Donna Roy: Following a Thread


The Way It Is

There’s a thread you follow. It goes among
things that change. But it doesn’t change.
People wonder about what you are pursuing.
You have to explain about the thread.
But it is hard for others to see.
While you hold it you can’t get lost.
Tragedies happen; people get hurt
or die; and you suffer and get old.
Nothing you do can stop time’s unfolding.
You don’t ever let go of the thread.

William Stafford


Donna's return-visit to Korea, in front of Palace
Donna’s return-visit to Korea, in front of Palace

Though Donna Roy grew up Catholic on a farm in Maine, from a young age she felt there must be more than a single way to view life.

“People do it differently all over the world,” she thought. “‘All those babies in China are not going to go to hell just because they haven’t been baptized,’ I can remember thinking–and I would cry at night sometimes.”

This gentle, inclusive view has informed Donna’s work in Korea and Bangladesh with locals, from coast to coast in the United States supporting newly-arrived refugees, and now as a therapist and teacher in Portland, Oregon.

At age 10, Donna heard John F. Kennedy’s famous speech, “Ask not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country?”

“That’s when I decided to someday join the Peace Corp.” That’s also when she began to dream of becoming a doctor, traveling the world and helping people.

I first met Donna before ever moving to Portland, some years back. I was attending a Hakomi workshop she co-taught with Jon Eisman at M.E.T.A. (Mindful Experiential Therapy Approaches), a center in southeast Portland.[pullquote]Today Donna doesn’t stitch up broken faces or ask to see the color of your tongue. She counsels individuals, couples and guides student-therapists to learn their art.[/pullquote]

She attributes her strengths as an adult to a solid start. “As the first child after a series of miscarriages, I was ‘special’. “I felt very loved by both my parents. All that love helped me to grow resilient.”

“From my father grew the impulse to become a doctor, accomplish and expand in the world–as if I could do anything. My ability to empathize comes from my mother.”

Her father worked as a medic in Korea, and she dreamt of going to that exotic land and meeting the people of his stories. In her early 20s, pure coincidence would send her there as Peace Corp Volunteer.

“They told me not to request a preference, so I didn’t. They said I’d have a better chance of getting accepted if I didn’t say where I wanted to go.”

When the big envelop arrived in her parents’ mailbox, she knew the answer was yes, but “Korea” in bold print surprised her: Not only would she meet the people and places of childhood lore but also her husband, en route.

Today Donna doesn’t stitch up broken faces or ask to see the color of your tongue. She counsels individuals, couples and guides student-therapists to learn their art. Along with Jon Eisman, founder of M.E.T.A. and senior Hakomi Trainer in Portland, she has co-taught *Hakomi-oriented workshops since 2006.

Hakomi Logo Heron

Donna also began teaching in the counseling department at PSU the year after she graduated from the program, in 2004.

“In the beginning it was to facilitate the Experiential Training Clinic (ETC) that I and a colleague from PSU developed,” she said. She continues as  guest lecturer in courses like “Intro to Counseling” and “Theories and Interventions”. In May, she will teach an elective at PSU called “Mindful Experiential Therapy Approaches”.

About six years ago, Donna began to dream up a low-cost clinic for Portland that would also popularize mindfulness, body-centered approaches to therapy.

“I’d been thinking for a long time we need a place where people can train as Hakomi therapists and people can be served affordably.” Then the low-fee clinic sponsored by the YWCA lost funding.

Jon, her teaching partner, also liked the idea, and soon Donna–at a workshop they were co-teaching– found a willing collaborator and the first intern for the clinic, Jenn Sampson.

“When I saw her work, I knew she was the one,” Donna says.

Jenn and Donna worked together for four months, met often and determined the essentials. In order to keep funding from suddenly falling away, this clinic would be a for-profit endeavor. Interns would not be paid, but weekly support meetings, guidance and modeling would prepare them to begin their own private practice at the end of their training. Interns would also be asked to bring creative ideas and offer workshops open to the public.

For Ryan Hofrichter, a current intern and PSU graduate student nearing the end of his three-year studies, “Working at the clinic’s been wonderful and really helped me clear that private practice is the right next step. ” Donna is his primary supervisor, so they meet up once a week to talk about his practice.

“She’s very focused on the here and now but also on helping me to become more fully myself as a therapist,” says Ryan. In their meetings, Donna utilizes–models–some of the mindfulness and body-centered techniques practiced at the META clinic.

“Working with Donna also feels easy, casual, and we laugh a lot,” says Ryan.

“I’m also grateful for all she’s contributing on an organizational level. She’s so open-minded and wants to support therapists in the community, in their work–even those not a part of META and the clinic.”

Today the sliding-scale remains $35/hour for individuals and $45/hour for couples and families. The clinic sometimes runs “specials” such as last year when they offered four sessions for $100.

In April, Ryan and intern Ava Frank will team up to offer an 8-week support and process group for young adults navigating cultural and generational differences, “Honoring Family, Being Self.”

Up until now, the META Clinic has broken even, and that’s what they want. Ten interns have graduated–most of them taking 10-15 clients with them when they begin their own practice.

Donna says this project, creating this clinic, is a culmination of everything else she’s done in her life.

“And if it were 15 or 20 years ago I’d be spinning the next arms of the clinic, but now it’s time to let go and let others get involved so they are engaged and so the clinic will live on no matter who’s a part of it.”

These days she leases out her own office (in the M.E.T.A clinic) several days a week. [pullquote]”Part of therapy is helping people to weave their lives, follow a thread to know what it is they most want to do in their lives.”[/pullquote]

“It forces me to not come to work,” she laughs.

Like so many people who do work they love, she must force herself to step back and go for a hike around Mount Hood, take a Zumba class, or simply stay home and fiddle with puzzle pieces while enjoying the company of friends and Joel Young, her husband.

Donna and Joel served in Korea from 1975-78, and they were invited back to visit in 2011–an all-expense paid trip, courtesy of the Korean government. While 2000 Peace Corp Volunteers served in Korea between 1966-81, today Korea has its own volunteer corps, KOICA. Peace Corps and the Korean volunteer organization now overlap in more than 30 countries served worldwide.

Things change! Once in need of assistance, Korea now gives back and serves others in need.

And while Donna Roy spent several  decades of her life helping groups of people to meet and work in harmony–creating programs and managing people in international development–now she focuses her energies on helping individuals better know themselves–and live their lives more fully.

“From people-meeting-people to people-meeting-themselves,” she says, smiling. “Part of therapy is helping people to weave their lives, follow a thread to know what it is they most want to do in their lives.”

If interested in learning more about Hakomi, the M.E.T.A. clinic in Portland, Peace Corps or the art and life of William Stafford, check out some links below.

Thanks for reading–and send any stories you want to share.

 * Hakomi is “a mindfulness, somatic, and experience-based approach to change, and M.E.T.A., as an organization, is responsible for bringing Hakomi to many therapists and clients in the Pacific Northwest. “The method is used both as a psycho-therapeutic process in counseling and in educational settings to facilitate self-exploration and personal growth,” according to M.E.T.A’s website.

Some links to check out:

M.E.T.A. Website:

To explore Peace Corps

Workshops offered by META Clinic Interns

Ask Not What Your Country Can Do For You.” Great Speeches of the 20th Century. 1961

About M.E.T.A.’s founder,  Jon Eisman.

“Episode #1508: Discovering William Stafford.” OPB’s Oregon Artbeat: Get to know the art, life and legacy of Oregon’s famous poet laureate William Stafford on the 100th anniversary of his birth.


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