By the time I was 15, I had experienced a lot of tragedies for a little girl. The mental illness and then death of my mother was the most prominent. I have dedicated my life to learning how to attend to my sorrows, thus keeping my heart open and helping others attend to theirs.
When I was 19, three years after my mother died, I was escaping my new stepmom and spending the summer as a camp counselor. I became very close to another counselor who was musically gifted. She wrote a song for me.
Wendy helps you when you’re sick and cold.
Sings you songs of joy and sorrow.
Portraits in many colors, she sails with you exploring past.
On shore the present will help you learn yourself.
I still feel that these words describe who I am all these years later and summarize what my life has been truly about.
There is indeed a through-line to my life, which has always been my interest in transforming debilitating pain into something useful, into an asset, into wisdom.
Starting in the early 1990’s I began the Pathwork Transformation Program at Sevenoaks Retreat Center. The theme of feeling your feelings and valuing them felt like a miracle to me. In my family everyone just wanted me to be happy. There was no room for the rainbow of human emotions.
Body work, or bioenergetic analysis, was part of the program. Based on the work of Wilhelm Reich and John Pierrakos, called Core Energetics, it explained physical and psychological problems as energetic blocks formed in the body to protect against the assaults of life. Through physical exercises energy could be released in the body and thus resolved in the psyche. We did these exercises until our bodies began to tremble and shake. We felt better afterwards — some emotional release. We also expressed and moved our negativity, beating on pillows, kicking on mattresses, and stomping around the room saying, “no, no, no”.
We used experimental techniques like Stan Grof’s Breathwork. Through deep breathing we would transcend to states of euphoria and expansion. We found our personal God-Self and a greater consciousness — our “Yes to Life”.
In committed monthly groups, we healed so many interpersonal wounds. The group members would recreate the dynamics of our families and feel the same painful, sometimes excruciating feelings, but they were now welcome and held in the loving container of the group. Different outcomes were possible, with tremendous healing. The intimacy we created with each other soothed a part of me that craved this kind of contact, and we sensed that we were a part of a greater evolutionary movement, healing ourselves but also healing the planet.
I graduated from the five-year Pathwork Transformation Program in 1999 and went directly on to another five years of Helper Training. I became a Helper in 2004.
As a new Helper I experimented with many of the newest tools and techniques. One was Hellinger Family Constellation Work developed by Bert Hellinger. This work, like Core Energetics, was built on observation and the deductive reasoning of the founders. Bert observed that individuals who have present day problems are often enacting a family dynamic from the past, created by the strong bonds of love. The work reveals and heals intergenerational trauma and gave me a sense of my own family’s bonds of love and the place I had taken with the generations of women in my family.
I took the three years of Hellinger Family Constellation training to become a facilitator. I have incorporated this system into the individual and group work I lead and have seen tremendous benefits for some people.
My husband, also a Pathwork Helper, and I have worked for the 40+ years of our marriage to inspire each other and grow in our relationship. Together, we have created programs for couples, given couples sessions and led specialized couples’ intensives.
Over the years I have gravitated to all kinds of group work. The power of group work to heal astounds me. My mentor for leading groups and teaching others to lead groups is Irvin D. Yalom and his foundational book, “The Theory and Practice of Group Psychotherapy”.
Rituals have also been an integral part of my training and remain a passion. I have created and facilitated rituals for weddings, funerals, and a variety of other human passages in between.
Neuroscience research and data began to emerge in my world around 2010. Trauma and adult attachment were in the forefront of many of the findings. Now we can see real data about what is going on in the brain. The field of psychology is changing rapidly and so am I. In college my favorite class was human biology and now I have the biology of the brain and nervous system to study. Real results can be seen on an MRI. We are no longer dependent on someone’s observation or hypothesis. Now we know that emotional catharsis work without insight and integration does not actually create lasting change. We know that the nervous system works in a kind of gentle pendulation between a disturbing event and a resting place or resource and back and forth until the feelings can be digested. Then we become more whole. We can understand from the research, beginning with John Bowlby, that the attachment style we developed as children (secure, anxious, avoidant or disorganized) will determine our relationship styles and needs for a lifetime.
This work began a second wave of transformation for me as I began to understand and have so much more compassion for my issues. I had come by my struggles honestly. My disturbed relationship with my mother left me disturbed. This was true, but I could recover. My husband and I have included the work of Sue Johnson and her book, Hold Me Tight in our couples’ work. We understand how important it was for both of us to make a secure relationship our goal. We saw that so many struggles in our marriage and that we observed in couples was at the core, one partner’s desperate plea, “Are you there?”
I started Beyond Broken as I was finishing the DARe training modules and began assisting with Diane Poole Heller, a Somatic Experiencing and trauma expert who trained with Peter Levine. It is gentle work. It works with the natural rhythms of the nervous system—a nervous system that we can now actually observe in action. Beyond Broken represents my accumulated training and personal history and the exciting changes in the field of psychology in recent years. We can recover from trauma. Trauma is an embodied memory. Through research in neuroscience, we know that we store all our memories in our body, and that many memories are precognitive and implicit (without memory or words). The exciting book, “The Body Keeps the Score”, by Dr. Bessel Van der Kolk, documents the history of these discoveries.
We were right, thirty years ago, even without science and data, that real healing comes through the body. Now we know this healing must be gentle and that it can be lasting and that our bodies and even our genome can change. We can set a whole new epigenetic cycle in motion. We are part of an evolutionary movement. Now we have the science to back us up.