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 part-time 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 we moved into a larger space in the Loop and carefully and thoughtfully grew our team.

Our History

Warm, knowledgeable, and respected boutique group practice.

2019

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.

Counselors Specializing in Life's Toughest Transitions

Partners in Navigating Love & Life

Relationship Transitions

Evaluate. Empower. Improve.

  • Breakup & Divorce Recovery
  • Couples & Marital Counseling
  • Premarital Counseling
  • Date Smarter
  • Self-Relationships
  • Relationship Uncertainty

Life Transitions

Survey. Strategize. Strive.

  • Stress & Anxiety Counseling
  • Depression Counseling
  • Grief & Loss
  • Gambling Addiction
  • Phase of Life Challenges

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.

Ilene Kastel, M.A., LCPC

LCPC, Reiki Master, CEO & Clinical Supervisor

• 20 years combined of academics, clinical, teaching and supervising experience
• Expertise in life and relationship challenges including sadness, anxiety, self-esteem, grief and loss, relationship difficulties, relational trauma and life development
• Utilizes a holistic and integrative approach including ACT, CBT, Attachment Theory, Family Systems, Brief Solution Focused Treatment, Mindfulness
• Reiki Master Practitioner and Teacher

Corey Wetzel, M.A., LCPC, CADC

Licensed Clinical Professional Counselor

• 11 years of academic education and clinical training
• Providing individual therapeutic services to clients since 2011 conducting both short and long term therapy.
• Conducts individual and couples counseling.
• Experience helping adults with anxiety, depression, life changes, relationship concerns, co-dependency and chemical dependency.
• Passionate about assisting clients in developing healthy relationships with themselves and increasing self-esteem.
• Provides trauma based therapy for healing from trauma, loss and grief and developing more effective coping skills.

Sandra Buecker Spears, MSW, LCSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

• 10 years combined academic, professional and clinical experience.
• Experience with mood disorders, trauma and PTSD, 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

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

• 6 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

Alexandra Backis, MSW, LCSW

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

• 11 years combined academic, professional and clinical experience.
• Experience with depression, anxiety, trauma, grief/loss, identity issues, substance recovery and relationship issues.
• Utilizes Attachment Based Theory, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Mindfulness.
• Uses Strength-Based, Emotion-Focused, and Relational techniques with individuals and couples.
• Utilizes humor, open mindedness and an empowerment framework in sessions.
• Works with clients from diverse backgrounds and with diverse presenting concerns or identities including LGBTQ.

Anthony Borchardt, LCSW, SAP

Licensed Clinical Social Worker

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
100% of Client Reviews Gave Next Step Counseling

A Perfect 5 Star Rating on Yelp

“I have been working with Corey for more than 3 years and I am so grateful that I found her. She has helped me transform the way I think about myself and others and my quality of life is infinitely better than it was a couple of years ago. I know that she hears what I'm saying, believes that my story matters, and cares about me. She has made such a positive difference in my life and I absolutely recommend her to anyone looking for a therapist.”

Emily W.via Yelp

“Alexandra is warm, attentive, and I knew I could come into sessions and express myself fully or explore my thoughts without judgement. I can't overstate how valuable that dynamic was. Alex asks challenging, thoughtful questions which force you to think deeper about your feelings and motivations. A great therapist - someone you're comfortable with, listens, and challenges you, is a tremendous asset in life and I found that with Alex.”

Payton M.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, River North, Old Town, Lincoln Park, Lakeview, Bucktown and surrounding areas.

Common Questions

Do you accept insurance?

We accept Blue Cross Blue Shield PPO, Blue Choice and United Healthcare/Optum. However, if you have another type of insurance we can still work together. We can provide you with a bill that you may send into your insurance company with partial reimbursement. 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.