portland-stairsI learned a lot from my residency as a therapist, but very little came from the books I read. It was the personal realizations that moved me to insight more than any training skills. Specifically, I learned that the judgments and criticisms of others that I was so quick to make in the privacy of my own mind were destructive and misplaced, saying more about my lack of development than anything else. 

I ran therapy groups at Clackamas County Mental Health Center with Rich Panzer, the resident psychiatrist. Our evening group was attended by a very angry, immensely overweight woman, whom I disliked immediately. She triggered me because she was the dark side of the compliant physically fit girl I had learned to be. Her manner was caustic and fiercely good at pushing people away. I secretly wished she would leave the group, and take her attitude with her. I felt she was standing in the way of real healing for others, but mostly she evidenced an uncomfortable place of judgment in myself that I had no skill to deal with. As months went by and her shell began to weaken and crack, I was able to glimpse the magnificence of the spirit within.  When she felt safe enough to tell her story, give up her secrets and release her pain, I felt shamed by my earlier thinking.

I saw the same thing repeated daily in my practice at the clinic, clients hiding their beauty and wisdom behind years of walled off pain, desperately needing to find a way out, and just as desperately determined to create a kind of safety that prevented them from doing so.

The spoken message was, please help me, my life is a mess and I can’t go on.

The unspoken message was, I’ve been hurt so much that I can’t let you close enough to know me.  I have to constantly guard from danger.

It took time to understand how to separate people’s defenses from their deeper essence, but I count it as one of the most valuable lessons of my life.

Debbie Ford wrote a book called, “The Dark Side of the Light Chasers,” which helps us understand how we project what we can not accept in ourselves onto others. If you haven’t read it and feel ready to look at your own shadow side, I’d give it a try.

Making Sense of it


I never thought much about my ability to see into the lives of other people until I entered graduate school. I always had a sense of the layered qualities and patterns others carried, and was routinely advised and guided by dreams, but it was not until I did a practicum at Clackamas County Mental Health Center that my abilities were brought fully home.

Rich was the psychiatrist in residence, as well as my teacher and supervisor. He and I were running an evening therapy group when the subject of dreams came up. After group ended, he took me aside, Karen, write down a dream of your own, and bring it to our next supervision session. That will be an excellent way to explore.

I went to our session expecting to understand dream symbols, projection and relationship. What happened instead surprised me. The dream I brought was long, detailed and all about Rich. When I read it, he withdrew. His color blanched.  Nobody should know those things about me, he said, there is no way for anyone to know what you  just told me.  He became quiet, going deep inside his private world. His puzzled silence letting me know our meeting was finished.

My session with Rich made me aware that whatever was happening in my world was different than those around me. It made me question my career. I enjoyed learning to help and heal, but the methods seemed inadequate. I sat in a tiny consulting room and saw one person after the next. There was no magic answer for their pain, just a learned ability to listen, and to empower by providing feedback. But what empowerment could there be, when the person’s consciousness and view of reality stayed as small as the room we sat in? They needed a larger, more holistic vision.

I was too confused in those early years to follow my wisdom. I only knew the limits of what I was learning, and that it was wrong for me. I already had stomach ulcers from stress, so I dropped the program. Instead, I joined a theater company to travel, sing, dance and wash the sorrow from my bones. There was a woman in the company who read tarot cards. When she read mine, I was both amazed and hooked. Here was a language of symbols and images which spoke volumes without the written word. Looking at the cards gave me an ancient sense of homecoming.  Here, at last was a way for the voices that spoke through my dreams to be direct, immediate and available. I closed myself from the outside world, and spent days being pulled into their complex framework, a framework that beautifully described the human condition. 

I lived in a converted mansion with a sweeping central staircase, occupied solely by artists. The tenants were poets, musicians, painters, sculptors, designers and theater people. When I announced what I was doing, nearly everyone in the building came for a reading. I gave generously, eager to test my wings.feathers1

I was surprised to learn that some people were afraid of the cards, because they had been hurt by words from unloving hearts. They had been told cruel and unjust things by fortune tellers and gypsies, who placed cards on the table between them, as they delivered fear-based messages. I was also surprised that people came back wanting more and more. But I just gave you a reading. I just told you that.

It took a long time to make the soup that became my healing practice. I drew on many varied ingredients, but always used the first session to gain trust. I’d quiet myself and merge with my clients to understand the blueprint of their lives; what gifts they had, what troubles, patterns and hurts. I gave this knowing back with a spiritual perspective, so they had a new understanding and foundation to stand on. We did whatever healing was needed to shine light into the shadows that kept them trapped and unfulfilled.

People ask how I developed my skills and inquire about my teachers, but developing my sensitivity has never been the focus. The focus has been learning to live with and manage it. I do not seek books, classes or teachers. I  seek to escape them. For years I could not go into crowds, ride a train, or go to a department store, because my body became overloaded. Feeling and seeing so much overwhelmed me and made me ill. I have learned to focus down and make boundaries, but it does not happen easily. My husband goes to parties alone.

One of my students left an intuitive training class saying, When I came to class, I thought I would give anything to have the skills you have, to see what you see, and be able to do what you do, but now that I understand what it takes, I am very grateful that I am not you!