When our NJMOMpreneur of the week Dr. Liz Matheis opened her own psychology and educational consulting practice for children with special needs and their parents, she started running her business from the dining room table of her home in Parsippany. Five years later, Dr. Liz has a team of therapists, employees, her very own office — and a family that could not be more proud of her. Even when obstacles like anxiety, pressure and cultural boundaries tried to get in the way, Dr. Liz never let anything come between creating her dream private practice, Psychological and Educational Consulting of NJ — which still allows for enough time to attend her children’s school affairs, fun moms’ night out events and sneak in all the mom kisses and snuggles, too.
featured image via Jake Matheis
Founder of Psychological and Educational Consulting of NJ & NJMOMpreneur Liz Matheis
NJMOM: What do you offer to your clients and how is it different than other professionals in your field?
Liz: At Psychological and Educational Consulting of NJ (PEC NJ), I offer services to children, adolescents, young adults, their families and their schools who fall under the umbrella of special needs. I have an awesome team of therapists working with me who are able to provide services like play therapy, art therapy, family therapy and parent coaching. We also provide private psycho-educational evaluations for students whose parents are looking to gain an understanding of learning profile, diagnosis of a learning disability (notably dyslexia), attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and autism. I am a certified school psychologist, in addition to being a licensed clinical psychologist, and I worked on the child study team for several years. With this experience, I have been blessed to be able to help parents advocate for support plans, eligibility, appropriate programs and accommodations for their children. Although I used to run the meetings, now I sit on the other side with the parent and we work collaboratively with the school team to create a unique program for any child, adolescent or young adult. Our services are unique in that we focus on the whole child, the whole system and the family as well.
Although I’ve pursued my degrees, a career, a family and now a private business, the ‘you can’ts’ are still very much alive and loud in my head. I fight those voices quite regularly. So, when I stop to take a look at what I have been able to do with my private practice, I tear up because I didn’t think I could do this. I didn’t’ think I would be here.” – NJMOMpreneur Dr. Liz Matheis
NJMOM: What inspired you to get into your line of work?
Liz: My father passed away when I was 20 years old due to lung cancer. My father loved to have in-depth discussions about topics like religion and morality, and he saw that my natural inclination was to fix. So, when it was time to choose a major in college, he insisted on pre-law. I commuted to Fairleigh Dickinson University in Madison and Florham Park. I finished up my master’s degree here, then went to the Teaneck campus for my doctorate degree — I was a student at FDU for 10 years. I did end up taking a few pre-law classes, but I didn’t love them so much. We were, however, required to take a general psychology course as undergraduate students— and that’s where I found my calling, after reading the first few chapters of my text book in class. I kept reading and absorbed the chapters like they were nourishment for my soul. I loved the child development theories, and all the personality theories. The world started to make sense and I was finally gaining answers about the ‘whys’ behind human behavior and emotion. Needless to say, I changed my major and that was that.
NJMOM: What is your favorite part about your business?
Liz: My favorite part about PEC NJ is that it’s mine. I chose private practice work when I was pregnant with my third child. I was working in a private school for children with special needs, and as my two younger children were becoming school aged, I was realizing how difficult it was to maintain work hours. I wanted the flexibility of being a stay-at-home mom but I needed an outlet for my professional skills. So, private practice has given me just that. I drop off and pick up my kids from school, I can be their room parent, I can be there for whatever school event is going on while still being able to have a business.
I’m also incredibly blessed to have been able to expand PEC NJ and hire therapists that are giving me a wider outreach to children, adolescents and young adults. Each person has their area of specialty, which gives us the unique ability to offer several different services under one roof. Although this is very much a love-hate part of the business, I love being able to learn the different parts that make a business — but I am also intimidated by the parts that I don’t understand quickly. I’m impatient with myself and I want to know how to do it, fast. But, I realize that I don’t have a background in several areas, so there is a lot of 101-type learning going on for me right now.
NJMOM: What is your background in your business expertise?
Liz: Well, that’s what I’m learning. I’m a clinician through and through, so learning about social media, accounting, hiring, creating procedures and policies is all new for me. It’s exciting, because I really enjoy learning about new areas, but it’s all a new language for me. Sadly, psychologists are not trained in the area of business development, but I’m figuring it out and making it work. In terms of credentials, I have a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology, a Master’s in Clinical Psychology and a Master’s in Psychology. I’m also a Certified School Psychologist and Supervisor.
NJMOM: What are you most proud of in your career?
Liz: I am the most proud that this business is one that I started out of my former dining room five years ago. In the last two years, I’ve expanded the same business to six employees, an intern and an administrative assistant, and moved to an office space. I was born and raised in a traditional Egyptian home where women don’t go to college, don’t get advanced degrees and they certainly don’t work out of the home. After my first son was born, my mom sat me down and insisted that I didn’t return to work. Although I’ve pursued my degrees, a career, a family and now a private business, the ‘you can’ts’ are still very much alive and loud in my head. I fight those voices quite regularly. So, when I stop to take a look at what I have been able to do with my private practice, I tear up because I didn’t think I could do this. I didn’t’ think I would be here.
NJMOM: What is something few people know about you?
Liz: Egyptian was my first language and I didn’t learn to speak English fluently until I was 5 year old, when I started kindergarten. I also couldn’t say my name, ‘Elizabeth’, and went by my middle name, ‘Nora’, for a long time. I’m also very anxious. I’ve been anxious since my adolescence and it has peaked and waned, but persisted throughout my life. I have been in my own therapy for the last two years, which has been so very difficult but so good for me all at the same time.
NJMOM: What can we expect from you next year—personally and professionally?
Liz: Personally, I would like to continue to say ‘no’ to activities or requests for things that aren’t in line with my goals. I’m a people pleaser, so saying no is incredibly difficult for me. I often feel like I’m letting another person down, but then I say yes to so many things and end up feeling burned out. I’m highly sensitive and empathic so I absorb other people’s emotions as if they were my own. And I live in a house with four other people who are also highly sensitive and empathic, so there’s a big need for emotional boundary setting and decompression in my house. I need to build in time regularly to let go of the ‘stuff’ that doesn’t belong to me. Professionally, I would like to spend more time writing, whether it’s blogging or writing a book. I have come to appreciate writing as a creative and cathartic outlet. I genuinely appreciate when other people read my blogs, ask questions, make comments and share them. I love hearing, “I read your blog!” I’m not entirely sure how that is going to come together, but I am putting it out into the universe and I will let it guide me. It hasn’t led me in the wrong direction yet, so I am feeling hopeful and positive.
NJMOM: Who is your role model? Why?
Liz: My role model is not one particular person, but rather a group of people — women. Women are the strongest, bravest, most giving creatures I know. What’s even more powerful, is the woman who is also a mom. Women have the ability to multi-task and meet each family member’s needs as well as their extended family’s and friends’. And they do it with grace and generosity, putting their needs last. Always. As a girl, I perceived other females as threatening to me — prettier, smarter, more successful. What I didn’t realize is that there is greater strength when females unite. I am working very hard to raise my 10-year-old daughter to have a true respect and love for her female friends. I encourage her to compliment her friends, to hug them, to tell them they’re pretty and strong.
NJMOM: What is the best piece of advice your mom (or parent/role model) ever gave you?
Liz: My father was diagnosed with salivary gland cancer when I was 11 years old and then again with lung cancer when I was 15 years old. When I was 18, he came with me to my college orientation and walked around the campus. While he admired the buildings on that sunny day in late June, he gave me words that continue to ring in my ears. As I type his advice, my eyes are welling up (again). He filled my soul knowing that he wasn’t going to be there to see me graduate in the next four years. He told me to take advantage of the many opportunities that were coming my way. He also said to take on challenges and not to be afraid to fail, but that I wasn’t going to fail. My father encouraged me to go beyond my undergraduate degree and get the highest degree I could achieve because it would be mine, and I would always be able to support myself. He also encouraged me to be my own boss when the time was right. I heard all of these big messages and absorbed them without fully understanding what he meant, but they were ingrained into my heart and spirit. They shaped my decisions and gave me the endurance to complete 10 years of education, two additional years of post-graduate supervision and exams until I finally earned my Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology and my license. It was a brutal process but well worth it.
NJMOM: Do you have a favorite quote you live by? Why is this quote so important to you?
Liz: You’re going to laugh, or maybe chuckle, but my favorite quote is,
Fake it until you make it.”
Each day brings its challenges as a mom of three, a wife, a business owner and a psychologist. Although I’d love to find balance and maintain it, I have no idea what that looks like or how it would work. Each day, I question if I can do it, if I can get through the day with its multiple demands from every direction. I worry, I get very anxious and then I finally get to the point where I remember, “girl, just fake it until you make it.” I’m going to fake not being an anxious person who has no idea how I’m going to juggle the day, but in the end, I’ll make it, no matter what that looks like. And most of the time, it’s downright ugly. I also use this phrase with many adolescents and young adults who are also anxious and question their ability to work through a perceived difficult situation. And it works.
What are your favorite things to do in New Jersey with your family?
Liz: My family and I love, love, love our annual summer trip to Ocean City. We stay in the same condo complex on the boardwalk. We can see the beach from the terrace, which is also where we watch the fireworks. We have developed summer friendships over the years and keep in touch with the people who we have met during that week in Ocean City. In fact, we have gone so far as to coordinate vacationing that week so we can see each other, so our children can spend time with each other. A great #NJMOM tip: buy the tickets for the rides on the Ocean City boardwalk during Easter time — they sell for half the price. The condos have a small kitchen where we prepare breakfast and lunch, then we find our favorite pizza, crabby fries, banana whips (an “ice cream” made out of frozen bananas because I’m lactose intolerant), giant ice cream cones, Johnson’s popcorn and funnel cakes for dinner and dessert. We love to hit the beach first, then the pool and hot tub (but only for a few minutes),
NJMOM: What is the best part about being a mom for you?
Liz: The hugs, kisses and snuggles. I love to smother my kids with affection, whether they want it or not. I love to smell their hair and squeeze them extra tight. My 13-year-old son is taller than me, which isn’t very difficult given I’m 4’10”, so hugging him has become a bit of a reversed experience where he is holding me. I’m also loving that I’m getting to watch these once little helpless babies turn into people with opinions, big personalities and preferences. I am really enjoying the time we spend together, taking a day trip where we make each other laugh during the car ride — although the fighting hasn’t ceased yet — and sharing an experience together.
NJMOM: What are your favorite businesses in New Jersey?
Liz: A few staples for my family are local pizza shops in Parsippany, like Annabella’s or Anthony Franco’s. We love hibachi, so we’ll go to SoGo in Denville, Sakura in Parsippany or Benihana in Short Hills to celebrate a birthday, or if we’re just hungry on a Friday night. I personally love the crab meat salad at Gourmet Café in Parsippany. The owner, Matt Pierone, makes and shares the amazing ‘cello’s’ like limoncello, or my personal favorite, pumpkin pie cello. We have recently become fans of the acai bowl ,so you can find us at Green Seed in Denville or Playa Bowls in Denville as well. My older son and daughter have become big Starbucks fans, so look out for us in either one of the two Parsippany locations. My daughter takes classes at Diamond Gymnastics in East Hanover as well as Go For the Gold in Whippany.
NJMOM: Where do you reside and vacation in New Jersey?
Liz: I live in the Troy Hills section of Parsippany and vacation in Ocean City. We have developed friendships with the families in Parsippany that we have met through our children. In fact, we take day trips and vacations with several families. I have several mom groups that I’ve met through each one of my children. Right now, I have the 7th-grade moms, 4th-grade moms and kindergarten moms, and we each plan a Moms’ Night Out. We usually grab dinner, take an art class Uptown Art in Denville, complete an escape room mission at Escape in Fairfield or throw an ax at Stumpy’s in Fairfield. Our town offers many activities, organized sports and classes as well. Right now, little league is the place to be. Dinner from the concession stand, funnel cakes and ice pops are how we roll.
NJMOM: What advice might you have for a fellow NJMOMpreneur who is just starting out?
Liz: I’m fortunate that when I started this business, I wasn’t truly aware of how much was really involved. I knew I wanted to see patients and bring relief and comfort to children, adolescents, young adults and their families, so that was my sole focus. Over time, my awareness grew when I had a new need. As I’ve mentioned, I’m an anxious person, so if I absorbed all that goes into running a business back then, I may have never pursued this adventure. What I’ve learned is that a business needs time to grow and that your needs as a mom will also grow and change…so the business will grow and change with you. As much as I crave consistency, I also crave change when I am ready for it. Having that ability to do this has been an incredible growth process for me as a mom and as a woman. It is empowering and frightening all at the same time. Another piece of advice I have is to hire support so that you are able to invest your time and energy in the places that will grow your business. I am not a good delegator, so giving up the parts of the business to someone else to do has been difficult, but also relieving.
NJMOM: Anything else you’d like to tell moms in New Jersey?
Liz: I’m very thankful for the opportunity for this feature. I’m blessed to be a part of this amazing #NJMOM community and I am looking forward to future collaborations together. You are an amazing group that empowers and validates a mom’s experience, as well as a mom who is also trying to build a business. I genuinely appreciate your support.