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She Means Business – An Interview with Certified Clinical Sexologist and Psychotherapist, Kelly McDonnell-Arnold

Today we’re using the hashtag #shemeansbusiness to shine a light on inspiring women and women-run businesses in celebration of International Women’s Day.

This interview with Kelly McDonnell-Arnold was a special treat. While her professional bio is certainly impressive, she makes us want to do better in our own lives and in our work. She could be the poster lady for #SheMeansBusiness. Let’s dive in!

Tell us, why do you love your work?

I enjoy explaining the mysteries of the human condition in simple terms everyone can understand. I like to help people feel understood, confront their joys and pains, and help motivate them to make positive changes. All this gives me energy when I wake up in the morning.

I avoid offering simplistic solutions, and instead I prefer to create a community around the paradoxes of our intimate lives. Sexuality lives at the intersection of multiple disciplines and the vastness of the subject of sexuality has always fascinated me.

I get to put this work to practice when I do couples therapy, which could very well be the hardest kind of therapy to practice. As a therapist, I see plenty of pain, deeply rooted patterns, and loneliness, even when in the presence of others. You’ll likely find me top-knot deep in depth psychology, neuroscience, systems, and attachment theory.

Getting started, and even today, I’m always excited by this work. As long as my brain works—and I’m always seeking ways to make it work better and faster, then I can be a good therapist for my clients.

It’s thrilling to think about the ripple effect of helping my one-on-one clients, and the hundreds of amazing clients who visit my clinic, and the many people who watch my sex and relationship advice on TV. It’s so inspiring to know that a business can grow to this size in just four years.

I also love advising magazines such as Chatelaine and Canadian Living and online spaces as well, such as elephant journal and mindbodygreen—it means that I can share what I’ve learned in practice with a broader audience!

I also enjoy putting together material that educates and empowers people to embrace themselves and their sexuality through Sexology International. This includes a magazine, online course, and coaching programs.  

Your passion is infectious! How did you get started in this business?

I started out by opening my own practice. I had a cozy one-person office. I loved working with clients, but it felt isolating. I craved a collaborative and open office, and when I moved the location to Uptown Waterloo, that’s when things really took off. I hired associates, which was a pivotal moment for me. I moved from being self-employed to an entrepreneur.  

Wow! That’s a lot of risk! How did you do handle it?

With the help of a healthy support system, including my partner, James, I overcame many obstacles while growing Bliss, including a difficult audit and the hiring (and firing) of the wrong people. Mistakes are part of any business, and it doesn’t mean you have to quit. If you get knocked down, you just get up and keep going.

What’s challenging about this business?

People often don’t realize how much hard work and dedication goes into starting a business from scratch. I’ve worked extremely hard and sacrificed a lot in my personal life to build my practice to where it is, and that’s involved sleepless nights and working a lot more than 40-hour weeks for a long time!

There’s a flipside to this, however, now that the hard setting-up work is done, I can afford to enjoy a little time off, and amazing, professional colleagues are always inspiring and helping me on a daily basis.

A lot of people say, “I could never do your job because I’d be so sad hearing people’s upsetting stories,” but I find it the exact opposite. It’s wildly empowering to watch people take control and change their lives.

Something I learned early on (thanks to my parents) is that if you put your mind to something, you can do it. Never define yourself by other people’s standards. Always, always, try to set a new bar for yourself. You always set the bar high because you’ll always pass it.

Not only does it give me the lifestyle that I want, and the freedom to work with people and clients that I want to work with, but it also gives our clients a place where they can get care and treatment in a way that they want—a relaxed environment where everyone and everything is calm and completely judgment-free.

What advice do you have for women who are thinking of starting a business?

With starting a collaborative private practice, I wanted to bring together passionate, professionals from the field, where we could all grow together personally and professionally.

Supporting one another in working with our clients to the very best of our ability. I had to get comfortable with leading a practice where associates have more experience and education than me. I love that I can learn from every single person at Bliss.

How do you support women in business?

I love supporting my sisters-in-business. I encourage other women—with high-fives, encouragement, and with a genuine desire to serve. I mentor other woman, and ask women I admire to mentor me. I encourage others to reframe their thinking (and help others) to come from a place of abundance, not scarcity, When one wins, everyone wins.

What inspires you?

Possibility! I’m inspired by an entire tribe, professionally and personally—my sisters, clients, community, and mentors.

I’m fortunate to get to stand on the shoulders of giants and using the understanding gained by major thinkers who have gone before to make intellectual progress.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself developing my therapy business (Bliss Counselling) even further, to allow busy and travelling professionals to access our therapy services. My goal is to maintain a healthy and balanced life—something we all need. Family and kids will also be a welcome part of my future.

What does success look like to you?

To me, success is doing what you love, getting paid for it, and having a wonderful balance of family and friendships.

To me, it’s not just about having material or career success. It’s about breaking through boundaries to get to your dreams and having the guts to go for it. People are going to tell you it’s not possible, you might get hurt, but you do it anyway. Your competitors are going to try and bring you down, but you keep going! You don’t have to follow the same path as someone else—why not create your own?

When you’re doing something original, honouring your unique talents, and inspiring others along the way, you’ll eventually find success on your terms. Sticking to it without letting anyone else get in the way is an admirable (and less-travelled) path.

Learn more about Kelly and get her secret “tips from the couch” here.