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Tragedy leads local couple to open mental health clinic

Madison DeVore

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Ellie Mental Health St. Petersburg is staffed with licensed therapists. Photos provided.

Allen and Christine Whisler want to help destigmatize mental healthcare, and make it affordable. So they’ve started Ellie Mental Health St. Petersburg.

“When people start looking for therapists, it’s kind of like dating,” said Allen. Sometimes clients have to meet a few therapists before finding one they “vibe” with.

“Our system allows people to get to know therapists beforehand; they can look at some different attributes and find somebody that can not only help with their specific issue or concern, but also may relate to them in other ways.”

The client can see a photo of the therapist before coming into the office, or find someone based on attributes such as gender or age, he added.

Clinic director Katie Planchard is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been a practicing therapist for a decade, and is passionate about the immediate need for accessible mental healthcare.

Jan. 30, 2021: Allen and Christine Whisler moved their wedding day forward so her dying mother could attend.

The Whislers are adamant about fostering a culture of openness and acceptance, explained Allen. They came to understand that helping others become comfortable asking for help is crucial, he said, after they dealt with great loss themselves.

In 2021, Christine lost her mother, Kathy, to a rare brain disease – Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease – just a few months before their planned wedding in an Ireland castle.

To ensure Kathy could attend the wedding, the Whislers married within six days of her diagnosis in the Tampa Bay area. Kathy passed away about three months later..

Two months, two weeks and two days later, Christine’s maternal grandmother passed away. Christine struggled with depression after facing these losses, and Allen encouraged her to try talk therapy.

After working with three different therapists, she found the support she needed and said this action saved her life. This experience led to the Whislers wanting to help others battle their mental health struggles in their local community.

Therapist Katie Planchard is Clinical Director at Ellie Mental Health St. Petersburg.

One of the things that drew the couple to start the clinic, Allen said, was “that we could really just make an impact here in St. Pete.”

Allen, who has worked as a pharmacist, said his career experience also showed him that so many people could benefit from talk therapy, rather than relying solely on medication, which is the country’s most common “version” of mental healthcare, he said.

They plan to open a total of three clinics in St. Petersburg in the next few years.

There is no waitlist at the moment, and while when Christine participated in therapy it cost around $175 per hour, Allen anticipates $50 per hour, although this varies depending on the individual’s insurance.

It is important for the community to have access to more affordable mental healthcare, as it is just as important as physical health, he stressed.

Ellie Mental Health St. Petersburg opened June 3 at 9400 Fourth Street N. To learn more about the organization, which accepts clients 5 years and older, visit here.

 

 

 

 

 

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