We had the chance to sit down with Shelly Smith, owner of United Counseling and Wellness, recently and talk about her essential business that is needed now more than ever: online counseling services and support. Shelly's business is committed to community wellbeing which is also why she's launched a special offer for frontline workers which you can read more about at the end of the article.
Check out our exclusive interview and get to know Shelly a little bit more.
Please tell us a little about yourself.
My husband and I have been married for over 17 years, and our kids are 13 and 10 - which sounds so old. We’ve lived in several states but moved back to WI two years ago to be closer to extended family. We’re a really active family that loves to be outside together, but we also enjoy watching movies and cooking great meals. I’m a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist, and co-own United Counseling & Wellness LLC (UCW). I enjoy reading, playing games, traveling, triathlons, and seeking out unique bookstores and coffee shops.
How long have you owned your business?
My business partner and I shared a small, in-person private practice starting in 2012. In 2017, we realized that both of our families were relocating to different cities, so we rebranded and expanded to make United Counseling & Wellness work for our lives and fit the needs of our clients. We now have multiple therapists seeing clients online and in offices in Milwaukee, Elm Grove, and Minneapolis, and beyond. We expanded the online therapy options for our business in 2017 after doing extensive homework to be sure it’s done securely, ethically, and with appropriate clinical adaptations.
Prior to owning your business what did you do professionally?
Prior to founding United Counseling & Wellness, I worked for several years as a middle school teacher (and loved it!). I have a soft heart for teenagers, but I didn’t feel adequately equipped to help the families and teens in my classroom. So I went back to school for my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family Therapy. That led me on the journey to meeting my business partner and growing UCW.
When did you realize you wanted to go into business for yourself?
When I went back for graduate school, I knew that I wanted to work independently, rather than in an agency or clinic of some kind. After graduation, therapists have to work for a few years under supervision in order to gain licensure, and it was during that time when I discovered I had the drive and desire to create my own business. Joining forces with Jen, my business partner, continues to drive me even further, because we build on each other’s energy and ideas while having complementary business skills. Looking back at when I was a teen and young adult, I realize the entrepreneurial mindset and passion was there all along, but it took time for me to accept that part of myself and lean into it.
Do you work with families or moms?
Yes! We work with moms and families all the time. UCW clients are people like us who are struggling to hold it all together, questioning whether we’re doing it “right”, and getting overwhelmed in ways that show up like anxiety, depression, or dissatisfying relationships.
Why do you enjoy the work you do?
It’s incredibly rewarding. It’s hard being a working mom, and it’s especially hard to juggle everything that goes along with it. So we’re here to help make life more satisfying and peaceful for everyone. Our therapists truly love the work they do, because it makes a real difference in people’s lives. I get to support that work by encouraging and providing for the therapists who are helping our clients. Matching up great therapists with great clients is what I personally enjoy the most, because I know it’s so good for everyone involved.
What is the best part about being your own boss?
So many things! The flexibility of adapting my schedule to fit my family, not reporting to someone above me, and pushing myself to go further and be better. But above all, I love seeing my visions come to life. Jen and I had a shared vision of our dream practice, one that supports great therapists and great clients, and matches them up to do the important work of therapy. Being able to watch this vision build, grow, and change is so exciting and satisfying! I can hardly describe it in words.
What makes United Counseling & Wellness special?
UCW is a unique model for a private practice, because we strive to offer extra convenience and flexibility. A lot of our clients struggle to fit in therapy, because - let’s face it - some weeks are just too busy. (It’s hard to do all the things expected of us, let alone take care of ourselves!) Our clients have flexible options to switch between in-person and online therapy. Plus we offer daytime, evening, and weekend sessions. We personalize therapy to fit it better into a busy lifestyle.
Right now I’m really energized at work, because I just brought on two new amazing therapists in the Milwaukee area. I’m so excited about how they can help moms and families in our community. Our licensed therapists are real people who are vetted by us, specially trained, and excel at what they do. I can’t wait for people to meet them!
What are you passionate about?
Personally, I’m passionate about my family, good friends, and having fun. I strive to find the peace and relaxation to truly enjoy life.
Professionally at UCW, we strive to break the stigma about going to the therapy. I want it to be available to all people as another tool in your toolbox to cope with the stress of life. It shouldn’t be a matter of going to therapy “because I’m going to break” or “life’s falling apart”. Therapy should be there, whenever you need it, as a specialized coping strategy. Even when clients are “finished” with therapy, it’s common for them to come back briefly for check-ins whenever life gets complicated or overwhelming again.
Why do moms make good business owners? Do they have any advantages?
Moms make incredible business owners (although I’m certainly biased). From my perspective, as parents we develop a skill set that includes: an understanding of real commitment, strong work ethic, perseverance and grit, time management, internal soothing and calming techniques, and the ability to talk to difficult people in high stress situations. And there are so many more qualities I can list.
All of these great skills from parenting transfer to the workplace and vice versa - it’s simply a matter of adapting them in appropriate ways. Even our lack of time can be useful, because it makes us more efficient at making decisions and completing tasks. We don’t have extra time to waste, which happens in so many business settings when too much time is available. The only downfall I see (and feel myself at times) is the struggle to take care of ourselves in the midst of everything else and letting go of the guilt that comes with parenting. Once we learn how to handle those challenges, there’s no stopping mom business owners.
Ready to find out more?
Visit United Counseling and Wellness today
A note from Shelly: "Our UCW therapists really, really want to be able to help frontline workers by taking care of them, but it's not necessarily realistic for many to fit in ongoing therapy or afford the cost. So UCW is providing Self Care Sessions for free to all frontline workers."