An Interview with Dawn Zurlinden, Clinical Specialist at The Ranch
Dawn Zurlinden found her voice – and her calling – teaching voice lessons. When she realized that singing was an emotionally therapeutic process, Dawn felt inspired to become a therapist. She earned a master’s degree in social work from the University of Tennessee and, for the past 15 years, has specialized in experiential therapy, trauma, and co-occurring addictions and psychiatric or emotional issues.
Healing Through the Body
More than 12 years ago, Dawn came to The Ranch, drawn to the high level of therapy and individualized treatment provided to clients. What has kept her there all these years is the freedom she has to develop cutting-edge approaches to therapy.
“We have the opportunity at The Ranch to develop our own hybrid therapeutic approaches,” Dawn explains. “We draw on conventional, evidence-based therapy, and bring to it our own knowledge and experience. Then by tailoring treatment to the specific needs of our clients, our approaches have become phenomenally effective.”
In her work at The Ranch, Dawn draws on her expertise in voice, art and theater, along with various somatic therapies, Brainspotting, Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR) and other experiential techniques, to help her clients connect with their emotions. She believes that “feelings are finishable,” meaning clients can get closure on past experiences so that they can change unhealthy patterns and move forward.
“By working through the emotional body, clients can address latent issues that need healing and can be difficult to access using talk therapy alone,” Dawn says. “Creating sound and movement, role playing, and other creative approaches are particularly beneficial for people who are shut down emotionally or who lost their voice when they were overwhelmed by other people or situations.”
A Spiritual Guide
Dawn also embraces the spiritual side of recovery, both in her personal and professional life. Outside of work, she is a spiritual teacher from Native American and Eastern traditions, who also happens to love expressive dancing, traveling, and growing tomatoes and New Mexico chili peppers. At The Ranch, Dawn leads spirituality workshops, vision quests, sweat lodge and other spiritual ceremonies, which help clients surrender their defenses and explore their connection with self and nature.
“The Ranch provides an open territory for clients to explore spirituality from all directions. They can draw from nature, Native American philosophy, Christianity, 12-Step principles or any source that inspires them,” Dawn says. “Once people no longer feel burdened by addiction or trauma, the whole realm of spirituality naturally opens up to them.”
One Survivor to Another
Dawn’s flavor for the arts comes through in her work at The Ranch, as do the many lessons she has learned as a survivor of a dysfunctional family. Originally from Detroit, life took Dawn to Boston, California, Colorado and finally Tennessee where she discovered The Ranch.
“My experiences growing up have given me tremendous compassion and understanding for our clients,” she says. “I have learned the importance of fearlessly embracing the truth and encourage clients to do the same in their own lives.”
When clients work with Dawn, they know what they’re getting: an experienced therapist who is direct yet gentle, wise and intuitive – and a bit of a “smart aleck.” Most importantly, they know she truly cares. She approaches each client as an individual and modifies her approach based on their needs.
“I draw on whatever approach works for the client to penetrate through any fears or defenses that might be there, in an emotionally safe way,” she explains. “The awesome courage of our clients is inspiring. We see them drop their defenses and work through their traumas to become more grounded in the present and begin making healthier choices.”