Barbara Collier, BSN, LPC, SEP
Life is about crossroads, intersections, choice points and finding our winding way. I offer you a quick snapshot of what I do professionally and a painted map of how I got here.
Here's the snapshot:
I trained as a nurse and worked in the Intensive Care Unit in the early and mid-nineties. I have a Master’s degree in Counseling Psychology and several post graduate three-year training certificates.
I use my of knowledge of biology, physiology, psychology and somatic approaches, as I work with children, adults and families to build resilience and capacity within their systems. I partner with the wisdom that animals have taught me over five decades to join with and support clients in deepening and broadening their connection with Nature in honor of our mammalian heritage.
My training includes:
Here's the painted map:
I believe we are spiritual beings on a human path. I believe that every single one of us discovers what it is to be human each step of the way, every day. No one can know what is the next best step for an Other. That process must be discovered as it emerges.
I believe that as human beings we are uniquely blessed and simultaneously challenged. On the one hand, we have these 'higher' parts of our brain that seem to allow for amazing creativity, innovation and self-knowledge. On the other hand, our cognitive and intellectual capacities can disconnect us from our other senses and interconnections to the outer world.
We are social creatures by neurological wiring. We are meant to connect, live in pods, herds, flocks, packs, broods, families, tribes, and villages. We are meant to be and experience life as a collective 'we', as well as to experience ourselves as a unique 'me'. May we be guided by both the balance and imbalance of these experiences as we walk our path and find our way on earth.
I was hospitalized several times as a young person for failure to thrive. Apparently I cried a lot. I spent much time with the family cat. Even though I was very young, there are parts of those experiences that I remember. These moments come into my awareness as the feeling of fur or the way a tail-flick feels on my hands. These somatic (body) remembrances were comforting, yet unclear and vague for so long.
Somewhere in my early therapeutic journey, I asked family members about this. They confirmed, yes, I was constantly around or seeking to be around animals and anything animal related; apparently I would not leave the house without my at least one stuffed animal and/or a book or two on animals.
Animals have been my teachers throughout my life. By the age of 16, I was no longer living at home and was working for an animal hospital. It was before the days of veterinary technicians but that is essentially what I did. I was trained by the two veterinarians I worked with how to care for and attend to animals.
There was a dog who lived at the vet hospital. Her name was Gypsy. She was a tri-colored border collie. Apparently she had been dropped of by someone when she was pregnant. She delivered her puppies and she stayed there. She was a blood donor dog when needed. But her daily self-appointed job was to make sure all the animals were okay.
One day I was up at the front desk and Gypsy was really getting under my feet. I decided I probably needed to see what was up. I followed her back to the room where the kennels were, she hopped up on her back to legs and pushed the door open urgently, then, looking back to assure I was following, rushed around the row of cages. Again, she stood up on her hind legs at an upper cage. There, a small dog having a difficult time emerging from anesthesia from a difficult surgery. I alerted the doctor and we were able to treat and save the dog.
I would take Gypsy out for walks and sometimes take her camping. She enjoyed those times very much, but was always the most at ease when she was doing her job caring for the animals back at the hospital.
Since the hospital was also a 24-hour emergency clinic, we had some strange creatures brought in at times. Someone brought in an owl and someone else brought in a monkey. It was interesting to watch Gypsy try to make sense of these beings. She would always find her way to accepting them and learning their distress signals.
A few years later, I worked for a large animal veterinarian whose specialty was horses. Someone had abandoned a dog who was sick. He was a Lab/Border Collie mix. He looked like a small black German Shepherd.
For me, it was love at first sight. We deeply bonded as he allowed me to treat him for parvo. We became inseparable. He was my best friend. Louis taught me about unconditional love and compassion. He helped weave the fabric of my soul back together again. I will never forget him. He is part of me. (There are so many great Lou stories!)
Being around the horses while working for the equine veterinarian was a constant adventure. Like small animals, horses don’t speak. So as humans treating the illnesses and injuries of animals, we must heighten our senses.
Through working in vet medicine, I learned to see a body moving through space fluidly and to watch for when and where there seemed to be a stuck place, a limp, a compensation in the movement flow. I learned to feel for heat under the skin or heat that comes from deeper within. I learned what infection smells like (not all infection smells the same). Eventually, I could sense, see and smell both fear and pain. I learned to listen with my hands for a gut system that might not be moving or moving well, and what the first energies of life feels like when an animal is pregnant.
This is how I spent my years during and after high school. I also rock climbed as often as I could. These things and the animals saved my life. They helped me understand connection and interconnection.
I found my way back to academics, one short degree program at a time, eventually graduating with a bachelors of science in nursing and as a registered nurse. Yep—a big shift in my inner work led me (back) towards people rather than staying in the field of working exclusively with animals. But that is another story.
Being an intensive care nurse was very exciting and challenging in amazing ways. I enjoyed the comraderie that comes with the intensity of people working together to safe a life. That kind of collective focus is an incredible experience.
I found it an honor to be at bedside working for and with a patient attending to what was happening in the person’s body literally minute-by-minute in the struggle for life. Reverent whichever way that struggle turned.
I began to notice more clearly how many systems there are in our one system of Human Being. Our technology can only monitor a tiny handful of the systems that work together to make up one minute of life for any biological presence.
I started wondering about the commonality that each patient in the ICU shared. For each person, some significant systems in their bodies had become dysregulated—no longer working harmoniously with the other systems. I often pondered the starting point of that dysregulation and what it felt like at the cellular level. Did the system know? Was there a point in time when the other systems in the body could support the re-regulation of the disharmonious system?
Over the course of time, I found that my curiosity was in seeking to understand the complexity of a regulated system, the dance of it, the flow, the synergistic state of a regulated system. I left the hospital system of healing and bedside nursing. I began to focus on the growth and development of life. In my spare time, I perused journal articles in embryology and fetal development and courses in early brain development. The development of the sensory system in children intrigued me. I came to realize how influenced we are by our senses—whether we know it cognitively or not—in how and what we consider reality. What is the difference between perception and reality? How do we know?
I worked with neuro-typical and neuro-atypical children in their natural settings; home and school. I worked with children with substantiated trauma and kiddos who had been part of the foster and adoption systems. I volunteered with children who were part of the school for the deaf and blind with Therapeutic riding of Tucson (TROT) for several years.
When working with children, it is impossible to work with them outside of their family systems, so I worked with the families as well. Individually, and as a collective family whole, when it was feasible.
I encountered the reiterative nature of the dysregulation in the system from the baby, to his or her caregiver, to the grandparent caregivers, etc. How can we find our way back to regulation, equilibrium and equanimity? How do we stay connected to and aware of the systems in our system that are still working and working well?
This is what the animals seem to do. They are able to stay with 'what is'. At the level of intensive care, many, many systems are rapidly heading into shutdown, chaos and entropy.
If I am moving through the world—whether it be walking or rolling—if I can offer and receive in the literal nature of all the systems that are working.
Can I find them? Can I remember them, connect to the feeling sense of that which is working to guide me through that which isn’t working? Can I find regulation and equilibrium amidst the chaos?
Somatic Experiencing® teaches the practitioner to find and see the working systems, the body’s natural tendency towards equilibrium and regulation. Towards a physiology that is sustainable and not in a chronic state of fight, flight, freeze—also known as 'survival physiology'.
Equanimity is a natural way of Being. It is 'a mental calmness, composure, and evenness of temper'. Those of us who work with animals support and teach the animals in our lives to Be there, to come from a state of equanimity. To have confidence in Being there. To have resiliency in Being there. Equinimity is a systems approach to supporting your system in Being.