Alyssa Petersel, Founder of My Wellbeing
We are witnessing a shift with the conversation of mental health and frankly, it is about time people are putting an emphasis on this issue. If you are weary about getting a therapist, imagine a service doing the pairing for you based on a questionnaire? There is such thing, and it’s called My Wellbeing, a therapist match-making resource. We are so excited to share Alyssa Petersel's story, cough* Founder of My Wellbeing on today’s spotlight. Read about her relationship with mental health and what became the catalyst for her to launch My Wellbeing!
Alyssa, what’s your relationship with mental health? And was this the inspiration behind launching my wellbeing?
I identify as a recovering perfectionist. There are some side effects of perfectionism that society applauds: workaholism, achievement. There are others that society shames you about: neuroticism, doubt, anxiety, which can make it burdensome and intimidating to talk about.
In hindsight, I have nurtured a relationship with anxiety, which sometimes flirts with depression, for as long as I can remember.
In high school, my relationship with mental health looked like my being disproportionately determined to get As, which I (and everyone around me) thought was nothing to be too concerned about, let alone talk about or reflect on. It looked like taking on more than I needed to so that I would look like a perfect college candidate anywhere I applied, and to anyone I talked to.
In college, it looked like my switching majors from biomedical engineering to psychology and international studies and crying in the textbook store as I let go of my chemistry textbook, unsure of what the future would hold. It was feeling insurmountable pressure to have great friends and a great career, with limited patience for first figuring out what I wanted or needed in either of those things.
In India, where I studied abroad and made some of the strongest friendships and interpersonal relationships I’ve ever made, it looked like my wrestling for much longer than what I felt was appropriate over seemingly small decisions. The internal turmoil I experienced while trying to decide whether I wanted to travel with one group of friends over the weekend or stay back with another group of friends to take it easy was really painful, and the judgement I inflicted on myself as a result of not understanding all I was going through was the worst part.
Upon my return from India, my relationship with mental health looked like my embarking on my first search for a therapist, yearning to better understand what was going on in my mind and body, and coming up short. I confronted a handful of waitlists, high sticker prices, and poor fits, which all led me to postpone my search and “figure it out” on my own.
Five years, a Master’s in Social Work, and 5 “unsuccessful” therapy attempts later, my relationship with mental health looks like my finally connecting with a therapist who I trust (over one year in), and my launching My Wellbeing to help others do the same.
Sometimes, all we need to hear is that what we are thinking, feeling, and going through is reasonable in our position considering the various moving pieces, and there is a human out there (maybe even more!) who understands.
If I’ve learned anything at all along the way, it’s that we are so conditioned to believe we need to be perfect and self-sufficient, we forget that we are human, and humans have flaws. Every single one of us have flaws. Flaws are sometimes our biggest strengths. They are certainly our biggest opportunities to learn and grow, and there is no rule that says we have to grow alone.
Given the recent coverage and conversation surrounding mental health, do you think as a society, we are finally prioritizing this matter? Do you think the digital therapy options prove we are?
I do think we are putting more of an emphasis on the importance of mental health than we have before. We have been given little choice; we have waited so long that mental health needs have escalated to a state of emergency.
Accordingly, as a society, we are not doing enough. For example, the rates that insurance companies reimburse psychotherapists with years of training, expertise, and professional development is not enough for them to pay their business and personal expenses, let alone earn a decent living. This discourages therapists from being able to accept insurance. Clients, on the other hand, often struggle to invest in therapy outside of insurance. If we as a society want to grow and proactively prevent mental illness before it becomes an even bigger national crisis, we need a better way.
I do also believe digital therapy helps broaden access to support, particularly during a crisis. However, I do not think digital therapy can replace the power that comes from in-person human connection. To the contrary, as we see more and more research supporting the psychological ramifications of social media and isolation, we also see an even higher need for in-person care and connection. Research shows that when you sit in close proximity with another human, you both are cross-regulating each other’s nervous systems. Physically sitting in consistent space with a trained psychotherapist will regulate your nervous system, reducing things like panic, anxiety, and depression, and increasing things like resilience, calm, and joy. This needs to be where we focus and scale.
What’s your advice for anyone who is looking for therapy, but has reservations of making a commitment?
Give it a try.
Sometimes, if I’m having trouble choosing whether or not to opt-in to something, it’s helpful for me to think about what the best and worst case scenario might be after a given period of time. Let’s take starting therapy as an example.
Commit to a 6 month trial. Give yourself time to develop a trusting relationship with your therapist.
It is worth noting that some people feel significant change in much less time; say, 4 weeks. Others are in therapy for much longer than 6 months (I am already 15 months in). This often fluctuates depending on what you are working through. A helpful tool is to think about how long it’s taken you to build the thing you’re hoping to work through. If you would like to work through something that you’ve been dealing with for a few weeks, it may take a few weeks to manage. If you would like to work through something that you’ve been wrestling with for 5 years, it may take much longer to unpack and rework.
It is also worth noting that the more you put in, the more you will get out. Do not go to therapy assuming it will not “work.” If you make that assumption, I promise you, it won’t work. Really give it a chance. Practice optimism and patience when you can.
Keeping our experiment in mind, what’s the worst that could happen after 6 months? You’ve invested 24 hours (1 hour per week for 24 weeks) and some amount of money. You may not feel significantly different or have conquered the goals you set out to. You move on, the same way you would have if you hadn’t tried.
Best case scenario? You have begun to learn how you think and feel and what makes you tick, which has begun to shift how you perceive your professional and personal relationships, and has led to some changes in your decisions and perspectives. You trust the therapist you are seeing, and feel more often than not they understand what you are saying and feeling, or they are committed to reaching a place of understanding, even if at first, they need a little bit more information. Sometimes, best case scenario is you commit to another 6 months, because the last 6 have been so rewarding, you’d like to continue to dig and see what’s ahead.
What is the next milestone for you?
At this time, my next milestone is growing the team at My Wellbeing to continue to expand our impact.
If you or anyone you know has worked in the start up (or therapy) space before, you can be sure that the only thing that doesn’t change is change itself. I look forward to reconnecting and keeping in touch about all the milestones, their ebb and flow, and the magical world of therapy.
Interviewed by Chary