Learning to help others starts with knowing how to help yourself. New surroundings, customs, people and the isolation that comes with it is normal to experience. Emotions fluctuate, and it can be hard to understand exactly what those feelings are trying to tell us. We all deal with them, and we can all use help to get us through. These are some of the things Michelle Harwell, psychotherapist extraordinaire, also went through. Michelle Harwell Therapy Eagle Rock
Founder of Michelle Harwell Therapy in Eagle Rock and Highland Park, co-founder of The Lady Bosses of Eagle Rock, and certified yoga instructor, Michelle is an all-around badass business woman.
Having opened her own clinical therapy practice in 2011, Michelle has grown from an operation of just one person to cultivating a team of strong, talented women helping the community every single day.
From South to West
Growing up in Texas and Oklahoma, Michelle was raised and accustomed to having personal interactions with strangers. “I grew up connecting with people and looking them in the eye,” she said. From an early age, people would gravitate towards her for advice or just to talk. From here she developed an interest in understanding people and their inner thoughts. Although interested in this, Michelle also realized she was “ill equipped to help people” at the time.
After moving to Los Angeles in pursuit of a graduate degree, she realized that life in sunny, car-centric California was slightly different. People aren’t always as willing to interact with strangers without assuming they need something, or have an ulterior motive. Almost as if Angelinos are conditioned to expect someone to want something from you.
This hit home for Michelle one day, of all places, in a grocery store. While casually shopping, she instinctively looked a passer-by in the eye and smiled, something she had been accustomed to doing her whole life. Instead of reciprocating the action, the stranger simply gave a fleeting glance back and continued on. “I realized I was in a different place, and that I’m in the city, and that there’s a different way of connecting.”
Shaping a Passion
That moment of bewilderment in the grocery store proved to be an important one for Michelle; helping shape the manner in which she and her team go about helping people through talk therapy.
“The base of what the core of healing is, is helping people have a safe connected space that’s human, that’s real,” she explains. “We help them get into a space safe, where they can tell their story… Talk therapy is a place to slow down, make sense of the life you are making; and how important that is to being human.”
In order to understand how to help others, Michelle’s own psychoanalysis was essential. The influence of her mentors through her doctoral studies, helped her realize what therapy truly provides those who seek it. “Ive learned the most in my own process. A huge piece of me wanting to give the gift of therapy is understanding what it’s done for me, and unlocked in my life.”
The communities that make up Northeast LA served as the backdrop for Michelle’s dive into the world of therapy, and integration into the culture of Los Angeles. She quickly fell in love with this area of the city, as she saw many similarities to that of smaller towns she’s known throughout her life. “There’s a vibrancy, a feeling about this neighborhood; a creativity,” she said. “I feel like I can go into the Hermosillo, have a beer, and talk to the person next to me.”
Living in an area that became inspiring to her help cultivate the passionate and genuine approach her practice leads. Although owning and operating her own business in a neighborhood she felt comfortable laying roots in was something she always wanted, it didn’t happen without hardships. “Opening was wonderful. But then it was really isolating. I was by myself, I was seeing clients all day but I didn’t really have a community.” ichelle Harwell Therapy Eagle Rock
After three years for being a one-woman show, Michelle finally had the means to hire on several interns. Her goal was to create and sustain an intimate community of therapists who have similar goals in mind, who are willing to do everything they can to advance themselves both personally and professionally. “When I hire women, what I’m looking for are women that are hungry to learn; about themselves, about the field, about other people.”
Now she employs seven interns and two licensed clinicians, all with the wherewithal to do great things for the communities of Northeast LA. Hard work pays off, and Michelle has seen the fruits of her labor by building a business respected across all the communities it serves.
“My goal is to help myself and others live into this surprising truth: authenticity is not a destination we arrive at but who we become in the process. It is the byproduct of living a courageous and vulnerable life.“