Elaine, let’s start with your story. We’d love to hear how you got started and how the journey has been so far.
I went to grad school and became a therapist a little later than most, at age 40. After school I joined a large private practice and worked there for over a decade. It was a great opportunity to learn not only about therapy but also about how private practice worked. During that time, I often heard clients talk about how scary and clinical it felt to come to therapy, which got me thinking about how we might make therapy more approachable. I started dreaming about what kind of space and culture I would create if I were doing my own thing. And while what I could see in my head thrilled me, it also felt like a terrifying financial endeavor so it just sat there on the back burner.
Then my kids left for college and I noticed I felt pretty lost. I wasn’t sure who I was anymore without them. It was clear that I needed to redefine myself and figure out what I was going to give my life to in this next season. I needed a new challenge to give my energy to.
Fortunately, I had this dream in my back pocket so I started looking for a place to bring this idea to life. My husband and I found an old craftsman home in Mission Hills with hardwood floors and a fireplace. It felt just right. We bought and renovated it and I hunted for therapists I thought could help me create the culture I was looking for. I wanted clients to be met by therapists who were not only smart and well trained but also warm and relatable. And I wanted them to feel immediately nourished by the environment when they walked in. After a year of building and prepping, we opened for business in the summer of 2011.
And amazingly people found us! As our client base grew and more therapists asked to join us, we decided to dream bigger. We bought another house three doors down and created an additional cluster of office spaces. We also built a barn in the backyard so we could offer workshops and group therapy. It’s certainly become more than I initially pictured but I couldn’t be happier with how it’s unfolded.
Great, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Absolutely there have been lots of challenges. Financially it’s been a constant stretch because each time we became profitable, I used that money to expand. That means I’m constantly working toward breaking even. Which isn’t super fun. But I feel like each of those expansions helped us flesh out the vision more deeply and created space for the additional great team members we have now.
Having never run a business before meant I had A LOT to learn, like how to use Quickbooks and run payroll, manage tax payments, etc. And since I own our spaces, I’m also the landlord, which means when the sewer backs up, it’s my problem. Those are my least favorite days for sure! But the nice surprise has been finding that all the years of managing kids and schedules and solving a million problems have built a lot of resilence so I know how to hang in there.
I’ve also needed my team to teach me how to lead them. It’s a challenge to balance nurturing my therapists with watchdogging our culture and professionalism. I have to be willing to listen and to press into hard conversations when necessary.
The Soul Care House – what should we know? What do you guys do best? What sets you apart from the competition?
Currently, we have 13 therapists and lots of specialties. Between us, we do couples work, trauma work, anxiety, depression, somatic experiencing (a body-based therapy) EMDR, addictions, play therapy for kids, and art therapy.
I’m super proud of my team. We are known for having quality therapists and that’s really important to me. We are our product so it’s got to be good. I look for therapists who are gifted, wired to do this work, who are curious and compassionate, non-judgmental. They are also committed to pursuing their own personal and professional development, which is key. A big value for me is that we’re “smoking what we’re selling”, meaning we are living by the therapeutic concepts we are teaching others. We know how hard the work is because we are doing it ourselves.
Clients regularly comment on our distinctive spaces. Each of our offices, waiting rooms and The Barn are furnished with a mix of vintage and modern pieces. I love the juxtaposition of that. I think it helps create soulful spaces. We want clients to feel like we were thinking of them when we designed our space. We want them to feel comforted and perhaps inspired by what they see around them. And there’s always a good cup of locally roasted coffee available.
What moment in your career do you look back most fondly on?
I often have these little moments when I feel really proud of what we’ve created. Like when a struggling couple leaves holding hands or a parent and child wrap their arms around each other on their way out. Or a client asks to hang out in the front room to journal or color for a while. It happens when the barn is full of people gathered for a workshop and their sharing their stories, laughing and crying with each other. These moments grab my full attention. They feel sacred to me. I’m aware in those moments that what I hoped would happen here, is happening. The dream has fleshed itself out and it’s right in front of me.