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We are so excited to share our new logo! Thank you to all of our supporters and survivors for your awesome feedback during the process!

 Listen to Sunlight Founder Brittany Catton Kirk speak to Anne Julian of Grey Matters Now Podcast about her path to sunlight and how she brings sunlight to others. They also speak about issues big and small facing survivors and places making strides like Sweden and colleges like Old Miss. Podcast Link:

Also listen to Sunlight Volunteer and Trauma Specialist Dr. Shiva Ghaed’s podcast about the science of trauma and how we can move and grow beyond trauma.

Podcast Link:

Trauma Retreats California Brittany Catton Kirk

Life and Work with Brittany Catton Kirk

By SD Voyager

SD Voyager Link: 

Today we’d like to introduce you to Brittany Catton Kirk.

Brittany, can you briefly walk us through your story – how you started and how you got to where you are today.
I was raped overseas in 2012 and it nearly destroyed me. I gained 60 pounds in less than a year, isolated myself from family and friends, struggled at work and in my relationships. I looked for a safe place to go and heal from my PTSD but could not find anything. Traditional outlets like rehab cost about a thousand dollars a day, are COED and designed for substance abuse, not PTSD.

I knew I wanted to use my ten years experience with nonprofit events from the Armed Services YMCA to bring survivors together to learn, grow and heal in a serene environment, but I also knew I had to work on my own healing first. So, after five years of intensive therapy, medication and with the support of my service dog Magnus and partner Brian, I launched an interest list on my “Alive Day” (the anniversary of the attack which can be a difficult day for trauma survivors) which empowered me to take back that day and make it into something positive for others. After a single post on my personal Facebook page, I had 40 survivors from all over the country who signed up overnight. I got to work organizing 40 volunteers and supporters to launch the first Sunlight Retreat in January 2018.

I developed Sunlight Retreats as a social enterprise as a new model of healing for survivors of rape. Sunlight is unique in that it is an accelerator for healing, where many proven services are available for survivors to sample and experiment within 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 others who understand. Sunlight Retreats 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, kickboxing, 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 to those overwhelmed by depression, anxiety, and PTSD. Before the retreat, Survivors were suffering in silence and dropping out of school, the military, and not functioning well in their careers, relationships and as parents without anyone understanding the source of the problem. Survey results and testimonials from the 40 individuals to date who have participated in the Sunlight Retreats confirm the absolute need and value of this program. Nearly a dozen survivors who have attended the “Team 1” and “Team 2” Sunlight Retreat plan to return to welcome and mentor “Team 3.” After the retreat, the healing and support continue in the private online support group to support one another and plan meetups.

Often survivors are too traumatized and struggling to function after their attack to research and arrange multiple appointments and few realize what recovery from sexual assault looks like in appointments alone. Overwhelming appointments can include six months of STD testing, police reporting, which includes multiple sessions and interviews, a traumatic Sexual Assault Response Team evidentiary medical exam, potentially years of weekly therapy and monthly appointments with a psychiatrist to adjust medications. It is a lot for a healthy person to handle, let alone someone in shock and suffering from PTSD. It can make survivors feel overwhelmed to even start the healing journey, especially if they have families or careers to try to keep afloat. Sunlight Retreats is a change making, scalable program that gives survivors a better way to jumpstart healing so that they can take back their power and empower others.

We’re always bombarded by how great it is to pursue your passion, etc. – but we’ve spoken with enough people to know that it’s not always easy. Overall, would you say things have been easy for you?
As with any new venture or challenge, it is never a smooth road. Like trauma and grief, there are ups and downs as you move forward. I struggled to find legal and mental health volunteers to launch Sunlight Retreats, but after receiving many “Nos”, I finally got a “Yes”, and got the help I needed. It also led me to Dr. Shiva Ghaed, who is the perfect fit. It is OK to say no to things and also receive nos to your requests because ultimately it connects you to the right people. As a woman, it important to remind myself that rejection and failure are an important part of building resilience and fortitude.

Work/life balance is also a constant challenge, even though the retreat is four days, it takes about 6 months of planning and thirty hours a week of coordination, with 60+ survivors, 40+ volunteers, the venue and trauma volunteers. There is also insurance, liability, CA red tape to navigate. Don’t worry about timing, because honestly there will never be a perfect time to start. For the first retreat, I was working and raising our toddler Cal while my military spouse was geo-bachelor in DC after a deployment to Iraq. For the second retreat, I was seven months pregnant. There is always something! I asked for help, delegated and started small with only 15 survivors, with little advertising. I slowly have grown retreats from 15 to 25 to 60, but I want to make sure I can keep intimacy and quality of the retreats before growing too fast.

So, as you know, we’re impressed with Sunlight Retreats for Survivors of Rape – tell our readers more, for example, what you’re most proud of and what sets you apart from others.
At the end of each Sunlight Retreat, survivors take an anonymous survey. 100% of survivors have reported via an anonymous survey that the retreat benefitted their healing. 100% of survivors would recommend Sunlight Retreats to a fellow survivor, and 100% felt stronger after the Sunlight Retreat. Success stories include a Human Trafficking Survivor who went back to her nonprofit work in the Bay Area. Aly, who was featured in a San Diego Union-Tribune article (7/5/18) on Sunlight Retreats reported, “I think without the retreat, I would have felt alone, like, forever. To be surrounded by people who get it, that helped me get it. I feel like I can actually move on with my life. I have never felt the same since that retreat.” Aly left a domestic violence situation, found her dream job as a flight attendant and got back to working out and volunteering after the retreat. Another grateful participant is a nurse who had been in intensive therapy and out on medical disability for PTSD who returned to work and testified that she learned more in one weekend at Sunlight Retreats more than five years of therapy to the San Diego Union-Tribune in a separate article (3/4/19). There are some beautiful poems, works of art, and testimonials that survivors have shared on about how much Sunlight Retreats has changed their lives, impacted their healing and allowed them to return to work, their children and relationships with healthier coping tools and support.

I created Sunlight Retreats with a data-driven approach and have collected data from survivors and keeps stats on everything to build a case to support survivors. After my attack in 2012, I launched an anonymous online survey for survivors in order to better understand the real-world issues facing survivors, and not just the clinical diagnosis. To date, since 2013, 181 Survivors have taken the Sunlight Survey. Out of 181 responses, 122 survivors had thoughts of suicide, 48 had attempted suicide, 139 suffered from PTSD, 156 suffered from depression, 161 suffered anxiety, 81 suffered from substance abuse, 116 gained or lost weight, 144 suffered alienation from loved ones, 130 had nightmares, 127 had traumatic memory recall, and 126 feared for their safety.

The majority of survivors (73.5 percent) reported these symptoms to be ongoing, meaning what resources were available, were not working. Another key finding shed light on the isolation of rape, with survivors struggling to share their rape with their support network. Only 55% told a friend, 41.4% shared their rape with a counselor, only 18% shared with their doctor, 11.6% shared in group therapy, 6% told a rehab facility, while 33% of survivors told no one about the rape. These statistics proved that many survivors struggled without a network of support and built the groundwork for Sunlight Retreats.

What advice would you give to someone at the start of her career?
If you are thinking about starting a social enterprise, nonprofit or socially conscious business, there are so many resources available to you in San Diego. I am currently in the cohort of City Sail through Mission Edge, which is a free Social Business Accelerator and Impact Lab through the City of San Diego. I will be starting my Masters in Social Innovation at USD in the fall to help grow and scale Sunlight Retreats and they have this world renown Global Social Innovation Challenge that is open to all university student entrepreneurs worldwide. There is also SCORE, San Diego Workforce Partnership and the San Diego Foundation which have free workshops and programs for young entrepreneurs. If you are military-connected, there are also amazing remote programs for starting a small business through the Institute for Veterans and Families that I took advantage of, including my PMP certification, Veteran Edge, and V-Wise for entrepreneurship training. There is enough free resources out there that you shouldn’t have to spend much money to get started which really helps with the stress of launching a startup.

If you are holding an idea close to the vest, try sharing it with select friends that you trust that would encourage you and help you problem solve. I did that with Sunlight Retreats with my entrepreneur friends Heather Pierce and Dave Willson when I could barely share my idea without crying. For me, in the early stages, it is very important to protect your ideas from naysayers or people that want to take your idea in a different direction. It is also helpful to remember research and conduct ongoing interviews with partners in the field and potential clients for design thinking to make sure you are truly innovating for your customer versus creating what you think they want.

Contact Info:

Attendees at the 2018 Sunlight Retreats for rape survivors, held in an undisclosed location in San Diego, received help and support during a weekend of healing. Applications for the 2019 retreat open on March 15. Courtesy photo

Attendees at the 2018 Sunlight Retreats for rape survivors, held in an undisclosed location in San Diego, received help and support during a weekend of healing. Applications for the 2019 retreat open on March 15. Courtesy photo


MARCH 14, 2019

San Diego Union Tribune Link

The photo Michele keeps to remind her of the life-changing weekend she spent at last summer’s Sunlight Retreats for rape survivors shows her standing arm-and-arm with her fellow attendees. She can’t see their faces because the photo was taken from the back. But she can feel the love and support that radiates from hand to hand and from life to life. “For me, that photo shows the amount of trust we had and how well we bonded over just three days,” said Michele, a nurse who suffered from PTSD after years of sexual abuse. “I keep that picture as a reminder of the support I received there. It really was like getting over a year of therapy in a three-day weekend.”

The third edition of the Sunlight Retreats weekend for rape survivors has been expanded from three days to four. It will be held Aug. 22-25 at a private residence in San Diego. As it has in previous years, the retreat will give rape survivors a full slate of mental, physical and emotional-support activities in a soothing setting. With the help of donations and the contribution of professionals who are offering their services on a volunteer basis, the cost for the weekend is $300, which includes meals, snacks, liability and overnight accommodations. The cost for survivors who won’t be spending the night is $250. Online applications for the retreat — which can take 25 overnight attendees and an additional 20 day visitors — will be open from March 15 through April 15. The applications are available on Sunlight Retreats was founded in 2017 by rape survivor Brittany Catton Kirk of San Diego, who was inspired by her weekend at a YMCA women’s retreat to create a healing experience for fellow survivors still struggling to deal with the fallout from their assaults.

The first retreat was held here in January of 2018. It was a two-day session that included visits by therapy dogs, multiple workshops with trauma specialist Dr. Shiva Ghaed, acupuncture treatments and classes in yoga, self-defense and healthy cooking. The second retreat was held seven months later. It ran three days instead of two and, in response to feedback from earlier participants, included extra sessions with the Love on a Leash therapy dogs. The 2019 retreat will be much like its predecessors. Dr. Ghaed will lead multiple sessions exploring how traumatic experiences change the way your brain works and what you can do about destructive thought patterns that can derail your life. Nutritionist Erica Fowler will talk about the care and feeding of the stressed and anxious body. Stehly Farms will be providing healthy meals and licensed clinical acupuncturist Catherine Austin will be returning for her third Sunlight Retreats stint. The popular Love on a Leash dogs will now be part of the welcoming committee, which Kirk hopes will make the attendees feel comfortable from the moment they walk onto the grounds. Now that it has been expanded from three days to four, the 2019 retreat is also giving its survivors the added benefit of more time. That means more free time between sessions so attendees can process what they’ve learned and more time to absorb the feeling of peace, support and safety that survivors desperately need but aren’t always able to get. “It is really important to make survivors feel safe and comfortable so they can open up. It can take awhile for them to really understand that they can trust you and that you care about them,” Kirk said. “It is such an exhausting experience to process your rape and to deal with the trauma that a nice, relaxing setting helps offset some of that unpleasantness. It makes it easier to write in your journal and work on your workbooks do what you need to do.”

The extra day also gives survivors more time to get to know each other. After the retreat, the survivors can continue to communicate through a private online page, which provides an instant support network to help them survive and thrive outside the comfort of the retreat bubble. The Sunlight Retreats only last a few days, but when survivors carry the torch with them, they help each other keep the darkness at bay. “The retreat was a place of intense healing. This was a group of women that had similar histories where they understood each other from their past assaults. It was a place where you could just freely open up and not be ashamed and embarrassed about the history you had,” said Michele, who came to last summer’s retreat after spiraling into a depression so severe, she hadn’t worked in 19 months. “I have absolutely kept in touch with the other women. We have an online forum and we talk. Sometimes daily, sometimes monthly. I credit the retreat with a lot of my healing and with my success in returning to work and doing well. I know I’m not ever going back to that place of depression.”

Founder Brittany Catton Kirk enjoys some pet therapy during Sunlight Retreats' first retreat for rape survivors, held in San Diego in January of 2018. A second retreat is scheduled for Aug. 24-26, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Founder Brittany Catton Kirk enjoys some pet therapy during Sunlight Retreats' first retreat for rape survivors, held in San Diego in January of 2018. A second retreat is scheduled for Aug. 24-26, 2018. (Courtesy photo)

Column | For rape survivors, one weekend can change everything

By Karla Peterson, The San Diego Union Tribune

Article Link

JULY 25, 2018, 2:25 PM

In many ways, San Diego’s first Sunlight Retreats session looked like any other women’s getaway weekend. It was held in a bucolic setting. There were yoga classes and acupuncture treatments. There were lessons in healthy cooking.

There were also visits by therapy dogs. And multiple workshops with trauma specialist Dr. Shiva Ghaed. And classes in self-defense.

 In fact, the first Sunlight Retreats weekend — held in January in an undisclosed location — was not like anything its 15 attendees had ever experienced before. The retreat was designed for rape survivors by a rape survivor, and the goal was to jump-start a healing process that founder Brittany Catton Kirk knew from experience could be a long time in coming.

“I feel like I was swimming in quicksand for the first year or two after the rape,” Kirk said of her assault, which happened in 2012. “My progress was slow. I gained 60 pounds in one year. I couldn’t leave the house. I was just shutting down.

“You hear about these tech start-up environments where people can come together and grow their ideas in a much more accelerated way, and that is what my hope and goal for Sunlight Retreats is. You can experience all sorts of services right here. We jump-start things so people don’t feel stuck in their PTSD and where they’re at.” Kirk came up with the idea after attending a YMCA women’s retreat in Maryland.

As great as it was to get away from the stresses of everyday life, Kirk was finding there was no getting away from the trauma of her assault. But what if you combined the serenity and togetherness of a weekend retreat with a full-immersion healing experience?

It seemed like the thing Kirk herself was looking for. And if she was looking for it, surely other survivors would be looking for it, too. On Aug. 3, 2017 — five years to the day after she was raped — Kirk posted an interest list on Facebook to see if she was right.

She was.

“I think without the retreat, I would have felt alone, like, forever,” said Aly, a former San Diegan who attended January’s event. “To be surrounded by people who get it, that helped me get it. I feel like I can actually move on with my life. I have never felt the same since that retreat.”

Because of lodging limitations, the first Sunlight Retreat was limited to 15 attendees. The at-cost fee was $250 for the weekend, which covered food, lodging, insurance and liability, and workshops and training sessions. It was such a success, Kirk has organized another one.

The second Sunlight Retreat will be held Aug. 24 through 26 at a private home in San Diego County. While the August retreat runs three days instead of two, the fee is still $250. The overnight slots have been filled, but there is still room for a small group of day visitors at a discounted rate.

Scholarships are available. Kirk has also opened up an interest list on her website for a male-only retreat. As with the retreats for women, trans and non-binary participants are welcome.

The August retreat will be a lot like the January retreat. There will be restorative yoga, acupuncture and classes in cooking for PTSD, depression and anxiety, all provided by practitioners who are volunteering their time. Dr. Ghaed, a San Diego-based clinical psychologist who specializes in trauma and anxiety disorders, will talk about the science of trauma and how to start the recovery process.

There will be tears and laughter and a-ha moments. Thanks to feedback from earlier participants, there will be an extra session with the therapy dogs from Love on a Leash, San Diego Central Chapter. And there will be breakthroughs. Lots and lots of breakthroughs.

“For me, when Dr. Shiva talked about the patterns of behavior that survivors have, that really struck me,” said Aly, who said she found her dream job and got back into working out and volunteering after the retreat.

“I did all of the things she discussed. Things like throwing away all of my clothes. Crazy things that I laugh at now. I felt like I had all of these strange things that I was doing, and having her confirm to us that all of these things are normal, that was the most eye-opening thing. It changed my life.”

When she founded Sunlight Retreats, Kirk was hoping some transformative stories would result. She wasn’t expecting to be one of them. It’s a bonus she didn’t see coming, and yes, it changed everything. “I felt like I was doomed to suffer for the rest of my life, and I don’t feel that way anymore,” Kirk said. “If we don’t do anything with the pain, then it is just wasted pain. I think trying to make something positive out of it will help us all.”

For information on Sunlight Retreats, go to


programs and services for rape victims and survivors

Rape survivors retreat offers support and healing

By Karla Peterson

Article Link

JANUARY 19, 2018, 2:00 PM

The inaugural Sunlight Retreat for Survivors of Rape will be held Jan. 27-28 in a private location in San Diego. The weekend retreat will feature talks with local clinical psychologist and trauma specialist Shiva Ghaed, who will discuss overcoming triggers, stopping bad thoughts and understanding post-traumatic stress disorder. The retreat will also include hands-on training in self defense, restorative yoga and therapeutic cooking for PTSD, anxiety and depression. The fee for the retreat is $250 for the weekend, which covers food, lodging, talks and training sessions, and insurance and liability. It is open to female survivors who are 18 years old or older. Trans women and nonbinary people are welcome. If the overnight slots fill up, daytime slots will be available.

The Sunlight Retreat for Survivors of Rape is being organized by San Diegan Britany Catton Kirk, a rape survivor who needed a place to heal and get treatment, only to find that the kind of place she was looking for didn’t seem to exist. “About a year after I was raped, I happened to sign up for a YMCA women’s retreat in Maryland. It had nothing to do with sexual assault, but I thought, ‘Wouldn’t it be incredible if sexual-assault survivors could get away from their jobs and their kids and focus on healing and maybe make some friends?’ That’s what we are hoping to do,” Kirk said. Kirk also hopes this retreat will be the first of many. She plans to do at least one more San Diego retreat this year, and she would like to offer them in other cities as well. For information or to sign up, go to or


DR GHAED rape trauma doctor

Get to know Dr.Shiva Ghaed

DR. SHIVA GHAED has been featured on NPR,KPBS, FOX,The LA Times,Vice News,People Magazine and more. Check out some media clips below to see the important volunteer work she is doing with Sunlight Retreats and the Route 91 communities to help trauma survivors heal.





San Diego Union Tribune



Country Rebel

Comfort Cub Organization

San Diego Union Tribune & LA Times


KBPS (2 parts aired on 02-03Apr2018)

San Diego District Attorney's Office

Annual Citizens of Courage Awards - honored on 10Apr2018

American Red Cross - Metro North (Red & White Ball) - Salute to Service and Valor, National Hero Award (to be honored on 28Apr2018)

San Diego Union Tribune (Note: The next retreat will take place in Aug 2018)

(story starts at 4:45 approx into the one-year news report)

Preview YouTube video 10News at 6pm Top Stories

10News at 6pm Top Stories

Preview YouTube video Comfort Cub Route 91

Comfort Cub Route 91

Preview YouTube video Vegas Massacre survivors hold local therapy group

Vegas Massacre survivors hold local therapy group

Channel 10 News

Channel 8 News

KSON (radio)

VICE News – Joelle Martinez

NPR – Eric Westervelt (SF studio)

VenuesNow magazine – Brad Weissberg

Fox LA – Hal Eisner

San Diego Union Tribune – Alex Riggins

People Magazine – Chris Harris (Investigative Crime Reporter)

Channel 7 News – Liberty Zabala

Oct 1

Sep 30

Incahoots 1-year gathering

Fox 5 (also working on obtaining this clip…I heard it was nicely done but haven’t found it yet – contacted the station)

Channel 11

Channel 7


Upcoming scheduled events:

Panelist (PTSD and trauma subject matter expert) at annual conference for National Hispanic Caucus of State Legislators (Dec 6-9, 2018)

Keynote Speaker (PTSD and trauma subject matter expert) at annual conference for Florida Association of Private Investigators (Feb 20-24, 2019)