Alyssa Petersel on Startup Founder Mental Health, the Culture-Generational Move Towards Vulnerability, and Finding Good Therapists

On this week’s chapter of exploring holistic wellness at ATEM, we interviewed Alyssa. Alyssa Petersel, LMSW is a therapist and the Founder + CEO of MyWellbeing, where she and her team connect people with the *right* therapist, while helping therapists build and manage their business. Alyssa graduated from Northwestern University in 2013, New York University in 2017 with her Master’s in Social Work, and The Writer’s Institute non-fiction program at CUNY Graduate Center in 2017.

1. In your words, describe who you are.

I am defining and re-defining who I am every day. By training, I am a therapist, writer, and entrepreneur. I am also a sister, daughter, friend, and dog-lover. I identify as someone who leads with empathy and optimism. I embrace new opportunities and deeply appreciate connecting with other people, learning more about their story, and helping them find meaning in their lives.

2. Pick a random day from last week, and give us a day in your life.

Last Wednesday, I woke up around 6am to meditate and go on a brief run. I returned, showered and dressed, and got to work. I spoke with a therapist in our community to learn their perspective on one of our current features and to gain insight around which features the therapist would most love to see developed next. I met with a brand partner to explore content and panel collaborations to mutually promote both of our likeminded brands. I discussed with a national mental health organization how we could collaborate together to bring more access and awareness to mental health resources.  Around 9:30pm, I drank a hot cup of chamomile tea and journaled for about 30 min before reading a few chapters of Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things. I then went to sleep!

3. How did you discover your passion for mental health? 

Throughout my life, I have always felt drawn to helping people to relieve suffering. Over the years, with the support of my own therapy and reflection, I’ve come to hypothesize that this stems originally from my grandparents’ experience of the Holocaust and craving more power and agency to prevent and reduce suffering. In high school, I volunteered to babysit children of women going through recovery while the mothers attended clinical groups. My first job after college was working in violence prevention in Chicago. I also published my first book, Somehow I am Different, about third generation Holocaust survivors in Budapest redefining contemporary Judaism After that, I decided  to become a therapist and enrolled at NYU for my Master’s in Social Work. It was only then as I trained to become a therapist supporting others that I finally prioritized my own therapist search and began therapy myself. 

4. What benefits have you seen of therapy? 

Therapy has given me consistent time and space to be honestly and authentically myself. As an empath, one of my strengths is being able to read a room and adjust my demeanor and offerings to best serve the people around me. From a professional perspective, I am proud of this skill and it brings me a lot of joy and growth opportunities. From a personal perspective, this tendency can blur the lines of what I am doing because I want to or because it nurtures me, and what I am doing because I am caring for someone else, or because I think I should be. Therapy has helped me identify this tendency in itself and has given me the perspective and tools to recognize my own wants and needs and communicate those to others, setting boundaries when necessary to ensure those needs are met. This is incredibly powerful both at work and at home. Moreover, as I go to therapy at the same time and place every week, therapy helps me maintain productivity and focus during my work week. I know that if something particularly stressful arises, I have allocated time during my week to process that. I know that if my mind continues to circulate around any particular thing, I have designated time in my week to process that. The regular, consistent catharsis and regulation is invaluable.

“I wish more people would talk about therapy.”

Selena Gomez, Vogue

5. Do you think our culture still stigmatizes therapy?  If yes, are there any signs of progress do you find encouraging? 

I do believe that our culture continues to stigmatize therapy and vulnerability. However, I believe we are at an inflection point during which things like vulnerability are finally being celebrated and encouraged. Leaders like Brene Brown and celebrities like Beyonce, Selena Gomez, Kristen Bell, and more, are speaking out about the power of expressing our vulnerabilities and embracing them as what makes us human. We finally recognize that mental health is as important as physical health, if not more important. Employers are offering appropriate benefits and resources, and speaking to their teams about the importance of creating safe spaces. Millennials are 3x more likely than their parents to pursue therapy. At MyWellbeing, we have seen groups of friends and families encourage each other to pursue therapy and strengthen their mental health, not only if they are wrestling with a deep-rooted problem or crisis, but as a proactive means to grow and become the best possible version of onself.

“Everyone thinks there’s some shame in it.”
“But if they see Kristen Bell, who projects — even sitting right here — she’s happy, she’s smart, she’s bubbly,” Willie finished.

“I’m like ‘bubbles, glitter!’” she joked. “No, it’s not always that way. I am someone who takes a medication for her anxiety and depression. I am someone who has to check myself and sometimes — if I’m feeling really low — make a checklist of good and bad things in my life to see if it’s my mental state or if we really have a problem. “

Kristen Bell, Interview by Francesca Gariano, Today

6. How is My Wellbeing innovating the mental health space? 

At MyWellbeing, we help people who are interested in beginning therapy find the right therapist for their needs, while helping therapists build and grow their business. MyWellbeing is bringing compatibility to the mental health space and reducing choice fatigue in an otherwise overwhelming search. Rapport and chemistry between the therapist and the therapy-goer are responsible for more than 70% of why therapy works, so we have created a system that optimizes for exactly that. 94% of our therapy-seekers who book a phone consultation with one of their therapist matches go on to book a first appointment, and 90% of first appointments go on to book a second, which suggests to us that our matching is a needed support and is working really well.

Moreover, we are on a mission to foster sorely needed community and to eliminate stigma. The product we build, content we write, resources we share, and events we curate are all in the interest of broadening the conversation around mental health and bringing resources to everyone who is interested, in whatever capacity they are ready to engage.

Courtesy of My Wellbeing

7. What is your goal for MyWellbeing as it grows? 

MyWellbeing will be where the world comes to be well. We look forward to expanding our network and building and creating additional resources to support people through their mental health journey, from start to finish.

As MyWellbeing grows, we hope to continue to chip away at the problem of accessibility for mental health care. Currently, MyWellbeing is available in NYC. Matching is completely free and therapy sessions start at $100/session. We understand that the need for stronger mental health services extends beyond NYC and not everyone can afford to pay $400/month toward their mental health. We are committed to connecting with communities across the country to strengthen our collective mental health as well as to launch initiatives that heighten accessibility through partnerships, special initiatives, and policy change.

8. As an entrepreneur yourself, how do you think the startup founder community needs to address its mental health crisis? (note to readers: see this article on why entrepreneurs are one of the most susceptible communities for mental health illnesses)   

Entrepreneurs are under an extraordinary amount of pressure (often with extremely limited resources) to be “the best”; this makes them particularly vulnerable to a superhero complex that is very unforgiving of mistakes and can be very challenging for one’s mental health. Entrepreneurs are 56% more likely to experience mental health obstacles than the general population. I encourage all entrepreneurs to pursue therapy (and support groups of other entrepreneurs!), and to consider it an investment in their business and their professional future. The more you understand yourself and the better you become at understanding and managing your stress, the better leader, founder, co-worker, and partner you will be.

9. Describe your wellness regimen if you have one. What are some actions you take to keep yourself well (mentally, spiritually, and emotionally)? 

I journal often. I surround myself with people who lift me up and bring me joy. I go to therapy every week at the same time and day. I exercise at least 2 times per week. I set goals and I time block. I eat as healthy as I can and meal prep when possible. I practice patience with myself when I am not as good or fast as I want to be. I meditate in the mornings. I gather monthly with a group of entrepreneurs who have become some of my best friends. When I wake up, I lay in bed an extra 2 minutes to breathe and smile. Seriously. Get those neurotransmitters flowing in all the best ways.

10. Letters to My Younger Self: If you had any advice to give to your younger self, what would it be? 

You wouldn’t be the person you are today if you hadn’t gone through everything you did. Laugh more. Do more that brings you joy for the mere purpose of experiencing more joy, especially if that thing is not “productive.” Remember: the only thing we cannot buy is time. Maintain perspective around what your overall life goals are and ensure they are tended to. Just be, more. Every one of us has inherent value just for being who we are.

Learn more about My Wellbeing here and follow its Instagram here.

Interview by Theophila Lee

Edited by Susan Yoomin Im

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