Interested in starting your own entrepreneurial journey in mental wellness but unsure what to expect? Then read up on our interview with Carey MacCarthy, Founder and CEO of START UP! Art Therapy, located in San Rafael, CA, USA.

What's your business, and who are your customers?

START UP! Art Therapy to Rewire your Brain™ utilizes our evidence-based, culturally competent, Neurodevelopmental Art Therapy Whole Brain Healing Approach to treat acute and chronic trauma and rewire the brain's neural networks to relieve the maladapted stress response cycle, moving from a survival state to a state of repair and resilience, while having fun!

The START UP! Art Therapy System™ was originally designed for Native American youth within Tribal schools as a prevention and early intervention to address mental health issues within the classroom, such as anxiety, depression, and PTSD, and to prevent suicide and substance abuse while ending the cycle of inter-generational and historical trauma, prevalent in Indigenous Cultures.

Our research has demonstrated that the START UP! Art Therapy Whole Brain Healing System's™ reduces trauma symptoms PERMANENTLY when compared to standard therapy (talk therapy), within sub-categories of anxiety, depression, anger, dissociation, avoidance, re-experiencing traumatic events, and numbing.

START UP! Art Therapy is now going out to all schools and mental health organizations, not only within Native American Tribal Nations but to ALL Cultures and ALL ages. I also provide individual and group Art Therapy. I care about children, and I care about the planet. I have a passion for empowering professionals to learn how to heal their clients and students so that together we can heal the people and heal the planet.

Tell us about yourself

I am a trauma survivor. My mother was a severe alcoholic with chronic mental illness, and my father has Asperbergers Autism Syndrome. I was on my own by the age of 15, learned how to be self-sufficient, and knew that if I wanted something done, I would have to do it myself. This was a very valuable lesson in being an entrepreneur. I understood at a young age, being an artist, the healing power of art. I knew I wanted to become an Art Therapist, so I put myself through school. When I started my Art Therapy graduate program in 2001 and specifically incorporated Neurodevelopmental Art Therapy into my healing practice (as I had a great deal of trauma personally to work through), I began to see many of the trauma symptoms disappear.

At this time, I was also working spiritually with Native American Tribes and was receiving so much healing from their traditional ways. I went to the reservations and stayed for months and saw their trauma and devastation. Art is a part of their Cultural Heritage, and I saw how this healing modality could be a Culturally Competent healing program to help them rebuild their nations. I knew it was my "mission," "life purpose," as some call it, though I refer to it as my Sacred Duty, to create an organization to bring Art Therapy to the First Nations People.

I started a non-profit called Indigenous Healing Arts Alliance in 2013 and moved out to the reservations of South Dakota, where I began the START UP! Art Therapy training. I quickly realized, after wearing all the hats of the founder, executive director, facilitator, fundraiser, and IT person, that no one wanted to fund Native American causes at that time (it was not a very popular thing until Standing Rock and the XL pipeline protests) it was not a sustainable model.

I have since become a professional corporation, START UP! Art Therapy To Rewire Your Brain. I no longer have to depend on outside funding and donations, and I am giving virtual training to tribal and non-tribal organizations across the U.S. I am now bringing START UP! Art Therapy out into all cultures and all ages as we all need healing. I am passionate and love what I do = a marriage of art, Neuroscience, Spirituality, and Cultural Restoration.

What's your biggest accomplishment as a business owner?

As a business owner, I have many things I consider my biggest accomplishments: I remember praying for guidance when this vision first came to me. I had no idea how I was going to do this, but I was guided and, as a result, I developed a viable Culturally Competent Art Therapy Program within the Native American culture that historically has been rife with broken promises and mistrust, so being able to live among our Indigenous relatives and bridge the cultural divide, even it was just a little bit, is huge.

Another big accomplishment is completing a research study within a Native American reservation showing that the START UP! Art Therapy Whole Brain Healing System™ really is culturally competent, works, and is now evidence-based. Another big accomplishment and contribution is co-authoring and publishing the START UP! Art Therapy Facilitator's Manual. The most recent BIG accomplishment is completing the 3-Day Online START UP! Art Therapy Trauma Training: A 4- Step Whole Brain Healing Approach, so this effective healing modality can be accessible to therapists, coaches, teachers, and schools- globally. Next is to create marketing campaigns that really get this out into the school systems, behavioral health organizations, war-torn countries, and first responders organizations- globally.

What's one of the hardest things that come with being a business owner?

The hardest thing about being a business owner is wearing all the hats and playing all the roles. But if it is something you are really, truly passionate about, it never feels like work! I am happy to sit at my desk for hours and immerse myself in all the different tasks at hand, knowing that I am making an impact in the lives of people and putting myself and my gifts out into the world (this can be scary at times- this visibility thing) but also being able to one day outsource things I am not so great at, like bookkeeping and tech (which have both been HUGE learning curves). But on the flip side of all of the not-so-fun-stuff, it is so worth it because I love being able to make my own hours and go where I want, when I want, with whomever I want without the boss telling me if I can or not- that is truly liberating, and I will never be an employee again.

What are the top tips you'd give to anyone looking to start, run and grow a business today?

  1. Take Imperfect Action: Most of us get stuck in thinking it all needs to be perfect, which can lead to paralysis and anxiety. Just take some kind of action today. It can be the littlest thing and move the needle, then do it again tomorrow and the next day; this is the only thing that creates momentum.
  2. Fail Forward: Don't be afraid to fail miserably. It's the only way we learn what not to do (or by watching others fail), but dust yourself off and get back on the bike for those who stay in the race, win the race!
  3. Balance is Everything: Paying attention to all facets of ourselves while in the process is crucial. It's not about working yourself like a horse to get to an end goal and losing your health in the process. If your health goes downhill, you can't run a business, and there won't be a business to run. So eat well, exercise, take breaks/vacations, work on your inner mindset as well as the outer building blocks of business and build something that you run, not that runs you - this is the only path to sustainability and self-preservation. Maya Angelou said, "Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant."

Where can people find you and your business?


If you like what you've read here and have your own story as a solo or small business entrepreneur that you'd like to share, then please answer these interview questions. We'd love to feature your journey on these pages.

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