Alright – so today we’ve got the honor of introducing you to Kristal Defeo. We think you’ll enjoy our conversation, we’ve shared it below.
Kristal, appreciate you joining us today. How did you come up with the idea for your business?
My Name is Kristal DeFeo, and I am so appreciative of the opportunity to submit for a potential spot in Canvas Magazine! I am a 33-year-old Puerto Rican female living in PA. For the past 12 years I have worked in the behavioral health field as a therapist helping struggling and recovering addicts.
In 2019 alone 50,000 people in the US died from opioid overdose. You cannot turn on the news or read something that doesn’t mention it. As I sit here and write this, I am thinking just this past month alone I can’t count on less than two hands how many people at my job have been part of this tragic epidemic in itself.
We can fast forward to my freshman year of high school. I was a great student, vice president, co- captain of JV cheerleading team, head of student council. Perfectionist and by nature a leader. I am the middle child, only daughter, oldest female grand baby to my amazing grandmother, and first cousin in the family to EVER apply for college. It is important that I identify as a Puerto Rican female because as a minority it feels great to have the hard-earned privileges I have had. I worked hard for it all, but I also know that it comes at a cost. Generational curses are a real concept, and some groups never make it because of the hand they have been dealt. Funny part is, I would have never had the opportunity to go if it weren’t for my once successful stepfather (that was short lived and will get into that later). He wanted me to go to an all-girls private college prep high school leaving my amazing freshman year at public school behind. I realized later how bittersweet that experience was for me being one of the only Hispanic students at an all-white Catholic high school of 120 girls in my senior class. I gravitated to the minority group which often got me in trouble. My senior year I was suspended from my Senior Dance for having too many write ups. If there was something to catch me for the nuns would do it, looking back I missed my senior formal all due to my penny loafers not being on right, or my skirt being folded over, or my cell phone ringing from inside my locker. I struggled for the first time in my life with anxiety, crippling anxiety. Although I was also captain of the basketball cheerleading team, I couldn’t speak up in class, always felt like I was not smart enough. Girls cried in the hallway about their 95% average, and I could barely aim for a high ‘B’. Wow, college prep school almost destroyed me, but I did not allow it to. I remember everyone bragging about what Ivy league schools they submitted to for college, and I had no idea where I wanted to go or if I would get in due to being a horrible test taker. I struggled my way through three rounds of SAT practice classes. I still failed. My top choice schools all rejected me due to poor SAT scores despite my 3.5+ GPA.
I did not give up instead I took the one opportunity I got-Arcadia University in PA. A small artsy school with the first up and coming Criminal Justice Program. As a little girl all I wanted to do was understand criminal behavior. I watched documentaries instead of cartoons. Arcadia offered me less than a $3,000 academic scholarship but I took it. My plan was to do a year there and transfer. I exceeded, worked my butt off, and even took a study abroad preview trip to London for a week. In addition, I went to my first prison to interview “lifers” or juveniles sentenced to life for one of my classes. I decided in that moment I wanted to help struggling people and give them a chance to succeed. First, I had to understand why people struggled, later I found myself loving classes on cooccurring disorders, substance abuse/mental health, the criminal mind and the criminal justice system as a whole. I made it worthwhile. That year tried to kick my butt. I had a major surgery and also my next five schools I applied to transfer to either wait listed me or needed me to test again. I got my first acceptance to Arizona State University for sophomore year. As a small-town suburban girl this was exciting not scary.
Prior to moving my life there- there’s a quick gem ill drop here. It was the economic crash around 2008, I knew things were getting worse. Before I took off to AZ my stepfather asked if I would be interested in opening an LLC named after my nickname, “Tistal”. He promised me a financially secure future and that sounded sweet to me. He also had a longing to open a bar in Delaware County, Pa. He promised me I could serve there, maybe even manage for extra money on college breaks. DONE DEAL. I was naive. So Tistal, LLC was created, meanwhile I was on my way to AZ not knowing what would come of my nickname or my business later in 2013.
So yes, I transferred to ASU and the transition 3,000 miles away is a story within itself. But let’s fast forward to a few weeks into my sophomore year on a new campus as a Criminal Justice Major. I got a call from my mom that my biological father had a fatal car accident on his motorcycle. I was numb. I have not had a relationship with him EVER. Last time I remember seeing him I was in court changing my last name from his to my adoptive dad’s last name. Another story within itself. My parents were also on the brink of divorce and I found that out as well. I’m losing two dads? You know what, this moment in AZ is too exciting so boy did I detach myself.
For three years I lived my best life. It was a known fact that 75 % of freshman there never made it to sophomore year due to the distractions and amazing parties. Glad I got there when I did, I was focused and disciplined. Had two decent relationships, partied a hell of a lot, got an internship at the Arizona Criminal Justice Commission, worked as a lead tutor at the Boys and Girls Club in Scottsdale, AZ working with inner city youth struggling academically. I loved it. I also had a third job-didn’t have to, my dad paid for a lot but something in me was always such a go getter and did not want to take any of it. I was a lead server at the California Pizza kitchen. All my weekends I spent catching two buses to get to work-humbling. I learned the train system, bus system, all of it, I loved being so free and independent for once.
There’s a ton of stories over that course of those three years but let’s fast forward to my senior year of graduation. I was mortified to leave to go back to PA knowing my parents were divorced and that I had no clue what I wanted to do with my career. That bar appeared to be getting recognized and hit 1 million in revenue its first year. I was so out the loop and trusted my dad. My plan was to not overthink, apply to the very school that rejected me initially when I first applied to college and instead try AGAIN for grad school. Continue my education and work at the bar on the side.
All I could think about was “Counseling” I wanted to give back, help, but I also wanted to do criminal justice I was torn, however my dad’s federal prison sentence that eventually came deterred me completely. So yes, I applied back to Saint Joseph’s University in PA- Behavioral Counseling and Criminology Major. I got in, exceeded. I began running the bar during the day and doing grad school on nights and weekends. I eventually saved enough to get my first apartment. Life seemed great. Eventually I graduated with almost a perfect GPA. Got my first job working in Behavioral health. I was both in public schools helping support wrap around programming for youth, I then met a coach from the Glen Mills School for Boys- Residential placement for adjudicated male delinquents and got passed the insane interview process and was hired as the 3rd female unit counselor ever since its opening in 1856. I worked there for almost three years, always being a leader. I saw a lot of stuff I should not have seen and no longer wanted to be a part of. The school temporarily closed after a Children and Youth investigation in 2018 due to child abuse. I already had my next job lined up in my first real counseling setting.
Before we get into that part of my journey, it’s important to note that I graduated successfully despite going through what felt like a never-ending storm. I had an abortion and also found out my dad was being indicted on mail fraud and bank fraud charges. What did all this mean for me? Stay strong. That’s what it meant. Just as I found that information out…I began to find out more and more about the bar’s hidden debt. Employee taxes over a period of 3 years that accumulated. Ugh. As I visited my house where I grew up one day after work, law enforcement was at the door questioning my mom. At this point my dad was never home, marriage was over, he started a new family instantly. You see, prior to all the bar talk, my dad that I trusted knew things weren’t good. He was involved with another business partner and friend who was doing some criminal things. Guilty by association is a real thing. After my dad’s friend committed suicide (while under investigation) the feds came after him. In turn, my dad took it to trial and lost miserably. He was sentenced to 33 months in federal prison. Our childhood house was foreclosed, and we lost everything. I had to move to NJ with my mom and sibling for 9 months.
I promised my dad I would commute and run the bar no matter what. I aggressively looked for jobs in fact I applied to over 75 in those 9 months and my first was the behavioral health worker I mentioned above. I needed something to get away from the hell I was living. Thank God for college, it carved the way for me to strive for more, want more, and really live for my purpose. I wanted to help people and in the most way! I realized after going through that trial with my dad, he was still human, a broken one indeed. I no longer had a passion to work in law enforcement since at the time I felt pain nothing but pain was caused by them-not their fault though. I changed my mind and wanted to rehabilitate people not throw them behind bars. My dad was a heavy drinker, and drinking also runs in parts of my family. I turned to alcohol myself, after mastering every drinking game at ASU and owning a bar. Alcohol was my escape. Through it all I chose to visit my dad every other weekend while in prison. I despised him through it all especially when the IRS came knocking on my door with another $117,000 lien on my account due to the bar. He was not here to protect me. The bar finally went bankrupt and for four years I lived more of a nightmare. The IRS was all over me and my accounts. Getting a new place or car was out the question. I also felt like the biggest failure. I just wanted my dad to come out of prison and have somewhat of a life back including our bar. That is how huge my heart is. I put me last. However, I had faith and a lot of support through my church. My debt with IRS was cleared thankfully after an Offer in Compromise was accepted. But let’s fast forward.
Back to my first real counseling job. I was desperate and wanted to prove myself. One guy by the name of Tyrone, supervisor at a Methadone Clinic, took a chance on me. This clinic was located in one of the worst sections of Philadelphia that is also part of Opiate epidemic. I did not know anything about Methadone at the time but begged the director and remember saying “I know I am fresh out of college but how will I ever gain experience if you don’t give it to me”. That line worked and he changed my life forever. There was a Forensic or drug court program there and due to my criminal justice background, he felt I would be more comfortable working with the population. However, it was horrifying at first. My first group was filled with 35 clients, I killed it though! Ha. God always had my back, and I knew it was my calling and gift very early on. My anxiety suddenly disappeared and being fresh out of college it was like getting thrown into the wolves. I had struggling heroin addicts, sick, waiting to get their next “dose” after a three-hour Intensive Outpatient group. They tested me boy! Beyond belief, I left my group room often bursting in tears, but I NEVER gave up because I believed I was qualified. I gained my respect. If I could get through being a female at Glen Mills, I could get through ANYTHING. This clinic was the beginning of my career as a drug and alcohol specialist. I met my goal. COUNSELOR. I later found out that I needed a certain number of credits to get licensed, as being Master level stunted my growth. However, I refused to go back to school and increase my already $118,000 debt. Why would I go back for a licensure when I already had 10 years of drug and alcohol experience at that time, it didn’t make sense. Only thing it would allow me to do is practice privately. The additional schooling and debt were not worth it to me at that point. I was capped at crappy salary too so inquiring more college debt was not an option.
Instead of putting myself more in debt I worked harder, got more promotions, and now am working at a well-known Rehab. I decided right around the pandemic to try Quality Assurance instead of direct care due to being “burned out”. It’s easy to get there with the heavy burdens of the world as a counselor. Again, I succeeded despite being sent home two weeks after training due to the pandemic. I taught myself remotely and hit the road traveling to sites to learn even more not fearing getting sick. I was hungry. It paid off somewhat and in 9 months I received a $15,000 salary increase. I am not nearly where I want to be financially despite all the recognition.
I have more goals and creating my own business on my own terms (this time around) was one of them after letting years of fear from that experience hold me back. Despite not knowing what the future holds I finally did get my entrepreneur spirit back. I had a lot of healing and forgiveness to do. My relationship with my dad is forever changed but I feel good knowing I do not resent him anymore. I always remember that without him adopting me, I would have never had the opportunity to go to go to a college prep school or even college. It would have never even happened for me.
All of these experiences shaped me into the woman I am today. My plans are now to continue growing at my company. However, I have started a coaching business called KDCOACHING (my initials) with the intent of helping and giving back. I launched it in December of 2021 and will be able to work with clients without a licensure as long as I practice within the guidelines of a coaching. The unique part is I have so much experience and skills sets/certifications that qualify me to offer the help/support I aim to offer. I am working towards establishing a mini brand and it’s not just another coaching job. For me it’s a mini community with major value because of my expertise in this field. I am targeting women, men, and youth that struggle with negative/distorting thinking and unhealthy coping skills- and most people can relate. It’s time we start destigmatizing the need for people to seek mentorship, mental health support, and such. Everyone can use a strong person in their lives that relates and has walked through some tough times/got through it all. In addition, I have also created an online course as well with content that is so dear to me. It is titled the ‘True Me’ Online Course- A six-week virtual experience that is guaranteed to get clients back to their true self again! The mission of both my business and course is to motivate people that struggle with unhealthy thinking patterns/unhealthy behaviors that get in the way of them reaching their fullest potential. The course itself is my own healing journey condensed into 6 guided modules with yours truly-Me! I walk my clients through their healing but require one thing- that they 1) show up and 2) do the work!
I’ve always wanted to share my full story and it’s not meant for everyone. It’s important to understand that every idea big or small stems from a back story. In the words of “Shark Tank”, every idea also stems from a need. I want to continue to help others and provide a service, the money will eventually come. I also want to focus on helping my family gain what we lost and use what support I get to help not only those in need but most importantly my family and my business as well. This world is hurting very badly. People are giving up and also misinformed about mental health. My journey is just beginning, and my skills and story must be heard, my support and gifts must continue to be used, but most importantly, people need to be inspired.
Thank you for listening and for your time.
Kristal DeFeo xo
‘True Me’ Course Registration:
6-week course guaranteed to get you back to your true self in 6 weeks. Targets unhealthy thinking and poor coping skills.
Facebook Page-True Me Kristal DeFeo
Kristal, before we move on to more of these sorts of questions, can you take some time to bring our readers up to speed on you and what you do?
The previous page walked through how I got into the industry. It was a mixture of having a desire as a child as well as a college experience I had with a certain population as well as opportunities that came my way. I often feel like the career or discipline came to me or “found me”. Up until this point everything I have endured has allowed me to focus on rehabilitating others. The unique part is I have so much experience and skills sets/certifications that qualify me to offer the help/support I aim to offer. I am working towards establishing a mini brand and it’s not just another coaching job. For me it’s a mini community with major value because of my expertise in this field. I am targeting women, men, and youth that struggle with negative/distorting thinking and unhealthy coping skills- and most people can relate. It’s time we start destigmatizing the need for people to seek mentorship, mental health support, and such. Everyone can use a strong person in their lives that relates and has walked through some tough times/got through it all. For this reason, I offer individual coaching, coaching at your finger tips (via text or email), and a 6 week online course. My online course is the heart of my work and is so dear to me. It is titled the ‘True Me’ Online Course- A six-week virtual experience that is guaranteed to get clients back to their true self again! The mission of both my business and course is to motivate people that struggle with unhealthy thinking patterns/unhealthy behaviors that get in the way of them reaching their fullest potential. The course itself is my own healing journey condensed into 6 guided modules with yours truly-Me! I walk my clients through their healing but require one thing- that they 1) show up and 2) do the work! What sets me apart is that I am not your average “Life Coach”. My background and expertise in human behavior, addiction, and criminology all help me to not only understand why people think the way they think, but also how their behaviors influence their everyday lifestyle and choices. With this I am able to help them face their past pain or experiences that have shaped them and challenge the way they perceive things. This allows them to take other approaches to the way they cope or deal with situations and other people.
I am most proud that I allowed my challenges to shape who I am and drive what I do! I want my supports, clients, and fans to know that my brand focus on their “True Self” and its right there buried underneath some junk. We all have the potential to get back to a place where we can love ourselves regardless of the barriers we have faced, it just takes some guidance and work! With the right fit you can do it!
Have you ever had to pivot?
In 2020 I explained earlier that I took a position at a major rehab and stopped doing direct care. It was a blessing in disguise because I had no idea that Covid-19 would hit and had I stayed in a counselor role, I would have been forced to provide services remotely or virtually. I would have not enjoyed this especially with the population I deal with, they are hands on and often do worse when not physically in treatment. It is easier to use substances or not be held accountable when virtual. There is no way I would have been able to deal with that as a counselor who does much better work in person. The reason I decided to try something new in the field is because of “Burn Out”. I talked about it in great detail in my first appearance on “The Grow to Be Free with Kiana Williams” podcast (available on Apple and Spotify) and the episode is titled “Getting Back to Yourself After Burn Out”. I also discuss it in an appearance with Dr. Caroline Iscovitz’s Morning Cup series on Youtube titled “Breaking Free From Burn Out”. It has been the turning point in my career. It enabled me to try something different and excel. In the first year of trying Quality Assurance I received two huge promotions and am now part of a team responsible for supporting all of our sites in state licensing and national accreditation. Although I miss working as a counselor I now get to help support leadership and their teams/therapists to provide quality care to patients and abide by regulations.
This allowed me to then consider how I would get back to helping clients again. I had to think differently, scale down, and redefine what supporting clients would look like for me. With KDCOACHING, I know get to decide my ideal client and can target those that want “help”. Part of the reason I burned out was because I was never in control of my assigned clients, and most did not want help and were not ready for change- they were sent by probation or the courts. Although treatment is a better alternative to jail, it is not truly successful when forced upon someone.
I encourage everyone if you are going to work do something you love and it may not mean it’s going to be the best day every day or that it will not be hard or stressful. Things you love doing could eventually lead to burn out for different reasons. It is okay to accept that burn out is real and consider trying something new or doing your work in a different way. I took a huge risk leaving my last job but it paid off because not only am I more happy and productive but I now have the time to do something creative on the side on my own terms.
We often hear about learning lessons – but just as important is unlearning lessons. Have you ever had to unlearn a lesson?
The biggest lesson I had to learn from my previous LLC with my dad was that being an entrepreneur should be on your own terms when you are ready and knowledgeable. I realized he was in a desperate place and did what he had to do at the time (not knowing the consequences or considering them) to make income. When you work out of desperation you make unhealthy choices that can effect others as well. The bar was not in God’s plan and I said yes to a business account I had no business opening. Did the end game sound promising, of course, but I had no understanding of what it would take to run a bar even if he did it without me, I should have never agreed. Again all of it backfired and that is why it was all taken away. It definitely taught me to ask more questions and go into business alone if you do not know all the ins and outs of it. Not understanding all the aspects of any new business could result in trusting the wrong people and having detrimental effects. That bar effected tons of relationships that I once had including the one with my dad until this day. It effected my financial security for years, and led me down a spiral I felt I could not get out of. The guilt and anger of it all led to poor choices. Those poor choices led me to hate myself and consider suicide. At age 29 I finally accepted that my pain was valid and decided to get help and talk to someone I could confide in. I started a healing journey that changed my life forever and ultimately turned it into something that could help others. So yes, aside from learning about being smarter in business, I learned that healing is possible and you can use it for your advantage or let it destroy you, the decision is yours.
- Website: www.truemes.com
- Instagram: @thetruemes
- Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/truemekristal/?ref=py_c
- Linkedin: https://www.linkedin.com/in/kristal-defeo-6a616550/
- Youtube: https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC8aUHH-ypgqCRGYn_7Gl66Q
- Other: The ‘True Me’ Online Course Registration https://class.truemes.com/auto-webinar-registration-532115041644792370132
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