As a somatic group and attachment oriented psychotherapist, Pearl Waldorf facilitates real change relationally in the body and brain. It was her Buddhist practice and sensibility that drew her to the California Institute of Integral Studies, a program, which holds, as she does, the human meaning-seeking journey as central to individual emotional well-being.
She graduated from the program in 2012 and has been running a wide range of therapeutic groups since her internship with the META clinic (Mindful, Experiential Therapy Approaches,) Portland’s Hakomi Institute. Before transitioning to the counseling psychology profession midlife, Pearl’s experience forming, leading and participating in groups was taking shape.
As a performing artist, director and playwright, she she worked with other artists creating original theater works and producing them in the Seattle and Portland alternative arts scene. In her second career as a teacher and teacher leader for the Portland Public Schools, she some of the city’s most marginalized teens, their families and teachers navigate an inhospitable and often traumatizing special education system. It was this work that ignited her commitment to social justice.
Pearl discovered her love of group therapy here in Portland, where little training is available in the specialty. This meant culling together similarly group impassioned practitioners, recruiting some of the city’s hidden experts in the field and building the local training opportunity she imagined and she felt her city deserved; an affordable, community-building, self-led training process.
She brings this creative energy, generous attention and a particular spark to every client, every project, and to the best of her ability, every interaction with the human, animal and natural world. She is an impassioned advocate of the power of interpersonal process to support exploring and celebrating difference and to build connection, courage and trust. She trains at The Center for Group Studies in Manhattan.
About Choosing a Therapist
If I’m doing my job well, my office will become a sanctuary where you are your first priority and mine. Embarking on a therapeutic journey is a radical investment of time you choose to make in yourself. It’s a privilege and it’s my commitment to help you use it well. My first job as your psychological guide, is to get to know your interior world. How do all the parts of you interact? I offer my witnessing presence in service to helping you sort out what’s working well, what to lean into and what’s more a physiological echo based in your history.
I work with individuals who are ready to go deep, to go to the source of their wounds. Although I can and do teach skills and techniques to manage symptoms and offer homework to practice learning, I’ve found working in pursuit of outcomes actually thwarts the kind of deep change my clients come to me looking for. My gift lies in providing an exploratory process, which supports sometimes surprising new ways of being and engaging to emerge. You are the traveler on this journey and I am here to be your guide, a cartographer if you will, of your inner world. Work with me requires some trust and patience. Building these capacities will be part of our process.
What to Expect
I offer two consultation options: a free 20 minute option (in person is most effective) and a full 50 minute session at my 2019 rate. We’ll meet for the purpose of us getting a feel for each other. I’ll want to know what brings you into therapy at this time, what you’re wanting out of it and I imagine you’ll want to know a bit about how I do what I do, not to mention, what it feels like to sit in a room with me.
I’ll be paying attention to the ways you engage with me, what you share and what your body seems to be doing as all of this occurs. In some cases I may ask about your history. My focus however is more on your relationship to your past and how it may be impacting you presently rather than gathering a full history.
I’m also assessing: can I be of help to you? Do I have the requisite skills to help you with your particular constellation of needs and wishes. This process can require an additional consultation. I will always share with you with confidence when I’m clear I can help or not. In some cases I will refer you to a clinician or resource I think would be a better fit.
Once we’ve determined we would like to work together, we’ll spend the first 6 or so weeks getting to know each other. At times this process will feel like talk therapy. I’ll be gathering information about what’s troubling you in your life or what you’re working on. At other times, with your consent, we may try experiments to encourage your body to speak its wisdom to us. Via this embodied sharing process, I’ll be getting a feel for the ways you work internally. For who YOU are, for all the Brilliant Strategies you’ve developed as accommodations to your unique world, and for how those strategies, though essential at one time, are now getting in the way of your vision of your life. All of us have our Brilliant Strategies (B.S.)
As we get into the meat of the process, we’ll be paying very close attention to they ways you be yourself in your life and with me. I’ll be helping to hold up a mirror for you see aspects of yourself you may not have realized were operating. Here’s where the cartography comes in. You know the territory but you may not be able to see it in a way that you can get to your destination. I’ll create the map with you. A map always makes a journey less stressful. If you’ll have me, I’ll be by your side, the whole way.
My experience tells me, we are our bodies. Our bodies carry our stories. Everything you have experienced, is etched into your body’s expressive voice. Most humans entrained in our culture listen more readily to our thinking minds. We may even experience our bodies as separate, always for some good reason. Our work open channels to the body’s communication. We notice: is your self-expression, are your encounters with others embodied or disembodied. How connected up do you feel? What we find, prescribes a process of building integrative bridges designed especially with your system in mind.
It is helpful to understand the physiological underpinnings of our habits, emotional responses, mood fluctuations and sometimes seemingly senseless behaviors. When we can grasp how our bodies and brains were designed to take care of us, as well as the conscious tools we have at our disposal to influence these deeper systems, we are empowered to create change. Knowledge of this kind can help to alleviate self-blame, criticism and judgement towards the parts of ourselves that we struggle with. It’s also a truth of our neurobiology, that nothing we do is wholly individual. We are connected to each other through resonance channels designed into the human development system.
Because our brains are plastic and developing at their most rigorous rate in our first few years, our early connections are particularly formative. Our caregivers’ availability, presence and attentive focus predicts not only how able we are to connect with others but how we engage in the world. Security is supported when we can be more aware of our attachment system’s silent agendas: “I must vigilantly track my relationships so I am not abandoned,” “I have to control outcomes or I’ll be hurt,” “I need to keep you and my difficult feelings at a distance,” to name a few. By exploring what’s happening within us and between ourselves and others, we begin to recognize more clearly what actually feels good, as well as the blocks to that goodness.
We are part of a white supremacist culture. This oppressive water we are all swimming in has a deep, often unseen impact on all of us, regardless of race, gender identity, sexual orientation, socioeconomic status, religion, ability, size and on and on. All of us carry the wounds of our United States history. Some of us experience hatred, violence, macro and micro aggressions, poverty, exclusion, stereotyping and deep misunderstanding because this hierarchical system determines who is valued and devalued. Those of us with privilege must educate ourselves and take responsibility for how we benefit from this system.
I work in an intuitive, transparent manner, which means I’ll share my inclinations as they arise and offer them up as directional possibilities. You can always decline a suggestion I make. I’ve got lots of tools in my tool belt, but I’ll never fit you into an already conceived of protocol. Your experiences of in session exploration or an invitation to try something outside of the office, are data. We can use whatever happens to inform or process. There is no way you can do therapy with me wrong.
I’m trained to guide you in eyes-closed and relational mindfulness processes, grounding exercises for nervous system regulation, physicalizations of internal processes and will sometimes offer up touch oriented explorations. Your capacity to pay attention to your own experience as it’s happening is one of the most powerful tools you have at your disposal in service to change. Sharing what you are noticing with me empowers me as your guide.
Believe it or not, in some ways, Freud had it right. Contemporary relational neuroscience is affirming his psychoanalytic conceptualization of the unconscious as a force that moves us through our relationships and world, its motivations operating, in service to early survival strategies, outside explicit awareness. Modern Analytic Practitioners, understand insight and awareness can’t always shift our behavior. In service to this, we additional enlist affect through a form of emotional communication, which serves to directly engage the deeper, more tenacious implicit memory systems.
My clients tend to be those who have struggled long term vs. sudden bouts of depression or anxiety related to some acute traumatic event or other current life circumstances. Often these longer term struggles have their roots in a confusing childhood.
Although I do work with clients who have experienced abuse, more commonly, my clients have stories that point to emotional immaturity on the part of their parents. Every child needs adults who can reflect their experience, their feelings, who they are back to them. Many of my clients have parents who were distracted or self-absorbed, rigid, perfectionistic, overly-emotional or distant. When reflecting on their histories, folks who are drawn to my practice, tend to minimize the emotional neglect they experienced. We learn together to acknowledge the pain of the confusing relationships they had with their care givers without a need to place blame but instead to contextualize and find meaning in the truth of their stories.
I am oriented to uncovering and healing root causes. Therapy in my office is working best when it’s exploratory. This doesn’t mean we won’t solve some problems together but if you are looking to me to provide a skills based program designed by me and focused on outcomes, I’m probably not the best therapeutic fit for you.
I specialize in working with adults who’s attachment history impacts them negatively today. If you find yourself anxiously tracking your partner, children, other family members or friends and have difficulty settling on your own or you find yourself annoyed or dismissive towards your partner, feeling trapped or intruded upon and create distance to self-regulate, you may have early attachment wounding. I specialize in helping those challenged around attachment learn co and self regulation, connect their often intellectualized experience to their embodied one, and feel more whole in themselves so their relationships feel more enjoyable. I do this in group and individual formats.
It’s truly worth taking the time to meet with several practitioners, get a feel for each and notice how it feels to be in each’s presence. Therapy is difficult at times but it should never feel like you are doing a ton of work to manage feelings that come up for you in relationship with your therapist. You do that enough in your everyday life.