Laura K Kerr, MA, IMFT
Hello, and welcome to my website.
I am a trauma-focused psychotherapist and Marriage & Family Therapist Registered Intern (IMFT #65436; MA, Counseling Psychology, Pacifica Graduate Institute).
I have trained with the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute in sensorimotor psychotherapy (Levels I & II), a mindfulness-based and somatic-focused form of psychotherapy that addresses the neurobiological effects of trauma. I also currently assist the Sensorimotor Psychotherapy Institute’s Level I training being offered in Berkeley CA, which focuses on affect dysregulation, survival defenses, and traumatic memory. As a psychotherapist, I also draw from attachment theory, Jungian (archetypal) psychology, and Dialectical Behavior Therapy.
I have practiced psychotherapy under supervision with Marin County Mental Health & Substance Use Services. I have also trained with the CG Jung Institute of San Francisco (James Goodrich Whitney Clinic), providing individual and couples therapy, and with Family Paths, Inc. in Oakland, CA where I worked with individuals, couples, families, children, and preteens. I have designed and led workshops for mental health clients on the topics of trauma and self-stigma. In this capacity, I provided workshops for the Mental Health Association of San Francisco and the California Association of Social Rehabilitation Agencies. I have volunteered as a hotline counselor and in the Children’s Playroom at the Talk Line Family Support Center (part of San Francisco Child Abuse Prevention Center).
Like all psychotherapists, I bring an orientation and theoretical lenses to my work with clients. Yet the theories and orientations favored by a psychotherapist are only part of what leads to good outcomes. Equally important is the relationship established between client and psychotherapist. Finding a psychotherapist is thus often a process of trial and error, largely because so much of the work done in psychotherapy is dependent on the relationship. The following websites address the process of selecting and establishing a relationship with a mental health professional:
As these websites suggest, it nevertheless is important to get a sense of a psychotherapist’s orientation when attempting to determine if she or he is a good fit. I also believe it is helpful to know a psychotherapist’s understanding of the process of psychotherapy and how she or he believes change occurs. On the rest of this page, I share my orientation to psychotherapy and how I believe psychotherapy contributes to a return to growth.
My personal orientation towards psychotherapy draws from Jungian psychology, trauma therapy, attachment theory, and knowledge about human nature emerging in neuroscience, anthropology, psychology, and sociology. Through these lenses and my personal experiences, I have identified what I believe are two primary healing functions of psychotherapy: 1) nurturing the natural growth process inherent in all human beings and 2) fostering the soul and the capacity for soulful connections with others.
The word soul may sound a bit anachronistic. Whereas the word spirit has regained a foothold in our common vocabulary (such as in the search for connections between mind, body, and spirit), the word soul still lives on the margins, conjuring up thoughts of out-of-body experiences, or life after death when the soul supposedly leaves the body. Soul may also lead to thoughts of soul music or soul food, where the word soul highlights the potential for being stirred by a sensual experience that is also deeply grounding.
Another way of thinking about soul comes from the Jungian depth psychological orientation that informs my approach to psychotherapy. Depth psychology, which pays attention to both the conscious and unconscious aspects of human experience, uses the term soul to describe a deeply felt knowing that occurs when unconscious, emotional, and imaginal aspects of the psyche join with somatic (body) and conscious awareness. When our sense of self is imbibed with soul, we feel present, whole, and connected. At such times, we may also feel more enlivened, more passionately involved in what we are doing, and more open to connecting with others.
Soul, as Jungian psychoanalyst James Hillman writes, is the “mediating personality between the whole psyche.” Hillman also describes soul as that “unknown component which makes meaning possible, turns events into experiences, is communicated in love, and has a religious concern.” I believe soul is also present when we feel one with Nature. This integrative and transcendent aspect of soul arises as a sense of being deeply connected. Through soulful connections, we emerge with a larger sense of self. And through psychotherapy, the practice of soulfully connecting with oneself through relationships is fostered.
As the Zulu say, a person is a person through other persons. Western science is catching up with this ancient tribal wisdom in neuroscience, psychology, anthropology, philosophy, primatology, and economics. Together, these disciplines point to a new understanding of humans as fundamentally social beings. Nevertheless, the conditions of Western society are often alienating, contributing to a lack of social support and deep emotional ties. Furthermore, evidence suggests a large percentage of the American population grows up with what have been referred to as adverse childhood experiences that impact the natural human capacity for creating lasting, meaningful relationships. They also increase the likelihood of health problems, mental disorders, and difficulties with employment. Adverse childhood experiences include emotional abuse, physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional neglect, physical neglect, witnessing a mother treated violently, household substance abuse, household mental illness, parental separation or divorce, and an incarcerated household member. According to an extensive study conducted by Kaiser Permanente and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention, about two-thirds of over 17,000 participants experienced at least one adverse childhood experience.
When the effects of adverse childhood experiences are chronic or severe, children often lack the emotional nurturance and sense of safety that would support being present in a soulful way to others and their internal experiences. Parts of the self can become shut off or ignored as a way to cope with overwhelming sensations or memories. As the child becomes an adult, defenses that emerged as methods for surviving adverse experiences continue to impact thoughts, behaviors, feelings, fantasies, dreams and relationships. When energy is spent resurrecting old defenses, being truly present with oneself or with others can be exceedingly challenging. At times, one may recognize how an internal sense of fragmentation and distraction impedes the ability to give soulful support and love to others.
In addition to fostering soul and soulful connections, the other healing function I associate with psychotherapy is nurturing the natural human propensity for growth. I believe humans have an inherent capacity for healing psychic wounds. Research on neuroplasticity supports this view. In a soulful world, being mindful of this natural human propensity for growth might be enough. However, in present society, it is not uncommon to be alienated from self and others such that it is difficult to trust the inherent wisdom for growth or even identify it.
We all need someone who supports us on the journey towards a meaningful life centered on growth. I believe this journey cannot be taken alone; it requires the presence of others. I believe being this presence is a fundamental healing function of psychotherapy. For persons with histories of trauma or traumatic stress, psychotherapy provides an opportunity to rediscover the natural propensity for growth after being thrown off course by unexpected or chronic psychological deprivation. Trauma-focused psychotherapy may involve telling the story of the trauma, addressing its somatic affects, or using art to find a way out of hurt and distrust.
Believing in the human capacity for growth does not deny that a need for long-term therapeutic interventions sometimes exists. Some psychological wounds, as well as physical conditions, can change the course of a life and challenge one’s capacity for growth. Yet learning to live creatively and fully in the face of limitations such as chronic illness or mental disorder can enhance the experience of selfhood, including relationships with others.
The journey to wholeness in psychotherapy begins with a meaningful and soul-felt connection between psychotherapist and client. Feeling understood and supported, one is able to move more deeply into the experience of self, trusting the innate capacity for growth and healing. As a psychotherapist, I approach such venerable (and vulnerable) times with empathy, wisdom, and acceptance.
The views expressed on this site are my own, and not necessarily the views of any organization with which I am affiliated. They are not intended as a substitute for psychotherapy or as a supplement to psychotherapy I am providing. Furthermore, I do not write about my clients’ unique experiences.