William Koehler admitted the name of his mental health office doesn’t come off the tongue, but said there was a reason it was called Journey to a Trauma Informed Life.
Koehler, the practice owner, and the 11 other therapists in the downtown Erie office provide trauma-informed care, which assumes a person is likely to have a history of trauma. Therapists acknowledge this story and the role it plays in the patient’s life, sometimes asking what happened to him instead of what is wrong with him.
“Trauma-informed care recognizes that people don’t come to you with a clean slate,” Koehler said. “They have all sorts of ideas about what happened and the journey stems from that.”
Koehler’s own journey took him from a career as a civil engineer to a career as a social worker and licensed therapist. He earned a master’s degree in social work from the old Edinboro University of Pennsylvania and later a doctorate from Case Western Reserve.
He is a professor of social work at PennWest Edinboro in addition to seeing patients.
“I missed the practical part of the job when I started teaching in Edinboro,” Koehler said. “I started by renting an office one evening a week, and it turned into two evenings, then three evenings a week.”
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Eventually, Koehler and two other therapists started the current business in July 2019, seeing patients in an office on West Eighth Street in Millcreek Township.
They also saw patients in their satellite offices at two Erie health clinics: PA Thrive Partnership, 1001 State St., and Central Outreach Wellness Center, 3104 State St.
“It’s so convenient for a client to come into the center for whatever medical need they have, and then walk down the hall and see one of us,” Koehler said. “We will continue to see clients in these offices.”
Specializing in the care of LGBTQ, Black and immigrant patients
Journey to a Trauma Informed Life is open to all patients and specializes in treating members of the LGBTQ, Black, and immigrant communities. Many of its therapists also belong to one or more of these communities.
“Not only do our clients have easier access to counseling services through our partnership with Journey to a Trauma Informed Life, but the services are tailored specifically to the needs of the LGBTQ community,” said Brenda Shank, Coordinator at PA Thrive. “This service has not only benefited our customers in the Erie area, but our rural communities as well.”
Koehler bought out the other two owners in 2021 and then moved to 201 W. 11th St.
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“We were running out of space at West Eighth Street, and this downtown Erie location reduces transportation barriers and engages us in the activities happening downtown,” Koehler said. “We started seeing more clients during the COVID pandemic, first people in the health care setting who were burnt out and anxious. Later, people who were home alone, isolated and feeling depressed .”
The building, which once housed the headquarters of Berman Bedding, has enough room for all 12 therapists and additional space for yoga classes, art therapy, and Reiki (energy) healing.
Talk therapy, other techniques used
Besides traditional talk therapy, the practice also uses eye movement desensitization reprocessing. The relatively new technique involves asking the patient to move their eyes in a specific way while processing traumatic memories.
It was originally used for the treatment of post-traumatic stress disorder, according to the National Institutes of Health.
“It involves identifying particular points in your past and what they trigger for you,” Koehler said. “Eye movements have been shown to help people process things faster.”
Koehler also started a non-profit organization, Journey: Healing Together. Its goal is to increase connections between the various community groups in Erie.
“We want to provide a forum where people can meet and help transform their community, their neighborhood,” Koehler said.