#BigThingsThursday is a weekly series of short interviews with people who are doing big things for the community and for the world. If you know someone who's doing big things and should be featured, let me know: BigThings@LucyKalantari.com.
Meet Elizabeth Vermilyea: a trauma stress specialist with the most compassionate approach and tone that can make any seed of self-doubt melt away. I met Elizabeth back when I was in college. She was a friend of a friend, and enjoyed playing folk songs and singing. I recorded her in my school studio, and remember the calm serenity that washed over us while she played. She found her voice early on, and it went beyond singing.
Q. BIG THINGS begin with an intention, what is yours?
A. There is a concept in Judaism called Tikkun Olam, put in its simplest form it means to “repair the world.” It is most definitely a Big Thing! My intention in my work is to repair the world through helping those who help others to do a good job and avoid harm. In my field of traumatic stress this is a very important task. When I train therapists and consult with agencies I do so with a view toward repairing the world by supporting those in the trenches doing healing work.
Q. How are you fulfilling this intention?
A. I suppose I fulfill this intention whenever I formally consult or train or teach, but I also try to fulfill it when interacting with those who need direct support in the moment and have no means to obtain it. Some call it pro-bono work, but for me, it’s nothing so formal. For me, tikkun olam means listening to a friend of a friend in crisis and helping that person by being present, accepting, and unafraid of their crisis or of their intense emotion. It means being the secret helper in the workplace, the one people can pop in on and share a coffee and some supportive, nonjudgmental conversation. It means being a resource even when someone decides not to make use of the resource; it’s a comfort knowing the resource is available. I want people to know that they aren’t alone.
Q. What barriers have you encountered, and how have you dealt with them?
A. Barriers exist all over the place, but mostly they exist within us. I meet barriers in myself when I think there’s only a limited, conventional way of helping. There are professional barriers, regulatory barriers and innumerable false reasons for not helping, however, when I have been willing to accept unconventional situations and show up anyway, many of those barriers fall away. Those barriers are mostly fearful thoughts that appear to be real obstacles. I’m learning to recognize them for what they are. I suppose getting older helps!
Extra: Share a favorite quote that keeps you motivated.
“Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love.”
― Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
Thank you Elizabeth for using your incredible compassion, patience and understanding to heal the world, one soul at a time.
For more information on Elizabeth Vermilyea's work, visit elizabethvermilyea.org.