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Community Highlights: Meet Kathleen Musca of New Leaf Counseling STL

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kathleen Musca.

Hi Kathleen, so excited to have you on the platform. So before we get into questions about your work-life, maybe you can bring our readers up to speed on your story and how you got to where you are today.
I don’t know if I’ve ever tried to spell out my “story,” but this is interesting for me to reflect on – the whole big picture of it. While it didn’t feel obvious to me then, in hindsight, my path into the mental health field is very clear. I was not one who always knew what I wanted to do. I had no idea until I stumbled into it. Like, multiple years of stumbling that I started with having no idea what to do after college. I got a degree in. I think it’s creative writing. Something under the umbrella of an English degree. Not because I wanted to be a writer or anything, I liked the classes and didn’t know what else to do. While I’m sure there are many obvious career paths to take with a writing degree, my 22-year-old self didn’t see any of them, so I wound up teaching high school English straight out of undergrad. At the same time, this wasn’t where I wanted to be long-term. It was a critical part of how I got here because working with students helped me realize some of my natural skill sets, or maybe just things that I love, primarily relationship building and serving others. The mental health piece fell into place pretty easily. While teaching, I saw this as one of the biggest gaps in support that my students faced. There was no support for mental health needs, trauma, anxiety, depression, or any of the issues kids faced outside of (and within) the classroom. And I just kept finding myself providing counseling and support well beyond what I was equipped for, as many teachers do. I wanted to provide this service in the right way. From there, I wound up at WashU’s Brown School of Social Work, pursuing a master’s degree in social work with a mental health concentration. After graduating, I took a job with Saint Louis Counseling’s School Partnership Program and began my work as a therapist in a school setting. I worked primarily in high schools and a few middle schools. I was there for 5 or 6 years and knew I needed something different. I loved the work I was doing but didn’t love the limitations of the school setting or the limitations of agency work in general. And I wanted to work with adults as well as high school-age clients. So I decided to start my private practice!

I found some office space, had a lot of support from friends and family with setting up the office and my website, and I started taking clients in 2018. From there, building up a client base wasn’t a natural process for me. I’m not great with self-promotion or networking. It feels very unnatural for me, way outside my comfort zone. I tried doing some social media, and I will probably return to that at some point when it feels good. Still, primarily, I’ve built my business through word of mouth, connecting with other people and business owners in the community (i guess that is networking ha!), and just generally trying to be an active part of the mental health and wellness community in STL. And that’s where I am today, just happily seeing clients in my little office in Maplewood.

Alright, so let’s dig a little deeper into the story – has it been an easy path overall, and if not, what were the challenges you’ve had to overcome?
Yes and no. I think that’s always the case, yes and no. There were turns on this road that were clear and smooth and happened almost without thought—even big turns, like actually leaping to start the practice. I had been half-assing it, toying with the idea but never taking any steps forward – out of fear, maybe? Or a lack of confidence in myself. I was also really deeply struggling with an unhealthy relationship at this time. I was in a state of survival in my personal life, which drained a lot of the confidence I needed to get the ball rolling. But one day, my friend sent me a link to an office for rent and said, “wouldn’t this be a good office space?” My response was dismissive – “Yeah, that’s a great space! I’ll call them on Monday and see if it’s still available,” to which he responded, “Call them now. Go big or go home.” I don’t know why – I’m not usually one for pep talks or motivational speakers – but something about that moment. I just thought ok yeah, why not call now? What’s stopping me? I called. I saw the office that afternoon, signed a lease the next day, formed an LLC, and purchased a domain name over the weekend, and it just kept rolling from there.

That relationship I mentioned was one of the struggles too. And in a way, I think starting this business and pulling myself forward down this path (along with amazing friends and family) saved me from a terrible situation. Starting this practice gave me an even greater sense of purpose and self-worth that I needed at the time. I did not know that I needed it. But damn, I did. And it’s maybe vulnerable or whatever to talk about a deeply personal element to this, but I’m a therapist; it’s in my nature to talk about the uncomfortable things, I guess! I think it would be inauthentic to leave that out when you are just an individual trying to start something bigger than yourself. A business, a practice, a blog, a club, anything – trying to market it, and provide a service, or a product, and build something of worth, and something you feel proud of – and it’s just you – then the things that are happening to you at home, those things matter. When I think of all that I was going through at the time. Then I look at my practice now, my schedule, my therapeutic relationships, and my professional relationships, and hold those two versions of myself and my business; in contrast, I feel proud of it all and how far this has come. Maybe comparatively, it’s not some huge group practice. I don’t have employees; it’s just me (and my awesome clients), but that’s all I ever dreamed of it being, and so for me, it’s enough, and I’m thankful for it.

The other struggle worth mentioning is that a small business owner always has an internal struggle (struggles?). Especially in a service-based business, it can feel like, is this working? Am I providing a good service? There will always be moments of “oh my gosh, why do I have fewer appointments this week than the last four weeks?” You can get stuck in a fear or scarcity mindset. Fear that new clients won’t seek you out or that you aren’t actually “making it.” And you have to coach yourself through those moments, bringing the mindset back to gratitude for what is. Rather than anxiety for what isn’t, trust in the ebb and flow of this type of thing. That can be a struggle, but I think I’m getting better at that bit.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next, you can tell us a bit more about your business?
New Leaf Counseling STL is my private therapy practice based in Maplewood. I specialize in depression, anxiety, relationship issues, exiting and recovering from unhealthy and abusive relationships, and other life transitions (starting/graduating college, career changes, etc.). I have training in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (ACT), Mindfulness, and Trauma-Focused CBT. I currently work with teens and adults, doing individual talk therapy. I don’t do groups or couples or families at this time. Maybe in the future, but I really love working one-on-one with people. People are well versed in therapy terms these days and often want to know about modalities, so for that part – my background in general, I did not specialize in one modality. I draw from various therapeutic backgrounds depending on each individual and their needs.

It’s hard to say what I am most proud of “brand-wise” because I don’t know that there’s much of a brand. I think I’m most proud of the strength of my relationships with my clients in my work. It is, in my experience, the number one factor in a client finding real value in the therapy space, the therapeutic relationship. I strongly believe my clients have what they need within themselves, and I am here to observe and reflect on it, especially when it’s hard for them to see that. It isn’t a therapist’s job to “save” or “fix” anyone (especially since I don’t view my clients as broken). It’s my job to build that relationship, to be a generous listener, to share some therapeutic knowledge and skills if they need it, or my perspective on an issue if they want to hear it, and above all else, to meet them in this space with consistency and without judgment.

Are there any apps, books, podcasts, blogs, or other resources you think our readers should check?
Apps – insight timer, calm Podcasts – I honestly don’t listen to many mental health podcasts, but not any that I can think of! I enjoy serialized investigative podcasts, and I like Conan O’Brien Needs a Friend and the Ezra Klein Show (there are some mental health episodes on that one!)

Books: Matt Haig has some good, accessible mental health books (not clinical, easy to read, honest, and relatable). On the more clinical side (but still accessible), The Body Keeps the Score by Bessel Van der Kolk. The Trauma of Everyday Life by Mark Epstein. Any relationship book by Esther Perel. Easy-ish by Amy Miller (another local mental health professional!). Ummm, many more, but I’d have to check my bookshelf!

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Image Credits
Tracy Laramie

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