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Katie Asmus – Somatic Wilderness Therapy Institute

By Renée Tillotson


From her first engaging gaze and warm, inviting smile, you know that Katie Asmus is a people person who cares. Her dedication to serving others radiates through every pore. And that same support continues to emanate from her the longer you spend time with Katie. A psychotherapist and educator, Katie provides a broad range of offerings under one virtual ‘roof’ called Somatic Wilderness Therapy Institute. Meanwhile, her soul and her services prefer to live under the broad open skies of Nature!

The remarkable thing to me about Katie is that while she is very scientific, and always up-to-date with the newest psychology and brain-body research, she still manages to make enormous space in her practice for the sacred, and even for the spiritual – whatever that might mean to her clients and students. This approach means that she recognizes and honors the divine in everyone – that namaste light in each person’s eyes. I can say for myself that being received in this manner by Katie allows and encourages me to live into my biggest, highest self. I would say ‘Self’. And for that, I am very grateful.

When I attended her Honoring Change training, my intention was to ritually enter my “elder”, “wise woman” phase of life. I came in as an experienced and accomplished professional, the owner and president of three businesses, two of which are educational establishments. Katie embraced me in all the bigness of my questions, original thinking, and suggestions, never intimated, always encouraging me. I felt so seen and recognized. And I watched Katie offer this same support to every other participant and intern.

Katie has been living at the forefront of the wilderness therapy frontier for her entire career, both within and outside (literally) academia. She practices it as a therapist, teaches it to others, and trains them to become teachers in their own right. Her interweaving of ceremony – hearkening to indigenous and religious practices from ancient times forward – is another groundbreaking element of Katie’s approach.

Please allow me to tell you about the 4 interwoven threads of Katie’s work, and then I’ll unfold a glimmering of her life story, including the love of her life, Brandon.

Four Threads of Katie’s Work:

Three of the four threads of her work are represented by her company’s name: 

  • “Somatic” and “Therapy” point to her work to restore the connection and health of the body and mind
  • “Wilderness” indicates her conviction and experience showing that human beings thrive best living close to Nature
  • “Institute” denotes her legacy work to teach, train and mentor others

The fourth thread arises from her deep understanding of human nature and her sense of the sacred, the intentional:

  • Ceremony, ritual, & rites of passage as tools for transformation.

Katie says she has always loved and been curious about people and has been working with them since childhood. Born into a Catholic family, she was recruited to assist with the 3 to 4-year-old class when she was only 10 years old herself, and she’s never stopped teaching and assisting others in their growth process since that time.

She became the 3 to 4-year-olds’ class teacher in 8th grade, as well as assisting with youth sports activities and her little sister’s Brownie troop. Her work as a teenager herself in an outdoor program for disabled teens foreshadowed some of the core work she’s done as an adult in wilderness therapy.

Although she has since broadened her embrace of all manner of spiritual traditions, Katie deeply appreciates her Catholic background. It provided the container, she explains, for her to develop her identity as a spiritual being connecting with something greater than herself. As part of the church’s youth retreat teams, Katie got to create personally meaningful ceremonies around different topics, connecting with community and finding deeper meaning in life. 

One of her ongoing quests is how to make ceremonies, rituals and rites of passage available to people of all faiths, or with no apparent spiritual tradition. The nearly universal appreciation for nature seems to be a key way that Katie connects with both “believers” and “non-believers”.

Never affluent, her family nevertheless lived with a strong service ethic. It was never about making tons of money. She didn’t even own a car until she was 30 years old. Not just working one-on-one with clients (which she LOVES to do), Katie extends herself by collaborating with, supervising, and supporting other therapists, teachers and trainers in the work that she is spearheading. In this manner she broadens the impact of the service she is providing, I see in her work a soul-dedication to service that will sustain itself beyond her lifetime. That legacy service work takes a deep heart, hard work, and a broad vision. This form of service demands selflessness, recognizing that it doesn’t always have to be YOU who is providing the service!

That work is of course self-reinforcing, in that it provides the person doing it with a deep and abiding sense of soul-satisfaction.

I would love to go into Katie’s deep and important work with trauma in the nervous system, which Katie started training other therapists in 22 years ago, long before trauma therapy became mainstream. Instead, I’ll let you read more about Katie’s life and career on this helpful webpage: https://www.wildernesstherapyinstitute.com/katie-asmus/

As an inveterate, died-in-the-wool romantic, I will end by letting you know that Katie is married to a wonderful man named Brando whom she met in 1995 as fellow therapists when they worked together with adults suffering from mental illness. He’s evidently as much of an introvert as she is an extrovert. A small window into their kitchen years ago: Katie bustles in and starts chopping on the cutting board where Brandon is already working, and that’s been a work-in-progress ever since! The perfect example of the need to set boundaries and the need to expand across borders! He eventually transitioned in work from therapy to asphalt paving – no doubt one therapist in the family is more than enough. Brandon loves the outdoors, loves being of service, and loves KATIE!

I can see why he does, can’t you?

PS  OOOH! And let me add that Katie has authored a chapter in a newly published therapy book called Nourished, edited by Meg Kirby. 


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This post is also available in: 日本語 (Japanese)