Lea S. Denny
MS, LPC, NCC, NMT
Chief Executive Officer
Clinical Director | VOCA Project Director | Founder
"Decolonizing the pedagogy and practice of mental health requires an anti-racist, social justice-informed, and collective healing-focused paradigm shift - starting with 'it should never cost you to heal'."
she | her | hers
Ms. Denny is the founder of HIR Wellness, a wife, a mother of two, a community member, and an Indigenous woman; she believes our communities' generational healing is part of our collective journey. She is of Hawaiian & Pacific Islander descent, Hungarian-Jewish, and English ancestry, and her husband and children are Oneida and Ojibwe. Ms. Denny and her husband became foster-care to forever-home parents as they grew their family.
HIR Wellness rooted from the community voices in her Master's thesis, a research project that studied the Healing of Historical Trauma and Resilience. Ms. Denny dedicated two years to this research and met with over 200 of our Native community members across the state of Wisconsin, engaging in many meaningful conversations. One Elder said to her, "I hope you really do something with all this information." She takes his words to heart every day and wholeheartedly agrees with him; she thought, 'how do I make a difference in such an ocean of pain?' At that time, she did not know how to use the invaluable information from her research, but she knew she was responsible for doing something good with the knowledge she was given. This awareness mission grew into Ms. Denny's life work and founding HIR [Healing Intergenerational Roots] Wellness in 2017.
Ms. Denny graduated with her Bachelors in Psychology degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee and with her Masters degree in Clinical Mental Health from Mount Mary University. It was her early work for her thesis in her graduate research, that HIR Wellness grew from a dream to a thriving practice. She offered no-cost counseling and community wellness programming that informed her healing pathways and mentorship model. Ms. Denny believes "Wellness happens when we work together; it is relational, it is intergenerational, and it requires an integrated and multi-systemic approach to addressing mental health concerns". Ms. Denny unapologetically believes that it should not cost anyone to heal. This value continues to grow her vision of creating the next generation of healers through practice-based medicine and what she coined and developed as CAM™, Community Activated Medicine™.
As a survivor of violence and intergenerational trauma, Ms. Denny knew the personal impact of childhood trauma and what we now understand as complex and developmental trauma and toxic stress experiences. She learned early on that trauma was not isolated but happened within relationships and context of others and often with those who are closest to us. As she continued to make sense of these events, she learned that trauma and stress not only impacted individuals but was rooted in historical and intergenerational traumas that became family and community shared stories, crossing a lifespan and into future generations. Having lived her own story of hurt and loss, as part of her healing she had a personal conviction, like many survivors of violence, to make a difference in ending the "chain of pain". She began her journey in the helping field as a peer mediator in 1996 at Walker's Point Youth & Family Shelter, as a YMCA camp counselor by 1997 and as an advocate for La Causa Crisis Nursery and Respite Center in 1999. These experiences launched her early-childhood training to better understand the impact of trauma, stress, and environmental influences contributing to these events.
Making connections. These early experiences would ignite her passion and grow into her first healing role in mental health in 1999 as a Behavioral Health Technician and group facilitator in a psychiatric hospital. She continued developing her skills and knowledge working with vulnerable populations in various settings, including Milwaukee Public Schools with the First Nations Studies Program to working with children in special-education services at a Montessori K-8 school. She has provided treatment in various spaces including in-home counseling, private practice as a licensed psychotherapist. As a Senior Specialist & Consultant and Student Success Coach at Milwaukee Area Technical College (MATC) she worked to identify barriers impacting student success, including childhood adversity and trauma. As an adjunct instructor at Mount Mary University, she taught courses focused on social justice, inclusion, and diversity and created her own Indigenous evaluation and teaching tools through the use of mind-mapping and story-telling. Her work continued to grow working with treating children, youth, adults, to Elders who struggled with dissociation, complex, developmental, and historical trauma, C-PTSD, suicidal ideation, human trafficking, crisis stabilization, and the myriad of chronic mental health and relational issues that followed these lived experiences.
Shifting the paradigm on mental health. She quickly realized that the behavioral approach to mental health and education severely lacked the depths of understanding of historical trauma and what treatment interventions needed to look, feel, and encompass for historical trauma healing. What was offered was a medical-economy model and framework that focused on the psyche of the individual and was informed, measured, and evaluated by a Eurocentric and colonial narrative. One that dehumanizes and depersonalizes BIPOC through severe diagnoses, prognoses, and pathologizing familial and communal relationships. Western psychology has long been rooted in white supremacy ideology and demands that individualism be the measure of "successful" or "healthy." It often labels families who are close as "enmeshed" or "codependent." These existing treatment processes for those who suffered from complex and developmental trauma have yet to be adequately understood or identified in our DSM-V and current assessment tools.
Leadership that empowers. As an international speaker, guest lecturer, thought-leader and visionary, Ms. Denny leads and empowers her team at HIR Wellness with her innovative vision for building a new mental health network. She presents locally, nationally, and internationally on her research and work with Historical Trauma and community resilience. She has presented at the "2nd & 3rd International Neurosequential Model Symposium", was invited to speak at their 4th (rescheduled due to pandemic), at the "Pathways to Resiliency conference IV" in Cape Town, South Africa, at the "9th National Mental Health conference" in Winnipeg, Canada. Ms. Denny and her team were invited to join the Wisconsin Department of Justice Missing and Murdered Indigenous Task Force work data and research group.
Ms. Denny was the Inaugural recipient of the Ana Grace Scholarship with Dr. Bruce Perry's Child Trauma Academy, trained as a Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) Trainer. Ana Grace was a beautiful and joyful child who along with many of her classmates and teachers lost their lives to violence as victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary mass-shooting in 2012.
Mentoring the next generation of advocates, counselors, and providers serving Victims of Crime. Now as a Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics trainer Ms. Denny brings these teachings into her practice and bridges these concepts with the principles of "The Children's Fire" within her organization. In her pursuit of creating greater access for students to learn about Dr. Perry and his team’s work, Ms. Denny launched what she calls the "NM Seedling Collaborative" an ongoing series that she and her team offers to their graduate interns to learn about the core teachings of NMT and to bring this knowledge to inform spaces they will enter as they are hired for work in the helping fields. For Ms. Denny, "public education and awareness around mental health is imperative for collective and social healing and this includes a parallel and interconnected learning process for the public and providers alike". Every day we live out HIR's motto, is "Illness becomes Wellness when I becomes We, Healing All Nations- One Tribe."
To learn more, please Jamie Kellicut, Community Engagement & Indigenous Affairs Director, JKellicut@HIRWellness.org
*Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor, Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) Trainer