My entire life I’ve been interested in what makes people act the way they do.
Our experiences shape us. Sometimes they define us—while one person may react to an event in a certain way, another reacts to the same event entirely differently. My curiosity about human beings, and what makes us tick, naturally led to my becoming more invested in learning about how we are shaped. I was just as fascinated by what stops people from growing as by what inspires them. This curiosity led me to specialize in trauma counseling.
Beginning to Work with Patients Suffering from Emotional Trauma
Over twenty years ago I started working as a therapist in community mental health clinics. I conducted psychotherapy in intensive outpatient and partial hospitalization programs. There I was exposed to many patients who had a history of trauma. These individuals suffered from a wide range of symptoms, including anxiety, depression, difficulty focusing, and anger management issues. The patients worked hard to achieve their therapeutic goals. Most of the clients participated in talk therapy sessions. But something troubled me: many patients didn’t get much better.
Naturally, I decided to look into the subject. What was missing here? Why were many patients working hard, but not getting any better? I did the exact thing that I love to tell my clients now. I “played detective.”
Trauma comes in many forms. For some people, it’s related to a single incident once they’d reached adulthood that ended up permeating multiple areas of their lives. More often, however, I found that these patients experienced a traumatic childhood. They lived in an environment that wasn’t suitable for their emotional or physical well-being—or both—and that, in turn, led to a variety of issues.
Deciding to Specialize in Trauma Counseling
It was clear to me that for many clients, talk therapy just wasn’t going to cut it. It wasn’t the fault of the therapists at these programs, though. They cared a lot about their patients and were using the modalities they’d seen work on people with other mental health concerns.
But none of them were trained in trauma-informed treatment, so their patients’ improvement wasn’t as complete as it should have been.
That’s when I first decided to start specializing in trauma counseling. I wanted to help people like these patients; people who worked hard in therapy and in life, but struggled to feel better.
Something that I believe—and that was reaffirmed in my training and research—is that the mind and body are connected. If one is off-balance, the other suffers too. In order to create a happier life, our whole mind-body system needs to be addressed.
Expanding My Knowledge and Treatment Approaches
It was then that I started studying modalities that recognized both the mind and body. And as I kept studying, the idea that “we are all unique” wouldn’t leave me alone—one person may respond really well to a certain type of treatment, while another may respond poorly because they really resonated with a different approach. This led me to pursue a wide variety of known trauma treatments so that I could offer as many options as possible to my clients.
I earned advanced certifications in a number of modalities, including:
- Sensorimotor psychotherapy, a somatically-oriented method of trauma counseling.
- Internal Family Systems
- EMDR therapy and advanced applications that specifically treat chronic pain. Chronic headaches and migraines are problems people with traumatic histories typically struggle with.
- Neurofeedback therapy.
- Traditional C.B.T. and Mindfulness Based C.B.T. methods to help pain management, insomnia, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders.
My personal philosophy is this: never to do anything halfway. I explored all of these modalities thoroughly so that I’d be able to help patients to the best of my ability. But I didn’t stop there. I’m what you’d call a “lifetime learner,” constantly striving to learn new things and advance my understanding. This means that I’m continually investigating new treatment methods.
Helping my clients get better is always my primary goal. That’s why, unlike a lot of other therapists, I offer many different options for therapy because I want to find what works best for you and your unique situation.
I started my professional journey in trauma counseling, and that’s still my specialty.
However, during my time as a therapist, I’ve started noticing a lot of problems related to trauma that weren’t addressed directly. Clients told me how much they benefitted from psychotherapy, but there were some symptoms that caused them trouble. So I expanded my knowledge and also learned how to address issues such as anger management and ADHD.
Developing My Personal Style and Goals
Sometimes I hear from my clients that I’m very straightforward. I’m gentle, but I’m also not afraid to get to the heart of the matter and tell it like it is. This is probably in part because I like to have honest, meaningful conversations with others. And how can you do that if you’re beating around the bush?
I’m very passionate about my practice, but it’s not the only thing I do. Earlier, I told you how I’m a lifelong learner. For me, that’s fun. So, in my free time, you are likely to find me watching documentaries and reading non-fiction books. But it’s not just mental stuff that I enjoy; I love tennis and play three times a week and I’m an avid hiker. I’m also a devoted pet parent and spend a lot of time spoiling my cat…she deserves it.
And, of course, I practice what I preach. Over 25 years ago I started a daily meditation practice. That practice has profoundly shaped and enhanced my life.
My goal, since the very beginning, has been to use my work to provide a space where others can heal from whatever traumatic events they’ve experienced with modalities that work. If you’re ready to begin that process, I would love for you to contact me, and together, we can work towards healing.
Michael Quirke, M.A. L.M.F.T. is a licensed psychotherapist in San Francisco with a Masters in social and clinical psychology. He’s been working with trauma patients for over twenty years. He supports his profession by volunteering for different professional associations. Michael also continues to give back to the mental health community by providing clinical training and supervision for therapists at local universities and mental health clinics.