The Need For Humanness Is Greater Than Ever
Where We Go From Here
Lundy, Founder & CEO, Khesed Wellness
Around 30 percent of the US is considered a “therapy desert,” where affordable mental healthcare providers aren’t available or accessible to the people who need them. Khesed Wellness attempts to fill this gap by providing services to people who seek care but have historically faced barriers to accessing it, including people of color, residents of low-income and rural communities, and people identifying as LGBTQIA+.
For Lundy (they/them), the CEO and founder of Khesed Wellness, this work is personal. "Khesed is a Hebrew word which means 'loving kindness,' especially for the marginalized. I started Khesed because I've needed Khesed in my life many times. The spirit of our name and the idea of our founding story is through personal experiences that I've had as a non-binary person reaching out for support.” And with the rise of anti-LGBTQIA+ legislation around the country, Lundy says “the need for humanness is greater than ever, and therapy is a place that invites more humanness in our world and reminds humans that they're not alone.”
In this conversation, Lundy shares their experience addressing the mental healthcare needs of underserved communities, suggests how nonprofit leaders can improve the mental health of their staff, and offers advice on how to grow an organization over time. Joining them is Lee Farmer (they/them), Director, Financing at NFF.
In this video:
Introducing Lundy and Khesed Wellness. (0:18)
Khesed’s founding story (0:42)
Finding creative ways to address therapy deserts. (1:34)
Centering the margins through cultural awareness and representation in mental healthcare. (3:03)
Serving people in states with anti-LGBTQIA+ laws. (5:04)
Advice for nonprofit leaders looking to improve the mental health of their staff. (7:25)
Goals for the future of Khesed Wellness. (8:28)
Growing the organization sustainably. (8:52)
Debunking a common misconception about therapy. (10:34)
LEE: Actually, pause. Is Khesed the right way to say it?
LUNDY: Yeah. Nice job.
LEE: Could you introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about Khesed?
LUNDY: Sure, my name is Lundy. My pronouns are they/them, and I am the founder and CEO of Khesed Wellness. I am also a licensed therapist. That is my background in coming to this work. And Khesed provides affordable and free therapy to the underinsured.
LEE: And can you share the founding story of Khesed Wellness? What inspired you to found this nonprofit? And is there a story behind the name?
LUNDY: I started Khesed because I've needed Khesed in my life many times. And Khesed is a Hebrew word Hesed, which means loving kindness, especially for the marginalized. And it's a philosophy that when we center the margins, we all have the chance to thrive. And I knew that I wanted to create an ethics-centered organization that filtered everything we do through that philosophy; which translates to our mission and vision of how we look at access barriers and creatively eliminate those roadblocks for clients and therapists alike.
LEE: So, many of us have found our wellbeing journey strengthened by therapy, but there are places where this is inaccessible – kind of geographic locations – and you refer to these as therapy deserts. Can you tell us more about therapy deserts and why it's important to recognize them deserts?
LUNDY: So, about 30% or so of the US would be identified as a therapy desert, which means either there aren't providers in that community that are in accessible driving range, or there's no available providers. So, everybody is full and not taking clients. These therapy deserts disproportionately exist in rural and low-income areas; areas that are also known for a lower bandwidth and an inability to access virtual services, as well as cultural dynamics that prioritize in-person care.
And so finding solutions for these communities – for example, I love to go further upstream and see dynamics – like one of the reasons there are therapy deserts is affordable housing is often an issue in these communities for therapists as well. And so how can we creatively meet the local needs of communities in culturally relevant ways that also eliminate therapy deserts in 2023 in the U.S., which to me is just amazing that they exist in the first place, right?
LEE: I'm just thinking about cultural barriers to therapy too, of like, different places, cultures, people, and their views on therapy. And how, yeah, how does that impact your work, and how do you make therapy accessible across all peoples?
LUNDY: I think it's essential to acknowledge the systemic oppression that exists within Western health care and mental health care. We see this on many aspects of care; whether it's how people are believed, how people are diagnosed, access barriers. And a significant dynamic we must acknowledge in Western mental health care is that over three quarters of the work force identify as Euro-American.
So representation alone of mirrored experience, much more cultural awareness and nuances, much more. The fact that the largest population in the US that's uninsured are Spanish-speaking homes.
LEE: Mm hmm.
LUNDY: We are then invited to acknowledge that a way to bridge oppressive dynamics is to center the margins, both under-representation on the therapist side and underserved communities on the client side. And the more that we can create organizational environments that diverse therapists want to lead and work, then I trust that we can start to re-imagine and also deconstruct oppressive systemic barriers that exist in the landscape.
LEE: On a tougher note, there is currently an unprecedented wave of legislation targeting the LGBTQ+ community, especially those of trans people. How has this climate impacted your work? And in a time like this, why is the work of an organization like Khesed especially important?
LUNDY: Khesed exists in states that are known for more harsh and violent legislation towards the queer and particularly the transgender community. And we are seeing increased needs within those communities as well. Similar to our presence in those communities after the overturning of Roe v Wade, and the need for support. I will say a nuance about Khesed that is really important in this dynamic is that we are a cash pay service, which means we don't directly bill insurance. So people's ability to get completely confidential care with us, no matter where they live, is a value that I've had from the beginning of starting Khesed, because of the diverse communities that we serve. And so people can trust that when they come to us, their experience will be completely confidential. And as a national organization, we have the opportunity to double down our efforts of loving kindness for those on the margins through our pro-bono programs in particular, and also how we support therapists in the States.
And we are transparent about who we are and why we exist. And while we do get targeted by certain groups, particularly because we are a nonbinary-founded organization, we also have growing amounts of support from community partners like NFF who want to spread the word about the work that we're doing in the world. Because ultimately, what it shows is that the need for humanness is greater than ever, and therapy is a place that invites more humanness in our world and reminds humans that they're not alone.
LEE: As a mental health professional and nonprofit leader, you know very well the stresses and challenges that come with the work. What advice would you have for nonprofit leaders looking to support the mental health and well-being of their staff?
LUNDY: Support your mental health first. We heal the collective by engaging our own healing. A mentor of mine said one time that if you want to be a nonprofit leader, you are choosing a life of constant self-development. And the more that I see leaders engage their own mental health, the more I see them naturally talking about mental health and becoming aware of mental health, which inherently impacts the collective. Because what we do know is that people feel the heartbeat of the organization through their leaders' heartbeats, and it's how they show up in the world.
LEE: And what are your dreams for the future of your organization? Could be the next year, the next five years, the next twenty-five years.
LUNDY: In the next year, I imagine we will be in fifteen states. In the next five years, we will be in all fifty states. And in the next twenty years, every single resident of the US will have access to a therapist that they can afford.
LEE: You've grown from providing services in Colorado to Texas, Michigan and Illinois. How did you land on these geographies, and do you have any advice for nonprofits looking to expand into other geographies?
LUNDY: We particularly look for areas known for underinsurance. So the first site we started in Illinois is in South Chicago, and that's really intentional. And so we grow through the value of invitation. But what that ultimately means is we are constantly looking for relationships with people who see the need for affordable, free, accessible therapy, and want to participate in making that happen.
LEE: Mm hmm.
LUNDY: And I would encourage other nonprofits wanting to grow nationally to listen for their relationships, rather than to believe that you need to meet some growth quota and stretch yourself too thin. I think if we wait longer and get deeper, then we will grow more efficiently and thoughtfully. And so while I give you the ambitious one-to-twenty-year goals, I also have told our team every year that we will grow in cadence with our relationships and resources. And we're not in a race to be as big as possible as quick as possible. So I would actually want to give nonprofit leaders some relief from whatever idea we have of what growth means. And ultimately remember that growth of culture will always transcend growth of company.
LEE: What's something people often misunderstand about therapy, and what's the reality?
LUNDY: People misunderstand that therapy does not exist to make you happy.
LEE: Mm hmm. Uh oh, are you sure?
LUNDY: Well, yes. And I will provide a caveat because I'm being intentionally, like, a little bit extreme, But, you know, I would say therapy exists for your expansion. You know, when I meet with people– let's just say they're struggling in their relationship. They are feeling bad and they want to feel better, and they want their relationship better, likely. We can often look at that as we're in a baseline of pain and we just want to get better, right? Rather than realizing we are seeing our pain through a certain lens and we're going to be invited to expand. Which may mean feeling greater depths of grief and pain and also being able to access greater depths of joy and happiness.