When I'm introduced to people, and they hear what I do -- "I'm a trauma and grief therapist" -- there's usually an awkward silence. I used to think that awkward silence was them contemplating what I do and figuring it out. I used to think, I need to explain it. Now I realize it's because death is a topic people aren't used to. My job represents bringing it into the open, something we usually hide away.
It's probably unique to have an office full of toys. I sometimes close my door and color to remind myself of what it's like to be a kid. As adults we tend to lose that ability -- to just let go, to play. [Children] know this is a safe place, and they trust me with their stories.
They take their time looking at the toys and pick one to represent them. Children put little figures in my sand tray and make a world in it. They re-create trauma -- place a family in it and have them duck gunfire, and replay that over and over. I say, "Wow, I wonder if that family's scared?" And we have a conversation about it.
One child created a whole picture of his neighborhood with houses, buildings, very few trees. Handcuffs. Lots of tombstones. He did have a few hopeful symbols, like a bridge. When he was done, he said, "Ah, I forgot." He got all the little soldiers and sprinkled them all over. "Who are they?" I asked. They were all the neighborhood children.
It's hard to draw boundaries in this job, and if you don't, you'll come home at midnight. That's how I got into training for triathlons. That needs time. To be physical helps relieve stress. With a group of 9/11 [surviving family members], I went to Germany and had the opportunity to go paragliding -- off the cliffs, over the whole valley. It was incredible. To try something new, to take a risk, to live -- it's a very freeing experience.
-- Interview by Ellen Ryan