With the click of a button, Edina natives, residents and sisters Alexis Bennett and Leah Pillsbury are changing the way Minnesotans access private therapy sessions through their virtual-only practice.
Teletherapy is a way for people to access treatment by a licensed therapist through a secure audio or video connection. While teletherapy existed prior to 2020, in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, it became a primary way for people to continue therapy treatments from the safety of their own homes.
After dreaming and talking about going into the therapy business together, Bennett and Pillsbury—both licensed independent clinical social workers (LICSW)—launched Edina-based Orka Health and Wellness in September 2021 in response to the growing need for access to teletherapy.
“Not only are we sisters, [but we’re also] best friends who came into the same profession because we have this passion to advocate for people and listen and just be present with them,” Pillsbury says.
Licensed in Minnesota for statewide practice, the team’s clinical skills and experience include a diverse range of people and backgrounds. “We believe that everyone’s story is significant and worth listening to, and we want people to tell us their story,” Bennett says.
However, teletherapy wasn’t in their original plans. Planning to look at offices in Edina when the pandemic hit, the sisters hit pause on their search for a few weeks. “We still had this dream to work together and create this business,” Bennett says. “And then teletherapy became a thing.”
Thankful they never signed a lease, Bennett and Pillsbury don’t plan to transition to in-person appointments, but rather will remain a teletherapy-only practice. “This model is working well for us, and people are really liking it,” Bennett says. They see many benefits to teletherapy. Patients can easily access appointments through an email link (which meets all data privacy laws), and they never have to worry about patients running late due to traffic, weather or parking.
Orka has four LICSW therapists who specialize in many areas—from supporting people with special needs (specifically autism and Down syndrome) and chronic illness to helping process grief and loss, offering perinatal and postpartum support, and supporting caregivers and medical professionals. Through therapy, they also support those dealing with anxiety, depression, social anxiety, perfectionism and burnout.
Their offerings go beyond therapy, as well. One of the psychologists on staff offers ADD/ADHD testing. And a registered dietician practices virtual nutrition coaching and wellness for high-risk children, pregnant and postpartum moms, breastfeeding education and support, cooking for toddlers or tackling picky eaters, helping families create healthy meals and incorporating kids into the kitchen.
“We offer a free 15-minute consult, which I think is a cool way for a client to see if there's a connection with the therapist before meeting with them,” Bennett says.
And what is orka? “We are 50/50 Norwegian and Swedish, and we wanted a unique word for our practice,” Pillsbury says. “We came up with orka, which is a Swedish term meaning ‘to have the energy to do something.’ We want to give people the private space and support to have the energy to grieve, heal, cope, process—just to feel heard, be seen and validated that what they're going through is real.”