West Hartford-based entrepreneur and therapist Marc Lehman, LMFT is co-founder of the Family Resource Development Center, LLC. Innovation Destination Hartford recently spoke to Marc about his new startup Dorm Room Counseling, a “teletherapy” counseling service that enables him to provide counseling services online.
INNOVATION DESTINATION HARTFORD: How has your experience positioned you to launch this startup?
MARC LEHMAN: As a licensed marriage and family therapist (LMFT), I was predominantly seeing middle school, high school, and college-age kids. In the last couple of years, I began noticing a trend with kids transitioning from high school to college. As these kids got to college, there was so much new stuff thrown at them—living situations, classes, people, and geography—they just simply didn’t want to have to tell their story over again and change therapists.
I can see the result of kids coming back to my office who didn’t have continuous services. They would get on academic probation, get kicked out of school, or plummet emotionally as a result of not having continuous assistance.
So there is an excitement for me in that I feel like I’m going to be able to service a population that’s gone underserviced or without services for quite some time.
Dorm Room Counseling happened organically. I was getting requests to continue counseling with me, so I began seeing some patients on an online format, which transitioned into weekly sessions. Many of the kids continue to see me throughout the school year.
The online option has really flourished over the last few years. Kids were telling their friends at school about it and it became a service that was an aside to my practice.
In February 2017, I decided to formalize Dorm Room Counseling with the hopes of increasing the work. I began advertising and letting people know it exists with the understanding that it’s a service students can access easily from the privacy of their dorm room.
IDH: You essentially created an innovative new marketing opportunity for your practice.
ML: Exactly. Dorm Room Counseling feels like a natural extension to my services because I end up “following” a lot of these kids to college—whether it’s through online sessions, seeing their families at home while they’re at school, or seeing them in person when they’re home during a school vacation.
IDH: You’re sort of pioneering this new kind of service.
ML: The idea was essentially born out of situations where my clients were looking to transition to college and continue to see providers. It was a nice, easy, seamless progression.
The excitement has grown. A lot of kids out there really need assistance. A segment of therapists and psychiatrists in my field are doing online counseling, but it’s a very small percentage. I feel like there is a trend that will be building over the next five or 10 years. Right now, I would say I am sort of pioneering some of these services—and hopefully I’m ahead of the curve.
IDH: You obviously had clientele to begin with, but how are you getting the word out and building additional clientele?
ML: It’s a matter of reaching students and parents to let them know the service exists and is an option.
I’ve used a lot of social media. It’s important to be able to reach students in their zone. To be able to put something in front of them on their device in a way that’s natural for them. Social media has been a marketing tool for me. It’s also been a way to network with other colleagues and get suggestions and feedback from a clinical and nonclinical perspective.
Word of mouth is also effective. As well as meeting people in person—going to local high schools, colleges, and universities in the state to let people know about my services.
IDH: Let’s talk about the importance of working with kids throughout Connecticut.
ML: As a licensed therapist, there is a grey area around what I am and am not allowed to do online. My license allows me to practice within the state of Connecticut. That’s very cut and dry and direct. Within online counseling, because so many of these kids are Connecticut residents, there aren’t really a lot of specific laws written around whether or not I can service kids in other states temporarily for college when they reside in CT. That’s something I’m continuing to research.
I’m trying to bolster Connecticut as much as possible. At this point, I’m seeing students who are residents and going to school in state or they’re coming from out of state and going to school here in Connecticut. Kids who are residing in Connecticut and studying here can take advantage of this opportunity.
I really want to make an impact with each of these students. Within the state, I’m hoping the trend is that these kids will not only begin to get services, but many of them will continue to thrive as a result, get their degrees, stay in school, and ultimately be happy.
IDH: Tell us about the Family Resource and Development Center and the importance of having your own practice within the group.
ML: I knew Geoff Genser, LCSW and Daniel Weiner, LPC individually. I brought them together and we formed our group in 2007. Our group initially was just each of our own practices under one roof. Within a year or two, we just decided we wanted to form a fourth practice called Family Resource Development Center, which provides individual, family, couples, and group therapy services to children, adolescents, and adults.
IDH: You’ve been in practice almost 20 years. Any advice for someone starting out?
ML: It’s interesting you ask that. Over the last few years I’ve been getting more and more calls from students, recent graduates, or even some of my patients who have gotten their degrees and want to be therapists. I think it’s great when my former patients have had that kind of experience in counseling and want to help other people.
The one piece of advice I would give is that before we practiced privately, Geoff, Dan and I all got experience within hospital systems, structured outpatient clinics, and counseling centers where there’s a lot of insulation. You really see a variety of clientele.
We were able to bring those experiences to the table before we started practicing privately. That’s been a huge benefit because it’s given us not only experiences, but confidence in how to handle most situations. Between the three of us and our clinical staff, we can provide a variety of support services.
IDH: With regard to your entrepreneurial journey, did you always know you wanted to have your own practice?
ML: That’s a great question. I did. I enjoyed working in hospitals settings. I worked at Elmcrest Hospital in Portand, CT; the Institute of Living at Hartford Hospital; and Wheeler Clinic in Hartford, CT. I also worked in a variety of outpatient settings. I learned something from each of these experiences that I could bring to my practice.
After grad school, when I was in my 20s, I was knowingly collecting experience. I wanted to see a wide variety of patients and learn to work with them. Once I decided I wanted to go into private practice open my own office, the challenge was really learning the business aspect. Because as therapists, we’re not trained in business.
IDH: How did you overcome that hurdle?
ML: I got some on-the-job training. It’s been wonderful. I really enjoy working in private practice. It’s versatile. I can do as much or as little work as I’d like. I also like getting out in the community. I enjoy connecting with people, networking, and helping people. Dorm Room Counseling is the next step in my occupational path. I really hope to help a lot of college students.
With regard to the entrepreneurial side of it things, building a small business—whether it’s starting my practice, forming this group practice, or this next step of launching Dorm Room Counseling—all of those things are really exciting as they begin to grow and evolve. It’s even better when people like your new idea!
For more information about Marc Lehman, visit at www.marclehmanlmft.com. Follow Marc on Twitter @mllehman. Find out more about The Family Resource Development Center, LLC at www.frdcllc.com and learn more about Dorm Room Counseling at dormroomcounseling.com.