Even though the temperature is dipping towards the single digits, Susan Hagen braves the cold to greet us from the top step of her Cambridge apartment. During our time with her, it was very rare to see her not smiling or cracking jokes. The room is extremely cosy: softly lit, filled with snug couches and a warm fireplace in the corner. The mood fits the rooms purpose, which is for group therapy sessions. A lookalike puppet sits on a chair in the corner. “That’s young Susan,” Hagen jokes. “I use her for my shows.”
As the crew sets up their tripods and cameras, Hagen lends a hand in moving around furniture and adjusting the lighting. She offered us beverages and snacks that she kindly picked up for us. These simple gestures speak volumes about the person we will discover Hagen to be: a welcoming and compassionate woman, a healer.
Born and raised in a northern town in Minnesota, Hagen grew up among the sunflower fields on her farm. She originally wanted to be a stand up comedian and she joked that her first audience were actually the sunflowers. Hagen’s path to where she is now has been a long and exciting journey. Feeling that farm town life was too small, Hagen left for college and completed her degree in Madrid.. Since then, she has called multiple places home: Seattle, Boston and now, Cambridge.
Her list of credentials are about as varied as can be, with degrees in religious studies, psychotherapy, education and ample experience in the Boston public school system. While Hagen has pursued a variety of areas, she has always known that she loved to tell stories and loved delivering messages through those tales.
Hagen found a true love in psychotherapy, something that she discovered after working alongside Amanda Curtain of the Cambridge Center for Change. “She watered a seed that was already in me,” Hagen said. With seven years of experience, she decided to open her own private practice that she’s now had for three years.
On her website, Hagen describes herself as an “Inspirational Humorist and Keynote Speaker”. She talked about her love for inspiration throughout her life and how humor has helped her in her work.“Humor is not always available to everybody…laughter comes through healing.”
Hagen has also faced challenging experiences her herself, having struggled with addiction. “There was an erosion in the way I was drinking,” she said. Now she shares her own experiences with her patients about her recovery phase.
These unorthodox methods are best exemplified in a room next door, which she calls “The Rage Room”. The room is soundproofed, with a hanging 100 pound punching bag and a couple of baseball bats standing neatly in the corner. Hagen described this room as a way for patients not to put their anger on themselves but onto an inanimate object instead.
While this may seem violent, the act of getting out the internal rage and anger for people can be not just cathartic but transcendent in the healing process. When touching upon the recent victims of the Boston Marathon bombing, she explained a different way that psychologists have started looking at PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.) Instead she calls it “PTG,” Posttraumatic Growth. PTSD can heavily affect anyone’s life, but Hagen explained it’s how you grow out of that trauma that is most important. Going through the “interruptions in your life” as she calls it, you should also be able to use those interruptions to cultivate and “harvest the gifts” that come your way.
Hagen’s own personal motto was something that resonated with the entire cast and crew during the interview process. “Trust life,” she said. “Trust the process that we go through; it always seems to be right on target.” Hagen’s work is not just about dealing with the trials and tribulations that we as individuals come up against, but her work is more about using those experiences to learn and grow as a human being and to use those experiences as a catalyst for light and not darkness. We know that her work has been instrumental to humanity and to the development of the human spirit. That growth in itself is cathartic.
If you want to see more of Susan’s work, check out her website, or some of her talks at the links below.
Additional Contributors: Bridget Nolan, Briana Azar, Laura Onyeneho, Tashanea Whitlow, and Casey Campbell