Founder Brittany Catton Kirk
Social Entreprenuer and Rape Survivor
Why I started Sunlight Retreats: In My Own Words
"I just wish there was some place I could go."
Let's stop hiding. Hi, I am Brittany Catton Kirk, and I am a survivor from an attack in 2012. In the months and years after, I tried to manage post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and a deep depression while keeping my career and relationship going. Some family wanted me to go to rehab, which is designed for those with substance abuse issues, not survivors of rape with PTSD. I searched for a place I could go, and had zero luck. I gained 60 pounds in less than a year and had trouble leaving the house while isolating myself from family and friends, struggling with panic attacks, nightmares, depression and anxiety alone.
This is where the idea for Sunlight Retreats for Survivors was born. The experience is still raw seven years later, it will always be raw, but every time someone whispers to me that it happened to them too, or some bright young person kills themselves out of grief, it hurts much more. I cannot tolerate the silence and secrecy any longer.
This retreat will not solve the deep-seated trauma of rape, but my goal is to arm survivors with knowledge, self-care options, and an empowering network of fellow survivors to help them navigate - something that I wished was available for me five years ago.
You won't have to tell your story a thousand times and you won't be questioned. But you will get support. I know there is a better way to recover than what I went through, and I really wish I had something like this to jumpstart that process.
Sunlight Retreats for Survivors are safe, holistic retreat programs where survivors of rape can heal in person with peer support, volunteer counselors, and tools available to help them heal.
Our goal is to have our retreats in a beautiful, peaceful, safe setting where we can build lifelong friendships and a network of support.
The Massive Problem Sunlight Retreats is Tackling
One in four women and one in twenty-one men will be raped at some point in their lives. The cost and impact of rape costs approximately $151,423, and costs the US annually ($127 billion) more than any other crime. 94 percent of women report PTSD two weeks after the rape and 33% contemplate suicide. There currently are no ongoing therapeutic retreats for rape survivors. The fallout from rape can be lifelong, and it can severely impact both the physical and mental health of the survivors and their families. Individual counseling is the primary solution for treatment of rape survivors. But this treatment is limited to victims that have health insurance, funds, and time for weekly treatments. Therapy is an important tool but can be expensive, and does not broaden a survivor’s support network. It can also be hard to schedule and find a therapist that is trained in sexual trauma. Rape support groups are sparse and often limited by zip codes and red tape. Rehab is another option, but rehab is coed and designed for those with substance abuse, not PTSD. Few victims can afford to leave their families and jobs for 30 days at the cost of $30K. So now that we know the scope of the #MeToo epidemic, what will be done to help them recover? An anonymous hotline is not the solution. We have to make survivors feel less alone, heard and empowered. Often survivors are too traumatized and struggling to function after their attack to research and arrange multiple appointments to start the healing journey, especially if they have families or careers. The search and scheduling of services can be overwhelming and discouraging and a survivor can put off getting the help they need to recover.
I developed a program called “Sunlight Retreats” which is a new model of healing for survivors of rape. Traditional outlets like rehab and individual therapy can be cost prohibitive and fail to address the unique issues which include PTSD, anxiety, depression, body image and self-esteem issues. Sunlight is unique in that it is an accelerator for healing, where many services are available for survivors to sample and experiment with in an intensive 3-4 day retreat. In a peaceful, beautiful setting, it allows survivors to be removed from the pressures of family and work and enables them to focus exclusively on their own healing with other survivors. Sunlight Retreats also educates survivors on the science of trauma and how to grow beyond trauma, with interactive workshops with sexual trauma psychologist Dr. Shiva Ghaed. This education helps survivors understand their reactions are often normal and how to counteract them in a healthy manner. Survivors can experience programs like acupuncture, restorative yoga, healthy cooking, self-defense, service animals and NET Therapy to see what works best for them. These services are free of charge and organized for them by volunteers, which greatly reduces financial stress. Success stories include survivors going back to nursing school, advancing in the military and leaving a domestic abuser, and fulfilling their dream of becoming a flight attendant. They, like me, were once closeted about their attack and were harboring a lot of shame and pain. After the retreat, they now know PTSD does not have to be permanent, and survivors do not have to feel shame and guilt about their attack. Survey results and testimonials from the 40 individuals who have participated in the Sunlight Retreats confirm the absolute need and value of this program. I am grateful to be able to fill the gap and create a new model of support that can be scaled worldwide to combat the scourge of sexual trauma. I am proud to say that 100 percent of anonymous surveys reported that they would recommend Sunlight Retreats to a fellow survivor, 100 percent said it aided them in their healing, and 100 percent said Sunlight Retreats made them stronger. It is motivation to increase the number of volunteer run, at-cost retreats each year, and I am excited to meet the challenge, with a very special group of contributors and volunteers.
A Social Enterprise: The Sunlight Solution
I developed a program called “Sunlight Retreats” which is a new model of healing for survivors of rape. Traditional outlets like rehab and individual therapy can be cost prohibitive and fail to address the unique issues which include PTSD, anxiety, depression, body image and self-esteem issues. Sunlight is a unique accelerator for healing, where many services are available for survivors to sample and experiment with in an intensive 3-4 day retreat. In a peaceful, beautiful setting, it allows survivors to be removed from the everyday pressures and focus exclusively on their own healing with other survivors. Sunlight Retreats also educates survivors on the science of trauma and how to grow beyond trauma, with interactive workshops with sexual trauma psychologist Dr. Shiva Ghaed. This education helps survivors understand their reactions are often normal and how to practice post-traumatic growth. Survivors experience programs like acupuncture, restorative yoga, healthy cooking, self-defense, service animals and NET Therapy to see what works best for them free of charge. Success stories include survivors going back to nursing school, advancing in the military and leaving a domestic abuser, and fulfilling their dream of becoming a flight attendant. One young survivor even decided to report her rape to police. Survey results and testimonials from the 40 individuals who have participated in the Sunlight Retreats confirm the absolute need and value of this program. 100 percent of anonymous surveys reported that they would recommend Sunlight Retreats to a fellow survivor, 100 percent said it aided them in their healing, and 100 percent said Sunlight Retreats made them stronger.
Dr. Shiva Ghaed
Volunteer Trauma Psychologist, Ph.D., M.P.H.
Shiva Ghaed is a California-licensed Clinical Psychologist, currently working for the Department of Mental Health in the Naval Medical Center San Diego healthcare system (Marine Corps Recruit Depot). Dr. Ghaed provides group and individual therapy to active duty patients in the catchment area, maintains ongoing involvement in academia and research, and has served as a voting member on the Institutional Review Board for NMCSD. Dr. Ghaed’s clinical experience includes several years of training and specialization in the Veterans Affairs Healthcare Systems of San Diego and Los Angeles. She completed a Postdoctoral Fellowship at the San Diego VA, specializing in anxiety disorders, non-combat trauma, and combat Posttraumatic Stress Disorder in Operation Enduring Freedom (OEF)/Operation Iraqi Freedom (OIF) veterans. Dr. Ghaed is a member of the American Psychological Association, and strives to maintain competency and excellence as a therapist and professional in her field. In 2015, she was presented with the Associate Master Clinician Award.
Dr. Ghaed’s formal education includes a Ph.D. in Clinical Psychology (Behavioral Medicine) from the Joint Clinical Psychology Doctoral Program at the University of California, San Diego and San Diego State University (2008), an M.P.H. in Health Promotion (2006) and an M.S. in Psychology (2006) from SDSU, a B.S. in Psychology from the University of Maryland (2001), and a B.S. in Zoology (Premedicine) from the George Washington University (1993). For the past 30 years, Dr. Ghaed has been involved in research ranging from bench research in the pure sciences to clinical research in the social sciences and psychology, and she has worked for world and nationally renowned organizations such as the National Institutes of Mental Health (NIH), the Uniformed Services University of the Health Sciences, and the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research. She was Project Director for an NIH-funded research study for several years, and has served in leadership positions at the Naval Center for Combat and Operational Stress Control, at NMCSD and Naval Hospital Camp Pendleton (NHCP). Dr. Ghaed regularly presents at professional conferences and grand rounds for a variety of mental health departments (including the VA, NHCP, and MCRD), local clinics, and universities. She has numerous publications in peer-reviewed journals, and has received honors and awards for excellence in her field throughout the course of her career.
Oct 1, 2017, Dr. Ghaed’s love of country music took her to Route 91 on the night of the shooting in Las Vegas and she, along with many others, witnessed the horror of that night as people around her were shot and killed. She found purpose and meaning in surviving the massacre, and made it her mission to give back to her community and help guide other Route 91 survivors in their healing. One week following the shooting, Dr. Ghaed launched a free weekly support group for survivors and their family and friends. She posted weekly therapy-based articles specifically catered to and witnessing the Route 91 community recovery process. Her goal is to help people better cope with the traumatic aftermath through education and support, and with the hope of preventing the development of PTSD. A website was created, www.route91therapy.com, to allow public access to these documents, and this information has been disseminated to the Route 91 community across the United States and Canada. In April, 2018, Dr. Ghaed was honored with the Citizens of Courage Award by the San Diego District Attorney’s Office, and the National Hero Award by the American Red Cross (Metro New York).
There are still many people who have not connected to care or who do not have adequate social support or healthcare. Dr. Ghaed’s strong belief that healthcare is a basic human right, her faith in the resiliency of the human spirit, and her sense of obligation to serving others fuels a mission of destigmatizing mental illness through knowledge and awareness. In honor of the 1-year anniversary of the Las Vegas massacre (on Oct 1, 2018), Dr. Ghaed released her book, Route 91: Healing from Mass Violence and Trauma for free download on her new platform www.loveexpands.com. The book documents her experience surviving the massacre, as well as the journey of recovery since then, for her and her Route 91 community. She hopes that her book will provide insight into the process of recovering from mass violence, expected reactions, barriers to recovery, and tools to heal. Furthermore, her teachings are applicable to a broader audience who may suffer from anxiety, depression, or other types of trauma.