In search of authenticity


Despite being born into a male-dominated environment, Charlie Pieterick wound up in a profession dominated by women.

“I grew up in a flat above a tavern owned by my father,” Charlie says. “I was immersed in a very patriarchal culture, both because I was raised in the Catholic church and schools, and because I often had to help out at the bar where men were the principal clientele.”

After graduating from high school, Charlie attended a Catholic college in St. Paul, Minnesota, which is where the journey that would eventually lead him to healing circles began.

“Early in my undergraduate career, I volunteered at the St. Paul Catholic Youth Center and served as a peer counselor for high school students,” Charlie says. “They trained us in active listening, supportive feedback, and other principles of group facilitation that intrigued me.”

Ray's Place

Ray’s Place: The tavern above which Charlie grew up

Some of his fellow trainees said the training resembled what they were learning in their nursing program, which piqued Charlie’s interest. His men’s college didn’t have a school of nursing, but the women’s college down the road did, so he enrolled, becoming one of only two men in the program.

“Nursing fit me like a glove,” Charlie says. “I identified with the nursing profession and, in that respect, I also became aware of the way women’s roles are undervalued in our society.”

After graduating, Charlie started working at Harborview, a Level 1 trauma center that also serves the culturally and economically diverse populations of the Seattle area and beyond.

“There, I got interested in pathophysiology and also in the day-to-day contact with patients who were so different from the people I had grown up around,” Charlie says. “Seeing how their lived experience affected their disease and suffering was a source of constant wonder for me.”

Years later, as he approached retirement, Charlie participated in a healing circles training for nurses led by Kelly and Diana Lindsay.

“It was transformative to be in that circle,” says Charlie. “I came out inspired to do something with circles. My nursing education trained me to lead therapy groups. I had participated in therapy groups myself, but some of them felt unsafe to me. I sometimes felt exposed and ‘performative’ rather than authentic, and the ego of the leaders sometimes became part of the circle.

“In healing circles, the agreements provide important guardrails and, in my experience, people feel safe when everyone abides by those agreements. There’s an equality and honesty there that doesn’t exist in a lot of therapy groups because, in healing circles, the host and guardian are peers and share their own vulnerabilities.

“I’ve often heard Diana Lindsay say that the people who benefit most from healing circles are the volunteer hosts and guardians who facilitate them,” Charlie continues. “I couldn’t agree more. I’ve healed some of my own past traumas and deepened my understanding of myself by being in circles as a host and guardian. The intentionality of facilitating circles has spilled over into all the other relationships in my life, enabling me to become more present with others and grow as a more authentic human being.”