May 15, 2019
May 15, 2019


How Sharon Otis has helped children and families for over 50 years.

WORDS & PICTURES: Jessica Schubick

Dr. Sharon Otis has devoted her life to working with children and families, with a career that spans over 50 years. More than 35 of those years were spent serving the local community in Manatee County. As she approaches a well-deserved retirement, Dr. Otis has much to reflect upon – as well as much to look forward to in the future!

Dr. Otis began her career as a 3rd grade teacher in Erie, Pennsylvania. She quickly discovered that she wanted to develop a deeper understanding of children, which led her to pursue a master’s degree in School Counseling. After earning that degree, Dr. Otis went on to earn three additional master’s degrees, as well as a doctorate in Human Services, and a Ph.D. in Clinical Christian Counseling.

After relocating to Manatee County in 1980, Dr. Otis began working as a school counselor at Bayshore Elementary. She went on to work as a counselor at Samoset and Bashaw Elementary schools and was the first school counselor at Myakka City Elementary.

Dr. Otis opened a private practice focused on family counseling in 1984. She left the Manatee County school system in 1990 and continued to focus on her practice, while additionally working at area hospitals throughout the 1990s. She later taught Child Development at Argosy University.

“I found while working with kids, that I really needed to work with their parents – so at that point, I broadened the practice to include relationship counseling,” Dr. Otis explains. Her office, now open for more than 35 years, went on to offer individual counseling for children, teens, and adults; marriage and family therapy; and group therapy for men, women, teens, and children.

Dr. Otis’s areas of expertise include behavioral management, depression, ADHD, co-dependency, trauma, stress reduction and temperament analysis. Dr. Otis is a Licensed Mental Health Counselor, a Licensed Clinical Pastoral Counselor, and a Clinical Pastoral and Mental Health Supervisor. She is board certified in managed care and is an expert in traumatic stress, having worked as a first responder for mental health for corporate tragedies and crises in the workplace.

Child development, mental health, and education have become something of a family business for Dr. Otis. Her son, Tracy Formosa has been an educator in Manatee County for more than 25 years and is currently a Physical Education teacher at Moody Elementary. His wife, Kim Formosa, is the Speech & Language Program Specialist for Manatee County schools. And Dr. Otis’s daughter, Lindsey Phillips, is a Mental Health Director for children with disabilities in Orlando.

When discussing what she has learned in her decades of experience, Dr. Otis quickly responds: “I think the most important thing is that the self-esteem of the child has a lot to do with the parents.” As noted, Dr. Otis expanded her practice to include adults and relationship therapy because she believes that healthy children begin with healthy parents.

“I even like to work with people before they have children. I advise them to get a dog! They’ll learn that consistency is one of the most important things. Just as their dog needs to be fed on a schedule and maintain a regular sleep pattern, so will their children. And pets teach them that yelling doesn’t change behaviors,” she continues. “Reward good behaviors and reinforce the behaviors you want – don’t just discipline behaviors you don’t want.”

Dr. Otis has worked with her own pets as therapy dogs. Sady, her current sheepdog and third therapy dog, works with parents to help demonstrate positive reinforcement techniques and to help children open up and feel more comfortable during therapy.

Over the course of her career, Dr. Otis has written 17 books on topics ranging from parenting and counseling difficult children to her latest book about relationships, “Just Your Type: How to Thrive in Relationships Using Personality Types and More.” All her books can be found on Amazon and Kindle. 

Needless to say, Dr. Otis isn’t slowing down anytime soon. She plans to write another book after her retirement – focusing specifically on parenting. She will also continue her consulting work with parents out of her home. And of course, she will spend time with her six grandchildren, including four in Manatee County and two in Orlando.

Currently the Chairman of the Board for Youth For Christ, Dr. Otis has worked with the Boards of eight community organizations over the course of her career. She looks forward to continuing to work with Youth For Christ, though no longer in the leadership role. She also plans to continue her work on the Early Learning Coalition of Manatee County Board of Directors, while rolling off of the Boards of several other organizations she is currently involved with.

In addition to all the work she still plans to do, her retirement will also include some fun. In her leisure time, Dr. Otis enjoys “boating, beaching, and reading.” She is a member of four book clubs. She and her husband, Dennis Jagdmann, have traveled to more than 60 countries in their 32 years together. Each year, they choose a different U.S. city and a different foreign country to visit. In the next year, they plan to visit Lexington, Kentucky and Iceland.

Summarizing her plans for retirement, Dr. Otis says: “I’ll be doing things that I love; I’ll still be working for my causes. I love working for my community… and working for kids and animals. So that won’t change.”

Dr. Otis’s Top Parenting Tips…

  • Have an adult-centered household, not a child-centered one. YOU are the authority.
  • Do not do for a child what they can do for themselves. Help them to set their own alarm for school and learn to self-regulate. Teach them early to make a meal – or at least get their own cereal.
  • Do not yell. (I know I might as well say “Do not breathe,” but yelling does not change behavior.)
  • Love their other parent, even if you do not live together. A child who hears bad things about their parent will not say “there is something wrong with them,” they will say “there is something wrong with me.”
  • Children need structure. Their body does not know the difference between a weekday and the weekend. Do not allow bedtime to suffer more than an hour or so on weekends.

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