'Tending the soul' Pacifica celebrates its graduates

Posted by Erik Davis on Jun 1, 2016 10:50:31 AM

By Ted Mills, News-Press Correspondent. As published in the Santa Barbara News-Press on May 29, 2016.

Pacifica Graduate Institute celebrated the graduation of 250 students this weekend, with several small ceremonies in different fields spaced out over two days offering a more intimate event than larger schools.

It was also a time for the school to celebrate its 40th year in existence.

The school, which is based on the psychological teachings of Carl Jung, started in a two-story house in Isla Vista, where idealistic young men and women hoped to help returning veterans from Vietnam deal with mental health.

It now has two campuses near Summerland, and on Saturday was welcoming about 1,000 people who came to see their family members start a new phase in life.

Some students are young, continuing their education right after their undergrad life - "but they are old souls," noted professor emeritus Allen Koehn - and others are in their 60s and 70s, deciding to make a life change. In this case they are going on to become therapists and counselors, at least in the group that graduated in the morning.

The ceremony is also different for the time it gives each graduate on the podium to speak a little about their studies.

"I felt more inside and more closer to the students' experience," said Joe Cambray, the school's new provost. "What came out of their cohort experience, of being part of a group that met regularly over the 21/2 years - it really gave them a sense of community. They felt more able to be challenged by what has happened and to be more fluid and flexible."

"Having been with them and watching their process and watch them evolve, it's just incredible," said Dr. Koehn.

All counseling graduates must also go through their own therapy before they graduate, as is Pacifica's policy. Dr. Koehn noted that state licensing doesn't require that, but they do. He paraphrased Carl Jung: "The doctor can take the patient no further than they've been themselves."

SaifenNasr Ismail, 42, from Detroit but raised "in the Midwest and in the Mideast," was surrounded by happy family members as he held his diploma, earned in 21/2 years of study in counseling psychology.

Pacifica was the only real choice, he said, where he could explore both his interests in counseling and therapy and his studies in capoiera, the Brazilian martial art he's been studying for years.

"I realized a lot of the components of that art are what are now considered cutting-edge therapies and modalities, like dance therapy, movement therapy."

As part of his studies, he's been able to offer capoeira dance therapy to teens with both mental health and substance abuse issues.

Ciuin Doherty, 40, from Dublin, came to Pacifica while working as a television producer in Hollywood.

"I wanted to do something that was more meaningful and more purposeful," and a friend described Pacifica as a place that is "tending the soul of the world," Mr. Doherty said

It still took him some time to be sure about his psychotherapy path, and came to it from his experience interviewing people for television. Depth psychology, invented by Jung, was a much deeper and broader way of interacting with people.

"Pacifica helps get in touch with the deeper levels of yourself," he said.

"I think this group will have a very powerful, positive impact on local community," said Dr. Cambray. "They will be seeding the world."

Topics: Education