Prioritizing Others Amid a Pandemic

Maintaining our mental health was, and continues to be, a difficult thing to manage during the COVID-19 pandemic. Luckily, Anna Shurmatz, LCSW-R, has prioritized helping others for decades, making it a priority of her profession.

Anna, CEO and Founder of Shurmatz Counseling, LCSW, PC, and her staff provide individual therapy and support to children, couples, and adults who are struggling. Throughout the pandemic, Anna and her team remained dedicated to providing mental health care to individuals – a number that increased dramatically following March 2020.

Anna explains, “The demand for mental health treatment has skyrocketed in the past 18 months so my team and I created a long-term strategy to help. I have wanted to help people for as long as I can remember. It was an easy decision for me to pursue clinical social work professionally.”

Women’s Business Center at Canisius College (WBC) has had the pleasure of assisting Anna in growing her business during a time when the demand for it inevitably grew as well.

A Business is Born

Although Anna has been a psychotherapist for a long time, she never set out to be a business owner. Anna decided to open her practice when the work she loved doing was becoming hard to do in a community mental health setting. Anna said, “After the birth of my daughter, I chose to hang out my shingle as a solo practitioner. To say that I was anxious about this transition is a profound understatement!”

The WBC helped to connect Anna to other small business owners, getting her in touch with others walking a similar road. Anna explains that “school taught me how to be a therapist but my business skills have come from experiences and organizations.” She was in a solo practice for about two years before transitioning into a group private practice in pursuit of a better work-life balance.

Anna has stayed true to her roots, prioritizing work-life balance for not just herself but for her employees as the business has grown. Anna said, “I have remained connected to the central tenet that I started this business to have a better work-life balance, and I extend that opportunity to people who work for me. I hired my first therapist in Spring 2018, and as of right now, we have twenty-seven therapists and three support staff. I’ve learned a lot since opening the practice in 2015!”

Keep Doors Open During COVID

As one would expect, the beginning of the COVID pandemic affected Anna, Shurmatz Counseling, her staff, and their clients. Anna said, “At the beginning of the COVID pandemic, the sole mission at Shurmatz Counseling became to do our absolute best to help our clients get through the crisis. Shurmatz Counseling shut down their physical offices and became a virtual practice, which was essentially a requirement for staying open at the time.

Over the past two years, Shurmatz Counseling added many therapists with different specialties to address the ongoing mental health crisis. In September 2021, we opened a second office in Amherst, NY, which allowed Anna to hire more practitioners and serve more people in WNY.

Shurmatz Counseling also began offering training to mental health practitioners where the cost of attendance is a donation to a selected charity. Anna stressed, “Fairness and social justice causes are very important to me. I believe that access to affordable training is a social justice issue.”

Anna’s Walk with the WBC

Anna was looking for resources to help her develop as a small business owner and found the WBC through a generic Google search. Anna said, “I knew that I needed to get out of the ‘mental health silo’ where so many of my professional relationships were also psychotherapists who had very little training on running a business and the WBC helped me fill that void.”

Anna began working with the WBC prior to the pandemic in Fall 2019. After meeting with Lynn Rybak, the WBC’s Business Development Specialist in Summer 2019, Anna realized she had a lot to learn about running a business. Lynn provided great ideas and insights into how Anna could “lean in” – that’s how she knew the WBC was the next step to take. Anna was a member of the Elevate Advisory Group and the ENetwork, moving into the Master Advisory Group in Fall 2020, renewing her membership in 2021.

Anna reminisced on her time thus far with the WBC saying, “The guidance and friendships I have developed in these programs have been priceless. The WBC and the programs within it have given me a double dose of confidence and skills that have helped my business thrive.”

“These programs helped me connect to other small business owners and the facilitators helped me see the importance of working on my business as the CEO, not just in my business as a therapist,” Anna explains, “That shift in perception was the catalyst for much of our growth during the pandemic.”

A Word of Advice

Anna reminisced on her biggest lesson learned as an entrepreneur and her advice to others: “Hire the people who match your enthusiasm and vision for your business. The smartest thing I’ve done is hiring the amazing group of people that we have now.  Hiring enthusiastic people who care about the work we do is what has made our growth possible.”

Anna would also encourage someone starting their own business to, “Start creating good habits now. There are always competing priorities for time and energy. The best habit I’ve personally found is to ‘eat the frog.’ Start your day with the task that’s least attractive to you and it’ll get better from there. It’s so easy to get lost in the noise of the day and to procrastinate.”

Anna explained, “I block out time in my schedule for all sorts of things and try really hard to hold myself accountable to use that time for what I said I’d use it for.”

Thanks to the WBC, Anna and her team at Shurmatz Counseling will continue to prioritize mental health for decades to come.

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