By Molly Snyder Senior Writer Published May 22, 2023 at 11:01 AM

OnMilwaukee's The Future Is Female series is brought to you by Alverno College and features some of the most interesting, innovative and intelligent women in the city.

Alverno College, for over 135 years, has strived to educate and empower women to realize their leadership, strength of voice and potential to lead in the working world. Alverno’s support of “The Future is Female” continues to showcase and exemplify these efforts by supporting the stories of grit, resilience and strength of character of present, past and future leading women in the Milwaukee community! #AlvernoStrong

Kristin Belkofer is the Founder and Clinical Director of CLARA Healing Institute.  "From the perspective of clients, I am a licensed professional counselor and psychotherapist," she says.

Belkofer holds two degrees from Alverno College. She received a Bachelors in Art Therapy in 2008 and a Masters in Community Psychology in 2014.

"The Alverno education opened so many doors for me, as it gave me the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the communities I hoped to serve through many field experiences, practicums, and internships," says Belkofer. "I deeply appreciated my professors and instructors. I admired them greatly and smaller class sizes and meaningful discussions allowed me to develop relationships with them that continue today."

When she's not working, Belkofer enjoys travel, coffee, fashion, live music, reading, naps and making and being around art.

"I also love spending time with my family, especially talking with my college-aged son and seeing him grow as a person," she says.

OnMilwaukee recently had the opportunity to chat with Belkofer and ask her eight questions based on the "8 Abilities" that all students achieve with an Alverno degree: Communication, Analysis, Problem Solving, Valuing in Decision-Making, Social Interaction, Developing a Global Perspective, Aesthetic Engagement and Effective Citizenship.

1. What does active listening mean to you? Do you consider yourself a good listener, and if so, how has this helped you in your personal and professional relationships?

Essentially, this is at the core of my professional work. I have to practice and hone this every day to be effective at my job. I consider this a privilege to be able to truly listen to the stories of others from their most authentic perspective, without judgement, which requires active, empathic listening. One of my favorite things about being a therapist is that it allows me to be genuinely curious about people and practice taking their perspectives.

2. What was the last subject you were curious about and then pursued to learn more? 

Oh gosh. This is both a passion and a curse because I love to learn, have a lot of curiosity, and am constantly pursuing new information – perhaps at times to my detriment. Following through ideas, books, courses, or open tabs is the hard part. 

Let’s see…

I took a free e-course on comparison of the concept of loyalty across Islam and Christianity from Emory, which was mostly readings and then discussion boards with both religious and laypeople around the world, which made for some interesting discussions. Continuing education is a huge part of my work as a licensed mental health professional, and I’m currently working on a core training in TCT, a type of somatic/body-based couples therapy, which is a cohort model.

On a personal level, I have an interest in better understanding economics because I feel pretty in the dark there, so I’ve just been accessing online resources like the Economist or other publications that translate this info to a general audience through resources like glossaries, videos and infographics. I tend to find that even complex topics can be broken down to ways where most people can understand them through example, application that are meaningful to them and I appreciate that. 

3. If you can’t figure something out yourself, what source or person do you turn to first? How long do you wait before you ask for help? As a woman, do you think you wait longer to reach out?

That’s such an interesting question. When I was a bit younger, I do think that I was more insecure about “what I didn’t know,” which led me to wait and try desperately and clumsily to “figure it out” on my own. This leads to so much imposter syndrome and unnecessary suffering. Now, I care much less, and feel much more comfortable acknowledging what I do not know, and pushing myself to ask others for help. For example, I have a 1:1 mentor through TEMPO Milwaukee who has an entire career of HR experience to draw upon. When I started my business, I used to think “I should get an MBA so I know what I’m doing.” Now, in an authentic and vulnerable conversation with my mentor, I can share what I don’t know and need help with, and she can distill down the business and personnel concepts that can directly apply and help me solve a problem. I’ve come to see "not knowing” or being a novice as a gift at times and it can be very valuable to come into a situation with fresh eyes. 

4. What are your personal values? Who and/or what inspired them and how do these values affect your decision-making process? 

I value authenticity, empathy, clarity, empowerment, trust, integrity, lifelong learning and humor – among many other things. The name of my practice, CLARA Healing Institute, actually has values embedded directly in the name: C for community, L for leadership, A for agency, R for (self or co-) regulation, and A for attunement. These are guiding principles in how I practice, and they directly inform my decisions about the therapists we bring on board, our programming, and future goals. These values were inspired by so many things: leaders I have worked with, teachers, friends, and my experience as an artist, punk music, to name a few. 

5. Technology and online communication/meetings/social has definitely changed over the years. Do these things help or hinder your growth – or both?

This is such a complicated “two sides of the same coin” situation in mental health. On one hand, virtual therapy has provided us the ability to meet the demands of the community and reach more people than ever, making mental health care more accessible. On the other, I spend much of my days trying to help people heal and recover from toxic, constant social media consumption that is overstimulating, anxiety provoking and fosters self hatred, comparison and hopelessness. On a professional level, engaging with the community through social media groups has been very good for establishing my private practice and developing the business. 

6. Where is the farthest you’ve traveled and what is a thing or two you learned from the experience? And what surprised you?

I believe that the farthest I have traveled is Dubrovnik, Croatia. I attended and presented at a Psychiatry Symposium there. This was a connection fostered by my husband, who developed a partnership with several Croatian mental health professionals who were interested in bringing art therapy education to their university system. Alverno actually granted me a travelship award that covered some of my travel costs to attend.

It was a very eye-opening experience. I presented some of my research on food insecurity and it’s impact on mental health, especially in Milwaukee using neighborhood and GIS data to assess food access. Many of the Croatian audience members shared that they were shocked to hear about the poverty and segregation that plagues Milwaukee. They shared that their perception of the US was that we are flush with wealth and resources, based on media and dominant narrative. I was also surprised to observe that tensions and traces of nationalism between Croatian and Serbian citizens were still right under the surface, even erupting in day to day conversations between peers. 

7. What are your favorite art forms? How do you challenge yourself to actively engage in the arts?

I love the expression, depth and impact of portrait painting, from more traditional approaches to contemporary painting. I make art with my clients at times, more for the joy, benefits and process of just making it, as opposed to how it looks or turns out. I try my best to support my friends and peers in their artistic endeavors in the community, because I believe it is our responsibility to support the things we love so they can continue to exist. I’d like to be more intentional about attending Milwaukee Ballet or other dance performances. 

8. How do you/your work move Milwaukee forward?  

My practice and business has three branches of services that aim to move Milwaukee forward towards a healthier and more connected place. First, we aim to provide excellent clinical care and holistic services that can directly help children, adults, couples and families. Every facet of the business revolves around a person-centered model. We do not see people as their diagnosis or as their challenges or trauma. We draw upon strengths and draw upon our value of community to destigmatize the process of going to therapy. This is why we have a common library space and work to create comfort and safety for our clients in the space.

Next, we offer programming from our Wisdom Collective, where a team of health, wellness, art therapy, and spiritual leaders share their skills across disciplines to create more well-rounded community members and well-trained clinicians.

Lastly, we offer low or no cost services through our Community Circle programming. We aim to make mental health care as normalized as going to see your primary doctor at any point throughout your lifespan, as mind and body are so undeniably linked. 

For more information about CLARA Healing Institute, go here.

Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.

Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.