When people ask you what do you do, how do you answer them?
My work is about creating the conditions for people to connect with an authentic sense of depth and sacredness within themselves, with other people, and with the more-than-human-world, particularly the land. I’ve found over time, that working as a Psychologist doing psychotherapy, as a visual artist, and as a parent, the conditions that support those connections invite a conscious engagement with the heart as a way of perceiving, as a way of knowing, as a way of conversing and responding, and as a way of being. As both a working psychotherapist and an artist, I am interested in how to support a spontaneous sense of curiosity and regard for what might otherwise be unseen, unspoken, or unconscious, towards a cultivation of interiority from which true expression and honoring relationships might emerge.
For the last several years, I’ve had the privilege of working with veterans alongside my work with civilians, supporting the process of return founded in practices and understandings of indigenous traditions around care for warriors. This work introduced me to a much broader psycho-spiritual framework for working with trauma in general, and has translated directly into my framework for working with civilians, with an explicit emphasis on the original meaning of psyche as “soul” and an attunement to the needs of the heart.
What was your path to where you are now?
I always found a certain feeling of at-homeness and immersion when I was either making something, finding myself in a heartfelt conversation with another person, or spending time alone in nature. Because that feeling of connection was the same for me, I knew all these things fit together even though it meant I had to cross some disciplinary lines when it came to making educational choices in school. I studied Existential-Phenomenological Psychology and Fine Art in college, and then went on to do an MFA at Pratt in painting, though I was drawn to making mostly sculpture during my time there. I taught in the Art and Art History Department at Duquesne University for a few years before recognizing that I was most interested in creative process and the therapeutic nature of the dialogue when working with students, and realized that I had better get some training as a therapist if that was what I was being called toward! I pursued my PhD in Clinical Psychology at Duquesne, where I felt a lot of support around integrating my artistic sensibility and practice with psychology, and now I have a private practice seeing individuals, couples and families. I feel extremely grateful that I’ve taken a path which has allowed me to create what I consider to be a very sacred and personal space to be with and support each person who comes to see me in discerning and honoring their own innate capacities to connect, recover, grow, and heal.
Can you tell us about one or two essential learning experiences that help you make your path?
I think a very important capacity for any person to develop is a sense of what it feels like to resonate truly with an Other, whether that be another person, a place, an idea, music, or the Other within oneself. This is an innate barometer that can be an invaluable source of guidance for discerning what feels like an authentic path. The paradox is that in order to move outward in the world, one must cultivate a sense of inwardness and in order to nourish a sense of who one is, one must necessarily relate to an Other. It has always been helpful to me to identify who my heroes are, because those we admire often embody something that we ourselves are seeking to develop in some way in our own lives. In this way, those heroes become a special constellation of North Stars for us. I have been blessed to have had so many teachers and mentors who I hold dear for this reason. One of these people was the late Edward L. Murray, then the Dean of the Psychology department at Duquesne, who peered across his desk at me when I was a young 17-year-old, and read a Yevtushenko poem called “Early Illusions.” The second to last stanza reads,
You see, it is not the knowledge of the serpent,
It is not the doubtful honor of experience,
But the ability to be enchanted by the world
That reveals to us the world as it really is.
This was enough to convince me to orient my compass to that department and the path that has unfolded since. Although, 20 years later, I am still working on the meaning of that poem for me, and probably will be for the next 20 years too!
Where do you see your path taking you next?
I see my next steps as translating what I’ve been doing mostly behind closed doors as a psychotherapist and artist into a more communal context through teaching, writing, giving workshops, continuing to do retreats and wilderness work with veterans, and doing more public art projects that focus on supporting deeper awareness and connection, particularly with place as a living, communicative, and infinite entity. I have had the privilege of working with clients over the years in a process that is inherently counter-cultural in its pacing, its attunement to what might be unconscious, its hospitality to holding aspects of experience that are painful, seemingly irrational, or not readily reducible to categories or tweets. What guides me now more than ever is my commitment to following, in multiple ways, a heart-centered path in working with myself and with Others, being what I call a Heartwalker. For me, this is a continuation of the play between “looking in” and “looking out,” listening and expressing, supporting connection from this courageous center in ourselves, and honoring this sacred life.