Cleveland, OH, houses one of the Community Action Networks supported by The Relational Center’s Leadership Institute. Spearheaded by a handful of change makers, all bridged through our friend MaryAnn Kraus and the amazing folks at the Cleveland Gestalt Institute, this leadership circle has been convening for over 3 years, crafting and sharing Stories of Connection and brainstorming actions to take in the local scene. Based in Pittsburgh, PA, Dorothy Cashore is among the many leaders in that circle. Lucky for us, Dorothy has also been training to become a workshop facilitator in our Leadership for Radical Engagement series. Here is an inspiring message from Dorothy:

“We’re not well unless we’re swimming in well water.” My heart was on fire when I scribbled this in my notebook in May 2016, on day one of a training with Mark Fairfield of The Relational Center. The Gestalt Institute of Cleveland had invited Mark to deliver a training in Relational Public Narrative. I had traveled to Cleveland from my clinical psychology program in Pittsburgh at the suggestion of a psychologist friend who suspected I would resonate with The Relational Center’s message.

As a clinical psychologist in training, I’ve chafed at my field’s focus on unwell individuals. I have desired – often with no clear view of the way forward – to shift psychologists’ attention to the diagnosis and treatment of a culture that violates, desensitizes, isolates, and ultimately sickens the individuals who turn to therapists for help. Many psychologists understandably indulge in a strand of wishful thinking in which I have also indulged: the hope that by healing traumatized individuals, we will eventually create a life-affirming society. I’ve long appreciated the way social psychologist Ignacio Martin-Baro put it: psychology resorts to “the illusion that…as the individual changes, so will the social order – as if society were a summation of individuals.” As if, indeed.

When I met Mark, my view of the way forward began to cohere. I had never before thought of myself as a leader, and I had never before heard anyone talk about leadership the way Mark used the word – leadership not as a colonizing, heroic, and hierarchical spotlight-grab but rather as a cooperative, vulnerable, and sometimes bumbling offering in the face of uncertainty. I recognized that this style of leadership was my responsibility and the best offering I could make as a clinician swimming in unwell water.

Less than a year after my first encounter with The Relational Center, much has changed.  I have overhauled the way I do therapy, creating ways to develop patients as leaders of therapeutic cultural shifts. Increasingly, I speak out about the need for psychologists to take responsibility for the harm our field does in reinforcing phobia of dependence, commodifying intimacy, and promoting unsustainable ideals of wellness. At the same time, I agitate for psychologists to take on leadership by disseminating tools that can dismantle toxic cultural narratives and replace them with stories of mutualism, interdependence, and inclusion. This April, along with two colleagues I’ve identified as change leaders, I’ll lead a relational culture training at the Gestalt Institute of Cleveland.

Mark and I talk on the phone every couple of weeks. We’re both Sicilian, but when we’re not talking Sicily, we talk action, values, coherence, vulnerability, leadership development, race, gender. I tell him stories, and through his mentorship, I rediscover my stories as vital resources for my work. I learn to identify and develop change leaders who, like me, need recognition and support before they can offer their fiery hearts to resilient social movements. Together, we incubate a new vision of the role I can and will play in cultural transformation.