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Inspiring Conversations with Kurt Youngberg, PhD, LCSW

Today we’d like to introduce you to Kurt Youngberg, PhD, LCSW.

Hi Kurt, please kick things off for us with an introduction to yourself and your story.
If you had asked me 20 years ago if I could envision my life as it stands now, as a psychologist helping people on their own journey, I would have probably laughed in your face. And not because I would see my future life as comical, but because it would seem preposterous, as I was so deeply lost and struggling with my own issues and deep existential crises with no vision of a future at all – like many emerging adults nowadays.

At that time in my life, I didn’t know up from down, left from right, or cared about much where my life was headed – which not surprisingly was headed to death or jail – both of which I had close encounters with. I was lost, disorientated, living without meaning and purpose and so insecure that I struggled to maintain authentic, healthy relationships.

The reorientation of my life came at the opportunity to get out of my environment (Orange County, California) and move up to Alaska for half of a year. This disruption to my life and to my identity would be a catalyst for many major life changes in my future. Most importantly, it was my reconnection with nature itself that helped me redefine my values and bring spirituality into my life.

The arc of my journey did not automatically right itself, nor become easy (as I would soon be challenged in the greatest of ways) but at least I became more hopeful about living and experiencing all that life has to offer. From Alaska, I would then embark on another journey by moving to Utah. Here I planted roots and would begin the process of growth and transformation. I became a wilderness guide for adolescents who have been sent away to wilderness therapy programs. From this experience, I then went back to school to become a mental health clinician.

Another major marker and milestone was the decision to then uproot my family and private practice to move to Georgia so that I could pursue my doctorate at the University of West Georgia, a little hidden gem that offers a unique holistic Ph.D. program in Psychology with its emphasis on the study of consciousness and society. Four long grueling years would culminate into my dissertation that studies what I call the “existential situatedness” of emerging adulthood and how our society fails to adequately support our youth in their transition to adulthood. In many ways, it’s as much a story about our society as it is a reflection of my own journey.

From here, my journey continues to embark into the unknown, but I can say that there’s a greater sight (or in-sight) into where the path is leading me and greater confidence to face the uncertainty. Right now, I am in the process of developing an extension of my private practice and will be offering “therapeutic excursions/retreats.” As an “ecopsychologist” (a psychologist who attempts to bridge the divide between humans and nature), I will be leading eco-orientated excursions where participants will both experience a healing and re-orientating process through cross-cultural and nature immersive experiences. The first retreat will be in Peru in the Spring of 2022.

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle free, but so far would you say the journey have been a fairly smooth road?
My journey has been wrought with many challenges. Some of them my own doing, some of them the randomness and unpredictability of life. But it is through these challenges and adversities that I have become who I am currently – I no doubt have been defined by those experiences.

The most important obstacles have subsequently been my greatest strengths. They have also contributed to my general outlook in life and have given me the fortitude, strength, and resilience to continue to persevere through challenges and adversities that come my way. They have also been lessons that have helped me help others through their own challenges.

Hands down, one of the biggest challenges I have faced in my life was the tragic loss of my brother. My brother’s death exposed me to the tragic nature of life, and to be more specific, the tragic nature of nature itself. While we were backpacking in the Grand Canyon, down in a place called Havasupai, my brother drowned at the base of one of the waterfalls – Mooney Falls.

This tragedy would profoundly shape the future trajectory of my life. In the wake of this horrific event, I was submerged into an intense grieving process that threatened the little sense of stability I had in both my life and my very own identity. Through this experience, however, I became intimately aware of the two things that grounded me and helped me through this process. Those things were a greater understanding of my values and the power and necessity of having community. It would also be the spark of an inner quest – a spiritual journey – that would ultimately be a major driving force in my life to live with greater meaning and purpose.

Thanks for sharing that. So, maybe next you can tell us a bit more about your work?
I am a psychotherapist with a private practice in Marietta. My clinical experience extends into the traditional boundaries of therapy (inside the office) as well as in the nontraditional modes of experiential therapies in nature and in the community (outside of the office). I offer individual therapy, or what I call “relational therapy,” parent coaching, mentoring, and consulting/supervision for other therapists and organizations..

I work with all things associated with life transitions and existential crises that would manifest as anxiety and depression, as well as grief/loss. I place a strong emphasis on doing the inner depth work required of growth and transformation, that includes incorporating spirit and spiritual development.

I see spiritual development as the ability to transcend narrow boundaries of egocentrism through connecting with others, as well as nature, in ways that dissolve boundaries of separateness between self and other. Spirituality for me is about communion with others in this deep way. I see this as a necessary function in our psychosocial-spiritual well-being – things our western culture lacks an understanding about. We also lack the framework or worldviews to understand the importance of this.

I am also a researcher interested in how cross-cultural immersive experiences can lead to transformative growth. My past publications and current projects examine how cross-cultural experiences can also aid in expanding out of our narrow and limited egocentric modes of understanding the self and the world.

What does success mean to you?
Success is simply putting ourselves in alignment with our values. I see our values, or our values structure, as the orientation of all our habits, motivations and desires. Our values are the things that push or drive us towards specific goals. When we understand that our values are what influences everything from our thoughts, behaviors and actions, we can use that as knowledge to become empowered to create goals that are meaningful and important to us. Success is about becoming aware of our values and, with it the honest self-reflection about whether or not our behaviors are in alignment with those values.

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