Sally A Smolen, MSN, PhD

Transformative Grief Specialist

What is Transformative Grief

John M Schneider, Ph.D., Professor Emeritus, Michigan State University Schools of Medicine, created this existential theory.

Dr. Schneider believed grieving people could hope for more than acceptance of their losses.

This inspired him to develop an approach that explores the varied dimensions of grief and taps the potential of transformation.

The theory of Transformative Grief sees all types of loss, death-related and non-death-related, through the lens of discovery and invites a grieving person to enter the process by asking: what is lost? what is left? what is possible?

Sally A. Smolen, MSN, Ph.D. is a dedicated mental health professional who brings an extensive background in the healing profession that includes nursing, psychology, music and spirituality. Sally enjoys collaborating with individuals, families, groups, health care providers, and pastoral ministers of varied faith affiliations. She is committed to providing care to those with limited resources and works with a sliding fee scale when necessary. Her special interests, education and experience focus on loss and grief issues occurring across the life span with positive and negative moments.

Sally incorporates active and receptive methods of the expressive arts and spiritual forms in the process of healing, including music, art, poetry, literature, cinema, prayer, imagery, dreams and others. She is skilled in therapy with adults, couples, families and small groups; in seminar planning and facilitation; in guiding a variety of support groups; and in consultation.

My professional life has been dedicated to the health care of others, initially in varied roles in the field of nursing for 30 years and more recently for 15 years in the field of clinical psychology.

Clinical Psychology

My graduate studies in clinical psychology began with the Center for Humanistic Studies in Detroit, MI where I earned a Specialist Degree in Humanistic and Clinical Psychology and Education. I continued studies with Union Institute & University in Cincinnati, OH where I earned a doctoral degree in Clinical Psychology with special emphasis on loss and grief with sub-fields of music and education.

My internships for these studies were at clinical sites in Detroit and Lansing working with adult clients — some were parents with custody issues; some were women in residential substance abuse recovery programs; some were participants in a pilot program designed for persons with a dual diagnosis of mental illness and substance abuse who were on parole or probation. I helped design and co-facilitate a series of support groups for women with breast cancer and support groups based at a funeral home for men and women grieving death-related losses. During this time, I worked with INTEGRA and achieved the highest certification of Transformative Grief Specialist.

During doctoral studies and after graduation, I worked with Psychological & Behavioral Consultants in Lansing, MI with clients addressing issues of loss and grief as well as anxiety and depression. After this, I began my private practice in metro-Detroit.

Professional Nursing

My education and experiences in professional nursing have greatly enhanced my abilities in clinical psychology. My nursing studies began with an undergraduate degree in nursing

(BSN) and then a graduate degree in nursing (MSN). I have practiced nursing in several positions in several states — acute/intensive care and surgical/psychiatric care in Joplin, MO; cardiac medical/surgical care and cardiac rehabilitation in Des Moines, IA; community health with patients who were homeless in Washington, DC; community assessment and program planning in Denver, CO and in Detroit, MI; community health with women who were pregnant and addicted to crack/cocaine in Detroit, MI. Three of these positions involved opportunities to design and implement health care programs: in-patient and out-patient cardiac rehabilitation in Des Moines, IA; assessment of unmet health and housing needs in Denver, CO; community health outreach in three of the ten poorest zip codes in Detroit, MI.

Healing Arts

I will always have a special place in my heart for students of the healing arts. l have taught in many programs for parish nursing at the University of Detroit Mercy in Detroit, MI and for a graduate bereavement program at Madonna University in Livonia, MI. I have served as a nursing consultant to nursing staffs at extended care facilities in Omaha, NE and in Farmington Hills, MI.


Another love is music which goes back to extended family gatherings where music and dancing were always included. Just the words “Polish weddings” evoke warm and wonderful memories of times that lasted long after the bride and groom had left for their honeymoon. Piano and voice lessons begun in childhood evolved into recitals, church choirs, school choruses and glee clubs.

For more than thirty years, I have collaborated with others in planning church music and creating rituals for families and other groups. I have served in the planning roles of liturgist and as cantor in leading group participation and congregational singing.

My interest in music led me to study music during a sabbatical and incorporating it into doctoral studies. These experiences taught me the great potential music holds for healing and I have experienced it myself and with others in moments of loss and grief.