Women and Well-Being

Melissa Bennett-Heinz


Today, wellbeing is a key topic that can be heard in a variety of settings from corporate settings to schools, to a doctor's office. Women are driving change in mental and physical health, breaking barriers, and reshaping wellness. I have worked in healthcare as a therapist for over two decades, following a non-linear path.

I grew up in a family of classical musicians, the youngest of four kids. I attended the Manhattan School of Music in New York City, to win a principal oboe position with a symphony orchestra. Just before my college graduation, my mother passed away suddenly. A year later, while pursuing my graduate degree at MSM, I lost a dear loved one to suicide, and my father died a short time later. I had struggled for many years with episodes of depression and anxiety, feeling quite isolated, and I carried a sense of deep shame. Just before the death of my mom, I began seeing a therapist for the first time.

Over 10 years, I tried working with several therapists with varied expertise and theoretical approaches (psychodynamic, CBT, DBT, eclectic), but they never seemed to help much. I wasn’t happier. Life wasn’t easier. I felt disconnected, lost, lonely, and filled with shame. I went through more than a decade of therapy and not much changed in my life. It was when I discovered Gestalt therapy that things shifted.  I had completed graduate school and was working at my first job as a therapist in community mental health. My clinical supervisor at that time led me to Gestalt as it was through her eyes that she saw in me what turned out to be a beautiful fit for this particular type of therapy. 

 Alongside my love of music, helping others and being of service had been lifelong interests, so I pursued a second master's degree in social work from Columbia University. Yet it wasn’t until I completed graduate school that I was introduced to the Gestalt method by my first clinical supervisor, who used the approach to guide the way she lived her life and our work together. That’s when I consider Gestalt Psychotherapy to have found me. I completed the clinical fellowship program and certification at Gestalt Associates for Psychotherapy in New York. 

One interesting experience I had since beginning my career was getting sick with a cancer scare. It started with a fever and the symptoms compiled from there, I couldn’t get out of bed, I had no appetite, and I was in excruciating pain for a couple of months. I received negligent care from doctors and hospitals and had to do my research on my symptoms, schedule my tests, and eventually had to search for an oncologist on my own. After a battery of tests and a major surgery that had several potential life-altering consequences, I found out I was not facing cancer.

This experience terrified me on so many levels. One, I was afraid of not working as I knew I could not support my family for long lying in bed. Next, I had not been prepared well for taking care of this part of my life and quite honestly avoided looking at it as I didn’t know any other way. I was in fear of ultimately losing my business and home. When I was well enough to sit up and work for a few hours, I felt resentful that I had to work and fake that I was well enough to do so. Thirdly, this sacrifice I made for my own needs to attend to my practice and patients was not appreciated. You know that saying, “No good deed goes unpunished? Well, this was yet another example of this being true. I knew something had to change.

After I recovered from surgery and gained my strength back, I was inspired, rejuvenated, and ready to put my needs first and foremost, every single day. I learned how to attach a monetary value to my services that were what I needed to live and sustain my lifestyle. I learned to separate my own narrative about success, worth, and value from my business practices. I began to get very clear and set different boundaries from what I had been taught by my family of origin, society, culture, and even the profession in which I work. I began to think of my business as a living thing that has needs and since I am not only at the helm, but I am the business and brand, I have to be well taken care of so that I can continue and thrive. In doing all of this, I am more satisfied in the work I do, and more fulfilled in every aspect of my life, and the understanding that my needs must come first has only been reinforced as I continue to heal, rejuvenate, and become expansive. I do not show up feeling resentful any longer. No day is wasted, and no amount of health and time is taken for granted. I work hard but not to the detriment of my existence. I also play and rest every single day. I take breaks and time off. In turn, my work as a psychotherapist is more grounded, present, centered, and focused

It has been said that our mistakes can be our greatest teachers.

I laugh as I recall a memory from over ten years ago when I learned about the "reply all" button in an email. At that time, I was working in the health insurance side of healthcare. I was responding to a corporate email that came from a higher-up at a very poorly managed company, morale at this company was at an all-time low and the environment was quite toxic. The email stated how much the company cared about their employees, or something to that effect, and it was so obvious to most that employees were taken advantage of and mistreated. Well, I hit “Reply All” when I was trying to forward it to a friend so we could “rant” and commiserate. Well, you can imagine how that turned out! Luckily, it was not too hard of a lesson as I didn’t say anything too awful, just used some sarcasm, so the consequences weren’t all that grave. I am now super careful every single time I get an email that is addressed to multiple people. I was quite embarrassed and am so grateful it wasn’t worse than it could have been. 

The work I do in health and wellness is helping to make a bigger impact in the world.

As a therapist, I work with one person at a time, or a small group of individuals at once. I am limited being one person doing this type of micro-healing work. I accepted long ago that as one person, I am not going to singlehandedly make a huge impact in the enormous world we live in. However, the impact of the work I do with individuals helps change the way people work, parent, and love. It is a ripple effect that the work of a psychotherapist has on making a bigger impact. A professor I had in graduate school drilled into me that my job is to plant seeds and we might not ever see them bloom, but the hope is they do. 

My top five “lifestyle tweaks” that I believe will help support your journey towards better wellbeing:

1. Practice mindfulness by learning to be present in the moment without judgment.

2. Learn to love yourself and, in loving yourself, be kind, gentle, and be your best friend.

3. Prioritize putting your needs first before you put others' needs.

4. Learn to set healthy boundaries and say no.

5. Be willing to be authentic and vulnerable, and show up with your whole heart in all you do.

What I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started

1. First, prioritize organizing your finances to meet your current needs and plan for the future.

2. Second, don't undervalue yourself – charge the fees in your business that will allow you to live the life you desire.

3. Third, you can't take care of others if you don't take care of yourself first, just like the oxygen mask principle on an airplane – you need to breathe before helping others.

4. Fourth, success is a long-term pursuit that requires patience, persistence, and determination.

5. Lastly, remember that you're not alone, and it's okay to ask for help.

“Wellness is the complete integration of body, mind, and spirit – the realization that everything we do, think, feel, and believe has an effect on our state of well-being.”


Greg Anderson