From day one, Shashanah Ward has always cared about black professionals. Starting her business dubbed Counsel for the Culture at the end of 2019 in Charlotte, North Carolina, she desired having a virtual practice where she could work with clients in a more flexible and personal way. And with the rise of 2020’s coronavirus pandemic, her plan came to fruition. “Pretty much my idea was to have a virtual practice. So of course, when 2020 happened, that fell right into my lap, because 2020 everything kind of went virtual, by default,” she began. As she’s been a licensed clinical social worker for 11 years, meaning she can provide clinical services in any setting, she offers many different services to her clients concerning mental depression, anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder, and other diagnoses.
Before opening Counsel for the Culture, Ward’s previous mental health company worked with at risk youth and other adults. By the end of 2019, it dawned on her that black professionals also needed mental health services. Ward trained herself to always look out for the underprivileged communities. But during a partially traumatic event that happened at the end of 2019 along with other life transitions, she learned how important it was for her to talk about her situation and how important this could be for others, especially black therapists and psychiatrists. “That’s what pushed me into focusing specifically on black professionals,” she shared. “I wanted to open up a private practice where I could determine who I wanted to serve, versus in some of the agencies, you didn’t really have that option; they were just serving whoever they started with.” Ward decided that in 2020 she would pursue her business full-time, after taking an eight-week leave from her job at a primary care clinic.
During the beginning of her business, Ward found much success. “I didn’t expect the business to grow as quickly as it did. Within 30 days, I had a waitlist,” she shared. Being able to be creative and set up her business and the associated websites just the way she wanted gave her the freedom she needed; she was able to bring in more clients from those elements alone. Because of her comforting approaches and warm designs, Ward said they’ve helped clients feel more welcomed and despite it taking a while for them to fully open up, she makes sure she’s embracing and celebrating their progress. “At first, I had some skepticism within myself. It was one thing to work with black people, as I’ve done my whole career, and then it’s another thing to market towards black people,” she shared.
One barrier she faced during the beginning phase of her business is insurance. Because lots of people prefer not to pay put of pocket for therapy, dealing with the insurance companies can be quite a deal for her. “Whether it’s taking a long time for them to be approved or whether they’re taking a long time to pay…just going through that process and finding a group and consistency when it comes to offering the services and knowing that income flow is an ongoing process.” Ward is self-employed and acknowledging that growing by herself is a slower process than what she has had in the past working with other employees and with other businesses is a new process for her. Working on the general administration parts of her business as well as providing the services are what she calls “the everyday struggle”, along with dealing with personal issues that have occurred in her family since the start of her business. Ward recommends that all therapists have a therapist. “Since I see therapists, we always encourage therapists to have therapists, I have my own therapist,” she commented. Ward wants people to know that her company is a safe space for black professionals to come to and be themselves. She has created a space for professionals to come and unwind from the heavy job that is dealing with mental health. “I really want people to know that Counsel for the Culture is a place where they can come and know that there’s space for them. There’s authenticity here like I see them. I am them. And it’s important just for them, to know that.”
Ward enjoys regularly unplugging from social media and is currently trying to get back into traveling after the coronavirus pandemic. With her self-care routine, she motivates herself to get back in the game and help more professionals unwind and unplug from the busy schedules they have as well.
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