When the pandemic hit, L’Oreal Benitez, owner of Benitez Counseling, LLC, had customers whose lives literally depended on her. When Wichita closed down and everyone was told to stay at home, she knew that wouldn’t work for her patients with the most severe problems.
Benitez is a licensed clinical marriage and family therapist, as well as a licensed clinical addictions counselor, who specializes in areas where few therapists seem to tread. In addition to substance-use disorders, she specializes in treating people with eating disorders, perinatal mood disorders such as postpartum depression and working with individuals suffering from trauma and individuals struggling with any type of loss or who have experienced any type of traumatic incidences in their life.
Some of these people are often on the cusp of a breakdown, harming themselves or even committing suicide, and she knew many of these individuals couldn’t make it months, or even a week without therapy. So, she continued meeting with her most in-need customers, spreading out their office visits to leave time to sanitize in between.
It quickly became evident there wasn’t a quick fix for COVID-19, so Benitez began looking for a way to help her other customers and for a way to save her practice. She turned to teletherapy.
“Teletherapy wasn’t a new thing prior to the pandemic, but it was a service that I didn’t offer at the time,” said Benitez.
Some of her patients took a “wait and see” attitude about teletherapy.
“Most of them were uncertain about what that (teletherapy) care would look like,” said Benitez, who admitted the transition required her to make adjustments as well.
After a while, most of her customers bought into the idea and, with very few exceptions, found it worked just fine. In fact, most of them found it both convenient as well as COVID friendly. They didn’t have to leave their home, saving them the time and expense of traveling to her office. In addition, some of the patients found it more comfortable talking to someone in their own home or speaking to them virtually.
“In some ways, people feel a little bit more protected or safe or can be a little bit more vulnerable if they’re sharing through a computer screen,” said Benitez.
Teletherapy wasn’t the only change Benitez experienced during COVID. Demand for her services increased exponentially. In part, her business grew because there were very few therapists specializing in her more difficult areas of practice. Her practice also grew in general because the pandemic proved mentally challenging for a lot of people and a lot more people found the need to turn to a professional for help.
In addition, her business grew because telehealth made her accessible to more clients: Individuals could meet with her at their office over lunch hour or at home without having to find a sitter.
“I’m able to reach clients in rural areas that may not have had access to quality mental healthcare before,” said Benitez. “And then also due to my specialties, I’m able to reach populations where there may not have been a therapist who may specialize in perinatal mood disorders or eating disorders.”
Another way her practice grew was from an increasing number of Black clients. She was pleased to see a growing acceptance of therapy by African Americans who she said were definitely looking for therapists they could relate to culturally.
“One of the common things that I hear very often when clients seek me out is, ‘I want a therapist I can relate to. I would like a therapist that understands cultural differences,’” said Benitez. “So, I do tend to get a lot of those clients in my practice.”
She eventually had more clients than she could handle and in response to the need for “culturally-connected” therapists, she developed a directory of African-American therapists in Wichita. It was an unselfish step that helped patients, but also helped other Black therapists in the Wichita metro area grow.
Certainly, her business also grew because she proved helpful to her clients. It’s one of the major ways Benitez measures the success of her business. Beyond the growth in her client base and her growth in revenue is growth in her patients.
“One of the greatest things that I love to hear whenever I’m working with clients is, ‘L’Oreal, I have nothing to talk about today,’” she said. “And, usually, my response is, that’s great because that means that you’re doing well. It means that you’re thriving. It means that you’re accomplishing your goals.”