Rising From the Ashes: How Melissa Barker Is Making Trauma-Informed Healing and Care More Accessible to All
Dr. Melissa Barker, Founder and CEO of The Phoenix Project, is creating a digital community that supports mental health and wellness—available anywhere and anytime.
While on her own healing journey, Melissa saw a gap between the ability to obtain high-quality healing resources and care and the people who actually get access to these resources. This prompted her mission to make mental healthcare more accessible than ever before. The Phoenix Project was born out of a desire to support and connect individuals going through similar lived experiences. Now, her company is launching an audio-first healing experience and community for trauma survivors.
We asked Melissa about what problem The Phoenix Project aims to solve, how she learned to persist throughout challenges, and the achievements she’s most proud of since starting her journey.
Q: Tell us the story behind your company’s founding. How and why did you start working on The Phoenix Project?
A: The Phoenix Project was born from my personal-lived trauma and struggles with mental health and PTSD—a common yet unseen disability of trauma. In my own healing work and trauma recovery, I have constantly struggled to find community and a safe place to heal. So I decided to build it. Trauma healing tends to be an afterthought or a reaction to crisis, rather than proactive and in the forefront of self-care. The Phoenix Project would like to vastly improve both the response to trauma and the building of habits and skills that help us handle obstacles when they occur.
Q: What problem does The Phoenix Project solve?
A: 2020 made survivors out of all of us. The walls that keep trauma at arm’s length are coming down and the stigma behind discussing mental health continues to be removed—albeit all too slowly. Everyone is having a hard time on some level. And as a society, we don’t teach people how to cope with, let alone resource, trauma recovery.
We all have mental health needs and we all need support. Mental healthcare should be accessible and available for everyone. What if you could get access to instant, targeted, effective support and acceptance into an informed and empathetic community in the moments you need it most? What if we stopped stigmatizing having mental health concerns and the costs of facing life challenges we all, at one point or another, will inevitably face?
In our view, simply creating this kind of access to high-impact care and community would make an immeasurable difference in the lives of millions. Our goal is to make mental healthcare more accessible and effective than ever before. Our mission is to ensure that each and every person feels seen, heard, and empowered to continue their own healing and growth—to rise to the amazing future that awaits them now; not later.
Q: What makes your company different from others?
A: The Phoenix Project is being built as a home to heal, educate, and champion. Whether someone is a survivor of trauma, a loved one looking to support survivors in their lives, someone looking to enhance their mental health and wellness more broadly, or someone looking for an opportunity to support a community that has long been in the shadows, The Phoenix Project is and will continue to grow to become an inclusive and powerful community focused on mental health generally and trauma specifically. The Phoenix Project is closely watching burgeoning related areas such as virtual reality, psychedelic therapy, wellness, and psychology to partner with and/or incorporate the most effective techniques and tools that the world has to offer to support mental health and trauma healing. As it already exists, Phoenix combines an amazing community with unlimited self-paced tools and resources built by trauma survivors and trained personnel, making those resources available when and where they are needed.
The Phoenix Project is also available to organizations who want a holistic, prevention-oriented way to make access to mental health support part of their company’s DNA. With The Phoenix Project’s tools, leadership can make sure everyone in their organization knows they’re safe, welcomed, and has a voice.
The Phoenix Project is also exploring a boots–on-the-ground approach to making its community and resources available within housing developments that historically have extremely concerningly-high levels of trauma—including generational trauma—to support and elevate those communities. The Phoenix Project is not afraid to trailblaze. That is precisely what is needed to bring about more effective trauma healing and support.
Q: In what ways has your upbringing or past experiences contributed to how you operate as an entrepreneur?
A: I am a survivor myself. I am building The Phoenix Project to make trauma-informed healing and mental healthcare more accessible than ever. I know firsthand how hard healing can feel at times. But I also know sometimes the only way out is through. I wanted to create a space where all trauma survivors can have access to high quality healing and care so that they may (re)find their joy.
Q: Have you felt like giving up? What made you persist?
A: Covid-19 has been a multi-vector assault on our society’s well-being. Isolation, uncertainty, horrific loss of life, and financial stress—we are all hitting the pandemic wall. Many months of stress, fatigue, and trauma run rampant with no sign of letting up in the immediate future. It takes a toll. We are all exhausted—mentally and physically. Our brains are foggy, our bodies are doing what they can to cope. Looking at the vast amount of uncertainty, it can all feel like too much. Beyond that, having a history of trauma—from any source—only compounds this issue further. If you are someone who has a history of trauma, the pandemic has almost certainly exacerbated it.
The walls that keep trauma at arm’s length are down. Everyone is having a hard time on some level. As a society, we really don’t teach people how to cope with, let alone resource, trauma recovery. Trauma healing tends to be an afterthought or a reaction to crisis, rather than in the forefront of self-care. The Phoenix Project would like to vastly improve both the response to trauma and the building of habits and skills that help us handle hard challenges when they occur.
Q: We dare you to brag: What achievements are you most proud of?
A: My first Forbes feature brought me to tears. It was a monumental moment in my entrepreneurial life and a moment I will never forget. Speaking at SXSW twice has also been a highlight of my career. I love meeting other entrepreneurs and soundboarding ideas and how we can change the world.
Q: What’s next for you and The Phoenix Project?
A: Expanding into B2B licensing of The Phoenix Project. We want to see mental health and wellness available as widely as possible. We are excited to expand our knowledge base and our product with some key partnerships.
Melissa is a member of Dreamers & Doers, a private collective that amplifies the entrepreneurial pursuits of extraordinary women through thought leadership opportunities, authentic connection, and access. Learn more about Dreamers & Doers and subscribe to their monthly The Digest for top entrepreneurial and career resources.
The views and opinions expressed herein are the views and opinions of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Nasdaq, Inc.