A First Seed for a New Professional Association

by | Mar 3, 2022 | NEWS, About Trauma

Northern California was the first place SE trainings took place. In 1972, in his “tree house” on a hill in Berkeley, California, Peter Levine, PhD, offered the first training to a small group of clinicians. From the start, there was a realization that the impact of trauma in the world was staggering. As the training grew, the Northern California community’s assistants, organizers and SEPs were at the heart of that growth. In training after training, they realized the need for support for those who practice SE personally and professionally, a self-governing forum, and a place for SE students and SEPs to develop their vision for an SE community.

Ten years ago, a leader in the assistant community sent an email to about 20 others with a simple message: “We need a professional association.” That email sparked a decade-long engaged process of meetings, resources, agreements (and sometimes disagreements) to develop one. While there were many supportive community members, a core group of leaders continued working to build a community platform and to create opportunities for collaboration with SEI. Some of the events the NorCal Somatic Experiencing Professional Association (NorCal SEPA) group held over the years were local SE fireside chats and community gatherings, a 2017 Bay Area conference featuring Dr. Stephen Porges, support for local rapid disaster response, weekend retreats, and holiday potlucks at members’ homes.

Three years ago, the NorCal team met with Marv Tuttle, the then-interim executive director of SEI, and got SEI’s support for moving forward. “Finally, after 10 years of really hard work and perseverance we created a business plan for a 50l(c)(6) association,” says Maureen Harrington, SEP, a bodyworker in practice for more than 20 years in the Bay Area. “We have a good partner in SEI leadership and the team Marv has built.”

NorCal SEPA now has a place as the first chapter for what will be SEI’s next big step: Forming a professional association as a home for all SEPs, initially in the United States, under a 501(c)(6) legal structure that is exclusively designed to serve professional communities. In January, SEI and NorCal SEPA made it official, signing an affiliation agreement.

“The Northern California region is one of the largest and most diverse regions in the country,” says Harrington. “After years of important and challenging work we, as the temporary NorCal SEPA board, want it to be clear that we view this association as a seed for the wider NorCal community to nurture. Our mission statement is ‘to create a vibrant, diverse community and expand leadership capacity among all people trained in the Somatic Experiencing method of healing trauma.’ We are committed to centering diversity, equity, and inclusion as the chapter develops. We recognize we are currently an all-white board, which in many ways reflects past limitations in SE that are being worked on actively today. We are approaching this process with humility and are actively committed to recruiting a board that reflects the diversity of Northern California. We cover a lot of territory – 48 counties from the Bay Area up to the border with Oregon – and those of us in the Bay Area are working now to bring more of our northern counterparts in and learn about their needs so that our vision incorporates all. We’re very grateful for the support, guidance, and dedication of many community members and current SEI leadership to develop NorCal SEPA. We still have a lot of hard work ahead of us, but we’re so proud to plant this seed for a bigger association. Many times, I didn’t think we’d make it this far.”

According to SEI Executive Director Marv Tuttle, NorCal SEPA will be the pilot local group for the professional association, which is part of the 2020-2022 SEI Strategic Plan. “They will be leading the way as the first chapter of the professional association we envision. Other regional groups have expressed an interest in being an early part of this effort, which we expect to be up and running by the end of 2022. We hope to collaborate with other like-minded groups throughout the world to create the possibilities for what a global professional association could do to spread its shared core values and unique body of knowledge. We don’t even have a name yet, but we do have a vision for what this new association can be.”

The affiliation agreement lays out the purpose for the professional association:

  • Unite SE professionals for the purpose of maintaining a professional association dedicated to promoting the highest professional standards of SE professionals for the optimal care of trauma patients.
  • Provide opportunities for continuous professional development, to include diversified educational activities.
  • Embody cultural responsiveness and humility by identifying and offering alliance to underserved and underrepresented portions of the SE community in an inclusive outreach program, including practitioners, students at all levels and the population served by local affiliates.
  • Support, evaluate, and disseminate scientific evidence to improve SE trauma practice.
  • Provide leadership in professional SE trauma practice to influence health care delivery locally, nationally, and internationally.
  • Collaborate in a culturally responsive manner with other professional associations, health care facilities, local community leaders and organizations, universities, industries, technical societies, research organizations, and governmental agencies.
  • Adopt policies and conduct programs for the improvement of the SE trauma practice.
  • Support identifying and changing the structural reasons for health disparities in oppressed populations and addressing structural impacts of bigotry in healthcare and trauma treatment.

“People on the ground, so to speak, at a local level, are those who can really broaden public awareness of Somatic Experiencing therapy, develop connections and partnerships with other like-minded groups, and build a community,” says Tuttle. “We also hope to engage in advocacy on behalf of this profession, something we’re limited in doing as a 501(c)(3) nonprofit, which is in its essence, a structure designed for the public benefit.”

The officers of NorCal SEPA are Harrington, President; Michael Changaris, PsyD, Secretary; Gwynne Gilson, SEP, LMFT, Board member at-large; and Andrea Gage, SEP, Treasurer.

During the next several months, SEI and NorCal SEPA will be meeting to help build the operations of this chapter and get a firm footing for the future. “We’re going to go step-by-step to build,” says Harrington. “We need to see what people in our area most want and need, whether they’re SEPs, assistants, or students. For example, the Trauma Outreach Program brought SE to survivors of Hurricane Katrina in Louisiana and we’re in an area that experiences natural disasters, so we believe there are others who have great interest in that work, which is becoming more critical. We’re going to be very intentional about bringing in their ideas on all of our proposed activities. We know we have people with passion for SE in these 48 counties in northern California – we just have to reach out and bring them in. I’m confident that won’t take another 10 years.”

Visit NorCal SEPA's website at NorCalSEPA.com.

If you live in the Northern California area, please take the brief NorCal SEPA Launch Survey and join the NorCal SEPA Board for an Informational Meeting on Zoom:

May 20, 2022, 2PM – 3PM PDT
June 25, 2022, 10AM – 11AM PDT