As a counselor, Leigh-Ann Larson wanted to make a difference in her community. But as a solo-practitioner there was too much to take on, and she knew she needed to build a team. Larson founded Elevate Counseling Services three years ago to provide counseling to the community of South Easton, Massachusetts – where counselors treat everyone from children to teenagers to adults dealing with grief, trauma, addiction as well as couples counseling. Today Elevate Counseling serves 700 families and employs 27 staff across three different offices with plans to expand their addiction and recovery services by 2020.
Larson’s story, as told to The Story Exchange 1,000+ Stories Project:
I founded Elevate because as a solo practitioner, there was too much work for me to do alone and I wanted community. There was also a need to treat young children and their families and this was outside of my scope of practice. I had a vision to hire child therapists and create a counseling community for staff that would elevate behavioral health business practices as well as clinical practice to the highest possible level of care: through mutual trust, respect and camaraderie within the organization. What has transpired in three years is a group that serves close to 700 families, employs 27 staff and has offices in 3 towns in Southeastern Massachusetts. We treat children as young as 3.5, couples, families, and adults through retirement. With specialist in grief, trauma, addiction and couples counseling, we are making a difference in the communities that we serve and have a growing enthusiasm for the mission and vision that is Elevate Counseling Services.
I think success is born out of rising above challenges and every person has different challenges that they must face. A success story usually sounds something like this, “This is what the problem was, this is how I tackled it and this is the positive outcome that has improved something about myself or the world that I live in.” Success is an inside job. The things that I think make me a success are most likely not the things that you think make me a success.
My biggest success is that I have never given up. I continue to persevere and say yes to challenges. I am solution focused and I believe that with every problem that I have faced, there are at least 6 solutions attached to that problem. I choose to live in the solutions, rather than the problems. My biggest success is that I was able to change my mindset from victim (from early life experiences) to survivor. I live this out in my daily life and everything that people see from the outside about my life, is born out of my survivor status: my greatest success.
My goal for Elevate Counseling is that we are able to continue to help the families in the communities that we serve for generations to come. I hope that I am building an organization that will have staying power long after I am gone so that Elevate becomes an organization that people know that they can go to for help and support. We also hope to launch Elevate Addiction Recovery Services as a new division in 2020. This launch will require ongoing scaling, brand awareness and staff development. Addiction treatment is one of our specialties and we have a business plan in place for intervention programs, community education, a holistic intensive outpatient program as well as recovery coaching.
I do not have a business degree and I needed help in this area. My solution to this is that as I have scaled I have outsourced financial management, promoted leaders within my organization to manage the staff and hired a human resources consultant to make sure we are compliant with employment law. I utilize a Facebook group for other practice owners, books on leadership and webinars to keep me thinking about things I need to consider. I utilize business networking to stay connected with other business leaders and this keeps me grounded to the wider community and has given me access to the professionals that I needed to help me with the business. For balance: my husband helps with my web-site and social media which is fun for us. We met in high school singing and still do that with a community choral and church choir. We schedule weekends away, RV and hike, spend time with our adult kids, extended family and friends. It definitely takes planning and commitment to ensure work-life balance.
Going into my second year of business I became terribly ill and found out that I have an auto-immune illness. It was this illness that required me to lean on my leaders within my company, give promotions and create new positions to administrate the business. Because of this, I was able to scale to the size that we are now and it was easy for me to let go of responsibilities because I was so overwhelmed with fatigue I could not possibly handle it all myself. It is probably the best thing that happened to my company, even though it has been challenging for me.
As a young child I had several charismatic adult women in my life that had strong personalities. They were leaders in their own lives and challenged me to be my best self by giving me opportunities to work, to grow in relationship, to be a leader and a speaker in my 4-H club. They stretched me and offered me opportunities to connect, to dream and to grow. They were mothers, wives, club leaders, employees and friends to my parents. I enjoyed their company and as an adult, and when I reflect back, realize that this collection of women gave me permission to have my own fabulous strong personality and to not be afraid of being the leader that I am.