Alumni Spotlight: Ginger Swanson, PhD Myth 2014
Who is Ginger Swanson?
Ginger Swanson, Ph.D., is a depth psychologist, retreat host and facilitator, writer, and filmmaker, with a strong business background. Endowed with life-long shamanic qualities enhanced by an education in depth psychology and film, Ginger (GingerSwanson.com) is best described as a soul-tender. She engages in dream-tending, cinema therapy, and shamanic healing when working with clients; and is versed in Amazonian, Native American, Buddhist and Christian rituals and traditions. Ginger lives and works on an inspiring and enchanted 20-acre retreat in Santa Barbara, California.
Ginger shares a bit about her work and journey:
Upon attending an orientation day at Pacifica Graduate Institute before enrolling, I had asked Dr. David Bona the critical question: “What kind of work will we be able to do with a Ph.D. in Depth Psychology?” He smiled and said, “You really don’t have to find the work, because the work finds you.” Fast-forward seven years. With my Ph.D. in hand, I start my private practice as a therapist helping individuals in relationship and career transitions; and I launch Asarum Retreats—a soul-tending utopia—wherein I offer support and respite to people in need of solace, solitude, and rejuvenation. I focus on attracting individuals and small groups seeking to further their work in socially, environmentally, and spiritually conscious endeavors. I am off and running. I help a few clients, host a couple of retreats, and facilitate a board retreat for the directors of a restorative justice organization. I even have a couple retreats booked when suddenly I am called—called in the Joseph Campbell sense of being called. I am thwarted away from my diligently planned and carefully considered course and land at the bedside of an 85-year old woman at the end of her life.
The elderly woman (whom I will call “Pepper”) had been physically abused, medically overdosed, and unintentionally abandoned. Pepper’s family was scattered across the country and paid an elderly care agency handsomely to tend to the needs of their beloved—an elementary school teacher with a 46-year career. Tragically, no one was available to vet the quality of care provided by the agency—and things had gone awry—severely awry. With the support of Pepper and her family, I received power of attorney over her affairs. I fired the abusive and problematic caregivers, obtained trusted support, and transitioned Pepper out of a terrible elderly abuse situation to a calm and peaceful ending-of-life in her own home.
The fragile, yet stoic, Pepper shared that her greatest fear was that she would die alone with no ritual, no recognition of her life, and nobody beside her. In one of our talks as she traversed between this world and the next, Pepper told me that she had conversations with Jesus. She said, “I talk to Jesus and Jesus talks to me and he said, “You’re good”.” They had summed me up. From that moment forward, I was the only person from whom she would take comfort medicine.
I called out to several family members and friends who promptly responded and visited via phone or in person, and offered prayers and encouraging messages that were critical to Pepper’s well being in her final days. One of Pepper’s nieces said she had tried to reach Pepper many times but the agency caregiver wouldn’t put her calls through. Both she and Pepper were relieved when I put the phone to Pepper’s ear. Another of her nieces called daily once she was made aware of Pepper’s condition. There was clearly an endearing and loving connection between the two, and when Pepper could no longer speak and only able to listen, her niece’s calls kept coming. Those calls were deeply cherished by Pepper in her final days.
I set up an alter next to Pepper’s bed and placed roses and photos of loved ones upon it along with statues of angels and a candle. I filled her room with roses and lilies—Pepper was also an artist who painted and appreciated beautiful flowers. I held several rituals acknowledging and honoring Pepper and her accomplishments in life. She received blessings from spiritual folks from religions she embraced, including Christian, Buddhist, and Lakota Indian traditions. I also invited a Peruvian shaman who sang blessing songs to her. Pepper—the woman whose greatest fear was dying without ritual—was honored with multiple rituals in the last week of her life. With my prompting, a dearly beloved cousin arrived and sang for her near the end—I believe it was his visit she waited for before she would leave this earth.
In those final few weeks, I had come to know Pepper’s every nuance, a lifted finger, a raised eyebrow, a titled elbow. Every gesture indicated a need, and I was there to fulfill that need. I held her hand and chanted calming blessings throughout the last days, hours, and moments of her life. On Pepper’s final day with us, I gently massaged her torso with rose oil and her limbs with lavender oil in preparation for her transition, for which she returned a subtle nod filled with gratitude. I was there when her spirit left her body and I prepared her for final visitors. She was covered in roses—the plant that carries the highest vibration of love.
Only in reflection was I able to see how my role in shifting this tragic and abusive end-of-life drama to a beautiful and loving end-of-life story was both the most challenging and meaningful work of my life. I was called upon to be Pepper’s end-of-life soul-tender. I was a sacred servant and it was the honor of a lifetime. Dr. Bona’s words proved to be true. The work had found me.
Now, I am playing catch up. I am rescheduling the retreats I had to postpone so that I could tend to the needs of Pepper; and I am re-evaluating my goals. This work that has found me has changed me. Ironically, it is not my first call to come to the aid of the elderly. For the past seven years, alongside the rigors of graduate school and work, I have captured film footage of another abuse story—an elderly abuse by the courts story. After a severe automobile accident, an out of the area family entrusted the court to appoint care for their injured elderly mother. Tragically, for several years after her recovery, the mother had to fight the courts to gain back the rights to manage her own affairs. The court appointed guardians had gone awry, they were charging her $3,000 to $5,000 per month out of her deceased husband’s monthly pension of $7,000 to handle her affairs while allotting her an allowance of $800 per month. Due to potential legal liabilities, I am unable to complete my documentary film, however, I hope to fictionalize this woman’s experience and share it with the public at some point in the future. Elderly abuse is a critical problem and elder care cannot be blindly trusted to care-giving agencies, or the courts.
When asked how I got into this line of work—the depth psychology line of work—I must pause before answering, because I’ve come to realize that I’ve always been in this line of work, just as I’ve had a life-long passion for justice. I am fortunate because I was able to expand and formalize my work at Pacifica. My Ph.D. in Depth Psychology is a valued and significant accomplishment that falls in line in significance behind giving birth to my sons. And it is my healthy and beautiful relationship with my sons (along with my dedication to my hot-yoga practice) that contributes most to my ability to maintain a balanced life.
Lastly, if all my dreams come true this next year, I would complete one of the three film projects I have in development; expand my private practice, further develop and teach cinema therapy, and have a great track record for hosting and facilitating retreats. I would also complete the book I am working on which is based on my dissertation, The Other Woman: Film and Feminism. In this work, I explore the patriarch and its effects on women of all ages who find themselves in the grips of cultural complexes resulting from their involvement in triadic relationships.
Thank you for this opportunity to share a bit of my work and life with you! “I walk in darkness and see the light only after the sun goes down.” Please visit me at GingerSwanson.com. Ciao!