Challenge the Status Quo

Hosted By Lauren Conaway

InnovateHER KC

See All Episodes With Lauren Conaway

Ep. #1117 - Challenge the Status Quo

In today’s episode of Startup Hustle, the podcast will challenge the status quo. To do so, Lauren Conaway finds backup in Emily Sterk, a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and the founder of Healing Towards Wellness. They discuss why an affordable mental health program is a must in today’s world. And how letting your hair down occasionally and finding your safe space contributes significantly to your mental wellness.

Covered In This Episode

Mental wellness is a right, not a privilege. That is why Emily and her nonprofit agency are doing their best to offer affordable mental health services to everyone.

Together with Lauren, get to know Healing Towards Wellness’s revenue structure. Discover how you can improve your mental wellbeing. And help break the stigma around mental illness.

Get Started with Full Scale

It’s time to challenge the status quo regarding mental health. Tune in to this Startup Hustle episode now.

Listen to What Other Successful Entrepreneurs Have to Share


  • Emily’s journey to becoming a therapist and a founder of a nonprofit agency (02:07)
  • The 10,000-foot view of mental health access (5:45)
  • Her insights on getting clients (10:21)
  • Emily’s revenue structure and the community’s response (11:49)
  • Finding the courage to challenge the status quo (16:45)
  • Donations help keep the costs low (21:48)
  • The future of Healing Towards Wellness (22:55)
  • About the anti-diet mentality (24:29)
  • The stigma around mental illness (28:03)
  • What success looks like when things go right (31:47)
  • Mental wellness is not about being happy all the time (33:45)
  • Mental health for entrepreneurs (36:32)

Key Quotes

Suicide prevention, self-injury, [and] eating disorders—a lot of times you see those when people don’t have access to basic needs. I believe mental health is a basic human need.

– Emily Sterk

Often, we equate thin with good and fat with bad. And that’s not [usually right]. I mean, you can be skinny, and you can be remarkably unhealthy.

– Lauren Conaway

Utilize your community, reach out, have coffee, go for lunch, and separate yourself from work for a little bit. Just have community and also understand that rest is not a reward. Rest is a part of the process.

– Emily Sterk

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Rough Transcript

Following is an auto-generated text transcript of this episode. Apologies for any errors!

Lauren Conaway 00:01
And we’re back. Thank you for joining us for yet another episode of the Startup Hustle podcast. I’m your host, Lauren Conaway, founder and CEO of InnovateHER KC. And I gotta tell you today’s episode of Startup Hustle is powered by Hiring software developers is difficult, but Full Scale can help you build a software team quickly and affordably. And they have the platform to help you manage that team. Visit to learn more. Now, friends, I think you probably know by now that there is nothing I love more than having an InnovateHER KC member on the Startup Hustle podcast. Those are my favorite episodes. I love telling the stories of InnovateHER founders worldwide. And today is no exception. We have one of our faves. Emily Sterk is with us today. She is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist and founder of Healing Towards Wellness. So we’re going to be talking about a lot of really great topics, but first things first. Emily, thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us today.

Emily Sterk 01:03
Yeah, absolutely. Thanks for having me. I love you, and I love InnovateHER KC and everything it does for our community. So to be a part of that and share what was going on here in KC is just awesome. I love it.

Lauren Conaway 01:15
Yeah, I feel the exact same way. See, we’re already experiencing synergy. Well, so Emily, I’m just gonna go ahead and dive right into it. And I want to hear about your journey. Tell us about your journey.

Emily Sterk 01:27
Yeah, so there are some factors, you know, like you said, in my title, first and foremost. I’m a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist. I’ve wanted to be a therapist forever. Since high school, I knew specifically what I wanted to do as I, you know, went through high school, college, and grad school. To become a therapist, I learned I didn’t want to do what everybody else does. So typically, when you go to grad school to become a therapist, you automatically go into private practice. And Kansas City is saturated with private practices. We have some amazing clinicians in the area. I just didn’t want to do that. So after grad school, I had this goal since about my senior year of high school. I wanted to live in Boston. So directly following grad school, I moved to Boston, Massachusetts. And that’s where I did all of my post-grad work; I got my license. And it really opened my eyes, and just the worldview of the world is more than just private practices. A lot of agencies, nonprofits, and governments are in these spaces where clients or people needing mental health support have affordable options. They have accessibility. We would go to people’s homes. A lot of the therapy was free. And that just really helped me understand that even though private practices are really great and really support a lot of people when your price tag is $150 an hour, that cuts out 1000s, if not millions, of people to get the mental health care they need. So in 2018, I realized Boston was just, frankly, too expensive. It’s so expensive, I love it. But I moved back to Kansas City, and I’m really glad I had that space away. Because I was that classic kid born and raised here and wanted to get away like, eff your city, whatever. So I left, did my thing, and then came back to Kansas City. And now I’m like, this place is the best place ever. So moving back, I took all of that information from grad school. I got all of the information I gathered from Boston and did some research. And I was like, I see all of these private practices, I see the average cost of therapy, which is $600 a month. And I saw this gap that nobody was filling, and it was just that lower to the middle-class person that doesn’t have $600 a month. But we also saw that gap where they don’t have that income. And we saw insane statistics around suicide rates in our area. Johnson County in Kansas is some of the top suicide rates in the country. And there was a direct correlation that we see high suicide rates and people not being able to afford or access mental health care. So that’s what we’re heading towards. The wellness kit came into play in 2019 as I started this nonprofit to be accessible, affordable and meet this gap. I specialize in higher crisis mental health needs. So suicide prevention, self-injury, eating disorders, and a lot of times, you see those when people don’t have access to basic needs. I believe mental health is a basic human need. Right. So that’s kind of my journey as to how I became a therapist and a founder of a nonprofit on the professional business side. On the personal side, I struggled with a lot of these things growing up. I struggled with self-injury. I was in therapy in high school. One of my closest friends died by suicide a senior year. And I already had kind of, if you could say, a calling, I guess just this idea of I wanted to be a therapist. So my personal world and experiences and my professional experiences kind of came together and brought me back to Kansas City. And then healing towards wellness was formed from there.

Lauren Conaway 05:05
Well, in so you, you mentioned a lot of really, really interesting things. But the first thing that I want to do is I want to talk more about that 10,000-foot view. So we live in a country that does not have socialized medicine or equitable access to medical care. And that includes mental health services. So talk to us about the framework that you’re operating within, or I guess, I guess, the cultural zeitgeist that you’re operating within because I’ve noticed there seems to be more conversation happening around mental health and access to mental health services and how important it is. But what I’m not seeing, and please correct me if I’m wrong, I’m not seeing a whole lot of action. I’m seeing general practitioners like, or I guess, individual practitioners like yourself, who are kind of taking up the charge and changing the way that we’re looking at therapy as a business, which is beautiful and wonderful. But what I’m not seeing is a lot of that systemic change that we’re kind of hoping for. So talk to us a little bit about that, like what that means for the United States, specifically in the realm of mental health access.

Emily Sterk 06:16
Yeah, so growing up here in Kansas City, and specifically the Overland Park area, again, you do have a lot of private practices where because it’s a more fluid area, they’re charging $150 to $200 an hour now social workers and licensed professional counselors, which are just a different educational entity, a lot of them can be on insurance panels, me a marriage and family therapist, insurance panels don’t love us. It’s been about within the last decade that if I want it, like, I can’t be on Blue Cross Blue Shield, but I could maybe be on another insurance. So I think that is the big answer to this question. I then moved to Massachusetts. Will they have healthcare for everybody in that state? I don’t want universal health care. Massachusetts has the affordable, like care version, their version of universal health care, so everyone has access to medical care, mental health care, and things like that. And so you didn’t see a lot of private practices in Massachusetts; you see a lot of people working in agencies. And the big kicker here is insurance. And so for me, people are like, Oh, Emily, why don’t you get on insurance panels? I was like, I can’t because of my licensure. And so if we talk about privatized insurance, or universal insurance, specifically mental health, it’s only been within the last decade or two that nonsocial workers can be uninsured. So people can use that to seek out therapy because it’s well. Do I charge lower costs and be able to run my business? Or do I charge 150? And I can run this business, which is why I wanted to do a nonprofit. I wanted grants and donations and things like that to keep the cost low. But to go back to your question, is it such a broad answer? Because it really comes down to who was lobbying for us in DC, to be able to say, hey, mental health is just as important as medical health, we need access to MFTs, LPCs, and social workers all need to be on insurance panels. Well, we don’t have the best lobbyists. And so then we can’t it’s, it’s like, I mean, I just said words like it’s such a complicated answer.

Lauren Conaway 08:32
Yeah. And it’s one of those things where it’s like, I know that we’re not going to like to hash out and solve the problems of, you know, health care access in our country. But it’s always good to kind of have a broad look at what’s happening. So now I want to talk to you about how healing towards wellness is, is attacking that. Or I guess I want to dive a little bit more deeply. So you’ve shared a little bit; you said that you’re a nonprofit practice; is that correct? Yes. One of the things that I noticed, you know, you’re an innovator Casey member, and I see you on a regular basis coming into our community when people are looking for therapists that specialize in family care. I mean, I think I’ve seen you raise your hand when people have said they’re looking for therapists that have a focus on LGBTQIA issues. And so you’re doing a great job of meeting your patients and potential patients where they are. But talk to us a little bit about your patient experience. So somebody comes to you. Are they referred to you by agencies? Do you go out and recruit clients? Talk to us a little bit about that process and what it looks like?

Emily Sterk 09:41
Yeah, it’s kind of a combination of all of that. I get a lot of referrals. Again, healing towards wellness is one of the few, if not the only mental health nonprofit in the area that resembles a private practice. And again, I think that’s that I’m trying to take action in ways I can’t if We’re not on insurance panels. It’s hard to take action because we have to charge a certain cost. So right with that, yeah. So with that, I have referrals. Again, I people know what I specialize in those higher crisis spaces. LGBTQ, obviously, we’re very pro. People just know that we are affordable; we have a sliding scale of 40 to $75 a session. And so there are other clinicians who are in the private practice sector who have sliding scales, but they only have so many allotted spaces for that because they have the things that they have to pay for to keep their business running. So yeah, so we do, like, we’ll have a booth at Pride. We do vendor booths here and there, again, word-of-mouth referrals; you’ll see me put on comments like, hey, we’d be a great fit. There are also some Facebook pages that are for therapists or clinicians in the area. So Greater Kansas City Therapist is a Facebook group where if anyone needs a referral, or hey, I’m not the best fit for this person, I need a therapist who specializes in this. So all of the therapists in the area are a part of this group. So those are all the different ways.

Lauren Conaway 11:09
Yeah. Well, so how is your methodology? Or how is your revenue structure? How has that been received by the mental health community? Because it’s a little different.

Emily Sterk 11:24
People probably didn’t see my face. It’s been on the beach.

Lauren Conaway 11:29
Let me just go ahead and break it. Yes, she made a face.

Emily Sterk 11:33
It’s, you know, in the beginning, I was not well received. And it’s gotten a little better since it’ll be five years in October. In the beginning, I was very much viewed as Why are you challenging our system? Why are you challenging the status quo of how we do things here when you deserve to charge your value, you deserve to charge like what you’re worth, you’ve done all of this work, you have this license, you you do things that other regular people, quote-unquote, like can’t do, you need to charge these fees. And I’m over here, like people are dying, like 50 doesn’t change at all for people, especially women, and historically marginalized communities getting paid worse, but at the same time, for every delay, we have to create these access points for mental health care.

Lauren Conaway 12:13
I mean, every time we delay, people die, people are hurt, people hurt other people. And it’s kind of like this, exponentially growing gross morass of us not being able to get our shit together and offer universal mental health care.

Emily Sterk 12:46
I disagree that we are worth our value; it’s that to me, my value isn’t what I charge for a lot of people. It is and that is great for them. For me, I like my value doesn’t decrease because I’m charging $50 A session. And so for so in the beginning, yeah, the mental health community was super not on board. They were like you’re trying to gouge us; you’re challenging the system. People now know that therapy can be cheaper and more effective, and work. I would give a lot of passive-aggressive statements like you do you are you stick to your mission or, and I’m like, I will, I will do those things. And so, but I think as the years have gone on, people have learned I’m not competing with you. I know where I specialize. I know where I don’t specialize. I want to be very community driven. So I’ll refer to a private practice. So I think since we’ve been around and people have learned, oh, Emily and healing towards wellness isn’t a competition like they’re not a form of competition. They are here to help meet the needs of the community. It’s gotten better. But I do still get some like side I or Why are you doing this? Or how are you surviving? Things like that. And it’s like, it’s just to me, it’s not that complicated to charge just a little bit less to have a broader reach of getting into health?

Lauren Conaway 14:08
Well, and it’s really interesting, like, so for those of you who don’t know, Johnson County is a geographic area. It’s a, I guess, a suburban kind of suburban area in Kansas City. And it’s known for being one of the more affluent areas in Kansas City. And so what’s interesting is, I feel like as a marketer, I’m like, I don’t necessarily know that your clientele is that there’s a lot of overlap with a lot of the folks seeking mental health access in Johnson County. And so you’re really not in competition like you’re, you’re charging lower costs, because there are people who they require those lower costs in order to be able to access mental health care, like the people who come to see you are not necessarily at the same socio-economic strata of the folks who go see the therapists who charge Yeah, 200 bucks 150 bucks an hour, right? Like, I feel like there’s enough room to collect for everybody to play and for everybody to benefit our community. Is that? Is that kind of your thinking on the matter?

Emily Sterk 15:13
Absolutely. And it does shine a light that, again, no one’s dismissing that Johnson County and Overland Park is a fluid. No one’s disputing that. But what we are dismissing is that the homelessness community is growing in a lathe that there is, you know, you can walk into people’s homes, and because finances are hard, and the pandemic, and recessions and all of those things, they’ve sold all of their stuff, like there is, yes, we’re fluid. And there are so many families who are struggling financially. And you’re right, like we are gearing towards them, not the people who can afford 150 $200 A session, that’s awesome for them, they have so many options to find amazing therapists, these group of folks that, frankly, again, don’t make enough they don’t have those options, and we wanted to fill that gap. So that’s exactly right. What you said.

Lauren Conaway 16:05
Did you hear that, Joe? CO therapist, this is additive, not duplicative? That’s what we like to see. Well, so you said that you’ve received some pushback. And I was really interested to hear about that. Because basically, you are turning a very established, very lucrative machine, healthcare and specifically mental health care on its head a little bit, you’re doing it differently. And so one of the things that I wanted to talk to you about it talked to us about the Where did you find the courage, you’re doing a very difficult thing, and you’re talking about it like it’s like that no big deal. We’re just doing, doing the deal. But talk to us a little bit about that.

Emily Sterk 16:48
I mean, I think to find the courage at the time, I had had this business plan kind of in my back pocket for a while, honestly, never really thinking it would do anything. But when I moved here in 2018, I, frankly, was in a financial position that I couldn’t afford $150 A session. And so, for me, I’d had this idea in my back pocket; I knew I didn’t want to do private practice. I have known that forever. So for me, what are my other options? And so yeah, I took a massive risk. I depended heavily on my husband, who provided benefits. I didn’t get paid for like a good chunk of time. And I think the courage just came from, like, there’s just no, there was like no other option. You know, like, if I know I need this, and for the most part, my husband and I do okay, there has to be 1000s of other people struggling even more. And it was just I was in between a job that I got let go from for budget cuts knowing I didn’t want to do private practice. So I had this window, I had this window of time in 2019 of hey, we’re just going to explore. I’m going to google how to fill out nonprofit paperwork, I’m going to start. I think that’s where I found InnovateHER KC, I’m going to start talking to these people and say I have this idea. And it was InnovateHER KC specifically; I talked about this all the time; that was like connecting to these people. And if they essentially give you the go-ahead, you’re golden. So there were a few names that I went and met with. And one of them was like, make a budget, let me in. And she’s like the guru of nonprofits and Kansas City, and was like, let me look at the budget. And if I think this budget is doable, you should be able to move forward. And that’s what happened about six months before the pandemic hit. So yeah, the courage came from my personal experience where we were struggling, we had had a medical emergency, we were really stuck. I had reached out and just started asking questions. And I really wanted again; I hadn’t lived here for about five years, and I wanted to really learn what was going on in Kansas City. I didn’t want to be that person like, like, you guys are all doing things wrong. No, I wanted to learn to see where I could meet my needs. And it just opened up this window of space just opened up and I took it. Yeah.

Lauren Conaway 19:07
Well, funnily enough, as you’re talking, I haven’t been for those of you who can’t see, as I had a big ol smile on my face; I was kind of giggling because I’m like, Emily, you and me are the same. Because you’re talking about like, you know, like not getting paid for months. And, like you just kind of step off the cliff and hope that it works out. And I’ve met your partner, your husband, and you know, I have an amazing partner as well. And he is the only reason that I can do what I’m doing with innovators. So it’s really, really fantastic to hear that aspect of your story. So really quick, folks, I do want to hop in here and just let you know that finding expert software developers doesn’t have to be difficult, especially when you visit, where you can build a software team quickly and affordably. Use the Full Scale platform to define your technical needs and then see what available developers, testers, and leaders are ready to join your team? Visit to learn more. We’re here with Emily Sterk. Emily is a licensed clinical Marriage and Family Therapist and founder of healing towards wellness. They are a nonprofit mental health care, mental health care outlet, but they have a new approach here in Kansas City, and I’m really, really enjoying hearing more about it. Because I’ve seen healing towards wellness. In the Kansas City community, you and I have talked about it in the innovator community. But do you want a little bit of a deep dive? It is super fun for me. So thank you for allowing me this. So we talked about the fact that you are a little bit right, you’re rare in the space, and that you are a nonprofit entity, but you are, you’re operating in a world that’s filled with for-profits, you know, folks who are interested in squeezing that dollar as much as they can. So just to make sure that I’m checking my understanding so people can donate to healing as well as to subsidize the therapeutic costs that you attach to sessions. Is that the thinking?

Emily Sterk 21:08
Yeah, yes. So donations help keep the cost low so that we don’t have to raise our costs. Donations also helped us grow our team. We hired a second clinician. This past year, we would like to get a registered dietician. We would like to get personal treatment and antedate personal trainers, so donations help us grow the mission, grow the team, but most importantly, keep the cost low.

Lauren Conaway 21:32
Yeah. Okay. Well, thank you for that. And just so you folks know it, we’re gonna put a link to healing towards wellness in the show notes. If you feel called to donate, donate, and I think you should definitely click on that link, check out what they’re all about. They’re doing some really fantastic work. So tell us that you just talked to us about the team, you know, you’re growing your team, you have lots of big plans. Talk to us a little bit more about that; you know, you mentioned some maybe nutrition-focused folks because, as we all know, the things that we put into our body and the food that we consume, can have a huge impact on mental health, as can exercise, what are some of the other healing toward wellness dreams.

Emily Sterk 22:15
So we want to create a wraparound service. Again, this is something that I took from Boston, that is a very common form of mental health care for clients, is clients have a wraparound team, so they don’t just have a therapist, and then okay, go off to your doctor over here. No, the doctor and the therapist, and I worked heavily in foster care. So a lot of times, it was their social worker; we would meet monthly about this person. And I just love that concept. I love that it’s a community; I love that we’re collaborating and coming together. And so, the dream for healing towards wellness, his clients will have access to a mental health therapist, and anti-diet registered dietitian, and a personal trainer. Because, again, we want to be accessible. Well, if you have to go to the gym over there. And your dietician, first of all, people don’t even know to go to dieticians, and they’re amazing. And therapists and you don’t have a car; we need to all be in the same space. Right? That kind of matches that accessibility space of having a wraparound team at an affordable place. And the other dream is to be a nonprofit. We have a board of directors, so people volunteer their time to help run this company, which teaches me that the community believes in our mission and believes in what we’re doing. And I think that’s the dream is just having a really cohesive collaborative board to run just the oversight big picture appealing towards wellness. And then we have this team of clinicians from various expertise to come in and wrap around clients, and they get their mental, emotional, and nutritional needs met all in one space.

Lauren Conaway 23:49
So I love that you keep using this. Well, you used it twice. This phrase, and I want to know what it means. But I’m gonna ask you to drill down on it a little bit more. But what is an anti-diet nutritionist? Was that, yes, it’s an anti-diet registered dietitian as they tend to believe they’re like Health at Every Size.

Emily Sterk 24:04
So Haze is a very common theme amongst therapists and dietitians. They tend to come from an intuitive eating stance and believe in food freedom. So we don’t use language like healthy versus unhealthy or good or bad. We talk about how we obviously want to put nutrients into our body and eat the foods we love. So again, anti diet tends to be. We try not to count calories. Again, weight and health are not totally connected like we challenged the BMI system. And a lot of people challenged the BMI SSRI even though it was developed so long ago that I think it, from what I understand it, ‘s pretty antiquated.

Lauren Conaway 24:45
But what you’re saying is really interesting. So I was thinking about this not too long ago; I went to Lizzo, a performing artist who I think she’s amazing. But I keep on seeing like she posts pictures unashamedly and unabashedly where she’s like wearing form-fitting clothing. And she’s, she’s a large lady. You know, I don’t think she’s beautiful. But she, she’s, she’s a bigger woman. But here’s the thing, like, so often we equate thin with good and fat with bad. And that’s not. I mean, you can be skinny, and you can be remarkably unhealthy. And I mentioned Lizzo. Because, you know, I went to one of our concerts not too long ago. And I mean, there are a lot of people who would look at her and say, I bet she’s really unhealthy. But the fact is, that woman jumped around on a stage for three hours straight, full energy the entire time, and you’re not; you cannot tell me that someone who has the ability to do that night after night, cannot tell me that they’re as unhealthy as people seem to think they are. So I just wanted to mention that, and I wanted to challenge that in your minds, listeners, just a little bit. So thank you for illuminating that.

Emily Sterk 26:07
Exactly. Diet, culture, anti-diet mentality challenges, diet culture, which is exactly what I mean; Lizzo walks on a treadmill for hours belting her songs, like you have to have stamina to do that. And so anti-dieting is simply challenging diet culture as you said, that thing is good; thin is healthy. And that’s, frankly, not true. Considering I specialize in eating disorders, you have anorexia and bulimia; they’re healthy. Well, that’s your point.

Lauren Conaway 26:36
And so listeners on the show, I think I’ve mentioned this a couple times before, but you know, I am a recovering addict who has been for 17 years, like, I’m cool, I’m good. I feel pretty strong in my sobriety. But that being said, you know, I was crazy skinny at the height of my drug use, and I was more unhealthy than I have ever been in my entire life. But I would have people come up to me and be like, Hey, you look great. Congratulations. And in my head, I’m like, stop congratulating me. This is not; this is not related to a good thing. You know, it’s just that we have to challenge these perceptions. And I know that we went down a little bit of a conversational detour. But I just wanted to mention that. For sure. So something else that I want to talk about, you know, we’re talking we’re kind of talking about stigmas. Right now, we’re talking about people who believe things that tend to be untrue. Talk to us about the stigma surrounding mental illness. How are you working with your clients and working with the community to break down those particular barriers?

Emily Sterk 27:43
So I think it comes down to language, you know, I get a lot of clients that say, I’m broken, I feel crazy all the time. Or I, you know, and you have those type of phrases, and it’s like, you’re not crazy, and you’re not broken, like, and so how you break the stigma of mental illness is, again, they first of all, like, there’s something that’s like, like, one out of five people struggle with mental health, that statistics is incorrect. Five out of five people struggle with mental health, everyone struggles with mental health in some capacity. And so it’s: are you functioning? Are you in a good relationship? You deserve dignity and love and respect, just like everyone else. And so I think it’s normalizing mental health and mental illness, everyone struggles with it in some capacity, we normalize it that I always say to people, we have cottonwood springs, it’s a facility here in a lake that it has that capacity all the time. So why are we stigmatizing mental illness and mental health when people are at capacity in these inpatient hospitals? That teaches me Why are we stigmatizing it? Everyone struggles. So it’s, it’s giving statistics, it’s giving research, it’s changing language, like you’re not crazy, you’re not broken. We have ways to help and support you. Again, a lot of validation, a lot of affirmation. I think it’s things like other companies, whether they’re suicide prevention, or eating disorder, prevention, things like that, again, like allowing us to be in spaces to have uncomfortable conversation. Because again, there’s the Well, I had an uncle who struggled with this, or Oh, like alcoholism has always been in our family. It’s like, okay, yes, that’s true. But can we talk about it? Can we talk about it? Versus like, oh, it was just like the crazy drunk uncle. It’s like, no, like, that’s not okay. mental health. Mental illness is a part of our genetics. It’s a part of our family. Let’s talk about it, have hard conversations. And then, hopefully, people will feel more comfortable and natural in those spaces versus uncomfortable. Oh, we don’t talk about that. We sweep it under the rug and stuff like that. So it’s kind of a broad answer, but it’s creating space to talk about change During language, statistics, research, and helping people with their internal system, like deconstructing those biases we’ve been taught and told, like our whole life.

Lauren Conaway 30:09
Yeah. Well, you know, I salute you and the work that you do in that space because I do feel like, I mean, as with everything complicated, like, we it’s a multi-pronged approach, right? Like, we have to make it accessible; we have to talk about it and reduce the stigma. We have to, we have to do a lot of things to fix the kind of systemic barriers and issues that we have surrounding mental health in our country, and you’re on the ground, and you’re doing the work. Can you talk to us about some success stories, like I know that you can’t, you know, doctor-patient, confidentiality, like you can’t disclose too much? But talk to us about what it looks like when things go right. With your patients, you’re able to get them the help that they need and the access that they require. And that connects them to the resources that are going to help them heal, heal towards wellness 70 That’s what you’re that’s what you’re there for. So can you talk to us a little bit about that, like what success looks like?

Emily Sterk 31:07
Yeah, again, it’s so, like you said, it’s so individual. And I think it’s when I get people that when I meet with them every few months at a time, they can come and say to me, I didn’t have intense intrusive thoughts, I wasn’t feeling suicidal, I was able to have a hard conversation with my partner or my mom or I was able to change how I was parenting my child where instead of getting really angry or frustrated, I was able to just sit on the floor and be like, Hey, man, like what’s going on. So like, those reports of just those daily interactions, not feeling so intense, or high, or I didn’t stay in bed all day, or I was able to clean my depression room, I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of a quote-unquote, depression room when your mental health and depression.

Lauren Conaway 31:51
Depression is basically I’m so depressed, and I’m so sad.

Emily Sterk 31:54
Pretty much, I don’t give a crap about anything; I’m not gonna throw things away; I’m just gonna put my clothes on the floor. And it just kind of reflects your mental state. So when I have a client who is like, oh, my gosh, I was able to clean my room, I chose different colors, I cleaned all the things that were orange, and then I picked up all of the things that were blue. And when I get those reports that they were able to have that level of I don’t know, courage, we’ve brought that uptight courage to do that, to not to work themselves out of that space. Those are huge success stories. I think success stories are; I work with a lot of teachers who have left the teaching field. And when they work through that grieving process of not feeling so stuck in that sadness and loss of I laid down my teaching career, because it wasn’t meeting my needs, or them being proud of themselves if I didn’t stay in a system that was holding us down. Again, we’re talking about systems and things like that I was able to put in my notice and leave. Because I know my worth, I know my value. So those are a lot of the success stories I get again; I work with eating disorders, people eating, eating us.

Lauren Conaway 33:05
Today, and like sometimes, that’s a huge win. Like I think that that I feel like they’re with people who do not have or not because I think you’re right, I think that everybody has mental health struggles. But there are people who are clinically diagnosed with mental issues. And the fact is, like, I think with mental health care, you’re actually not striving to be happy all the time. Nobody’s happy all the time. But what you’re trying to do you’re strive for equilibrium. I feel like you, you are striving to find the place where you are reacting to situations in ways that are not based on chemical imbalances or past traumas, you know, like when we’re talking about mental health. It’s almost as though you’re trying to see the world the way that it actually is, not as a response to the things in your past or the diagnoses that you have. You’re trying to see the world for how it really is because I feel like mental health issues amplify everything. So like, you feel down on yourself for a day. That would be someone who doesn’t have the same lack of serotonin, or, you know, that clinical depression. If you have clinical depression, that sadness, or that anger, it’s amplified, and it’s harder to lift yourself out. Right. Yeah, it just colors everything, you know, and I say this, I mean, you said that you had mental health struggles, and I have also had mental health struggles, but I feel as though in seeking treatment and in trying to kind of like work through these things. You’re actually seeking a baseline of contentment that allows you to deal with all of the other bullshit. Is that accurate?

Emily Sterk 34:52
Yeah, so that’s why I use the word wellness. So like you mentioned healing towards wellness because you’re right; happiness is one it’s external only, like sought out; Joy content piece is more internally made. So again, we want to be well. Being well means we can navigate anger and sadness and rage and be comfortable in joy. A lot of people are uncomfortable with joy. They’re uncomfortable when they get compliments. Because what if it gets taken away, or oh, I’m not used to people complimenting me, or I’m not used to this sense of peace? We want to feel safe in that as well. And so you’re exactly right. Like it’s finding this, the space where I can navigate the world in a way that I feel safe, I feel true to who I am in my values. And I’m not feeling controlled, again, by maybe a system that I was stuck in that I wasn’t aware of, or my diagnosis or anything like that. I can live life in a way that is true to me and who I am, and I feel safe in it.

Lauren Conaway 35:52
Yeah, well, so So talk to us, one of the things that I love to do on the show, for listeners who listen to my episodes on a regular basis, you know, this, but I like to talk about those actionable things that our listeners can do today to help them in their personal and professional lives. And so I’m going to ask you, I’m gonna lean on your therapy skills for a minute. And you know, without giving away the whole farm, like, talk to us about some things that entrepreneurs and founders can do. I mean, entrepreneurs and founders like me feel as though our general mental health blindspot is stress like we are all stressed to the max, we all have either just too much going on, not enough resources, time, or money to do it in. And so, but founders actually experienced mental health issues at an alarming rate. So what are some things that our listeners can implement in their lives that might help them navigate some tricky mental health waters?

Emily Sterk 36:53
Yeah, so I think utilizing your community is huge. So if you have even someone who may or may not feel like a friend, but more of an acquaintance, ask them to coffee, you know, utilize your community, reach out, go have coffee, go for lunch, and just kind of separate yourself from work for a little bit. And just have community. I think, also understanding that rest is not a reward; rest is a part of the process. Because, like you said, founders have high mental health stuff, because we have this idea that, like, we have to go, go go. And that’s not necessarily true like burnout is a big part of that. So if you need to take a day off, if you need a couple hours to go color, or read a book, or something like that, I would definitely suggest doing that.

Lauren Conaway 37:42
But I totally color as stress relief; I have a ridiculous collection of coloring books. So I recommend that I give coloring a try. Super fun and mindless.

Emily Sterk 37:54
Absolutely. And if you ever notice yourself just not liking the job anymore, you are really struggling. Like, I don’t want to when you have found this company, and you’re waking up like, I don’t want to go, it’s time to call a therapist, it’s time to check in with that because the thing you is the passion project you poured into, and you’re not like, I don’t want to go like we now maybe need to seek therapy or again, use community. Give yourself some time and space to go do something that I don’t love the word mindless, but it is, and you just have to give yourself because it’s not mindless, but it is mindless, giving yourself that space. I think also checking in with you. Are you moving your body? Are you eating foods that you love and that you feel nourished by? And things like that? Like, I’m a big believer in just doing the basics. Are you getting outside in the sunshine? Are you drinking water? Like, are you eating breakfast, like stuff like that? If you’re not doing those basic things? My guess is your mental health is probably struggling a little bit, so just kind of do an inventory of how you’re functioning and then go from there.

Lauren Conaway 39:01
Yeah, well, I love that. And I’m gonna cosign our dear expert, Emily, here and just say that, hey, the founder is if you are experiencing high levels of anxiety, stress, depression, tire, if you’re tired all the time, you know, listen to your body and understand that sometimes founders, we need to give ourselves a little bit of that extra, we need to give ourselves permission to take the time for that extra little bit of mental health care. And I encourage you all to do that. So, Emily, we are now upon the human question. And I’m making it up as I go along. Because I don’t really have anything right now. Okay, I got one. All right. So you lived in Boston for a while. Just really quick. Do you prefer clam chowder, or do you prefer barbecue? There is a correct answer.

Emily Sterk 39:57
Barbecue, Hell yeah.

Lauren Conaway 39:59
Good girl up. Yeah. But if you could live somewhere else, and it wasn’t Kansas City, and I understand, like, I love Kansas City, you love Kansas City, but where would you live? If you could live anywhere else in the world?

Emily Sterk 40:11
I would love to live in London.

Lauren Conaway 40:13
Okay, why is that?

Emily Sterk 40:14
I love the culture. I love the history I love. I mean, they always seem to be ahead and things, whether it’s fashion or technology. I like that you can hop on a train and probably be in another country. And like, within an hour, I just again, like a possibility. I wanted to live in London for a long time. And then I’m like, that’s not gonna work. So yeah, I would love to live there. Again, just everything about it. I’ve always been kind of a history nerd with London and England and all of the different side towns, so big fan. Okay.

Lauren Conaway 40:49
Well, I dig that London. I mean, you know that it rains a lot there. Right.

Emily Sterk 40:53
I love rain.

Lauren Conaway 40:56
Okay, well, that is very cool. Well, Emily, thank you so much for taking the time to chat with us today. I knew it was gonna be a good conversation. And I love it when I’m right. But thanks for being here.

Lauren Conaway 41:56
Yeah, thanks for having me.

Lauren Conaway 41:57
For sure. All right, friends. So one final push: do you need to hire software engineers, testers, and leaders? Full Scale can help. They have the people and the platform to help you build and manage a team of experts. When you visit, all you need to do is answer a few questions and then let the platform match you up with fully vetted, highly experienced software engineers, testers, and leaders. A whole team of them at Full Scale. They specialize in building long-term teams that work only for you. Learn more when you visit And friends, I’m going to invite you to tell us what you think of Startup Hustle; we do this for you. We want to tell you the stories that you need to hear on your own founder journey. So reach out to us and go to You can always suggest guests, and we can all sit. We also love hearing about topics that you’d like to hear about. We have a chat group, a pretty big one, and an active one on Facebook. Find us there. Find us on LinkedIn, find us on Instagram; we’re all over the place. But we definitely want you to follow us or friend us, but then really tell us what you need. That’s what we’re here for. So let us know. Keep coming back. We appreciate that you listened to us week after week, and we will catch you next time.