‘What if?’ Inspires KC Business to Reimagine Mental Health Care, Pivot amid COVID-19David Cawthon
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Kansas City, Amber Reed and her team of therapists at Resolve felt called to make a difference, to make an impact. So at the beginning of April, they pivoted the business to offer telehealth therapy—and then doubled down and offered free sessions to frontline workers.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit Kansas City, many businesses had to pivot, and like many of those businesses, Amber Reed of Resolve, an innovative counseling and therapy practice in Kansas City, was facing “What ifs” about the virus, about her employees and about her business.
But that simple question is one she embraces. After all, it’s the question that started her company.
Reimagining mental health care
In 2016, Amber was leading a team of 30 mental health care practitioners, 12 intensive outpatient programs and a 24-bed acute psychiatric unit when she had her startup epiphany. As the clinical director at an inpatient psychiatric unit, she and her team worked with people in mental crisis.
“What if,” she thought, “we could get to people before they entered crisis mode? What kind of mental health gains could we make?”
At the top of 2017, Amber and her co-founder James McMillian opened the doors to their new group therapy practice Resolve Counseling in Prairie Village, Kansas. Their goal: Remove the barriers for people seeking help with immediate and accessible care options, including online scheduling, a live hotline, and a range of services for 2-year-olds through adults.
Resolve’s mission resonated with clients. They hired more therapists. They grew their practice.
In 2019, that growth prompted Amber to apply for ScaleUP! Kansas City in 2019, a program out of the UMKC Innovation Center that helps businesses scale.
With her peer business owners and her business coach, she learned how to streamline operations, manage Resolve’s growth and plan for expansion. While she was still in ScaleUP! KC, she bought the practice from her business partner and launched her plan. Between 2019 and 2020, she hired six more therapists and grew her practice by 60%.
By the end of 2019, Amber knew she was ready to scale, and on March 12, 2020, she opened the second location in KC’s Northland.
But just two weeks later—as Mayor Quinton Lucas announced the first stay-at-home orders to help flatten the curve of the coronavirus pandemic—Resolve had to close its doors.
Like so many other small business owners across Kansas City (and the nation and the globe), Amber and her leadership team were faced with a different round of “what ifs.”
What if our employees get sick?
What if our clients can’t get the services they need?
What if we can’t treat our clients, face to face, for a month … or more?
What if our business doesn’t survive this?
Closed doors open opportunities
But then, one of her therapists, Dariah Wixon, had a different “what if” for Resolve’s team: What if we did things differently?
The question struck a chord with Amber.
“We started this business because we wanted to reimagine health care,” Amber says. “We wanted to make it work better for people. This was a defining moment for us to step up to and fully lean into our mission.”
In early April, doors still closed, Resolve trained its staff and clients, developed new business and client agreements and launched a full platform to offer telehealth services to existing clients. Before the coronavirus pandemic, about 5% of its clientele used telehealth for therapy sessions. To date, 95% of Resolve’s sessions are conducted virtually and remotely.
And then came the next “what if” … what if we could do more?
Resolve’s approach to mental health has always been about improving accessibility and helping people be proactive about their mental health. And so, just as she coaches her clients to get help before they need it to grow their mental health purposefully and intentionally, she applied the same lessons to taking care of her employees and her business.
Amber reached out to her ScaleUP! KC cohort, whom she still meets with monthly, to get their insights and recommendations on how to keep the business thriving and growing. A group of six business owners that she greatly admires, the team was always there to offer advice and ideas. She also connected with her ScaleUP! mentor, Jill Meyer, who was able to help her navigate the new normal and strategize for the future.
With the coronavirus pandemic, Amber knew frontline workers would need access to mental health services, and they wanted to help deliver that in a meaningful way. At the top of April, the team at Resolve all committed to offering free therapy services through the end of May to anyone who considered themselves a frontline responder. Journalists, EMTs, nurses … Resolve didn’t set criteria, but instead honored what people said and felt about their role in the pandemic.
In the first few weeks, Resolve counselors talked their clients through the anxiety of contracting the illness, about the stress of working and parenting from home, about the loneliness and frustration of being isolated from friends and family, about adjusting to what could be a new normal and, in the past few days, about new concerns around businesses and the city reopening.
“Normally, when you experience trauma, there’s a visceral flight, fight or freeze response, and then you cope with it,” Amber says. “This one was different for our clients. Every day you wake up, and it’s still there.”
Resolve’s ability to pivot, and quickly, allowed the business to meet clients where they were—literally yet virtually—and continue to help patients cope with the stress, anxiety and concerns of this shared trauma.
“When you go through a trauma like this, the therapist is going through the same storm,” Amber says. “It’s a very interesting point of connection and allows you to grow together in a way you normally wouldn’t with your therapist.”
Navigating the next ‘normal’
Over the next few weeks, Amber believes the company will see more people come in for face-to-face therapy sessions.
“I’m still a firm believer in being in front of humans,” she says. “It’s a powerful connection.”
But the pivot to scale Resolve’s telehealth services has opened her eyes to where the business can go … and what her team can learn.
“This has really let us reimagine mental health care services and think about how we might be able to remove even more barriers,” she says. “That’s a phenomenal opportunity for people who need care, but haven’t yet taken that first step.”
The challenges aren’t small. As the team offered more telehealth services, they realized the barriers that technology both resolves and creates. Internet connections and tech “savviness” bring their own hurdles. And for her therapists, as many other people have learned from back-to-back Zoom meetings, sitting in front of a screen for a full hour takes more energy than sitting face-to-face with another human.
But they’ve also gained new insights into “where” their clients are. Telehealth gives therapists a window into their clients’ physical environment and what they’re really dealing with.
“At the end of the day, we’re just so grateful that we were able to make this leap for our clients and legitimately meet them where they are. That’s what therapy is all about.”