(This post originally appeared on Philly.com)
A life coach? A therapist? A psychologist? The title doesn’t really matter. What matters is that, even before the COVID-19 outbreak, small-business owners have been dealing with an inordinate amount of stress brought on by their oftentimes overwhelming responsibilities. Sometimes, that stress leads to serious mental-health issues.
According to a 2019 Canadian study, more than 62% of small-business owners admitted to feeling “depressed” at least once a week. And another study in 2015 by researchers at the University of California-San Francisco found that mental-health issues experienced by many entrepreneurs and start-up founders are “raging” and inadequately addressed, with about one-half of the entrepreneurs participating in the study saying they suffered from at least one form of mental-health condition during their lifetime.
But if you’re a small-business owner, this is probably not a surprise.
You know the pressures you face every day. You have limited resources and many responsibilities. You have to be an expert at many different things. All of the decisions you make affect not only your company’s profits but also, potentially, the livelihoods and well-being of the employees, customers, vendors and partners — as well as your family — who rely on you. And all of this has been made more problematic because of the significant downturn caused by the pandemic, which has resulted in lost revenues, unpaid bills and — when it comes to your employees — very difficult choices about their jobs.
Which is why more and more business owners are turning to outside coaches and therapists not only to help them deal with their everyday stresses but also to help give them advice on better managing their companies.
“Everyone can benefit from seeing a therapist so that they can better seek understanding and perspective, practice acceptance and empathy, and develop coping and communication skills,” said Nick Basalyga, a therapist and licensed social worker at the West Chester Therapy Group. “I have been fortunate to accompany folks on voyages, navigating dark waters and treacherous storms, to unknown, but hopeful and enlightening, lands.”
Which goes back to the question of whether to seek out a therapist or a coach. That depends. Counseling can come in many forms and from different types of professionals.
Michelle Saahene, a life coach based in Philadelphia, said that if a business owner is struggling with maintaining business and customer relationships, then a therapist would be preferred and should have an advanced degree in psychology. But a life coach could better help tackle mindset habits that are holding many people back, such as procrastinating, comparison, limiting beliefs, and communication skills, just to name a few. Regardless, it’s experience that counts.
“I always prefer a seasoned therapist or life coach who has been doing it for a couple years,” Saahene said. “There are fantastic programs out there. However, I believe some of the best coaches are the ones with unique life experiences.”
What role would the therapist or coach play in a business owner’s life? Basalyga said that person would serve as a sounding board, a supporter and advocate, a neutral perspective, and a guide. “The right kind of counselor all depends on what the business owner would like to explore and work on. A licensed clinician will have a broad skill set to provide therapy. If there are specific areas of interest, certifications and clinical expertise should be considered.”
To find that right person — be it a coach or licensed therapist — you can begin your research by just Googling for professionals in the area or visiting local resources provided by such sites as Psychology Today, Thumbtack and Noomii. Getting a referral from someone who has had success using a counselor, coach or therapist is also a great option.
You can expect to pay anywhere from $100 to $300 a session, and you’ll need to commit to doing this for months, not weeks, if you want to see results. That means showing up on time, being transparent, meeting goals, and being willing to take advice. Because getting help is not just about dealing with stress. It’s also about staying focused and better managing your business … and your life.
Ashley Schafer, an image consultant based in Marlton, has been working with a coach for more than six months and is happy with the results. Her coach has been able to take an unbiased look at her business and give her actionable advice that has helped both her personal and professional growth. “I think the most important thing about finding a coach is to find one that you respect, trust and that feels like a friend,” she said. “This is key because you want to feel that you can tell them anything and open up to them about your ideas.”
Running a business — whether in the middle of a pandemic or not — is a stressful thing to do. It’s important to have someone — a professional without an agenda and in a neutral setting — to discuss the problems we face, both in our companies and in our personal lives. Doing so could make a big difference to our mental health, and as a result, benefit others who are close to us.
“Everyone is a business owner of their life,” Basalyga said. “Effective therapy will not only help a business owner at work, it [also] will translate into more meaningful connections in their personal life.”