A psychotherapist with a private practice on Bainbridge Island, Washington, I began developing and teaching Somatic Transformation in 2004. Since then, I have traveled throughout the United States, Canada, and Europe helping mental health professionals learn how to access the innate wisdom of the body for healing trauma. The neurological research principles and six practices of Somatic Transformation are described in my book, Relational and Body-Centered Practices for Healing Trauma: Lifting the Burdens of the Past.
My undergraduate studies began at Seattle University; however, a move to Guam and the birth of four children interrupted my academic pursuits and provided a valuable humanistic education. When my youngest son went to school, I completed a bachelor of arts degree and began teaching at a Jesuit high school in Tacoma, Washington.
Teaching curious teens about psychology and theology, I became concerned about the fragile mental health of adolescents and decided to continue my education in psychotherapy. After earning a master’s degree at Pacific Lutheran University, teaching in the graduate program, and conducting research on the effects of stress on children, I began working as a psychotherapist and educator at a community mental health center in Lakewood, Washington.
In the mid-1980s, there was an epidemic of youth suicide in this military-based community. Dismayed that the psychological literature at the time was sparse regarding the prevention and intervention of youth suicide, I began an academic and clinical quest to discover why children were dying and how to prevent needless suffering. Following hundreds of conversations with children, teens, and colleagues, it became clear to me that empathy could be the critical component for change.
In 1990 I enrolled in a somatically oriented, phenomenological doctoral program at the University of Victoria, British Columbia, to research the development of empathy in caregivers working with traumatized youth. During this time, I wrote a book for educators working with high-risk youth and designed an academic course to help deepen their capacity to know, feel, and respond compassionately to the inner anguish and grief of children. The course taught teachers to recognize the signs of trauma and required participants to reflect-in-action, a phenomenological process, on their ability to enter into meaningful, empathic relationships with their students.
After earning my PhD in 1994, I studied somatic practices for shock trauma with Dr. Peter Levine and became senior faculty of Somatic Experiencing. I also began teaching somatic psychotherapy at the University of Victoria and was invited to work with First Nations people in British Columbia who were suffering from the trauma of colonialism. Through these experiences, it became clear to me that relational-developmental trauma was at the core of vulnerability for PTSD and needed to be treated with relational body-centered empathy.
In 2004, I began studying with Dr. Allan Schore, a prolific researcher in the field of interpersonal neurobiology, whose work helped to inspire the development of Somatic Transformation. I continue to teach Somatic Transformation to small groups, helping practitioners integrate neurobiological theories and somatic practices into their personal and professional lives.