Sharna Striar, Ph.D: The Professional Journey of a Sex Therapist

Sharna Striar, Ph.D

Sharna L. Striar, Ph.D., CNS is an expert in the area of human sexuality, intimacy, and relationships. Over the course of many years, Dr. Striar has studied and taught at leading institutions in her field, including the University of Michigan, Hunter College, and Seton Hall University. She is a Psychotherapist, an AASECT Certified Sex Therapist and Supervisor, and an ANCC Certified Psychiatric Nurse Specialist. Dr. Striar has lectured extensively, written and been quoted in many articles, and has been a frequent expert guest speaker on national radio and television. Her primary focus is counseling individuals and couples, many who are in their twenties and thirties, to effectively navigate the challenges of adulthood, social relationships, and a range of emotions. Many of her patients, especially those with mood disorders and concerns about intimacy, have benefited from her training in cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), sex therapy, and mindfulness. For more information on Dr. Striar, go to her webpage: www.sharnastriar.com .

Can you tell us about your background and your career history?

While my professional career began in my twenties, the discovery of what I wanted to do came to me in my teenage years.  The angst of being a teen led me to become introspective, and to connect with people around me by paying attention to their words, emotions, and body language. I also discovered that complete strangers felt comfortable with me and they would often share their life stories.  Ultimately those formative years and the discovery of my unique abilities inspired me to pursue a career in mental health.

When and how did your professional journey start?

My professional journey formally started when I completed my nursing degree and began working in New York. It was a turbulent time in our history (the late 1960s) when many of the prevailing attitudes and norms were being challenged. As a volunteer nurse working in the gynecology department at a free clinic in Manhattan, I was at the epicenter of these heady times. The primary clientele included runaway teens, young people with sexually transmitted diseases, and individuals struggling with anxiety, depression, and drug addiction.

What were the common issues among your patients at that time?

Emotional struggles and sexual concerns were common themes among our clinic patients. They often confronted us through expressions of their sexual freedom, opened up about sexual behavior, and raised concerns and questions about their sexuality. At first this made me uncomfortable. My sense was that my colleagues also felt this way.  It appeared that our academic training did not adequately prepare us on how to separate our own sexual attitudes from ways the patients behaved or what they told us. At that time, there was limited helpful information available on how to address sexual behavior and needs, how to include questions during the evaluation and the treatment process, and how disease or medications impact one’s sexuality. The educational training offered by health professions needed to catch up with these times.

This epiphany propelled me to become an educator and therapist in human sexuality so I could help equip myself and other healthcare professionals with the tools and knowledge to navigate these uncharted waters of complex psycho-sexual issues.

How and when did you first become an educator in human sexuality?

I moved to Ann Arbor in the 70s and joined the team of an in-patient psychiatric adolescent unit at the University hospital. Once again, it became apparent that the traditional treatment approach did not adequately address a teenager’s sexuality. For instance, if a teenager exhibited an inappropriate sexual behavior, rather than demean or punish the behavior, I suggested to recast it as a teachable moment where they would learn how to talk about and express their sexual feelings appropriately. I encouraged hospital professionals to address issues of sexuality more directly by providing sex education training to both the staff and patients.  Eventually, they saw the value and they acted upon the recommendation by including questions about sexuality in the treatment protocol.

Soon I joined the faculty at the University of Michigan’s School of Nursing. In that role, I developed curricula that included a sexuality component. Part of the course design would incorporate time for students to reflect on their own values and attitudes so they could talk more objectively about sexual matters and concerns with their patients. The department agreed and I was thrilled.

When did you receive your Ph.D and what was your primary focus?

While on the faculty, I pursued and received my Ph.D.  During this period I recognized an additional challenge – that medical staff did not have the institutional support or guidelines on how to effectively respond to the sexual behavior and needs of their patients.  Accordingly, my dissertation focused on defining a process of developing a policy on sexuality for facilities with special needs, which included staff training designed to bridge the gap between staff attitudes and policy position. Ultimately, my dissertation became a tool for how to develop policy that moved from a punitive approach to a humanistic one, providing both guidelines and protection for staff.

With experience in hand, I consulted a number of facilities and agencies — from jails, to schools, health care facilities, government agencies, and more. I helped them implement similar policies and educational training programs. While overall this was viewed as a positive intervention, some management and personnel expressed skepticism and awkwardness during the training. This provided an opportunity for a deeper discussion on the importance of attitudinal change.

How did you become a sex therapist and who were your influences?

I wanted to reach an even wider population – to be formally trained as a sex therapist.  I moved back to New York City in the mid-80s, another decade of societal sexual changes and challenges, and enrolled in a two-year human sexuality program at Weill Medical College, Cornell University.  The late Dr. Helen Singer-Kaplan, a pioneer in the field of sex therapy, directed the program. I subsequently joined her private practice, and for several years served as her project manager in a long-term research study in human sexuality.  My training and affiliation with Dr. Kaplan was invaluable to me for I learned to help a wide array of people with a variety of sexual concerns.  This broadened my depth of knowledge, skills, understanding and compassion.

How did your professional experience shape your role as a mentor?

While in New York in the early 90s, I also taught a course on sexuality at Hunter College to young people from all walks of life. We discussed it all, including knowledge about all aspects of sexual expression and gender. While teaching sexuality at Hunter College I also learned a lot about cultural and religious differences from my students.

About this time I became a regular on talk shows as an expert on sexuality, addressing questions and concerns to a broad TV audience. With the explosion of cable TV and such talk shows, people were sharing publicly about their sexual expression and struggles with relationships.

In your private practice, has your clientele’s concerns changed with time?

My clientele has always primarily consisted of individuals in their 20s and 30s. People often wonder what problems new generations may have since so much about our sexuality is talked about openly now. However, people still face many challenges and a profusion of questions as society evolves. They often have more questions than previous generations.

My desire as an educator, therapist, and mentor is to help my patients navigate the challenges in their lives and to guide them, addressing their emotions, intimacy, relationships, and sexuality. I harness my years of experience and interactions to provide an environment for reflection and growth always with an emphasis on talking openly.

Why do individuals in their 20s and 30s gravitate toward this type of therapy?

I find that millennials today, who are very experience-focused, welcome the opportunity to explore themselves. They come in because they have an attitude of, “Hey, I want to be the best version of myself.” Those patients are seeking to improve themselves to have the best life they can.  They like interactive dialogue that is solution-based. They need a space to reflect that is apart from the digital chatter, and peer and societal pressures.

Some of them come into my practice with major distress — like a breakup, difficulty with a parent figure, floundering in a career, looking for gender clarity, or a sexual issue of some sort. For men, it’s frequently performance anxiety. For women, it can be desire or orgasm concerns. It also can be struggling with their life trajectory during these uncertain times.

No matter the type of patient, the most critical aspect is that the person walking through the door has come because they believe they need help with something. They need assistance to clarify and navigate their life challenges so they can overcome obstacles to achieving their emotional and relationship goals.

How does the digital age affect your therapy and your therapy population?

All of us are inundated with digital information. The yesterday of a lack of sexual material available to people is long gone.  The impact of pornography, gender fluidity, kink, and so much more is confronting everyone – resulting in permission to explore more choices of sexual expression. The bar of sexual performance seems higher than ever, producing unrealistic expectations and performance anxiety. And more choices amid desires and sexual expression can also lead to curiosity and discovery, as well as confusion, distress, sexual avoidance or apathy.

We as professionals face the need to clarify the impact and accuracy of digital content, make sense of it, and help our clientele find one’s place in the midst of a barrage of erotica in social media. Whether you are casually dating or in a committed relationship, there are so many unique problems now because of  issues brought on by the digital era. How people define commitment, for instance, is very individual and personal, and it has changed dramatically with the advent of social media, digital photos and videos, and texting.

Surveys indicate that passionate, intimate partner sex is being diminished amongst younger generations growing up in an all-digital world where porn provides an easy, constant flow of erotic stimulation.  In addition, the digital natives appear to use their devices, apps, and social media as an insulator and therefore often lack the interpersonal skills to relate directly and with empathy. In my practice, we talk about these issues and the importance of how they came about, which can sometimes be traced to a digital experience or information. Since anxiety and stress are so much a part of present times, mindfulness meditation become necessary ingredients to a person’s well-being.  I frequently suggest apps like “Headspace” and “Calm”.

What kinds of skills are necessary to be able to do this work?

Psychotherapists need to have a good sense of who they are and how to establish good rapport. When a patient comes to you for counseling, you need to make him or her feel comfortable. If you’re a surgeon, establishing rapport doesn’t matter as much, but if you’re a therapist it’s everything. Without such rapport, people won’t open up to their counselor.

I think you also have to like people. You have to be curious. You have to work on yourself and be comfortable with yourself and with the subject of intimacy and sexuality. You need to be constantly learning, updating your knowledge base, and be open to self-reflection.  Today, more than ever, there is a great divergence in people’s life choices. You need to have good abstract reasoning abilities and you have to be flexible. Core psychotherapy training and credentials are essential. You need to give your patients the best platform to reflect and grow.

What do you see as your challenges and goals for the next five years?

In many ways, we are in another era of sexual upheaval. The binary view of gender has been challenged and gender is being viewed with a more fluid appreciation.  This is exciting for it recognizes and gives legitimacy and a voice to many individuals who were in the shadows.

But like all radical changes, it also creates a landscape of confusion.  Relationships and commitment in the digital age are also being radically impacted, causing new attitudes, a critical shift in sexual expression, and a much more focus on the present than future planning. As the present changes come forth, there is also a growing backlash that may turn one’s view of sexuality back in time.  Some freedoms that presently exist are coming into jeopardy.

If we do not open our minds to the changing landscape confronting young generations, we will miss the opportunity to offer them a safe space to explore their thoughts and feelings, and to give them the support and guidance that they need. It’s like the 70s, and we as the mentors and helpers need to catch up once again. My hope is to continue to help guide people to a good place in their lives, no matter the chaos or questions in our real and digital worlds.


Ryan Demirjian Tells Us How He Turned His Family Recipe into a Business

Ryan Demirjian, the founder of a company that carries decades of family tradition in a bottle, tells us about what it’s like to run the hot sauce brand Kill Sauce. At twenty years old Ryan’s father, Avo Demirjian immigrated from Lebanon bringing with him his family recipe. He pursued a career as an aerospace engineer at Jet Propulsion Laboratory for many years. In 2014 Ryan decided that it was time to share the family recipe with the world. Since then, Kill Sauce has grown to be sold at individual retailers, as well as stocked in chain stores. Here is what he had to say about the success of Kill Sauce so far.

Habanero by Kill Sauce

GH: What is your brand extension strategy?

RD: Kill Sauce is definitely a bit disruptive, especially in the food scene.  But the way I see it, that’s not a bad thing. I think we can do a lot with Kill Sauce.  There are many avenues we’d like to pursue ranging from spices to oils, snacks, and possibly even beverages.  Interestingly enough, we’re currently in the process of launching our hot wings pop cup at Smorgasburg LA, which is one of our main markets on Sundays in downtown.  As you may have guessed, we’ll be pairing all our sauces with wings to create the ultimate tasting experience. In terms of dream goals, it sounds ridiculous but I really think we could use a Formula One team.  It just fits with the brand!

GH: Who is on your management team and what does each bring to the table?

RD:  The management team is basically just me, but I do have a lot of good help around me.  My dad is a huge help, so he and I work on a lot of stuff together. I also have freelance help with web design, and Instagram marketing starting soon.

GH: Where did the recipe for Kill Sauce come from?

RD: We’ve always been big consumers of fresh peppers and hot sauces.  But in 2013, my dad started to make some fresh sauce at home, which would become our first sauce – Habanero.  The idea was to considerably reduce the sodium content often found in hot sauces, eliminate the unwanted preservatives, and capture pure flavor out of each pepper without overwhelming everything with heat.  After testing it with friends and family with no business model in mind, it became a hot commodity. We couldn’t make enough to give away. At that point, I decided it’s time to officially label these small bottles of lightning.  

GH: With Kill Sauce being family grown, what have you learned about entrepreneurship from your father and what do you hope he’s learned from you?

RD: We’re very different. My father was born in Aleppo, Syria, but grew up in Beirut, Lebanon. I was born in Los Angeles so we come from starkly different backgrounds. He’s an Aerospace engineer by training and naturally sees all problems from a scientific vantage point. He naturally excels at troubleshooting and eliminating possible errors through testing, which makes him instrumental in recipe development.  Recipe development in the food business is much different than it would be in a home kitchen. The challenges are often insurmountable as a product is converted from a small pot home recipe into a commercial grade formula. Safety, consistency, supply, cost, margins of error, seasonality, heat levels (in this case), flavor – every factor is magnified and presents a different challenge.

As an LA native, I’m much more in tune with the branding, marketing, and execution of successful brands these days.  The artistic direction of Kill Sauce has been of critical importance for me. Although I’ve worked in the corporate world for nearly 10 years, I’m much more in tune with the creative elements in business.  

I am always concerned with disconnecting and viewing our products from a 3rd party perspective – the consumer.  We live in an oversaturated, digitally deafening age. Every day there is less time to captivate an individual with your marketing message.  Competition is infinite. This is the area I tend to focus on mostly while crafting the Kill Sauce narrative.

I think both my father and I have brought very different expertise to the table which has allowed us to learn from one another.

GH: Can you tell me more about the meaning behind the Kill Sauce slogan “use liberally. Live longer”?

RD: Hot sauce has often been a typecast actor on the stage of food products. Many consumers expect it to rely on gimmicky antics to stand out, and the integrity of ingredients is often compromised to achieve this end. This is contrary to our approach to recipe development. We believe that hot sauces should not be hot for the sake of being hot, nor should they include excessive salt, sugar, or chili extracts for flavor. Instead, they should be crafted with a focus on fresh peppers and natural ingredients without preservatives.  Each Kill Sauce variety is thoughtfully designed to both showcase and balance the unique flavor and heat of each pepper. On that note, we believe Kill Sauce should be used liberally to maximize flavor while engaging in a healthy experience.

GH: What’s made Kill Sauce successful?

RD: Success is a relative term.  In my opinion, there are significantly larger companies with 100x the cash flow that may be deemed unsuccessful.  The key is not focusing on financial success, which is where many entrepreneurs or companies lose sight of their mission and derail.  While the numbers are important to keep you alive, it’s all about making sure you’re passionate, inspired, and that your product reflects the same. The minute your passion doesn’t shine through, it’s time to close up shop.

GH: If you could do it all over again, would you do it the same way? If not, what would you do differently?

RD: My answer to this question will probably be different in 5 years. We’re still small.  Right now I don’t think I would change anything. Also, these days there is no one way to get to where you’re trying to go. You just have to keep knocking until your knuckles bleed.  We’re just going to keep going and learning from our mistakes. Thankfully none of them have been detrimental thus far.

GH: What are your goals for the brand this year?

RD: This year we’d like to secure a few anchor customers (10+ stores) as well as regional distribution. Up to now most of our customers have been independent single-store retailers.  However, this past year we were picked up by World Market, which took us nationwide into 220 locations. We’ve barely scratched the surface, and the real fun and work is about to begin.

Learn more about Kill Sauce here.

Interview with Stephen Chin: Skills Needed for Financial Consulting

The Senior Business Directory was able to sit with financial consultant Stephen Chin. He briefed us on his financial consulting firm, Financial Structures and Advisory, Inc, what he does as a financial consultant, and what skills are required for those interested in this line of work.

Stephen Chin, Financial Structures and Advisory, Inc.

Tell us a little about your company Financial Structures and Advisory, Inc. What is your background in financial consulting?

I started my financial consulting firm in 2003. With a background in commercial banking and capital markets, my firm provides financial consulting services to private companies in the middle market to the lower middle market space. FSA is focused on supporting private companies that are owned by families, individuals, and partners, and these firms are geographically located in the northeast. The companies can range up to about 60 million to below 5 million dollars, including some which are early stage.

Clients usually retain my services because something significant is happening with their company – perhaps someone is trying to buy into their business, or buy them out. Or perhaps the company is looking to grow, but not sure how to fund it in terms of accessing debt or equity. Or they are looking to sell themselves while retaining a minority position to benefit from a second bite at the apple a later dat

How do you consult your clients on these significant events?

More often than not, business owners tend to take great pride in the business they run and may think their business is more valuable than what a buyer, or the market, would consider fair.

My job is to take the owner through an evaluation process and pair it with their personal ambitions and objectives. If they can think they can sell for 10 times EBITDA, but the reality is only 7 times, what does that actually translate to? Do they delay a sale to give them time to improve their operations and supporting infrastructure? Can they improve their internal accounting and financial reporting? Do they have appropriate legal support? Do they have something basic such as an employee handbook or an operating manual?

If they have all of those, then maybe they can hit ten times multiple EBITDA sale price. If ten times EBITDA gets you X amount of dollars in the bank, there are many other factors to be considered. Let’s say the owners receive Y dollars offer for the sale of 100% of the business and the buyer has no interest in keeping them on during the transition (which is unlikely – usually buyers want owners to stay on board 6 to 18 months during the transition.) What are the tax consequences based on, where are you located? What is the dollar amount in the bank you need in order to lead the lifestyle you want? These are all major components of the decision making process.

Many business owners have never gone through an exercise with their accountants to see what a sale translates to. Often, after tax, the amount they sell the company for will translate to significantly less money in the bank. Many times the amount does not match their financial expectations for selling the company. So that’s very important to consider.

Business owners have to look at how they are financially situated in order to determine whether or not they are in a position to acquire debt to grow.

What skills are necessary to be a financial consultant?

You have to have ambition and be dedicated. The typical 9-5 schedule does not work from our perspective, simply because that’s not the nature of the business. It’s not a production type of environment; it is more of an intellectual exercise and your job is to help your client achieve his/her objective in their timeline, not yours.

Commitment and accountability are both important. If your commitment cannot be met by a certain date or time, then that information needs to be shared and explained. You pick up the phone or send an email. In a professional way, you advise your counterparty that there is going to be a delay, whether it will be a day or an hour. That kind of diligence is absolutely required.

When you’re dealing with money, when you’re dealing with dollars and cents, it goes beyond what’s on the ledger or the financial report. Everything that we touch has to be treated confidentially and has to be treated with care – as if it is your own money. Financial consultants need to be diligent, timely, and professional. At an emotional level, they have to take possession over whatever it is that they’re doing.

As far as skill set is concerned, it is best to have someone who has some basic understanding of accounting and finance.

We are not an accounting shop; we are a finance shop. We are an advisory shop. Accounting is not a requirement, but knowledge of accounting, experience with numbers and looking at what the numbers mean – that is essential. How did these numbers show up on a financial report? What underlies these numbers? What does accrual accounting mean as it relates to a financial report?

The ability to communicate clearly is also very important. It’s important to be able to take your ego out of these conversations. There’s a certain humility that is required. Arrogance has its role, especially if you’re at the negotiating table, but humility is important because I’ve never met anyone who is right 100% of the time.

Job Hunting Tips: Resumes That Land in the A Pile

It can be a tight job market and recruiters are inundated with resumes. In fact, many recruiters only spend 6 seconds giving your resume a first look. Many people send in their resumes and don’t hear back.

How do you craft, write, and design your resume so that it will not get lost in the “black hole” of resumes?

How do you write your resume for the job you want, not just the work you’ve done in the past?

In this video, Shira Harrington goes through the process that recruiters actually go through to find the best resumes.

Shira Harrington will teach you:

-how to write your resume to speak to where you are going, not just where you’ve been.

-how to brand yourself

-how to customize your resume

-how to find your “tribe”

-how to identify your career goals

Share your insights and comments with us, and make sure to follow the Senior Business Directory on Youtube!

Senior Business Directory Selfie Contest

Are you an entrepreneur looking for community? Are you looking to connect with mentors and potential clients? The Senior Business Directory exists to provide a curated library of resources as well as an intergenerational ecosystem to support Senior-owned businesses and Baby Boomer entrepreneurs.

Submit your selfie video to seniorbusinessdirectory@gmail.com

To be a part of our selfie contest, record a 15-30 second video of yourself talking about:

Your name, company name, and what your business does

What inspires you to be an entrepreneur?

Why do you want to be a part of the Senior Business Directory?

Where Can I Submit My Video?

Submit your video to dan@flobel.org or seniorbusinessdirectory@gmail.com to enter the contest!

The Importance of Branding in Sales Promotion for Growth

Branding is fundamental to your success as a company. Before you can ever sell a product, you have to be able to tell your customer what the product is. And to stand out in today’s digital marketplace, you need a strong brand identity to rise above competitors.

Building brand identity takes thoughtful planning and brainstorming. It can be difficult to set aside the resources and time for brand building if you are a solopreneur or run a small business. However, the time and effort you dedicate to branding will determine your success once you actually start marketing your business.

A simple way to look at branding is to ask yourself – what is the identity of my business? What colors, images, and mood will your customers associate with your company? Is the tone professional or cheeky? What words will pop into the minds of your customers? Will it be your company name, a catchy slogan?

Pia Silva, brand strategist and writer for Forbes, writes in her latest Forbes article “When You Need Branding And When You Need Marketing:”

Try to market a business with no clear voice, focus, message, or reason you’re better than everyone else, and you’ll spend a bunch of time and money to get zero results and then think that this whole “marketing thing” doesn’t work.

To start investing time and effort into your brand, stay up-to-date on what industry experts are saying about branding. The Florence Belsky Foundation, parent company to the Senior Business Directory, hosted a panel with marketing experts from a variety of industries to share their insights on branding. In this panel, you’ll hear from a wide range of experts such as Jay Baney of Capturepoint to Bruce Ditman, the Chief Marketing Officer at Marcum LLP.

Watch the video HERE on Youtube.

Let us know your questions and thoughts in the comments below. We look forward to hearing from you!

Make sure to check out the Senior Business Directory on social media! We are on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, and Youtube. Hope to connect with you soon!

3 Ways to Find a Home Remodeler for Aging in Place

Why working with a Certified Aging-in-Place Specialist may be helpful. A decade and a half ago, when our kids were young, we added rooms to our home to create more space for family and friends. In our 40s at the time, and with retirement not yet in sight, my wife (an elder care specialist), suggested we incorporate elements into our design that would make our home suitable for chasing future grandchildren from room to room. Our plan ultimately incorporated one-floor living, wider doorways and lever-style door handles.In short, we made our home ready to age in place.

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How I became an entrepreneur at 66

It’s never too late to reinvent yourself. Take it from Paul Tasner — after working continuously for other people for 40 years, he founded his own start-up at age 66, pairing his idea for a business with his experience and passion. And he’s not alone. As he shares in this short, funny and inspirational talk, seniors are increasingly indulging their entrepreneurial instincts — and seeing great success.