Leah Rockwell ’97, P ’25: “Guidance” Counselor
In the spring of 2020, Leah Rockwell ’97, P ’25 was working as the dean of experiential programming at Mercersburg Academy and struggling to balance full-time work and a desire for more time with her daughters. Then the COVID-19 pandemic happened.
“It felt really incongruent for me to continue on in what I was doing,” Rockwell says. “I wanted to use the skills I have in a way that would be helpful to people in need and also have the flexibility that I would need to manage my life as a parent.”
Over her years at Mercersburg—serving as a dorm dean, the director of global programs, and ultimately the dean of experiential programming—Rockwell also pursued her degree as a licensed professional counselor, and she felt acutely that now was the time to draw on that skill.
As a result, she stepped back from her work at Mercersburg and founded Rockwell Wellness, a counseling practice offering online therapy for women’s mental-health issues. She is licensed to treat patients in Pennsylvania and Maryland.
“I mostly work with women on so much anxiety,” says Rockwell. “Some of it is postpartum, but a lot of it is what people have lived with over the past year and a half. What was deniable before or manageable before has just crept up because of all the time inside with one's kids, with one's self, with one's thoughts.”
In some ways, perhaps, it is not unusual that Rockwell found herself moving into a role as a mentor and counselor. As a student at Mercersburg, she built her own confidence through her work and her close relationships with others. “One of the most life-changing things for me was being a Peer Group Leader and really learning the power of group work and what it’s like to be heard and to offer listening to others,” she says. “That really sparked an interest in being in a relational field later on.”
Rockwell’s current work also allows her more time with her two daughters, Louisa ’25 and Eve Gunkelman, and she enjoys watching Mercersburg through her daughter’s eyes. “I developed a lot of independence that I would not have gotten otherwise, and now I’m seeing that in my own child,” says Rockwell. “As a parent, I get to sit back and watch and ask completely uninformed questions about friendships, relationships, and gossip, and I love that in our relationship, it gets to be fully her thing.”
As for her advice to current students, she says, “I want them to learn how to embrace down time for what it is: time to do nothing other than just be. It is such a rare and precious gift, and I see how many of my clients struggle to simply rest without the overarching need to find a way to be busy or ‘productive’ if given a moment of free time. I hope students, when met with an unexpected free period, will go burn popcorn together in a common room or discover some rare and secret corner of campus that they had no idea existed. There’s so much excitement and beauty in just allowing yourself to follow whatever comes in a free moment. Don’t get in your own way by deciding exactly how you have to use it.”
This is advice that Rockwell tries to follow in her own self-care. As a strong introvert, she respects the need to curate her energy. “I build into every day the things that feed my energy and moderate what will deplete my energy,” she says. “For me, every morning I either swim when I can, or I take long walks and listen to podcasts. I go very internal for at least the first hour of the day. I take that time very much for me. I am really careful about what I say yes to. If I have a day where I have four clients, that would not be a day for me to plan dinner with friends.”
As she thinks about the future, Rockwell is excited to build her practice. “I really enjoy working with moms right now on the motherhood identity experience and managing their own anxieties,” she says. “Something I’m really interested in is bridging some of my services into the world of coaching and doing parent coaching for other parents of teenage girls.”
She also loves the opportunity she has now to do more writing, a passion that had fallen away over the years but was rekindled at Mercersburg just as the pandemic took hold. Rockwell was put in charge of the daily virtual newsletter that kept students connected to one another from their homes around the world. “I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, I love doing this,’” she says. “So now that is a significant part of my business. I have an entire day where that’s all I do is writing, and I don’t see any clients that day because that is energetically feeding for me, and it got reignited [at Mercersburg] during a really dark time when I was making really difficult decisions.”
While she sometimes misses the direct work with students that she had at Mercersburg, she also takes great comfort and pride in the support that the Mercersburg community has given to her. Many of the girls who lived in Rockwell’s dorm when she was a dorm dean, and who also gave her so much support when she was a new mom, are now becoming moms themselves.
“One of the most motivating things for me in starting the business and connecting back to Mercersburg was that a lot of the girls who I had been the dorm dean for reached out and said, ‘I can’t think of a better person to be doing this work. We’re so excited for you.’
“None of this would have been possible had all of that not happened. I have so much gratitude for the girls from the Class of 2008 and on for that period of time. First, they were schooling me on how to be a mom. They were the first ones to ask, ‘Can we hold her while you open the snack closet? Can we do this for you so you can do these other parts of your job?’ You can’t do any of this work in isolation. It takes a community—whether in person or online. That validation from the people who really saw me in my formative time has been important.”