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Leah Rockwell of Rockwell Wellness Counseling: “Newsflash — it’s not that complicated”

I was always so worried about how I would find health insurance on my own if self-employed. Newsflash — it’s not that complicated, and this should be the last thing that holds you back from starting your own company. Another therapist friend of mine connected me with an insurance marketplace broker who was used to finding healthcare […]

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I was always so worried about how I would find health insurance on my own if self-employed. Newsflash — it’s not that complicated, and this should be the last thing that holds you back from starting your own company. Another therapist friend of mine connected me with an insurance marketplace broker who was used to finding healthcare for therapists, and they even completed all of the paperwork for me!


The COVID19 pandemic has disrupted all of our lives. But sometimes disruptions can be times of opportunity. Many people’s livelihoods have been hurt by the pandemic. But some saw this as an opportune time to take their lives in a new direction.

As a part of this series called “How I Was Able To Pivot To A New Exciting Opportunity Because Of The Pandemic”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Leah Rockwell.

Leah Rockwell, Licensed Professional Counselor and founder of feminist therapy counseling practice, Rockwell Wellness Counseling, LLC, is a co-parenting mom and therapist who resides with her two daughters in the rolling hills of south-central Pennsylvania. In former lives, she was a wine vendor, a Spanish instructor, and a sex education teacher for teenagers. She makes one of the best charcuterie boards around, and she has a laugh that can fill a room.https://content.thriveglobal.com/media/f6ec5a9ccd409a93db2f09ce5b2133ff


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we start, our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your childhood backstory?

I’m a small-town girl, having grown up in Mercersburg, PA, population 3,000, which is also where I live now. I’ve lived in other more “exciting” places, but my heart remains in my little cow town where I feel the most relaxed and at peace. Our landscapes and sunsets are gorgeous, and we’re a heavily Mennonite area (of the Anabaptist Tradition) so we are fortunate to have loads of gorgeous, fresh produce stands. My parents had me when they were very young, so I got to know and love many generations of family, including my great-great grandmother! Family is a really important piece of my identity, and when you have so many generations on the planet at the same time, it’s a big part of how you get to know yourself in the world.

I attended a boarding school, which is the first time that I was exposed to people of other races, cultures, and languages. I fell in love with any and all things different from myself! This exposure sparked my study of Spanish in college, and I realized that though knowing another language offered me an additional avenue through which to connect with people, it was the actual time and space in connection that was most important to me. The desire to listen deeply and to draw out stories from people has always been a very salient part of who I am, so I guess it’s no surprise that I am a therapist now.

When I was a kid, I dreamed of becoming either an obstetrician (but my squeamishness interfered with that — I faint at a finger prick) or a journalist. I see myself now as a person who, like a journalist, listens to the stories of women and, like an obstetrician, assists them in birthing the meaning of these sometimes painful, complicated experiences. The path wasn’t direct or clear, but it fits within what I see was my calling all along. I think of myself as a mental midwife, ushering into the light the stories and new identities of women, as they do the hard work of bringing them forth.

Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?

This may sound strange, but stay with me. My “go to” life lesson quote is simple to remember but multifaceted in its application, and it’s “just add water.” I have been a swimmer for almost all of my life, and my darkest times have been when I have not had access to water through which to move my body. I’m completely uncoordinated on land, so the water is where I feel the strongest and most agile. On particularly stressful days, water is the place in which all I can hear are waves and my own breathing — no noise. I am inaccessible to others for however long I swim. This was salvation in early motherhood! As an introvert, knowing that this is a physical and emotional way for me to go completely inside myself is sacred. Water, for me, is a gorgeous way to integrate my internal world with the external one, and with most pools closed because of COVID, I’m really longing for it. Each year, I participate in a polar plunge on New Year’s Day on Sullivan’s Island, SC, that is a collective and joyful fundraiser for the Special Olympics. On this special day, just adding water feels like a full-on chaotic, southern baptism, and the energy is amazing!

“Just add water” also applies to so many other things that are life-sustaining. If stressed or tired, drink water. At the end of a tough day, shower or bathe in water. And there is nothing quite as healing a walk along the water, whether it’s a beach, lake, or river. When in doubt, I take it to water to help me along, and I use it in my parenting, too.

Is there a particular book, podcast, or film that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

Just a few months ago I watched Gus Van Sant’s film “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far On Foot,” which tells the life story of cartoonist John Callahan and is based on his memoir. I don’t want to give too much away, but I love a story of people reluctantly coming together, often through tragedy, sometimes against their better judgment, and yet the experience is transformational for each person. You’ll have to watch it to see what I mean.

The process of someone engaging in counseling often mirrors that same trajectory. I can’t tell you how many people have come to see me, admittedly begrudgingly yet often because something inside of them tells them there’s no way out, alone, of what they’re going through, and they’re ready to own up to that. They’re irritated, sometimes with me, often with themselves, but the courage that it takes to do something that hard, against that inner voice that says DAMN, this is going to be grueling, is admirable and inspiring. Some of the clients with whom I felt the most connected by the end of therapy were the ones that on day one I thought might never return, they were that unhappy to be there. I love being surprised by how much people are able to really dig into the tough stuff when they finally give themselves permission to do it. It’s truly a process of surrender.

The film is also a beautiful representation of the power of recovery groups and the pain experienced by people who struggle with addiction. This is something that is near and dear to my heart, so I was touched by the raw grace that was woven through the movie.

Let’s now shift to the main part of our discussion. Can you tell our readers about your career experience before the Pandemic began?

I had been an administrator in an independent school (the same one that I attended for high school) and was in charge of overseeing all programming related to co-curricular activities. The position was a new one for the institution, so it was nebulous and forming. I had been promoted into the role largely because I was known within the community to be diplomatic, fair, honest and really good at having tough conversations. Life lesson learned here: it’s not a promotion when the skills that make you a solid choice for a role, and are the ones of which you feel most proud, aren’t being used within your calling. The incongruence that this caused for me was major. Though I felt really proud to have “made it” professionally, my personal life was suffering. I am a single mom with two young daughters, and I was often pulled away from them because of work obligations. I had the constant gnawing feeling that the life I was living was by default, rather than by design.

What did you do to pivot as a result of the Pandemic?

As March bled into April, and then April into May, with no clear end of the pandemic in sight, I found myself feeling increasingly unable to shut out the voice that was saying to me, “People are hurting, and you’re not helping!” Specifically, I felt acutely aware of how the unraveling of so many of the systems in place that help women cope with daily life (schools and daycares for kids to attend, offices in which to stay focused) was stressing out the women around me so badly. It almost felt like I could hear us cracking under the weight of all of the known pressures and unknown next steps. I myself, a single parent with a wonderful co-parenting relationship with my children’s father, felt like what I was staring down for the coming months, possibly years, was completely untenable.

In 2017, I made my counseling license inactive, and so I began the process of researching what I needed to do to reactivate it. When I found out that there were national waivers being granted for counselors to become active practitioners without the usual bureaucratic gymnastics, coupled with amplified access to teletherapy practice permissions, it felt like a sign that NOW was the time. I submitted my resignation letter in June, spent the summer putting in order what I needed to open my practice, and I officially launched Rockwell Wellness Counseling, LLC, in late August. Though I work with others, the mission behind my practice is to serve, through feminist therapy, those fiercely independent women who are in the same boat as myself, working as hard as they can to thrive in a system that wasn’t designed for our success. In my direct work with clients, through my writing and social media presence, my purpose is to create a sisterhood amongst those of us who may be reluctant to acknowledge we need it. Because the reality is, we all badly need it!

Can you tell us about the specific “Aha moment” that gave you the idea to start this new path?

I guess this takes me back to the journalist comment earlier. In my former position, I had been asked to be the point person of a daily publication that would run throughout the spring term. The purpose of the publication was to both be informative but also to keep the community feeling connected. I got to choose certain “characters” on our campus to highlight, along with infusing the messaging with hope. I took so much joy in finding ways to support others through my words, and I could feel the healing power of connecting with people when they needed it most. Counseling is just that — finding ways to connect with others, honestly and without pretense, when they are the most in need. I knew that pivoting to a career in which I could create that same energy, relationally and through the written word, would get me back to me in a way that would also serve my fellow women warriors out there. With that realization, it felt like a no-brainer.

How are things going with this new initiative?

It has been really exciting! In counseling, we often look at client quantity or appointments per week as a barometer for success, so in those terms I feel really good that my practice has grown at a steady pace. I don’t really like that metric, though. Existentially, my life feels so much more manageable, and the hours that I spend with clients are deeply meaningful. I am, at less than four months in, where I thought I might take at least a year to arrive. It really feels like when you planfully follow your heart, the rest falls in line.

Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I have to give full credit here to my two daughters for their complete flexibility and total enthusiasm for our “new life.” In boarding schools, you live in housing provided by the school, so leaving a job also means leaving your home. When I broached the idea with my girls about my desire to start my own counseling practice, explaining that it would mean leaving our house and neighborhood, I was really concerned about how they would take it. Though we talked together about our sadness of leaving our sweet little house, their reaction of being “all in” without question was humbling and touching. My younger child said something to the effect of, “So you’re gonna help moms out there? Cool!” Full-on, unedited support. I’m very fortunate to be in a position where I could model for them what it looks like to follow your purpose at full tilt.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started in this new direction?

I suppose this is a story of affirmation. Years ago, one of my roles in the school where I worked was to run the largest girls’ dorm on campus — me and nearly one hundred 14–19 year olds. At this point in my life, I had just become a mother, and so I was deeply entrenched in the lives of girls, my own and a dormitory full of teenage ones. I had no clue what I was doing as a parent, and I am sure that my vulnerability showed through on a daily basis. It was while I was in this position that I started my degree in counseling, so I was living, breathing, and studying ways to effectively and compassionately interact with people. Though at times exhausting, living with those girls was the absolute best on the job training I ever could have asked for, and I learned so much from them.

When I launched my business, so many of “my girls” reached out to me to share their excitement and encouragement, many of whom are just now becoming mothers, the role that they watched me evolve into almost 14 years ago. They have since shared stories of acknowledgement of how hard becoming an adult and a parent is, and they’ve affirmed that my support years ago is something that they still feel. It’s so heartening to feel how these connections have endured.

What are your “5 things I wish someone told me before I started leading my organization” and why. Please share a story or example for each.

I was always so worried about how I would find health insurance on my own if self-employed. Newsflash — it’s not that complicated, and this should be the last thing that holds you back from starting your own company. Another therapist friend of mine connected me with an insurance marketplace broker who was used to finding healthcare for therapists, and they even completed all of the paperwork for me!

Bureaucracy is real. Filing for my LLC was a process that I had to do two times which means I had to pay the filing fee twice — ouch. Read the fine print and do it right the first time.

Join a coaching group specific to your field or type of business. It’s instrumentally helpful in getting you into the right headspace for designing a business that aligns with your vision of success. I have joined two coaching groups for therapists, and they already have me considering ways to grow my business in the future. They also are an excellent resource when I need to bounce ideas off others.

Tell as many people as possible what you are doing. Humans are always ready to offer advice, services, connections, especially when they see that you’re doing something you really care about. Each person I have told has had something encouraging to offer to me; one of my closest friends did my headshots, a family member helped me with my website, and I get referrals from people who know me and trust me. It feels self-promoting, but that’s ok! You’re offering a service that helps people, and others get excited to be part of that good energy!

Don’t let perfectionism hold you back. Just like with parenthood, you can be prepared but you’ll never feel fully ready. Do your research, have your plan, but then don’t linger in that space. Leap, and know you’ll continue learning and improving as you’re doing. When people call me to set up a counseling session, I can hear the vulnerability in their voice. I can be vulnerable by showing my clients that there are some things that we’ll work out as we go — perfectly imperfect together.

So many of us have become anxious from the dramatic jolts of the news cycle. Can you share the strategies that you have used to optimize your mental wellness during this stressful period?

As a therapist, this is my jam! I even roll my own eyes at this, but the truth is that the more that I can do to stay in the moment, the better. As much as I try to fight it sometimes, staying focused on one thing, in that moment, keeps me anchored. What we tell clients as therapists is that finding ways to compartmentalize life, as long as you are dealing with the tough, triggering stuff, is hugely important. To that end, I do not have email on my phone, and I have disabled all notifications for my social media accounts. By doing this, I control what information trickles into my life, and when. It definitely takes some getting used to, and those dopamine spikes sure do feel good in the moment, but I know that streamlining the flow of information has really helped.

Another strategy that doesn’t feel strategic because it’s just part of how I’ve always lived is that I check in regularly with the people in my life with whom I can be the most me. For example, I have a small text chain group with my girl pals; we refer to each other as “Wifeys for Lifey.” Even if it’s a text here and there or sharing some ridiculous aspect of our day, finding playful, affectionate ways to check in with people I love is critical to my wellness.

One more piece of wellness advice — movement, physical touch (including sex!), and any way that you can comfortably check in with your body is imperative to your mental health. I work with women predominantly, and so many of us drag around our feelings in bodily forms — tight shoulders, headaches, stomach rumbles, you name it. Finding ways to move our bodies and process our feelings that are stuck in its various parts is so important. In their book, Burnout: Unlocking the Stress Cycle, Emily and Amelia Nagoski address this point directly and offer amazing solutions for how to healthily go through the stress cycle. I see this everyday in my practice, and this is a critical part of my own self-care.

You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be?

Undoubtedly, I would want paid parental leave for both parents anytime that a child is added to a household. But I wouldn’t stop at the postpartum period. I would love to see better support for families, through childcare subsidies and reduced or flexible work schedules, throughout the years in which families are essentially growing together as a unit, perhaps when kids are newborns through age five. I’m unabashedly mom-conscious, and I feel that the burden placed on women who are trying to maintain their professional lives while growing a family is absurd. I also have great empathy for all of the wonderful dads out there who really end up missing out on their children’s babyhood because of intense work demands. I know that when you start with the health and well-being of the mom, preserving her sanity and encouraging her to grow as a parent and as a person, only good flows from this channel. There’s a reason for the saying, “If mama ain’t happy…”

Is there a person in the world whom you would love to have lunch with, and why? Maybe we can tag them and see what happens!

I could go all therapist-y on you here and say someone profound, but the truth is, I’d love to hang out with Andy Samberg or Chelsea Peretti. My kids and I are loyal devotees to “Brooklyn 99,” and a lunch with them would be anything but boring. I love when someone can make me laugh in an irreverent, full-body way, and they fit the bill one hundred percent.

How can our readers follow you online?

Please follow my helpful yet playful account on Instagram at therapist_for_women.

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