Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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 include a 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

Counselors Specializing in Life's Toughest Transitions

Partners in Navigating Love & Life

Research-guided methods, individualized treatment plans, and a holistic clinical approach.

Our Life's Work is to Improve Yours. Reach Out Today.
Unmatched versatility & experience.

Our Counselors

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

• 10 years combined academic, professional and clinical experience.
• Experience with mood disorders, trauma PTSD & EMDR, life transitions, substance use, domestic violence, relationship issues and eating disorders.
• Works with members of the LGBTQ community, men, couples, individuals in non-traditional relationships and individuals struggling with self-esteem, identity and body image issues.
• Utilizes psychodynamic approach and drawing from ACT, DBT, CBT and Mindfulness Techniques 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

Heather Daher

Internship Therapist

• Conducts individual and couples counseling with traditional and non-traditional relationships.
• Strengths lie in anxiety, individuals struggling with self-esteem, identity, cultural and body health issues as well as relationship discord.
• Utilizes a holistic approach and incorporates self-compassion and mindfulness.
• Integrates psychodynamic approaches, Cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), Acceptance and Commitment therapy, and Mindfulness based (MBCT).
• Passionate, affirming and thoughtful about working with members from diverse groups including BIPOC clients and folks from the LGBTQ community.

Corie Rodeman

Licensed Marriage Family Therapist & Couples Counseling Supervisor

• Open, warm, inclusive and affirming therapy style
• Utilizes mindfulness, creates awareness around the mind-body connection, enhances self-awareness and promotes strengths
• Trained in EMDR to treat PTSD and Trauma
• Trained in Gottman Method Couples Therapy to help couples navigate and resolve relationship issues
• Registered Therapy Dog Team with therapy dog Sheamus
• Knowledgeable in Non-Monogamous relationship styles inclusive of polyamory, open relationships, swinging, and kink friendly.

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

Tiffani Clay, MA

Pre-licensed Professional Counselor

• Helps clients explore their values and beliefs, enabling them to step closer towards living authentically.
• Devoted to culturally-informed therapy and social justice advocacy, taking opportunities to advocate for clients in need.
• Passionate about working with women, members of the LGBTQ+ community, and individuals struggling with social oppression, relationships, work/career, self-esteem, anxiety, depression, and trauma.
• Experienced in crisis counseling, helping individuals in a high-emotional state explore their options and find calming, self-supportive outlets.
• Utilizes Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Mindfulness, and Trauma-Focused Therapy.
• Provides an accepting, safe, and supportive environment to explore life difficulties, transitions, and goals.

Jen (ChiSoo) Park

Internship Therapist

• Often utilizes CBT and Narrative therapy to create an individualized approach for each client
• Devoted to incorporating diversity and cultural humility
• Passionate about individuals struggling with trauma, anxiety, depression and family/relationship issues
• Looks to create a trusting, collaborative, and safe space to best support clients
• Committed to helping clients to authentic emotional expression and self-discovery
• Strongly believes in a mind-body approach


Therapy Dog

• Rescue dog from Texas
• Canine Good Citizen
• Registered Therapy Dog through Pet Partners
• Favorite toy: Balls
• Cuddle Level: Expert
• Loves treats!

Anthony Borchardt, LCSW, PMH-C

Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Perinatal Mental Health Certification

• 11 years combined academic, professional, and clinical training
• Experience with relationship issues, grief and loss, addictions and gambling recovery, trauma, depression, anxiety, and men's issues
• Utilizes Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Solution-Focused Therapy, and Mindfulness while integrating components of Dialectical Behavior Therapy and Acceptance and Commitment Therapy
• In-depth work providing trauma and crisis intervention
• Provides a supportive, empathic setting and empowers clients to become the healthiest version of themselves
• Teams with clients through individual and couples counseling

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

Internship Therapist

• 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 navigate difficulties and
improve communication.
• Passionate about working with the LGBTQIA+ community and provides an affirming space.
• Conducts individual, couples and pre-marital counseling with traditional and non-traditional relationships.

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
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.