As a native Lancastrian and African American woman, Latinia Shell is committed to offering her expertise to the communities that shaped her identity.
She expresses that commitment through her work as an educator and through Diversity Works, her counseling practice.
Born and raised in Lancaster, educated at the School District of Lancaster and Millersville University, Shell noticed early in her career that there were very few Black counselors practicing, much less owning a private practice in Lancaster County.
“I just knew that there was a underrepresentation of professionals that look like me,” Shell said. “I just knew that I wanted to be able to give back to my community.”
While working as an SDL school psychologist, Shell earned her doctorate in counseling psychology from Argosy University in Sarasota, Florida.
Her dissertation focused on the mental health needs of Black Americans. That research, plus her own lived experience, convinced Shell to use her work to meet the needs of minority groups in a field where Black-owned practices are a rarity.
In 2013, Shell left a full time teaching position at West Chester University to teach at Harrisburg Area Community College and launch Diversity Works.
“I am the first that I know of in my family and in my community even, as an African American woman operating a private practice,” Shell said. “It was a huge undertaking, but it’s always been a goal of mine. I’m proud to say that I’ve done it for nine years now.”
The counseling service’s name reflects her personal and professional mission of advocating for diversity. Having worked in public education in both secondary and college levels, Shell said she took an interest in underrepresented and marginalized populations.
“Oftentimes, clients will tell me up front, ‘Dr. Shell, the reason why I chose you is because you’re a Black woman. I wanted to see a black female therapist,’” Shell said.
“When clients are considering who they want to work with, they want to work with a provider who looks like them, [not] just because of [skin] color but because of the [lived] experience. Being Black in America, we know there’s a history that comes along with that.”
In addition, Shell wanted to reduce the stigma associated with seeking mental health care, which she said is especially strong in African American culture.
As Diversity Works got under way, Shell worked with the nonprofit SCORE of Lancaster-Lebanon (SCORE stands for Service Corps of Retired Executives) whose advisers helped her think through business elements like marketing, billing, and accounting — all elements that would ultimately help her practice be sustainable.
“Going to college [you] get the skills in terms of being a good counselor, however you don’t get the fundamentals and skills on how to open your own business and how to operate your own business,” Shell said.
Shell’s days at Diversity Works are a mix of virtual sessions with clients and supervising the six counselors who work alongside her. She engages in individual counseling, group counseling, family and couples counseling as well as handling administrative work, developing treatment plans and tracking client progress. She also works with clients at local shelters and transitional housing providers, primarily Milagro House in Lancaster.
“There’s never a dull moment,” she said.
As an advocate for holistic self-care and mental wellness, Shell reflects on the need for balance when she assesses the overall state of mental health in Lancaster County.
“Being balanced is where people struggle. I think people want to do it all,” Shell said.
She looks forward to incorporating life coaching into Diversity Works offerings to address some of those concerns.
“We all need support. We need resources,” Shell said. “Reach out and get the help you need. … Let’s focus on our self-care [and] our wellness so that we can be the best versions of ourselves, not only for us, but our families and the people that we love.”