Hi- it’s Aimee Shaw here from The Urban Shaman. I have here with me a special guest and I would like for her to introduce herself and talk a little bit about what she does.
My name is Sue Kullerd. My day job is, I am a mental health counselor in private practice in Georgetown and Round Rock, Texas. And by night, I guess also in my day job, I am a practicing shaman as well. I do fold in shamanic practice in my therapy practice sort of as an adjunct therapy. So that’s who I am and where I am.
I know that you’re a practicing psychotherapist and I have a lot of questions. When you say adjunct what exactly does that mean and how do you integrate those two things?
An adjunctive therapy would be, for example, in practice if someone would be seeing a therapist maybe for trauma and the therapist doesn’t do EMDR (or eye movement desensitization therapy) they would send their client to me just to do the EMDR part of the therapy. So it’s a second type, or third type, or fourth type of therapy that you can add to someone’s treatment plan to make sure that they get all the help that they need. So where I might do trauma work with someone, do traditional therapy, EMDR therapy, and then when we’re done I might do a shamanic, do a soul retrieval. So you call back part of their soul to themselves, to welcome themselves back home now that the body has been healed and the mind has been healed, to welcome that soul part back and to integrate. And it’s been pretty cool, some pretty neat experiences have happened by doing that.
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Do you see it as another modality? Is it a distinct sort of path or practice for you?
Well yes and no, because sometimes, as you and I have been trained through the Foundation [for Shamanic Studies], when you do this sort of work you have to have the person’s permission, so then you have to bring it up in therapy, talk about what shamanism is, how I practice it and how I use it, and they have to give consent for it. That’s part of the ethics of psychotherapy also, and also the ethics of shamanism- that we don’t do anything without someone’s permission. So I have used it as, in parallel, saying ‘Hey, I’m getting a feeling maybe it would be good for me to do a healing extraction or do a soul retrieval for you. What do you think about that?’ So I talk to them about it, and they say yes, and it helps. They notice a difference. I’ve had some interesting experiences with that as well. Because in shamanic practice, remember we’re working in the spiritual realm, whereas in psychotherapy were working in the physical, mental, intellectual, and psychological realm, or emotional realm. So we’re just adding another layer of treatment, if you would, to it. So it is an adjunctive, but it’s also woven throughout everything that I do, because it is a practice.
All of those things are really interrelated. Maybe the fault of modern psychotherapy is that it often leaves out that whole spiritual layer. Do you feel like it’s really bringing a comprehensive focus to your practice then?
Yes. Definitely. It’s integrating. And integrating quickly, which is what clients need, because when they have experienced a trauma or loss of some sort, of course in shamanism we call that soul loss, but we don’t think about it or talk about it in that way in psychotherapy. And when I talk about it with clients, but I don’t do this with every one, when I talk about this with them it’s like a revelation and they go, 'Oh yeah- that makes so much sense!', and it really rings true for some people- it resonates.
So when you do that you have your client in front of you. Do you really do the work there or do you offer it and then do it in distance?
I offer there and then I do it long-distance. There are a few people, or one or two clients, who have wanted to be present when I did it and for me it’s such a personal thing. It’s such personal internal work to do this work that it’s really hard for me to do it with someone present, although I’ve done it. I feel like it’s richer and deeper if I do it on my own, in my own space, in my own time. And again, you and I have been taught that you don’t do any shamanic work if you’re not in your power. And if I have been working with people all day long and someone comes in at 6 o’clock and they want me to do shamanic work for them, I’m not in my power to do it.
Right. You’re exhausted by the end of that day. Well, that makes sense. And then when you come back to your client, how is that process for you?
Well, as we’ve been taught, we tell them the work is done and I might give them a little bit of a story, because they always want to know something, and I might say- well, I recently did it for client who is going through some marital issues and she said, 'Well what happened?', and I said, 'Well a cougar showed up and did this', and it’s like 'Wow! Perhaps that’s her spirit animal?' I don’t know, but I haven’t worked enough in teaching her shamanism for her to understand that. If she’s interested, I will. It’s definitely something that I don’t push. If they are interested and curious I will talk about it. If they want to follow that path I am more than happy to teach and hold space for them to journey and I’ve done that for a couple of clients. Otherwise they just want me to do the work and report back.
Okay, so that’s what they want. See, I had a lady contact me a couple weeks ago and she wanted shamanic work and we talked back and forth, but ultimately she decided to choose somebody else in a different country, and so he did distance work for her and he told her basically, 'Lay down at this time', and for an hour he did this work. At the end of the hour he called her and said, 'Okay it is finished.' And then she told me, 'I don’t think he did anything- I don’t feel any different, and I don’t know what happened.' And so I’m consistently finding in my practice that this is a little bit of a problem, because I think that people need to anchor that in, and for me it’s as if I am going and retrieving a seed, in essence, and bringing it back and planting it. But if there’s not some tending that’s occurring afterwards, people don’t necessarily know what to do with it or they don’t feel any different, and so do you find that, I mean you’re having your clients on a regular basis, and you’re also doing psychotherapy and I think that, that probably makes a big difference.
Yeah- because some of the work that I do is just skills building, teaching them how to cope with certain things, or re-framing, how to look at things differently. So that also gets folded in with the shamanic work because it certainly is a different way of looking at things isn’t it?
And I agree with you- there does need to be some attending, some tending to the soul once it’s returned, and I do tell people that- now that the soul part has returned, because a lot of times it’s a child soul part, you know 'go to the ball pit at McDonald’s, or go play with some PlayDoh, or go really attend to that child part that came back', because what you need to do when your soul returns to you- it needs to be a safe place and a loving place to return to, and so you’re right- there is some tending that needs to happen.
Yes. Well, and even some preparation work sometimes before, really, to just sort of get the ground fertile to accept that seed. Because you know, for whatever reasons that the soul part left in the first place, unless those conditions are ready to be dealt with, it’s just gonna, it’s not gonna stick, I think. So it does require some kind of before and after care. And I thought it was interesting that woman told me that was her experience, because that is how we have been trained, but it’s very stripped-down. In practice it doesn’t seem very practical.
It doesn’t feel very compassionate. Remember, the foundation of shamanism is love, compassion, and healing.
Yeah. So I know you and I have talked a little bit about that line between being a psychotherapist and accepting clients, and some of them have insurance, and then being a shaman and putting yourself out there as a shaman, and you know that’s not my situation, so I’m wondering how you are navigating that professionally?
Interesting that you should say that, because I do charge for shamanic work, for shamanic services. You know it’s that exchange of energy- we have to have an office, all those things. Just like thousands of years ago when someone came to see the shaman they would bring him vegetables, and bring him a goat, or something to pay him for his services. But insurance-wise, if somebody just called me on the phone and they have insurance and they just want to talk on the phone, and have me do shamanic work, I won't use their insurance. If they’re coming into my office and I’m counseling them and doing psychotherapy, and we're using shamanic work as an adjunct then I will, because I don’t do the shamanic work in my office. I am seeing them, I am seeing the client and doing psychotherapy work in the office and that’s kind of how I keep it separate and that’s how I can hold my ethics and hold to the ethics of the insurance companies and what they’re looking for. Because one thing our teacher did tell us, and I remember him telling me, 'you need to keep your shamanic practice and your therapy practice separate', and what I have learned the hard way is what he meant by that is keeping them separate in the public business world. Whereas they blend in the office, so they blend in my practice, but I do keep them separate business wise, and I’ll give you an example of why this is. I don’t know if this is one of your questions, but I think it’s very relevant. This was a very, very, very hard lesson for me to learn. About a year ago I was seeing a client. She was in a very abusive relationship, she got pregnant and had a baby, and it just didn’t work out, and they ended up going to court for essentially visitation, custody, all of those things. And I had on my website, my therapy website, one sentence- I am also a trained shamanic practitioner through the Foundation for Shamanic Studies. If you’re interested in this call me and let me know. This was on my therapy sites and website. Well the legal counsel for the father or his therapist found that on my website and they brought that to court and my client lost, because I went to testify for her. And she ended up, she didn’t have to do this, but she chose to give up her parental rights, and to me that is so heartbreaking. I didn’t tell her, I didn’t ask her, I didn’t say this. I said, 'are you sure that you want to do this?' But it was because the father and the father’s father were just such bullies and they used the legal system to bully her. It was horrible. And so I took that sentence off my website and now I am in the process of creating a separate website, separate shamanic practice business, completely separate. And I thought, 'our teacher was right.' It’s unfortunate that people don’t understand what shamanism is or how it can help. Tragic.
And then I have another hard lesson learned and something that I’ve changed and adapted in my practice- another client who I still see currently, I did a soul retrieval for her, and she’s married. I don’t want to give a lot of details of the case, but I did her soul retrieval from several people in her life and she was very on board and she loves the practice, she loves the ideas, the concepts, and one of the people I did a soul retrieval from was her husband. Well come to find out, after that happened she experienced a big difference, but what happened was her husband was so enmeshed with her, and I didn’t have his permission to do soul retrieval from him. You know in a marriage how you might have some soul exchange or soul loss, I just did soul retrieval from him. I didn’t do the soul retrieval exchange from her back to him, and so what happened, he relapsed and he almost died.
Was that because of the soul retrieval? I don’t know. Could you say that perhaps his soul, he had given so much, he had so much soul loss that when I removed her soul, retrieved her soul, that he just fell apart? It’s quite possible. And so what I learned from that is that if I’m working with, I’m working with another woman, same situation, but is not quite as unstable. I told her I will not do so retrieval until you and your husband are in couples counseling, until he sees someone and he’s doing some work to try to separate out that enmeshment and that soul exchange. I won’t do it. I just won’t do it, because it’s too, it scared me and I felt responsible for it. Now was I responsible for what happened to him? No, that was a choice he made. Those are life choices he’s making. Is it that he gives up too much of his soul to people? Probably. But you know, he’s not my client. I don’t know how to address that. But this is the way I have chosen to address it, is to not do the work. And that is fully within my right and within the ethics of shamanism to say I can’t do that work.
Well, it’s part of the learning process, you know, unfortunately. Those hard lessons are sometimes I think the ones that teach the most really, about where those lines are, about being sensitive to where they are.
Yeah and it’s really what the compassionate work is all about, is that our job, just like in mental health and in psychotherapy, is to do no harm- same thing in shamanism- it’s to do no harm. That is the top goal. Our goal is to always help, and heal, and love, bring compassion and solve problems, and to do no harm. And I believe that firmly.
Yes. I do, I do as well. Yes.
So, hard lessons.
The remainder of the interview with Sue can be seen here:
Sue can be contacted through her website: https://www.suekullerdlpc.com/
Our goal here at The Urban Shaman is to encourage healthy discussion to further our contemporary definition of shamanism and enhance our local practice. We do not intend to instigate or promote argument or divisiveness. Rather, we believe we can achieve unity and clarity within the wholeness of the full shamanic expression. We would like to provide a safe space for everyone to explore shamanism with mutual respect, and to promote the concept of the shamanic archetype, while dispelling the myths and biases of the stereotype. These exploratory questions are intended to encourage this process and open up the discussion.
- Many claim that shamanism and psychotherapy are distinct roles and ways of approaching mental/emotional health. But in the West we haven't had a clear path or unbroken lineage of shamanism. It could be that many shamanic individuals, or people feeling compelled by the shamanic impulse are ending up as psychotherapists, chaplains, massage therapists, and even actors, writers, or artists. As people begin to identify with the shamanic impulse and develop specific shamanic practices, do you think they can integrate their professional practices with shamanic practice?
- Does this potentially change the definition of shamanism to more accurately fit within Western culture? And, if it does, is this a positive thing, or a negative thing?
- There are distinct facets to the shamanic archetype, one of which is the Wounded Healer. And many Wounded Healers may end up in social work, psychotherapy, chaplaincy roles. Does taking an archetypal view of shamanism bring more clarity to the definition of what a shaman is, or does it bring more confusion, as many facets overlap with other trades and professions?
- In what ways is shamanism distinct from a psychotherapy model?
- Sue talks about learning hard lessons in her practice. Do you think having an elder or mentor would help someone avoid having to make some of those mistakes?
- Sue also talks about knowing her limitations. Do you have a sense of what your limitations are? And how do you determine this?