By Pete Kennedy
Theresa Agostinelli has a morning routine. “As soon as the alarm goes off at 6:45, I tell myself five things that will be great about the day. I then speak out loud five things that I am grateful for,” Agostinelli said.
She drinks a tall glass of cold water to jump-start her body and mind, then spends a half-hour reading, praying or meditating.
Agostinelli is the owner of Glen Mills Counseling Center Inc., where she works as an executive coach, speaker and trainer, so it’s no surprise she has developed her own set of habits and tools to power her through her days. She’s been honing her unique approach to counseling since she first started working as a licensed clinical psychotherapist in the mental health field.
“I saw common negative belief patterns that would keep people stuck,” she said.
“I’ve come up with a practical technique through a curriculum I designed to remove the inner blockages to happiness, love, joy and success.”
Agostinelli refers to herself as a resiliency expert – it’s a trait she works to instill in others and has been a dominant theme of her personal story, too. Her resilience is what has enabled her to rise up from being a timid girl in a working-class family, and to carry on after family tragedies.
“I was born in one of the most Italian places in America – South Philly,” Agostinelli said.
Her father, brothers and uncles strutted in the Mummers parades. Every Sunday, her extended family gathered for dinner at one of her grandmothers’ homes. As the youngest of four kids — two brothers and two sisters — Agostinelli was doted on. But she was also scared of just about everything, especially unfamiliar people and places.
“I remember one time being taken over to the Philadelphia Navy Yard, where my dad was working. My mother tried to hand me to my dad, who was on the ship. As I looked down and saw the water between the dock and the boat – and the distance between my mother’s hands and my father’s hands – it seemed like miles, and I totally freaked out,” she said. “I never got on the boat.”
When her father was hired at the Boeing plant in Ridley, her family moved to Glenolden, Delaware County. It was a house she would return to years later at a time of emotional and financial turmoil.
She was 26 years old and living in a remote area of the Pocono Mountains when her life was upended almost overnight.
“My husband developed a pulmonary embolism and died nine days later,” she said.
At the time, she was a stay-at-home mother with a high school education, and no clarity on her future.
“I feared public speaking – but I wanted to honor my husband,” she said. “As I spoke at his funeral, I seemed to connect with people. That ignited a fire in me to want to help people.”
A year later, her oldest brother died in a car crash.
Distraught, Agostinelli and her son moved back in with her parents. She enrolled in the liberal arts program at Delaware County Community College.
But more loss was to come. Her other brother took his own life. And she was there as her friend from church, Vince – who would later become her husband – learned of the horrific murder of his sister and niece.
“As I watched a case worker help Vince’s family, it really awakened my interest in helping others,” Agostinelli said. “This led me on my path to going back to school to study human behavior.”
She went on to earn a master’s degree in clinical social work at Widener University, and began working as a therapist, helping people through grief, trauma, substance abuse and other mental health issues.
Agostinelli eventually transitioned from traditional therapy to personal and professional coaching.
“Traditional therapy starts with working from the past and through external solutions. My coaching starts with working on your future and through internal solutions,” she said. “People often lack resiliency skills, which makes it very hard for them to overcome challenges.”
Outside of her coaching, speaking and training, Agostinelli is an adjunct professor of sociology at Immaculata University. She has served on numerous Delaware County boards and commissions, including the Women’s Commission, the Mental Health and Intellectual Disabilities Board and the Suicide Task Force. She also serves as a chaplain to the Delaware County Sheriff’s Office.
She and Vince live in the same Glen Mills community as her parents, who are now 65 years married, and her son, David, who has three daughters.
She enjoys spending time with her granddaughters, and playing guitar and singing. She reads a lot about personal development and successful people.
“It is not unusual for my husband to see me with six books opened around me, with pen and paper,” she said. “I am a true believer that we manifest what we project. In other words, we bring about what we think about.”