Our alumni are those who embody text.soul.culture and build transformative relationships far beyond the walls of our red brick building. Corinne Vance (MACS, MACP ‘11) lives with her husband in Birmingham, Alabama. She is the Trauma Therapy Director at The Well House and also serves as the Assistant Director of the Global and Domestic Internship program here at The Seattle School. Wearing many hats, Corinne is a member of the ICAP (the International Christian Alliance on Prostitution) leadership team and is the Director of Trafficking Aftercare and Support with Northwest Family Life. Our hope is that The Seattle School will be led by our alumni and their stories—how they labor to live out their calling among the people and communities they serve.
What brought you to The Seattle School?
Back in 1999, I went to a Women’s Recovery Week. I can remember sitting in this living room with nine other terrified women and I can remember Dan talking about the story of the prodigal son. Hearing this story about this God who would defy cultural norms, lift up his gown, who would bear shame in order to pursue me—I just couldn’t imagine there could be a God so good. I was a new Christian at that time and so during that Recovery Week, there was some talk about this school Dan was building. It seemed like an impossibility for me because I didn’t finish my bachelor’s degree and we lived in Washington DC and we had four sons. But in 2003, I went back to school and completed a degree with a focus on resilience and at the same time, I applied to become a non-matriculated student at The Seattle School (which was then Mars Hill Graduate School). In 2007, I had completed my undergrad and by then had gotten accepted at MHGS as a student. We sold the family homestead in Washington DC, bought an RV, traveled across the country, and entered the school.
When you came to The Seattle School, why did you decide to go through both the Master of Arts in Christian Studies and Master of Arts in Counseling Psychology programs?
Because I came in as a non-matriculated student, I had already taken some theology classes. So I already had some credit hours when I was coming in and I knew yes, I’m interested in the mind and in psychology, but I’m fervent with faith. Faith is a big thing for me. I didn’t become a believer until I was 37. I’d had a smattering of church experiences as a kid: Catholic, synagogue, unitarianism, and the Calvary Orthodox Presbyterian Church. I really had no clue. I knew the name ‘God,’ but didn’t have any other awareness until I became a believer So, coming into the school I still had that hunger. I wanted to know more.
What did you hope you would be able to do following graduation?
Throughout the program, I felt I was growing. I really couldn’t understand or grasp what was after. It was almost like coming to MHGS was a dream come true. So, I couldn’t really make the shift to after. Where I started was square one of moving towards licensure. Did I have in mind to have a practice of my own, which I did for a short time, did I have anywhere in my mind working with women who were recovering from sexual trafficking? No. I don’t want it to sound cliche but it was a lot of prayer and staying connected to mentors and professors who had really impacted my life.
Tell us about the context where you serve now.
My main role is at The Well House where I am Director of Trauma Therapy and most recently a director of a trauma center we just created. The women come in or are recovered from referrals, from homeland security, local law enforcement, the streets, some are referred from other programs in the country, and some have come outside of the country. There’s no cookie-cutter way or here’s how you do this. I sit I listen to stories like Criminal Minds and Law & Order SVU—they’ve survived torture, not just trauma.
The work is really attuning with the women when they come in. When they come in they are highly traumatized and don’t trust anyone. Things like attunement, affect regulation, slowing down our words, our movements, explaining what we’re doing. The trauma center can hold two residents right now and I don’t believe there is another residential program in the country that has this high level of care for when they first arrive.
The most amazing thing we’re beginning to see is they’re staying longer. The women are terrified, so getting them to stay in one place —it’s a hurdle to try and get them to stay. Now we’re finding that they’re staying. They can stay in the Trauma Center for two weeks and my vision is to build a foundation for them that helps them get back into their bodies. Help them to feel more stable. It’s all about choice, all about empowering them so they can see they have a choice. Then they move to an immediate shelter from the trauma center and that’s where I’m seeing they’re wanting to read, they’re reading Walter Bruggeman, John Elderidge, and The Healing Path. Quite a few of them now have read through the Healing Path and been moved by that. They’re going back into some of their earlier memories, so it’s not just what happened with my pimp, but earlier trauma. They’re able to get there and they’re not running! For me, for our staff, it’s like a taste of eternity, getting to sit and watch this transformation happen.
What does flourishing and service to God and neighbor look like in your life?
Flourishing is not a word I’ve thought a lot about. I’ve used the word thrive, so flourish I think is similar where it’s not just healing. I think the ladies come in and I tell them you’re learning how to walk. In my mind, though, walking is not good. My bar is higher—I want to see them soar. It’s with these women, and it’s also with the staff. I’m working with staff at a nonprofit organization and we’re doing hard work. There’s secondary PTSD, burnout, and compassion fatigue. What does that look like to offer some inviting words of kindness and helps them to flourish as well?
Who are the people that support your flourishing, and what practices do you engage that help you flourish?
One of my residents a couple of years ago said to me, “So Ms. Corinne, I’ve heard that a lot of therapists have their own therapists. Do you have your own?” And it stopped me. I said, “Uh-huh, I do.” At the time I felt a little awkward, but now I’ve gotten more comfortable to say a good therapist has her own therapist, engages in consultation, and is doing good training and finding places to continue to grow. People that have spoken into my life are O’Donnell Day and a number of other colleagues I consult with in Seattle.
Before coming to the school, I learned about control, and by God, I was going to be in control and make sure things went ok. That was one part of me. The other part was always living with dread. Getting counseling, good therapy, the Recovery week, and getting to work with Dan helped. Going through The Seattle School stretched me. It was hard work going through this school, but I don’t regret a moment of it. We’re doing something different here.
It wasn’t until I started doing the work with these women that I’ve felt that this is my fit. Often the women will say, “Corinne why are you doing this work?” My response to them is “Well, I have a story too.” I don’t go any further and they don’t ask. But these are words that I’ve been thinking a lot about recently: I know what it’s like to be bought. I experienced that as a kid and as a young 20-something. I do know enough, so I’m doing this work and it’s such a fit. This is where I need to be for now. I’m growing into my sense of who I am. I continue my own therapy. And my faith continues to grow deeper into who this God is. So that prodigal son story, I can share that with the residents. I can pass it on and pay it forward, the gift that I received at that Recovery Week in 1999.