From Minnesota to Orcas

Maryann Syers (left) and Bonnie Burg (right).

Maryann Syers (left) and Bonnie Burg (right).

Maryann Syers and Bonnie Burg are bringing decades of therapy experience to the Orcas community.

Both are psychotherapists and clinical social workers who moved to the island from Minneapolis this year. The couple made the decision to become Orcas residents in 2009, but it took several years to sell their property and for Maryann to retire from her university teaching position.

“When we decided we wanted to be on Orcas, it was the beginning of a process of believing we could do it,” Burg said. “When you believe in something, you can make it happen.”

Although they are semi-retired, the therapists opened an office in Eastsound Square, offering services to both couples and individuals.

Syers treats clients with a variety of issues, including anxiety, depression, post traumatic stress, chronic pain, compulsive over-eating, grief, dissociative disorders and trauma. Burg primarily treats those with anxiety, panic disorders, depression, suicidal thoughts, bi-polar disorder and grief. Burg has a new specialty: financial therapy. She focuses on people’s relationship with money and its emotional component.

“It touches on very early primal experiences of safety,” Bonnie said. “It’s a different kind of conflict that people haven’t shown a lot of light on.”

Syers has a wide range of experience working with trauma patients and those who are dealing with physical pain or illness.

“We may not be able to remove the source of the physical pain, but if we can remove the emotional aspect, the suffering decreases significantly,” she said. “Some people are so consumed by their illness that it becomes their identity.”

Syers and Burg both say their approach is “whatever works for the client.”

“It’s relational and how you would relate to anyone,” Burg said. “What people want to know is: Can I talk to you? Can I relate to you? Can I trust you?”

Adds Syers: “I am excited about the new research on neuroscience that validates what we have learned over the years about what makes good therapy.”

As for the pitfalls of seeing patients in a small town, the couple says they are aware of the sensitivity it requires.

Burg was visible in the LGBT community in Chicago and often ran into clients, and Syers treated fellow therapists whom she would sometimes later see at conferences. They also understand the importance of separating themselves from their patients.

“You learn early on to be with someone without being in their pain,” Burg said. “You can feel for someone and feel alongside them, but you can’t take it away for them. Over time, you develop more humility and awareness that you are going along with someone on their walk – and it’s theirs.”

Burg and Syers still work with clients from Minneapolis long distance. In addition, some patients have flown up to the island for 10-hour sessions over the course of two days.

“That way you can have a lot of progress,” Burg said. “We get three months of work done in two days.”

Syers accepts insurance for those clients who have policies with out of network benefits and is applying to be a part of several insurance networks. Both therapists say they will accept sliding scale payment.

“I would rather see someone for not much money, and still enjoy my work,” Burg said.

They can be reached at their office in Eastsound at 376-6100.