamic, ACT, CBT, mindfulness techniques, Buddhist Psychology and Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) as appropriate.

Reed Allen, M.Ed, LCPC

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor & Provisional Supervisor

• 7 years of education and clinical training
• Highly skilled in working with depression, anxiety, grief and loss, substance dependence, trauma, relationship issues, and life transitions
• Utilize strength-based perspectives with interventions from Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Interpersonal, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, and Mindfulness
• Heavily trained in trauma-based therapy and working with those in crisis
• Passionate about working with clients of diverse backgrounds including the LGBTQ community
• Conducts individual and couples counseling

Kelsey Manzi, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

• Knowledgable and passionate about working with client’s struggling with life transitions, relationship and sex difficulties, trauma, anxiety, shame, self-esteem, perfectionism, and identity.
• Provides a genuine, collaborative, and safe therapy space for clients to help them discover and explore their authentic selves.
• Conducts individual and couples counseling services as well as knowledgeable in premarital counseling.
• Dedicated to working with individuals of all backgrounds taking a multicultural approach and being culturally sensitive using a non-judgmental and non-assuming processes.
• Utilizes an integrative approach to counseling using Gottman and Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy methods, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Attachment Theory, and Trauma-Focused Therapy

Kirsten Hall, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

• Incorporates a holistic foundation to counseling while utilizing evidence-based treatments including Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solutions-Focused Therapy, and Humanistic approaches, integrates components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy.
• Certified Anxiety-Informed Professional trained to use applied neuroscience to treat anxiety, panic, and worry.
• Dedicated to working with clients facing anxiety, depression, life transitions, quarter-life crisis, and performance/life balance.
• Interested in the mind-body connection, as well as performance-related or creative challenges.
• Focuses on creating a safe space providing unconditional positive regard to help one discover the freedom to fully explore themselves and their experiences.

Beth Melewski

Master's Graduate Clinical Intern

• Encourages a sense of play and creativity throughout each client’s healing process
• Views collaboration as an integral part of the therapeutic journey
• Leads with her warmth to put clients at ease
• Skilled at challenging clients while meeting them where they are
• Creates a grounded space for people to share safely

Corie Carson, MA, LMFT

Licensed Marriage Family Therapist & Couples Counseling Supervisor

• Open, warm, inclusive and affirming therapy style
• LGBTQ+ affirming and knowledgeable
• Knowledgeable, affirming and passionate about non-monogamous relationship styles inclusive of polyamory, open relationships, swinging, relationship anarchy, as well as kink friendly.
• Neurodivergent knowledgeable and affirming
• Trained in EMDR to treat PTSD and Trauma
• Trained in Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help couples navigate and resolve relationship issues

Chris Edwards, MSW, LSW

Masters in Social Work

• Offers a warm, welcoming therapy space for individuals and couples and seeks to balance curiosity with respecting boundaries
• Utilizes a strengths-based and trauma-informed practice that values how the skills that helped you survive are equally important as your struggles
• Trained in working with grief, loss, depression, and anxiety
• LGBTQIA+ affirming, kink-aware, and experience working with issues related to relationships (monogamous and non-monogamous/polyamorous)
• Experience working with clients struggling with alcohol and substance-use
• Trained in a developmentally sensitive and neurobiology-informed practice that considers how life experiences shape our bodies, our behaviors, and our understanding of the world

Keirstin Lincoln, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

• Provides a warm and inclusive environment where clients feel understood and empowered.
• Honors each client’s unique lived experience and values
• Trained in Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help couples manage conflict, improve communication and increase intimacy
• Passionate about working with the LGBTQIA+ community
• Provides culturally responsive care, integrating societal and cultural issues into the therapeutic process
• Conducts individual, couples and pre-marital counseling
• Experience working with traditional and non-traditional relationship structures

Esther Kim

Master's Graduate Clinical Intern

• Values connecting and building relationships with clients
• Dedicated to co-creating a supportive, comfortable space that honors personal needs and processes
• Provides affirming care that welcomes all aspects of a client’s identity, culture, and lived experience
• Integrates Existential, Narrative, ACT, strengths-based, trauma-informed, and mind-body-spirit concepts
• Passionate about exploring and understanding the human experience

Zoë Engling, Office Manager

Office Manager

• Background in mental health administration
• Style of client care is grounded in working with a diverse client base
• Fosters trust based on unique client needs
• Client care coordinator and intake call coordinator
• Provides operational and clinician support
• Point on medical billing

Anthony Borchardt, LCSW, PMH-C

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Perinatal Mental Health Certification

• 11 years combined academic, professional, and clinical training
• Experience with stress and anxiety management, men’s issues for identity and masculinity, new parent transitions, addictions and gambling recovery, depression, and trauma
• Utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, Mindfulness and Emotionally-Focused Therapy
• In-depth work providing trauma and crisis intervention
• Provides a supportive, empathic setting and empowers clients to become the healthiest version of themselves
• Provides supportive and collaborative work with clients through individual counseling and support for couples transitioning into the role of parenthood

Anne Leiter, MA, LPC

Licensed Professional Counselor

• Passionate about collaboratively helping clients to develop healthy relationships with themselves and increase self-esteem
• Committed to helping clients explore and discover their authentic selves.
• Conducts individual and couples counseling
• Utilizes Psychodynamic approach, integrating Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Mindfulness Techniques, and Relational Therapy
• Experience utilizing creative and artistic expression therapeutically

Shannon Lieberman, MA, LPC

Licensed Clinical Counselor

• Creates a warm, comfortable, judgement-free environment to safely explore and gain insight.
• Utilizes a strengths-based approach, integrating Psychodynamic Therapy, Acceptance and Commitment Therapy and mindfulness techniques.
• Devoted to helping clients improve their self-esteem and relationship with themselves.
• Committed to inclusive, culturally sensitive therapy and social justice advocacy.
• Knowledgeable about non-traditional relationships such as consensual non-monogamy and kink dynamics.

Brian Howard, M.Ed

Master's Of Education

• Emphasis on meeting clients where they are at through a warm, authentic, and caring space
• Experience working with major life transitions and exploring identity development, especially with emerging adults
• Passionate about working with clients holding marginalized identities, in particular LGBTQIA+ communities
• Utilizes a collaborative, strengths-based approach with an emphasis on exploring meaning making in clients’ lives
• Approaches supporting clients from a trauma-informed lens
• Conducts individual and couples counseling sessions

Sheamus

Therapy Dog

• Rescue dog from Texas
• Canine Good Citizen
• Registered Therapy Dog through Pet Partners
• Favorite toy: Balls
• Cuddle Level: Expert
• Loves treats!
100% of Client Reviews Gave Next Step Counseling

A Perfect 5 Star Rating on Yelp

“We had a need for grief counseling for our office and I was having a difficult time finding an appropriate resource that could support our team. Ilene called almost immediately after I sent in a general request to talk through what I was looking for and how her staff could support. We ended up have a number of 1:1 and group sessions available which was invaluable to our staff. I'm grateful to this team and recommend Next Step Counseling to anyone.”

Trinity M.via Yelp

“I am so fortunate to have crossed paths with Sandra. She's helped me tremendously through a few major life transitions that happened all at once. She's incredibly kind, smart and patient. I felt more optimistic after her sessions, like the weight of the week was lifted off my shoulders. I'd still be seeing her consistently if I hadn't moved out of state. I recommend Sandra, and Next Step Counseling in general, if you're interested in therapy.”

Brittaney L.via Yelp

“My experience Next Step Counseling has been absolutely incredible. My counselor is supportive, empathetic, professional & has helped me navigate through some significant life challenges. From relationship & life transitions to working through death and illness in my family... she always makes me feel like I am in a safe place to share while offering helpful tools to use in everyday life. I highly recommend any therapist on the Next Step team.”

Krystie R.via Yelp

“Ilene listened so well that she was sometimes able to sense my feelings/emotions better than I could. She could read between the lines of what I was saying and sense if I wasn't feeling great about something. She wouldn't let me get away with being unfair to myself and would always challenge me when I was. I feel so lucky to have found her and to have spent time working with her. I wouldn't be as happy and healthy as I am today if it weren't for Ilene.”

Emily K.via Yelp

Contact Us. 

Pay Us a Visit

70 E Lake St #222
Chicago, IL 60601

Serving Chicago, Streeterville, Gold Coast, West Town, West Loop, River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Lincoln Square, Bucktown, Ravenswood and surrounding areas.

Common Questions

Do you accept insurance?

We are in network with the following insurance carriers:

  • Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Choice Advantage
  • Blue Cross Blue Shield Blue Choice Preferred
  • United Behavioral Health, aka United Health Care
  • Optum Veterans Affairs Community Care Network

However, if you have a carrier that we don’t accept we can still work together! Using your out of network benefits, many insurance companies will provide you with 20% to 80% reimbursement for sessions. We provide you with an invoice, you send it into your insurance company and they mail you a check. If you’d like to know what your out of network benefits are call the number on the back of your card and ask, “What are my out of network benefits for mental health counseling?” Please contact us to provide you with additional information about this.

Is there parking available at your office?

All el lines are within 1-2 blocks, and, there are two parking garages nearby at 60 E. Lake St. and 20 E. Randolph.

I tried therapy and didn't like it. How's this different?

Therapy varies depending on the personalities of the counselor and client, as well as the particular concerns brought forward. Sometimes the chemistry between the counselor and client or the counselor’s style or approach just isn’t a good fit. The relationship between the client and the therapist is of utmost importance. Therefore, we work to create a safe environment where open and honest communication is encouraged so that concerns or questions about treatment or the relationship can be addressed in session. This often benefits the therapeutic process and deepens the therapeutic relationship.

What can I expect from the first few sessions?

During the first and second session, we will gather information about what has brought you into therapy including your concerns, what you’d like to work on and information about your current and past emotional health and life history. This information helps us gain a deeper understanding about your situation, you as a person and how to best help you. As noted earlier, since it is important that clients feel comfortable with their counseling, we encourage clients to also use the first session as an opportunity to assess if this is a good fit for you as well.

What can I expect during a typical therapy session?

During therapy you will begin to discuss and share your feelings, thoughts, and reactions in order for you to begin to gain insight, develop new thinking patters, coping skills and overall improved quality of life. It is natural to feel uncomfortable about opening up at first but this process because much easier after a few sessions. Since self-growth is possible through commitment and work I will encourage you to practice the things you discuss and learn outside of session.

How long will I need to be in therapy?

The number of sessions needed is different for everyone depending on a number of factors including but not limited to your goals, severity or intensity of your concerns or symptoms, how long you’ve been dealing with your concerns, current levels of stress, and the progress you make towards reaching your short or long-term goals.

Is what I say in therapy confidential?

In general, all communications between a client and counselor are confidential and can only be released with the client’s written permission. However, there are some exceptions required by law to this rule. Exceptions include:

  • When there is a reasonable suspicion of child/dependent abuse or of an elder adult.
  • When the client communicates a threat of bodily injury to others.
  • When the client is suicidal.
  • When disclosure is required pursuant to a legal proceeding.