Q&A with Social Worker & Entrepreneur, Alyssa Petersel

Q&A with Social Worker & Entrepreneur, Alyssa Petersel

ALYSSA PETERSEL, LMSW, is a writer, social worker, and entrepreneur. Alyssa is Founder and CEO of My Wellbeing, where she helps therapy-seekers connect with compatible therapists who fit their needs. She released her debut award-winning narrative nonfiction anthology, Somehow I Am Different: Narratives of Searching and Belonging in Jewish Budapest, in March 2016, and now lives in Brooklyn and enjoys running, coffee, community, and social justice.

Can you tell our readers about your background?

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.

What inspired you to start your business?

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.

Where is your business based?

We work primarily in Manhattan and Brooklyn, with a handful of clinicians in surrounding areas.

How did you start your business? What were the first steps you took?

My business launched with our acceptance into a 10-week accelerator called Summer Launchpad through New York University’s Entrepreneurial Institute. Through this program, we were connecting to foundational courses in starting a business, concrete tasks and assignments to initiate our thinking and growth, insightful mentors with a diverse background to guide us in important ways, and a small grant to cover basic living and business expenses.

What has been the most effective way of raising awareness for your business?

Word of mouth is and will likely always be critical for spreading awareness about therapeutic resources. We do our best to ensure the experience of working with My Wellbeing is as positive as possible. Perhaps our clients and therapists will tell their friends, families, and co-workers about us, too. We also spread awareness through social media, thought leadership, and strategic business partnerships.

What have been your biggest challenges and how did you overcome them?

One of our biggest challenges is a 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.

How do you stay focused?

I feel inspired by the amount of good that can come of My Wellbeing’s work if done well. I set realistic (with healthy optimism) goals, plot out realistic timelines and concrete task assignments for those goals, and incentivize myself to achieve those goals. Client and therapist feedback motivates me to iterate and better the experience for those we work with. Committed advisors and individuals in my life help me stay grounded, focused, and encouraged.

How do you differentiate your business from the competition?

At My Wellbeing, we are utilizing the deep training of clinicians to craft personalized questionnaires and profiles. In the short-term, we connect individuals to compatible therapists who fit their needs with high-touch, human care. In the long term, we can use the data generated from this work to determine what kind of person works best with what kind of therapist.

Unlike teletherapy, we connect individuals to in-person care, because research proves that rapport and nonverbal communication are responsible for over 70% of the healing that comes from therapy. Unlike directories and resources that currently exist, we make one recommendation at a time (and up to three) to be as anxiety-reducing and intentional as possible. Our vision is to facilitate personality and compatibility matches for therapy.

What has been your most effective marketing strategy to grow your business?

Meeting clients and therapists where they are. Communicating in language that is empathic and understanding of their perspective.

What's your best piece of advice for aspiring and new entrepreneurs?

Ensure your support system and routine are nourishing enough to support pursuing your passion with rigor.

What's your favorite app, blog, and book? Why?

App: Insight Timer. I can meditate independently with a timer or fall asleep to a guided meditation. I can also meditate with friends and connect with past meditation groupmates, which helps to hold me accountable and feel a sense of community.

Blog: Cropped Magazine. More of an online magazine than a blog. My favorite because, as quoted from Maria, one of the editors, “Some of life’s most interesting moments happen when our cameras are off — whether or not those experiences are positive.” Cropped is a place where young adults can embrace vulnerability and be honest with themselves, their peers, and their journeys. A truly needed space in a world that begs us to hide and perfect.

Book: Everyday Holiness by Alan Morinis. I read this book with a book club about two years ago. Each chapter delves into a different value: truth, integrity, compassion, and more. We met bi-weekly as a group and talked through one or two values per session, how we reacted to the thought and philosophy on paper, and how that value impacted our lives and our two weeks. I feel very grateful for that book club, the impact the discussion had on my life and perspective, and the friendships that were born of the consistency, vulnerability, trust, and support.

What's your favorite business tool or resource? Why?

My planner. It’s old, it’s cracked and peeling (yes, it’s paper), but it is organized in just the right way to help my planning-self check off the next item on my to-do list, while prioritizing blocking off chunks of time both for my own self-care and for the care and nourishment of my relationships with those who mean so much to me.

Who is your business role model? Why?

Faith Leener of BASE Bklyn. She listens as fiercely as she steps up. Her initiative and drive are second to none, but her empathy and compassion are what truly create the viral following her community has generated in just one year.

What do you have planned for the next six months?

In the next six months, My Wellbeing plans to launch a more sophisticated landing page and user experience to accommodate scaling our therapist and client base 5x. We are also refining our questionnaire and matching experience to integrate as much client and therapist feedback as possible, creating a match-making system that both parties are passionate about.

How can our readers connect with you?

Facebook: @mywellbeingtherapy

Instagram: @mywellbeingtherapy

Twitter: @mw_therapy