I grew up in a lower class neighborhood in Sacramento, CA raised by a single mom, a first generation German immigrant grandmother and a Filipino-American grandfather. By the time I was 3, I had already suffered sexual abuse, incest, and complex trauma, the immense consequences of which I’ve spent the whole first quarter of my life processing through. By the age of 17, I was severely depressed, had flashback memories, had little support, and experienced the loss of my best friend to suicide. My first attempt to get help from the mental health system left me with several diagnoses, a prescription for antipsychotics, and even more feelings of isolation along with a sense that there was something deeply flawed about our system for supporting others.
Changing The System
The emotional pain I felt motivated me to get the hell out of my hometown and claw my way towards a better life. I was fortunate enough to become a scholarship recipient to NYU where I got a degree in Applied Psychology. Right out of school, I worked as a crisis counselor doing home visits for a New York mental health agency. I thought I would change the system from the inside and make it better…but that didn’t quite work out as planned. What I saw shook me deeply. I witnessed people struggling with very human problems like poverty, grief, loss, racial injustice, immigration, trauma, violence, and more. All of these experiences got obscured and re-labeled by a dysfunctional system that did very little to truly help people and was filled with harmful power dynamics, pathologization, risky and traumatizing 'treatment', and instilled shame around big emotions.
A Spiritual Awakening
Somewhere between processing my own trauma, an undiagnosed auto-immune disease, burnout, and feeling complicit in a broken system, I had my own mental breakdown. I began experiencing extreme and altered states – hearing voices, seeing visions, past life regressions, paranoia, the feeling of energetic expansiveness, extreme sensitivity to everything around me, and so much more. It was process, lasting around 3 months, that felt both deeply terrifying and also felt like a deep spiritual transformation.
Having worked in the mental health system, I knew my experience would get defined as “psychosis” or some life-long illness that signified a broken brain and required a lifetime of medication and hospitalizations. Somehow I knew that I was experiencing was so much more meaningful. Through this process, I came face-to-face with my deepest shadows, questioned my sanity, purged old belief systems, gained amazing spiritual gifts and insight, and sometimes, wanted to die. But, instead, I let the pain die. What remained of me beyond that catapulted me into a whole new way of living, paving my own path to a life of joy and thriving that I never knew possible.
I changed my diet, my career, studied herbalism and holistic health, moved from the city up to Woodstock, NY to breathe easier and live better. I shifted my boundaries, my spiritual practices, my hobbies, my communities and relationships. I took a more holistic approach and changed my very relationship to myself, my body, and my mind, by trusting this terrifying and rewarding process of deep transformation. Pain became my oldest and wisest teacher leading me towards a deeper and fuller sense of self, profound spiritual transformations, an intimate connection with the natural world, a deeper intuitive capacity, and new meaning in all aspects of my life.
Activism and A New Mental Health Paradigm
I soon became an activist working with local mental health communities and grassroots organizations like The Icarus Project NYC , facilitating workshops on mental health alternatives and peer support.
Continuing my education within a modality that supports self-determination and advocacy, I became certified as a peer specialist (NYCPS). I went back into the mental health system to work for The Parachute Program, based on the Open Dialogue Model, to support others suffering from extreme and altered states, trauma, 'psychosis', and other forms of emotional distress from a place of mutuality, compassion, and understanding.
Looking beyond the status quo as an avid whole-health seeker, I pursued my studies amongst incredible teachers, training in intuitive development, psycho-spiritual wellness, energy work, meditation and embodiment practices, herbalism, and other holistic therapeutic modalities (See trainings and certifications below).
Through these initiatives, I met others who felt strongly about human rights and the complexity of mental heath as impacted by trauma, socio-political factors, physical health, spiritual wellbeing, and so much more. What surfaced was the dire need to go beyond an old outdated biomedical paradigm and into an understanding that each person has the right to define their story and determine their future.
The Institute For The Development of Human Arts
In April of 2016, I founded an organization called The Institute for the Development of Human Arts with Dr. Peter Stastny, MD and a community of incredible leaders in the mental health field each with over 30+ years of experience as activists, researchers, and clinicians. Our goal is to advance critical dialogue between mental health professionals and the people most impacted by the mental health system - peers, family members, and those with lived experience. We lead, design, and facilitate mental health trainings and events that challenge the current paradigm within a supportive learning community. You can find out more about the Institute and our upcoming continuing education trainings, community events, and other opportunities at IDHA-NYC.ORG
Underneath it all, I can say that all difficult and painful experiences also hold deep wisdom. It is our willingness to dive into the unknown that allows us to heal and to make amazing leaps forward.
Working with clients from all walks of life, I know that transformation is not only possible, but inevitable.
Let's walk together...
B.S. in Applied Psychology from NYU Steinhardt
Co-Founder of the Institute for the Development of Human Arts with Dr. Peter Stastny, MD. – providing transformative opportunities for critical dialogue, mutual support, and advanced education for those in the mental health field.
NY Certified Peer Specialist (NYCPS) – providing advanced, experience-based support and empowerment to those undergoing extreme states and distress.
Prior Home Based Crisis Counselor : providing support, case management, resources, referrals, and advocacy to children and families undergoing emotional distress and mental health crises
Prior Peer Specialist- Parachute NYC: providing both one-on-one crisis support and network-based counseling, with the Open Dialogue Approach for acute distress and ‘psychosis’
Learning Development & Training Strategist - Consultant for The Mental Health Association of New York , designing and writing core mental health curriculum for internal staff
Prior organizer for grassroots community -The Icarus project NYC and other organizations to provide resources and trainings to the public on mental/emotional wellness and alternatives.
Speaker and presenter at The Ultra Laboratory - Morocco, Bluestockings NYC, Stanford, and NYU, among others.
Conducted trainings and workshops at East Village Access, Woodstock Healing Arts, The Jivamukti Forest Sanctuary, and more.
Trainings & Practice:
Certified Peer Specialist - NYCPS
Certified Realization Process Embodiment Practitioner, (Judith Blackstone, Ph.D)
The Open Dialogue (OD) Approach and network-based therapies
Totality therapy with Shakti Milan
Intuitive Herbal Medicine with Asia Sueler (One Willow Apothecaries)
Intuitive Development, Energy Medicine, and Holistic Wellness with Veena Saraswatti
Dynamic Meditation, studied at Osho Ashram (Pune, India)