By Elizabeth Roberts
Alyssa Petersel needed to speak with a therapist. She reached out to 30 therapists at a time, googling randomly or combing through Psychology Today. It took awhile to hear back and most of the time, that message was to say they couldn’t take on new clients. It was extremely discouraging, especially when seeking help can make one feel vulnerable. But this problem also sparked an idea.
What if she built a network of therapists, learning their specialties and availability? What if she learned more about what people need support with and found out their preferences in healthcare providers?
Enter My Wellbeing.
My Wellbeing is a company that focuses on matching so you meet with not just any therapist, but the right therapist for you. Therapists they work with offer a free 15-minute phone consultation so you can gauge your fit, risk-free. This process cuts down on fruitless searching and time wasted. Six Degrees Society and My Wellbeing are partnering for an event on April 23, “Banish Burnout and Become ‘Stress Smart’ with Dr. Kristina Hallett.” We hope you can join us! But first, learn more about My Wellbeing’s origin story.
SDS: You started My Wellbeing in 2017 because you were frustrated by your own therapist search. How long did it take you to find a therapist? What parts of the system did you find broken?
ALYSSA PETERSEL: Originally, it took me 6 months and 5 false starts to begin working with a therapist. I then worked with one therapist for 8 months and another therapist for almost 2 years before beginning with the therapist I am currently working with – who I believe to be a much stronger fit for me and my goals.
The parts of the system that were hardest for me were sifting through thousands of profile pages, rarely receiving calls back from my inquiries, rushing into paid first sessions in order to explore the fit, and not fully understanding my options. If a therapist did call or email me back during my search, I would have to jump right into seeing them in person for our first paid session, which became burdensome financially very quickly. It was also challenging to really trust my gut in whether I felt safe in the room with the other person or not.
We live in a world where there are so. many. options. Particularly if you are feeling anxious or depressed. But even if you are not, decision fatigue is real. We aren’t educated in school about emotional health and what we want and need in a provider, so how are we supposed to understand the acronyms in the field or the various different options? This is really the crux of why I started My Wellbeing. We prioritize taking the stigma and jargon out of the search process and send seekers three options at a time to reduce the feeling of choice overwhelm and the “swiping fatigue” we’re otherwise plagued with on dating apps.
SDS: You’ve connected over 4,000 clients with therapist matches. How do you set up a good match?
AP: We match by a number of different factors. One is logistics because if your therapist is not available at the same time as you or in a neighborhood that is accessible for you, the likelihood that you will be able to consistently participate significantly decreases. We also look at technique and style to prioritize that your therapist match will practice in a way that resonates with you, and we remove all jargon from our questions so that you are choosing preferences in a language that you can understand. We are mindful of specialty areas to ensure as much as possible that your therapist is trained and experienced in the obstacles you’re hoping to work through. And finally, we look at personal and identity factors to maximize your feelings of safety and understanding in your new healing relationship.
SDS: Meeting a therapist for the first time can have a lot of similarities to a first date: you’re not sure what to expect! How does My Wellbeing ease this process? If you don’t feel like you connect with a therapist in the first session, do you recommend trying again or finding a new individual to speak with?
AP: I completely agree, we think about the analogy of dating all of the time. One way we ease this process is by providing content that all of our seekers can use as a guide. Some of the content addresses things like how to make the most of your phone consultation, which offers concrete tips and perspectives to go into the phone consultation feeling more prepared. Other content breaks down things like out of network benefits, and how to receive reimbursement from your insurance provider even if your therapist is “out of network.”
Another way we ease this process is by providing interpersonal support. Our team is available to our seekers to help answer any questions or concerns in their search process. Even if the person does not specifically reach out to us to ask a question, we have received feedback that knowing we’re a resource in their back pocket has been incredibly stress relieving.
If you don’t feel like you connect with your therapist in the first session, I recommend two things. If you are up for it, bring it up with your therapist. Try to explore together whether there is a fit. Sometimes, fit grows with time, and practicing patience is important. It’s also important to remember that anything new in the beginning can feel uncomfortable, so there is a difference between the discomfort of starting something new and lack of fit. The other recommendation is to absolutely try again. You can also, for example, set up a few phone calls in the beginning to have a point of comparison. You can let the therapists know that you are talking to a few people because you’d really like to prioritize finding a good fit before you get started. You can then talk freely with a few people and get a gut sense of who resonates most with you. That practice will help you feel more confident in your commitment.
Once you do choose a new therapist, I do recommend sticking with them for at least a few months. There will be some sessions that are mind-blowingly clarifying for you, and there will be other sessions that feel a little more uncomfortable or a little more flat. Therapy is definitely a wave-like process and a cumulative one. Each session is building toward the next and practicing curiosity and patience for what’s to come is key.
SDS: In addition to offering individual, couples and family therapy, My Wellbeing also offers support groups. What topics do these groups meet about? In what ways can discussing issues in a group be better than discussing 1:1 with a therapist?
AP: Groups can be an incredibly impactful opportunity to experience growth. The exact topics of the support groups vary depending on which groups are active when someone is looking; however, therapists we work with have hosted groups on topics like: grief and loss, anxiety, mindfulness and meditation, postpartum depression, social anxiety, eating disorders, and more. I personally participate in a group with other founders and CEOs to discuss specifically our mental health and emotional health along the journey of starting and growing a company.
Among the many benefits of group therapy, two that I experience personally are the opportunity to be affirmed in your experience via bearing witness to another’s experience. In a support group, you are privy to the opportunity to witness another’s deep internal experience, and you may see a lot of yourself in their experience. This may shed light on something that otherwise felt very lonely and misunderstood within you, and all of a sudden, you’re going through it with another person. You feel seen and understood in an entirely new way that is difficult to achieve on your own. Someone else may experience the same occurrence very differently than you. This awards you an opportunity to gain empathy and compassion for others, practice curiosity, and realize the breadth of human experience and how one particular thing may show up differently for different people.
Another benefit is that group therapy can be significantly less expensive. I encourage trying group therapy even if fee is not a barrier for you. If fee is a barrier, group is definitely a powerful way to access therapy at a lower price point.
SDS: While celebrities acknowledging mental health issues has encouraged others to speak up, there’s still stigma around it. How do you answer those who ask, “Why is therapy important?”
AP: From my perspective, therapy is absolutely essential if you want to become the best version of yourself. There is definitely still stigma, but stigma is reducing because we are realizing that therapy is so much more than an emergency response to a crisis. To the contrary, the best time to pursue therapy is when things feel relatively good so that you can begin to build a trusting relationship with your therapist, unpack some of the patterns in your life, gain insight, and have that built-in support system in the chance that things do take a downturn (life happens to all of us, no matter our circumstances).
Why therapy is important for me is because without it, we very rarely set aside time just for ourselves and our growth. Particularly in large urban areas (hi, NYC), but also in the U.S. at large, we are so driven by our career and all that’s expected of us, that we begin to feel and behave as though we are on a hamster wheel. Sometimes, the habits and patterns that would benefit us to note and change are staring us in the face, but we do not allow the time to notice them, so we repeat what we know and find familiar, often to our own detriment.
Therapy is an opportunity to gain a partner in learning more about your conditioning, your internal world, your hopes and dreams, and your deepest grievances. It’s amazing to think we’d be living a life without knowing those things. With the gradual realization of those things, infinite doors open for us. We learn more about what we want in our personal lives, in our professional lives, in the world, and we begin to have the confidence and internal structures in place to repair our wounds and take the next big steps forward.
This inevitably positively impacts us and our lives. It also impacts those around us: those we work and interact with directly and those who will reap the ripple benefits of our work and presence. I believe we need therapy to feel safer, more understood, and more fulfilled, and provide that same experience for others.
SDS: You started your career as a social worker and now run your own business! What has most surprised you about being an entrepreneur?
AP: Where to begin. Recently, I have been surprised by how susceptible I am to external affirmation and criticism. I have always to some extent known this, but I preferred to believe that I was “stronger than that” and operated by my own internal compass, independent of external validation. I do believe that as an entrepreneur, you absolutely need an incredibly strong internal value base and belief in your vision from which to operate, but I would be naive to say that we are not influenced by external validation. I’ve been practicing noting the sways in my mood according to feedback we’re receiving without necessarily changing course accordingly, which has been extremely helpful.
Another surprise is quite how much I enjoy building and working with the internal team at My Wellbeing. I started My Wellbeing to solve a problem: people have a hard time connecting with a compatible therapist and I want to help. So of course, working with seekers and therapists is deeply fulfilling. The pleasant surprise is that as our team grows, working closely with our team on the business side has also been rewarding in a way not only did I not expect, it wasn’t even on my radar. I am grateful to have partners with me — in my therapist and in my team — along for the ride.