Nurturing the Sisterhood. Dr. Julie Franks Launches New Island Medical Practice Aimed at Moms, Expecting Moms and Couples Facing Infertility

Dr. Julie Franks and her husband had their own bout with infertility before their son was born two years ago. That experience is one of the reasons behind her decision to launch Nurturing the Sisterhood, a” judgement-free” mother’s mental health practice on Bainbridge Island that is set to open in mid-March.

Dr. Julie Franks image courtesy of her website“All of my fancy education, empathy and experience didn’t prepare me for the demands of motherhood,” says the 37-year-old Franks, a one-time theologist turned social worker. “I had to experience it to truly get it – and I was shocked. I felt so overwhelmed. Things improved for me when I started taking my own advice and practicing the skills I teach my clients in bite-sized ways that I could fit into my demanding mom life.”

Franks, originally from Los Angeles, has been working for the past five years as a long-term maternal mental health therapist at the Front Street Clinic in Poulsbo. She’s a Licensed Independent Clinical Social Worker (LICSW) in Washington State, and is currently completing her Perinatal Mental Health Care Certificate (PMH-C). She and her family live on Bainbridge.

“I am very passionate about supporting women who are mothers, (or those who) aspire to become mothers, with their mental health, especially moms who are facing infertility, pregnancy loss, postpartum, and in the early years of motherhood,” she says. “I approach everything from my professional training as well as my own lived experience with infertility, birth trauma, anxiety, trying to balance work and home, and (with) having trouble finding my own support as a new mom on the island. Everything about my new practice is designed with moms in mind from the clinic schedule (we operate on a school year calendar) to being able to bring your child with you to my perinatal mental healthcare education.”

Franks found her career path in a rather roundabout way. She has a bachelor’s in Religious Studies from Emory University, a Masters in Theology from Vanderbilt University, a Masters in Social Work from the University of Tennessee, and a Doctor of Social Work, also from the University of Tennessee.

“I started out in theology, and my hope was to teach as a theology professor and support people in feeling included in their faith of choice, regardless of their family’s religious identity,” she explains. “As a part of that work, I learned a lot about women’s roles in religious communities, mental health, and the way feeling unaccepted or different from your community impacts self-esteem and self-worth. When I started working with teen girls, I realized that I wanted to focus on the care of women and their families. That started my journey into social work, where I have always focused my work on women and families.”

As Franks put it, “I am a doctoral level clinical social work therapist and a college professor; I focus both my academic and clinical work on the roles and status of women (and) women’s experiences.”

Like a lot of similar stories, Franks and her family moved to the island at the behest of her parents who relocated here around 2015. “At the time this really wasn’t a place for a single person,” she recalls, with a laugh. She then took a short hiatus to Portland, met her future husband, got married and moved back to Bainbridge. “It’s a very, very beautiful and peaceful place. We wanted to raise children… We love it here.”

Franks insists her new practice fits right into the needs of the island’s medical offerings or lack thereof.

Dr. Julie Franks image courtesy of her website“We live in an area where accessing healthcare is difficult, let alone specialized care for women in this important and challenging time of life,” she says. “Many women go to Seattle for this kind of care or go without it because they don’t know where to access it. Women’s healthcare is different than men’s healthcare in a lot of ways, and in recent months there has been much national discussion about the type of healthcare women have access to.

“As you know,” she continues, “Bainbridge Island (and the surrounding area) is a very family-oriented location, but there are many challenges that parents face (especially mothers). There are limited childcare options, employment options, and limited access to healthcare providers, especially providers who specialize in perinatal mental healthcare/maternal mental healthcare. This is actually a huge issue that women face everywhere in the United States, with 96 percent of women living in a women’s healthcare desert and only 15 percent of women getting access to mental health care postpartum. It’s surprising to face so many challenges on our island and in other places that are so close to Seattle (although honestly, it’s not easy to get women-specific care there, either). ”

“We live in a day and age where women don’t necessarily expect to have access to the kind of specialized care they need,” Franks further explains, “and there is a lot of fear and stigma about accessing mental healthcare in pregnancy and early motherhood. I want to be a part of the solution, and provide a non-judgmental, warm, and caring space for women to get specialized, best practice mental health care. Women need it!”

While Franks herself will have a physical location in Downtown Winslow for Nurturing the Sisterhood, she will see most of her patient’s using an online TeleHealth platform.

“My therapy sessions are all held virtually, for many different reasons.,” she says. “Part of this is because it is much easier for pregnant women (and) women going through fertility treatment (and) women with small children to be at home. Part of this is to provide trauma informed care (especially for women facing pregnancy loss or infertility; seeing a pregnant woman or woman with a child can be triggering), and to increase privacy in our small community.”

She eventually hopes to find a space to expand her services to provide small group sessions. That’s likely to happen this coming summer or in the fall, she says. Like a lot of independent providers, Franks, who is already scheduling local patients, is not part of large health care services network – like Virginia Mason, or Kaiser Permanente. She’s “out of network” with most insurance companies, but is tied in to a company called Mentayu (https://www.mentaya.com/) that helps people navigate through out of network challenges.

“Most people have pretty good insurance (here),” she says. “They will pay me first and then get reimbursed from their insurance company… Insurance can be a barrier, but it can lower costs (as well). It’s a balance.”

For more information on Dr. Julie Franks and her services, visit: https://www.nurturingthesisterhood.com/

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