This female founder is connecting therapy-seekers with compatible therapists, revolutionizing the mental health industry
Alyssa Petersel, LMSW, is the founder and CEO of My Wellbeing, where she and her team take the guesswork out of connecting with a psychotherapist in New York City. She also hosts self-care and stress-management events at various corporate partnership offices. Also a writer and therapist, Alyssa released her award-winning debut narrative nonfiction anthology, Somehow I Am Different, in March 2016.
How did you decide to start your own company?
I have always admired and wanted to learn more about the human experience. As a writer and social worker, I connect regularly with individuals and groups seeking to make meaning of their experience. I first flirted with entrepreneurship in June 2014 when I fundraised $12,000 through Kickstarter to conduct research in Hungary toward what would become my first book, Somehow I Am Different. I enjoyed the rigor, creativity, independence, and rule breaking. From then on, I have worn many hats and enjoy challenging myself to grow (and fall, and get back up again) in new and unexpected ways.
In my first year of training toward my Master’s in Social Work (MSW) at NYU, I sought my own personal therapy. I wrestled with chronic anxiety for some time. As an aspiring therapist, I wanted to both address my own wellness and better understand the client experience. I had a very difficult time finding a therapist I connected with.
In my second year of training toward my MSW, I worked at an outpatient mental health clinic and learned that I was not alone in my experience. I spoke frequently with clients coming into our treatment center and learned their search for a therapist was quite overwhelming and frustrating, too. Upon speaking with colleagues and other therapists, I learned they, too, struggled to connect with clients.
For two interested parties who would grow immensely from connecting with each other to face so much frustration in the process of meeting did not make sense. This was the birth of My Wellbeing.
Wow, that’s quite a journey. What do you know now that you wish you had known when you started?
At the beginning of your company’s journey, do not pay for anything substantial that commits you to a product or service for more than one test, or one month.
If you are an early stage entrepreneur, you will face unexpected turns and curve balls about 14 times per day, or per hour. You will regret investing substantially in something if you learn the following week you don’t actually need that piece of very fancy software.
When possible, remember and prioritize: you are agile, flexible, malleable, and interested in the nuanced needs and preferences of those you serve. Adjust, adjust, adjust until you are providing the perfect product or experience for the people who inspire your business. You’ll then adjust some more to become even better.
[Editor’s note: check out HelloAlice to find the right tools to help you launch and grow your business]
And what about other entrepreneurs. What is your best advice for them?
Entrepreneurship, as is brilliantly discussed in Spotify’s new podcast Killing It on founders and mental health, can be far less glamorous, far more lonely, and far more stressful than it seems at face value.
I encourage all entrepreneurs to ensure they have a support system that is strong enough to enable them to pursue their vision with rigor. Entrepreneurs need relentless optimism and need to navigate an appropriate balance between working crazy hours and putting in place appropriate self-care practices to refuel. In the beginning, you are your company. You will not reach your goals if you work yourself to literal death.
For me, I go to therapy every single week. I prioritize spending time with my unconditionally supportive boyfriend, my two amazing brothers, and joy- and love-feeding friends. I do my best to eat healthily, exercise regularly, and meditate often. When I need it, I indulge in Lays sour cream and onion potato chips.
What is the biggest roadblock you have experienced in building your company?
One of our biggest challenges is stigma. Though the environment is changing and changing quickly, we still battle stigma against mental health obstacles. To overcome this, at My Wellbeing we are not shy about what we do. We are not shy about the immense benefits of therapy. Mental health treatment should be a basic human right. At the moment, in this country, often therapy is a privilege.
Positioning therapy as an asset and a priority is our fight against viewing therapy as a weakness. If everyone were receiving therapy, we would have significantly better relationships with ourselves and others. We would also have higher performance in the ways that society already applauds: workability, attendance rates, and physical health. We’re on our way to breaking down the barriers.
It’s great that you’re working towards breaking down these barriers for mental health. So, what do you do when you reach out for help or a partnership and you get denied?
My first reaction is usually on some unconscious level to doubt my self-worth. Give me a few minutes and I realize it wasn’t the right person, opportunity, connection, or partnership for the particular moment. I strongly believe things happen for a reason. If you need to write this in a colorful font on a beautiful piece of paper, and put it on your laptop, fridge, and bathroom mirror, do it.
Give me a few hours, and I’ve brainstormed and reached out to at least 20 additional opportunities.
The worst that happens with outreach is you get a no and you’ve spent some time on an application or email. The best thing? You have put in 110% effort to bring your idea (and often dream) to reality. It’s worth it.
You’re part of the Alice community. What has the platform helped you with the most?
I follow Alice’s weekly email updates closely. Sometimes, she helps me better understand specific techniques, for example, how to improve my pitch deck. Other times, I understand through Alice that I’m connected to a wider entrepreneurial community, and I have the access and opportunity to connect whenever I have a moment to do so. She’s like having a safety kit in my pocket.
Love that you read our weekly newsletter! Is there a specific resource that you recommend to other Alice users?
Read the emails! At least skim them, in the couple of minutes you might have. You never know when you’ll read exactly the thing you’ve been looking for, whether it’s an answer to the question that’s nagging you, or an invitation to a networking event to connect with your next hire.
I’m sure after learning about My Wellbeing, some of our readers will want to connect with you to partner or learn more. How can they reach you?
Connect with me and the team on Instagram at @findmywellbeing.
We are always looking for therapy-seekers who we can help connect to the right therapist for them, and therapists passionate about their work who would like to join our community. We are open to professionals interested in hosting My Wellbeing for a stress management workshop or in-house therapist consultations at their place of work. At this time, we are open to communicating with angel investors who are interested in a SAFE with a discount to determine if we are a strong fit for each other.
We read and respond to every single message we receive. We can’t wait to hear from you!