How This Founder Is Innovating In Mental Health By Bringing Matchmaking To Therapy
Alyssa Petersel is the founder and CEO of My Wellbeing, a platform that matches therapy-seekers with therapist recommendations in New York City.
While working in outpatient mental health clinics as a social worker, Petersel saw that individuals seeking a therapist were overwhelmed by the process of finding a therapist--from all the options listed in online directories, lack of clarity around how therapists differ, and lack of information about what different psychotherapy jargon really means.
Petersel’s mission with My Wellbeing is to alleviate the stress and burden of connecting with a compatible therapist. She envisions a world where going to therapy is just as normal, just as encouraged, just as enjoyable, and just as accessible as going to the gym.
From starting My Wellbeing in 2017 at New York University’s Summer Launchpad accelerator, to partnering with brands like Birchbox, Yext, and The Muse to bring stronger mental health resources to corporations, and connecting over 1,500 clients with therapist matches, Petersel is just getting started with innovating mental health services.
Petersel shared with me how she’s doing things differently in the mental health space, how she navigates something called “Mentor Whiplash,” and what’s been fundamental to her and My Wellbeing’s growth so far.
Below is a condensed version of our conversation.
Gilbert: At its core what is the benefit of therapy?
Some people prefer a kind of therapy that involves receiving very concrete goals and action-items and working closely with the therapist as an accountability buddy to move forward. Other people prefer a more open, free-flowing safe space to unpack anything and everything on your mind. For others still, it’s a bit of both.
The power of therapy is in uncovering patterns we didn’t wholly realize were there before and providing space for thoughts and feelings we might otherwise mask or sweep under the rug. For many, having a therapist as a guide to help uncover those patterns is really helpful.
Gilbert: How is My Wellbeing innovating in the mental health space?
Petersel: Introducing match-making to finding the right therapist is a completely new approach to increasing access to therapy services.
We know through research and the matches we’ve successfully made so far that chemistry and rapport between therapist and client is the most important factor in a fruitful therapy relationship.
While we of course cannot guarantee that chemistry on the first match, we’ve created an experience for therapy-seekers that saves them time, gives them more clarity and support in their search, and helps them find that therapist with whom they are more likely to have chemistry with, sooner rather than later.
We’re focusing on easing the search for therapy.
Many therapists don’t have a web presence, intentionally, and for those who do list their practices on a directory site, there isn’t much differentiation from one therapist to the next and often there is a lot of jargon to describe their focus and background.
We’re breaking down the jargon, explaining different therapy techniques in easier to understand words for people who aren’t trained in therapy and understandably would have no reason to know the acronyms. For example: Would you like to work with a therapist who gives you homework? As opposed to, are you interested in CBT?
Then we send each therapy-seeker we work with one therapist recommendation at a time, to reduce choice anxiety as much as possible. If you’ve ever read Paradox of Choice or walked through the cereal aisle at the grocery store, you know how stressful it is to make a decision in a sea of viable options.
More than 90% of the people we work with do continue to work with their first match, and we are happy to talk through as many recommendations as someone needs to feel confident moving forward.
Gilbert: What was the biggest challenge in starting My Wellbeing?
Petersel: The biggest challenge in getting started was building enough conviction in myself and my intuition to make decisions efficiently.
When I first launched My Wellbeing, I was wrestling with one decision or another, and one mentor I worked closely with said to me: Conviction is one of the most important aspects of being a founder. You have to trust yourself. That has really stayed with me.
Gilbert: What’s been fundamental to My Wellbeing’s growth so far?
Petersel: Organizing and prioritizing.
My passion for mental health and My Wellbeing and my general big-idea nature lead me to brainstorm about 100 new ideas a day, if not more. I imagine other founders and entrepreneurs feel similarly in that way!
I have put a lot of introspection and training toward writing out what My Wellbeing’s short-, middle-, and long-term goals are, breaking down what we need to do to get there, and literally, which hours of which days are going to go toward what. That lends significantly more structure to whether I and my team have time for any other musings we’re brewing. It also helps us understand whether we do or don’t have time to say yes to some of the unpredictable opportunities or invitations that inevitably come up.
Gilbert: What’s been the hardest part of getting to product-market fit?
Petersel: One really hard question we face daily is: How do you design a product or an experience that speaks to each person, if each person is looking for something different?
Our approach is we ask questions as often and as openly as possible. We solicit feedback both from the people who have found their therapist through us and from the therapists we work with to learn how the experience has been and how we can help make it better.
It’s also been helpful for me to think about each solution with the product and experience as a temporary one that is the best solution at this particular time, to solve these particular needs, with our particular budget.
This mindset has been liberating for me in a lot of ways. Rather than feeling like I am committing to one answer forever, which sets me up to feel trapped or fear failure, I am committing to the best answer for right now and then being open to the learnings and feedback I receive.
Gilbert: What’s one of the biggest entrepreneurial lessons you’ve learned so far?
Petersel: Early on, I learned I needed to strengthen my ability to filter feedback. My advisors during NYU’s Summer Launchpad coined the term “Mentor Whiplash,” which happens when various advisors or mentors give you contradictory advice. If person A says to do option 1, and person B says to do option 2, what do you do?
Incorporating outside advice into how we build the company is an art form. I’ve come to learn with time and experience how to seek advice from specific mentors for specific reasons and other mentors for other reasons. There is no such thing as one person who knows everything. I log diverse perspectives and map feedback to make the decision that works best for My Wellbeing, according to our company culture, our budget, and our needs at that time and then ultimately, I listen to my gut.