WCBC Review interviews Keely Helmick of the Connective Therapy Collective, a queer-centered, sex-positive therapy center.

In this episode we discuss avoiding burnout, providing a space for like-minded folks to gather, and the importance of gender and sexuality training for therapists.

The Connective Therapy Collective can be found on their website, and on FacebookInstagram, Twitter, and Youtube.

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Connective Therapy Collective

Cardinal:  Hello and welcome back to WCBC Review, where we put the spotlight on small businesses. Today, we are interviewing  Keely Helmick of the Connective Therapy Collective. How are you today kelly?

Keely:  Doing really well, it's a gorgeous, gorgeous Portland day outside.

Cardinal: So I am super excited to talk with you about your business, and what you do there. So, first of all, what exactly does the Connective Therapy Collective do?

Keely: Yeah, so we are  a small group of practitioners. A mix of licensed professional counselors, as well as pre-licensed counselors, interns. And we do therapy for, we focus on LGBTQ community and trauma. We also have a specific grouping that we work a lot with sex workers and working with a lot of folks. Really, if you just think about like everybody outside of the like CIS heteronormative box.

So we work with all types of relationships and a lot of community members and just helping people out the best way we can from a therapeutic standpoint.

Cardinal: I love it. And what's your role there? What do you do?

Keely: Yeah, so I am co-owner. And I also supervise and I see clients and I lead workshops and I do probably way too much right now.

As, you know, like small business owners, we just are always hustling and doing as much as we can. You know, the thing is I I'm a co-owner and the other owner is Angie Gunn and her and I got together. We thought it was a great idea! 2020 was going to just be this like rad awesome year full of this, like so much goodness. And so January of 2020, we combined our small private practices because we had a lot of the same values and, and ideas and we're like, yeah, let's work together and combine, and then COVID hit. So we yeah, so we started a business. It's just been about a year of doing this. And it's been really, really interesting.

Cardinal: No kidding. You know, I've been really surprised talking to small business owners because I've talked to more than I expected that  actually started a business. Right around when COVID hit or just before.

Keely: Well, it was my, you know, it's funny and there's this really, really bad cheesy song called F 2020.

I don't know if you've heard it or not, but you'll have to listen to now. It's really cheesy. It's total poppy, whatever. And it starts out saying like, yeah, you know, new year's Eve 2019, so excited. Like I literally that script people will be like, yeah, I was so excited for 2020. It was just going to be the year for us.

And I think there's a lot of high hopes. I will say the thing about my you know, the business that I run is there more than ever, there's such a high need. And so it's, it's been really fascinating to both balance growth and really wanting to maintain the health of folks that I employ, you know? So it only be balanced like with, with any kind of growth.

It's like, okay, this is like, Oh, there's so much needs. So more people than ever are seeking out mental health services. And yet I don't want to overload my clinicians. I don't, I'm trying not to overload myself. And you know, we're all in this mixed together. We're all doing this together. Right?

Cardinal: Some growing pains.

That's a good problem to have.  Yeah.

Keely: You know, I always tell people, it's like, you know, I love this work. I've been in the mental health. I mean, technically post-graduate I have a master's degree, a master's in counseling, psychology from Lewis and Clark, technically 15 years post-grad however, I started doing running groups at a sexual assault support services and Eugene and started when I was 19.

So I've actually been in the field for like 21 years. And. I always say, like, you know, I'm very grateful. And it's the one job where if for some reason we, we ran out of work, it would actually be a positive thing. So, but we also do like a lot of workshops and education and work with interns. So we are more  than simply providing individual and relationship counseling.

Cardinal: Wow. It sounds like you do a lot. Yeah. So what made you want to get started with all this specifically with forming the Collective. With your partner?

Keely: Yeah. Yeah. Business partner. Yeah. Well, I always knew I wanted to own a business.

I mean, small group practice. So I was very goal oriented. I'm a Virgo, very, very goal oriented. And the longer I've been in the field, when I was at agency work and working for an agency, I recognized how the systems within the dynamic of mental health is horrific at times really horrible and I, myself, I don't need to go into details, but I, myself experienced a lot of things within the mental health system.

That was really horrible. Like really not supportive of clinicians. And so you're like promoting mental health and yet not providing services or helping clinicians. You're like draining them dry to help all these other people. And so then when I began, when I got my training as a supervisor, I was like, Whoa, They're like no queer supervisors as like where at like I was seeking additional supervision and I wanted someone who worked in the arena that I do, you know, that doing sex therapy and LGBTQ. Anyone!

And it just wasn't there. It was a bunch of, because it's Portland, Oregon, white, CIS hetero. Even, you know, male, the higher you get up, even mental health, it's very heavily, not CIS male. However, as you get into higher ranks and the educators, the people in psychiatrists, psychologists, president of the universities, you still have that dominance.

And so I was like, I want to provide, like, I want to be the support and help. People that I, that I didn't get the help with. I didn't get to have that. I didn't get to have an internship site that validated any kind of queer trans experience or any kind of informed care, let alone like non-monogamy or any kind of other relationship formations.

Like there just wasn't that just didn't exist or it exists. I should say it existed, but it was not readily available. And so my business partner, Angie, her and I shared good small private practices and we shared office space and we would just chat in between sessions and just found that we were very aligned ideologically and values, and really wanted to more than anything, provide a practice that supported clinicians.

Beyond like, yeah, we can do mental health, but where, where do you find a work atmosphere that that supports clinicians and clinicians lives outside of, you know, providing money for businesses?

Cardinal: Wow. What a mission. So has that focus on the clinicians, brought you a whole deluge of people who want to work at the Connective Therapy Collective, or are you looking for new people?

Are you, have you found everyone that you want to get, or are you trying to  expand further?

Keely: Yeah, I mean, so right. We're always looking to expand. The thing right now is waiting to see how so we're all tele-health due to. And so we have office space that we go to cause I have two, two kiddos.

And so I don't, when I see clients I'm in the office, even though it's in telehealth. And so we're looking to expand and really are. Big goal is to find a space because really we want to be more like I was saying before. We're more than just a mental health organization. One of the most beautiful moments.

When I was, when we were counseling before COVID and we had a lobby area and you would see people just talking in between sessions and like making connections, because one of the things with mental health and especially for queer and trans folks, we don't, you know, there's not always space available or it's hard to meet other people.

Or there's like so much depression, anxiety, like just tied in with dealing with our system and how our society is. And so it'd be so wonderful to, to just walk into the lobby and like, see people snacking. And we had, you know, a bunch of like, cause we're, you know, I to do sex therapies, there's always like sex, positive stuff and things, you know, and just seeing people hang out.

And so I want to get an actual physical building. To be able to have all of these availability for people to hang out for people to go. That it's a space, not just to like, Oh, I go see my counselor for 15 minutes, you know, for a 15 minute session, but like make connections and run groups and do community outreach and have live workshops.

Eventually have group meetings. So yeah. Yeah, our next, we are expanding. We're definitely, we just hired a couple people and we have a new round of internship interns coming on, and then we're gonna, we're opening up hiring, and then we were looking for a building.

Well, yeah, I mean, there's a ton of building. Yes. We're, we're staying in Portland, actually my business partner because of COVID she actually went to Idaho, so she's not even in the state, but I. I'm community oriented. I want to say, I want to grow in Portland. So yeah, finding a spot in Portland, a building that can house all of us in the services we want to provide.

Cardinal: Well, good luck with rent.

Keely: Yeah, for real,

Cardinal: I love that you are wanting to provide that space though. Cause what  I've heard in the community If the audience doesn't realize I am non-binary and yeah. Kelly, do you want to share about your orientation at all?

Keely: Yeah, I mean, I'll, yeah, just, it is helpful to know my identity.

I identify as a queer, gender fluid or non-binary person who so not only am I working within the community, I am part of the community. So, which has. It's plus as a negative

Cardinal: it's a small community,

Keely: very small community. I've run into how many prides, you know, how many pride events and be like, Oh, hi. Yep. I'm

just going to pretend they don't know you.

I do my own thing. You do your own thing. We're all good.

Cardinal: What I was saying is that something I hear a lot is that. There's not a whole lot of spaces for queer folks to meet that are

alcohol free.

Totally. Yep. And

you know, as you were saying, depression and anxiety are really prevalent for us. Oh, joy and alcohol generally doesn't help that in the long run.

Keely: Yeah. And we come from a framework of you know, well, I won't go into too much terms, but I'll say a couple things. So people want to look it up or are interested to hear more about it, which is we come from a harm reduction model and we support folks who are also in full recovery. And one of the things that is not nearly talked about enough and they're talking about spaces is providing spaces for people to meet the high correlation with our queer community.

And. Drug and alcohol abuse is, again, it's a systemic thing because we there's often this correlation called sex, drug linked behavior. And so being able to express yourself in a way feeling like basically alcohol and drugs are a way to feel okay to express yourself. And so individuals who are queer and trans identified, it's much higher rates because of that, because society

pushes us into corners and just really doesn't provide a lot of opportunities. And so the opportunities that we do have are when they're that limited, it's just that. So that's part of, it's another big part of it. So I like to throw out those terms because a lot of people don't know them and so they can kind of, they can research it and see what it's all about.

Cardinal: Yes. Please. People look into harm reduction.  100%. So speaking of hard things I am curious about with you opening in January, right before the pandemic hit, what was the toughest part about opening up during that

Keely: time? Wow. I think the thing was the hardest, but also provide proved or showed us our resiliency was the quick transition going from completely in person to going completely online and having to manage.

So that was the number one, like business piece, you know, just really being like, okay, how do we. Because as a, as a new business, as everyone knows, it's like, you're trying to just like, keep, you know, meet, meet ends, you know, you want your payroll, you just make sure that you can pay payroll every, you know, pay period.

And beyond that, you're like, okay, it's our first year. If we get beyond that, that's awesome. And so really making sure, like quick change around going all of that in place and keeping everyone safe. At the same time. And then the second hardest part would have, would be that we as humans. So when we do mental health as a, as a business, like I'm the product, you know, like I am providing the service.

And so when you're in a pandemic and then have, is like huge forest fires and just natural things going on,  maintaining my own health physically, mentally, emotionally, like I'm in the thick of it with everybody. So it's not like this person that I'm talking to who's has this experience and they come to session and they talk about their childhood and we work through trauma with EMDR or whatever.

It's like the thing that dealing with it's the same as what I'm dealing with. And so it's extra, extra challenging for all the clinicians. And so we just had to be really. I guess that a lot of resiliency and being really creative and just really a new level of authenticity and showing up as a human versus like old school therapy is like, Oh, you keep separation, you know, client and you, and it's like, you know what, I'm human.

And yeah, when you're saying it sucks that your child has to be next to you while you're working, or you're trying to navigate all these things because of COVID or you're scared about your parents or, you know, the mask sucks. Like I'm going through all of that. And I am part of that. And I think we got, you know, I got some practices of that, you know, like I said, because I'm part of the community that I serve and there's so much inner goings about, but it was really extra.

It's still, I mean, like COVID still here, we're still in the thick of it. It's just starting to get out easier

Cardinal: or just getting numb to it at this point, I feel like, yeah. Yep. The old question of who cares for the caregivers. So if you had to start over from day one,  would you have done anything differently?

 Keely: Would I have done anything differently? Well, I'd say the one thing, I'm kind of a scrappy type person and I just like figure things out and looking back, I would have.

Hired some kind of business consultant or like figured out a way to maybe take a couple of classes. Cause I'm like a business person that kind of figured it out myself and going from a small practice where it was just me and an intern and a like very part-time office manager to then growing just last year alone.

It's now a full-time office manager, two owners. Part-time marketing person and six clinicians. That's like a huge, and being an s-corp and having a full-time employees, like that's a whole nother level that I just, I thought I had it down in private practice, but there is some major, big leaps that I, that I had to figure out.

And so it would have been nice to have, it would have been nice to have a little bit more support and recognize where. Other community members could, could have maybe helped me some.

Cardinal: Mm, yep. You don't got to do it alone.

Keely: Oh, mutual aid, mutual

Cardinal: aid. I feel like small business owners, especially  we're like, okay, I'm my own boss now.

So that means that I do everything  and it doesn't have to be that way. There are people who make their whole career out of helping small business owners.

Keely: Yeah, there's some amazing people out there and I've really, really enjoyed this past year really expanding the thought of like, yes, I own a business of being like a business in the community and how I can reach out and the different, like, like masseuses and other acupuncturist and just all different types of business people, even Oh, who's making tea or who does coffee? Or who does, you know, like things we can do in the office or who's like super sex positive or sex education, or  all the different areas of life that support our business.

I want to connect and like really build community.  I think that's the biggest thing with COVID. Is that now  hopefully looking to transition out of this, like COVID like cocoon, you know, on zoom constantly as I really look forward to continuing to build these relationships with so many different small businesses in Portland.

Cardinal: Well, I know a few people that I could hook you up with. We did an interview with Salty Betch a little while ago, who makes really sassy bath salts is very sex, positive. She even has like a bar of soap that's shaped like a vagina and stuff like

Keely: that. That would be in our office.

Cardinal: Great. So,  if you had to look a year out in the future, assuming that COVID takes care of itself or is taking care of, what are your dreams? Where do you want the Connective Therapy Collective to be?

Keely: Yeah, so I want, so right now yeah, there's kind of like three or four different pieces to it. The first one, like I said, as we're looking at. Getting a new buildings to be really great a year from now to have a space. And I'm building. So my Alma mater is Lewis and Clark college, and which is in Portland Oregon for those that don't know.

And so I actually work with Lewis and Clark college with interns there. And so I'm working towards right now. I'm working towards building curriculum; sexuality and gender 101 for therapists. And so I hope to be teaching, a six hour one CE you know, one credit unit at Lewis and Clark.

So I'm waiting to see what they say. I'm hoping to be teaching just like just one or two of those classes, because one of the pieces is how therapists in general are not taught about sexuality and gender.  I have so much of my business I'll have clients coming in or the supervisors coming to me and being like, yeah, you know, I have this, they have their own therapist.

And they're like, yeah. And they would ask them these questions, or they would make these statements. Like, there's so many things that just average therapists do. And like 90% of the time it's super unintentional, you know, but it's like, it's, it's a bit sucky. And it's it's harmful and so many microaggressions.

And so I hope to be teaching, you know, with the universities and colleges in town to help up and coming therapists, to be better trained and to really support and really to lobby for better. Better skill training actually in college. Like it shouldn't be like you learned this after that should be sexuality and gender should be a part of the curriculum.

And so really lobbying for that. And then. Beyond that is working with Orca, which is Oregon counseling association. And they lobby with local government officials and in hopes of expanding OHA, Oregon health authority, expanding coverage, there's a high, high, high percentage of queer and trans folks on Oregon health plan.

The system, the line to get from like getting Oregon health plan coverage to finding services is really challenging. And OHA makes it very, very difficult for us as clinicians to help serve the folks who want to serve. And so I really want to work with the organizations and local government to make better changes so that we can serve all humans, you know, but especially

queer and trans BIPOC folks who are over-represented in Oregon health plan, because we know all the reasons I ended up with too political, but that's, but that's what I hope to see. So that's, I'm really excited to be, you know, we're moving towards those directions.

Cardinal: So what's the number one way that you're getting new people in right now if they're not, are they still finding you through the system or how are they finding you word of mouth?

Keely: Yeah, they, so we do take OHP. We do, it's challenging. It takes a lot of extra work, but it's always been a really important part of my work since I was in private practice. So most people are actually fine is what my marketing person said, Mel, Mel's an awesome person.

I should use her name. Now. It helped did the, what? Did a lot of the website along with the color Angie, and we get a lot of traffic through our website, but we do take OHP. Yeah. We do take OHP and other private  insurances. And we just have a whole range of, everything from like, we provide some pro bono services.

We have sliding scale with interns. We have a whole range. And so we really try to. Do our best to be able to serve as many folks as we can as, but, but especially those people that don't have access like other folks do.

Cardinal: All right. Wow. Well, we sure covered a lot in this

Keely: interview. You learn something about therapy that you didn't know.

Cardinal: Yes. Well, you know, I've always kind of been concerned for my therapist just  because, you know, I'm um, I've been a CNA and I'm a massage therapist. And so I know that the people who take care of people are humans too. Like they're not immune to feeling bad. They're not immune to anything they're just normal, regular people.

And certainly the last year has been really, really tough on everybody. So, yes, I'll keep that in mind. Next time I talk to them.

So the question that I like to wrap up in any interview with blah, blah, blah.

The question that I like to wrap up every interview with is if you had a brand new, small business owner in front of you, what is the advice that you would give them?

Keely: Would you have any fears? I would say lead by your values and don't do it alone. Get, you know, talk, just talk to people and, you know, just read and, and reach out and, and talk to people that aren't in your business work. You know, some of the best, the most valuable and best advice I've gotten is reaching out to other businesses that aren't therapy businesses and learning how other businesses run.

So definitely add leaders lead by your values because that's, what's at the end of the day, that's, what's going to keep you going. Is, you know, aligning with your values. Yeah. Reaching out, working with others.

Cardinal: I hear that a lot. Reaching out, getting a mentor, stuff

Keely: like that. Yeah. And just, yeah, and being in community, like you're not alone.

When I get to talk to other business owners and I there's other small groups that are forming therapy businesses and you're like, Oh my gosh, you're dealing with that too. Like, I'm not the only one dealing with this crap. This is good. So much validation, so much validation.

Cardinal: Nice. All right, Kelly, it's been so great talking to you.

Where can people look you up and find the collective? Yeah.

Keely: So you can find this. We have a website and it's Connective Therapy Collective dot com we are on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook. You can find some really great things to talk about therapy. We talks about sex therapy. Talk about all kinds of relationship things, and you can also find on the website different Video broadcasts of workshops that Angie Gunn have done that I've done.

So lots of places to find us.

Cardinal: Awesome. And I will link to all those places for anybody listening. Just check the show notes, it'll be down there. And I just want to thank you again. This has been such a great conversation and maybe one day we can have you back on in a year and see where you're

Keely: at. Yeah, I would love that.

Thank you so much for the opportunity. Yup. Have a great

Cardinal: day. Keely. Bye.

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