“To Optimize Your Mental Wellness Practice Compassion”, with Erin Bogdanski and Beau Henderson

Five steps? I’ll give you one: practice compassion. When you practice compassion that leads to gratitude, wellness, support from your community or friends, taking care of your body and becoming a champion of your own health. As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I […]

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Five steps? I’ll give you one: practice compassion. When you practice compassion that leads to gratitude, wellness, support from your community or friends, taking care of your body and becoming a champion of your own health.

As a part of my series about the “5 Things Anyone Can Do To Optimize Their Mental Wellness” I had the pleasure of interviewing Erin Bogdanski. Erin is a therapist and the CEO of THERA Inc. Thera provides live counseling using Virtual Reality and customizable avatars. After working in emerging technologies, Erin pursued health psychology and neuroscience to counsel specifically with post-combat Veterans and traumatized children. She has over 4000 Clinical hours as a therapist, both in private practice and in the medical model. Likewise, she has extensive experience as a therapist for children and teens with mental health issues. Trained in law,education and human rights, she founded THERA to provide live counseling using VR with customizable avatars to disrupt the traditional model based on harsh medication.THERA supports a younger, tech-native generation to express themselves safely through VR-driven therapy. She hopes to bring humanity using virtual reality with the intent of providing safe spaces for people to experience the mind/body connection of virtual reality. In her youth, Erin worked in over 15 different countries, and over 10 different nationalities, and was trained under the US Coast Guard.

Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you share with us the backstory about what brought you to your specific career path?

I’m a licensed practitioner with a former background in law, politics and was in the Coast Guard. I don’t subscribe myself to any career path, but being an entrepreneur is a choice. Like many people you sign up for the pay check or you make the leap to owning your own business. I chose the latter.

After experiencing the problems with our health care industry, I founded Thera in the interest of solving problems in the health care system. I don’t consider it a career path, but instead a mission to galvanize my team in support of the much needed change in our current system in order to further support mental health.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career?

Helping people is my passion. Knowing I’m creating a product that can help those that may not even know they need help is the best story I could imagine.

Meeting the Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi was also pretty amazing.

Can you share a story with us about the most humorous mistake you made when you were first starting? What lesson or take-away did you learn from that?

I didn’t know that female entrepreneurs are outsmarted, or disenfranchised. I made tons of mistakes because I’m a clinician, and not very tech savvy, especially with social media.

As a startup, one of the lessons to learn when you are fundraising is to find the right investor in your company. There are those who will not believe in your product and you need to be wary of those who do not believe in the missions of your company and the organic process of building a team and organization.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I couldn’t have built Thera VR without my Co-Founder Amit Jain. He is a talented entrepreneur, supportive Co-Founder, and technological genius. It is my board of directors and my mentors, friends and family who have brought me success. I would have to say that Dr. Skip Rizzo and Glenn Tanimura have been my mentors in this process. Skip has lead me to have faith in the science of utilizing virtual reality to create my product, that in seeing it as a valuable tool for helping others. Glenn has been my advisor for business and innovation. As an engineer himself he understands the value of product development, and also the struggles of launching a product to market with technology. Having a team of amazing therapists including Valerie Beltran using and backing the product has also been a blessing.

What advice would you suggest to your colleagues in your industry to thrive and avoid burnout?

Focus on family first, and remember to practice self care. We are human and need to know our limits. Know how much you can take on as a therapist, or manage your time to prevent burnout and fatigue. Remaining positive is so important.

What advice would you give to other leaders about how to create a fantastic work culture?

I like treating my employees like a family, I listen and also practice tough love. You know you have goals to achieve but it is also important to know that every person who is helping you create or deliver your product is the face of your company and should be validated and praised. I like to see my employees not put their head down and work but to stand up straight and be proud they are part of a company that is trying to do good.

Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. Mental health is often looked at in binary terms; those who are healthy and those who have mental illness. The truth, however, is that mental wellness is a huge spectrum. Even those who are “mentally healthy” can still improve their mental wellness. From your experience or research, what are five steps that each of us can take to improve or optimize our mental wellness. Can you please share a story or example for each.

I believe mental health cannot be separated into binary terms. We are human and we go through life changes and development which can lead to mental illness, even in “ healthy” people.

My background working in the medical model allowed me to see healthy people develop self-harming behaviors because they were lonely, isolated and not nurtured. Some did not have someone that could really listen to their struggles present in their life.

Creating mental wellness depends on many different factors, including culture, family, friends, habits, education, and passion.

As a Catholic, I believe in God, and that we are born with gifts. Belief in your strengths are what motivate us to make healthy decisions and seek support.

Five steps? I’ll give you one: practice compassion. When you practice compassion that leads to gratitude, wellness, support from your community or friends, taking care of your body and becoming a champion of your own health.

Much of my expertise focuses on helping people to plan for after retirement. Retirement is a dramatic ‘life course transition’ that can impact one’s health. In addition to the ideas you mentioned earlier, are there things that one should do to optimize mental wellness after retirement? Please share a story or an example for each.

I can’t say much about retirement as my background is working with young people but my suggestion is to constantly keep learning after retirement. Keeping the mind active is the path to longevity and health. Keep active and volunteer.

How about teens and pre teens. Are there any specific new ideas you would suggest for teens and pre teens to optimize their mental wellness?

Be compassionate towards yourself. Embrace your passions and understand that your parents are not perfect. Don’t be afraid to express yourself but be truthful with your parents so you can develop good communication skills. Be kind to yourself and always report if someone is bullying you. You have the right to be respected and treated with love and dignity. Set positive goals for yourself, and remember to nurture your friends. That is the best part of being a teen.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story?

Mind by Daniel Siegal MD. No story just read it. American therapists can really relate to it.

You are a person of great influence. If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

I would like to start a movement about empathy and compassion in which people are more focused on living life, then trying so hard to attain every goal, but to be happy with what they have. Strive for attainable goals. Also, part of that movement is to be more aware about civic issues , and to step out of your comfort zone. It makes you a better person.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life?

Understand that you cannot plan your life out. Sometimes you get thrown a curve ball, and get derailed. When that happens, develop resilience and bounce back. Remember you may have to redefine yourself when you do. I have had many lives, working on the ships, teaching English overseas, going back to university and working in Foreign Affairs, working in the healing arts , and now being an entrepreneur. There are risk takers and there are those who want everything safe. Be prepared for both.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

LinkedIn is best. You can also stay up-to-date with me through my company’s InstagramTwitter, and Facebook. You can also be in touch with Nico Hodel and Adi Patil and their team at Start It Up NYC with any media or press inquires.

Thank you for these fantastic insights. We wish you only continued success in your great work!

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