This Dover therapist saw a need for mental health support in infertility. So she stepped up.
Alisha McCanney has been a licensed social worker for more than a decade, but it was her journey to motherhood that inspired her to start her own mental health practice in Dover.
During the three years McCanney was trying to get pregnant, she said it was difficult to find the mental health support she needed.
“I went through my journey and it was pretty isolating, but I was pretty open about it,” she said.
When she gave birth to her daughter, McCanney suffered from severe preeclampsia — a pregnancy complication when the mother has extremely high blood pressure.
After the birth, her newborn was sent to the neonatal intensive care unit where hospital staff devoted the utmost care and attention to the baby.
But, after she was discharged as a patient, she realized there was very little support for mom.
McCanney ended up spending the next several weeks practically living in the Ronald McDonald room, a space attached to the NICU at Bayhealth where parents can be close to their children.
While she said she felt an incredible amount of support from the labor and delivery staff, the waiting period was different.
"I felt very alone for that moment," she said.
The Ronald McDonald room does not have any full-time staff, but every now and then, the custodian would come in to clean and ask how McCanney was doing. She said that was only person who really checked in on her.
It was in that moment, McCanney said, that she realized this was a need she could help fulfill.
“This is what I’m going to do,” McCanney recalled thinking.
Willow Counseling Services first opened in July 2019 near Camden, but the practice on Nov. 11 moved into a larger, 1,200-square-foot office on East Loockerman Street near TGI Fridays in Dover.
The new space includes five offices and a waiting room, which McCanney said she hopes will allow for more opportunities for group therapy and help create a welcoming atmosphere. She has worked to design the area with that in mind.
“I think this is a much more welcoming, cozy feel. I want that comfortable experience,” she said.
Since the office is in a shared building, this location allows patients to enter through a central door if they wish to keep their visit more private.
Willow Counseling works with both men and women, specializing in infertility and other health issues just before and after birth, as well as general depression and anxiety.
For people facing these challenges, it’s beneficial to talk to someone who has been through infertility because they don’t have to spend time explaining the process, as they might to a general therapist, McCanney said.
She has met with clients from Kent County and as far south as Lewes, Selbyville and Seaford.
“You can definitely tell there’s just a really big lack of resources,” she said.
During the early stages of the pandemic, she continued her practice virtually through May. Now, she sees about 20 to 30 patients a week, with about half coming into the building and half sticking with telehealth.
For some, like mothers or fathers with postpartum depression, the in-person services are important because they need that separated time for themselves, she said.
She added that anxiety in many of these parents has skyrocketed, too.
“You’re completely terrified that you’re going to get COVID and you're going to give your baby COVID, and you’re both going to die,” McCanney said.
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Others have faced delayed infertility treatments or appointments when their spouse or support person had to stay outside. As a therapist, McCanney said, it's difficult to find logical explanations during a time with so much uncertainty.
Understanding that many people wait too long to connect with mental health resources, she encouraged people to talk to someone — even if they are unsure they need help.
As her practice expands, she said maintaining a good reputation and relationship with the community is a priority.
“My biggest goal is to be able to meet people where they’re at and get the services they’re asking for in a timely fashion,” she said.
For more, visit https://www.willowcounselingservicesde.com.