Connect
To Top

Daily Inspiration: Meet Shannon Berk

Today we’d like to introduce you to Shannon Berk. 

Alright, so thank you so much for sharing your story and insight with our readers. To kick things off, can you tell us a bit about how you got started?
I started my journey as a dancer at a young age. I had aspirations of being on the big stage and being allowed to gift others the joy of entertainment while creating a life based on the one thing that brought me joy, dancing. However, I, being of the body type that didn’t fit in and NOT being of the mindset to withstand the harsh world of professional dancing had to find a different path. I leaned into knowing I loved the body and how it moved and at the same time knowing I had a heart made for giving and nurturing. So, by the time I was 15 I had researched and determined that Physical Therapy was my path. (Yes, I was a very driven teenager!) I attended college and graduate school at The University of Maryland Eastern Shore and graduated in 1999. During my time there, I struggled with the after-effects of an accident I had when I was a teenager that resulted in a head injury. I didn’t know at the time that the lack of focus, the inability to manage my emotions, and low self-worth was a direct result of my brain being banged up with no treatment. My physical brain was doing the best it could but my thinking mind had no clue and graduate school is straight-up hard even when all is functioning correctly. I have to admit I almost failed out in my first year but dug in and luckily my stubborn nature would not let me fail. 

After graduation, I struggled to find a job as the market was saturated with therapists. This did not help the self-worth machine to say the least. I had decided in school that I loved working with children and sent hundreds, yes hundreds, of resumes to clinics and companies all over the country. After a 6-month stint as a bartender, I procured a part-time position in an outpatient orthopedic clinic. I was desperate to use my degree so I took the job even though it was not in the area I wanted. This was the start of a path I could have never predicted but isn’t that how “paths” work? 

I ended up working with a therapist that not only was pure magic in treating patients but taught for a national osteopathic foundation. As a part-time employee, I had some free time not treating patients and I would spend that time sitting in with him while he treated. I wanted to be a great therapist not just a good one. I wanted what he had so I learned as much as I could. He was successful and his patients not only got better physically but came away with a change I couldn’t quite understand with being so young. They seemed more “alive” from being treated. 

I worked with him for a number of years and even began to assist in his teaching. From there, I started to look for employment closer to home as I started to contemplate starting a family. I sought out a clinic that had similar philosophy, an osteopathic and manual-based approach with time allotted to really help and get to know patients. I found such a place and one of the owners became a mentor as he was equally magical but with different techniques to teach me. One of the things I have and will always thirst for is understanding and growth in all areas, including my career. 

From there, I was recruited to assist an osteopathic physician in starting a physical therapy practice in his practice. It felt like a big leap as I was going to have to become the lead therapist instead of having someone to lead me. I took it because, unfortunately, by that time I had not only started a family but a divorce was on my front doorstep. I needed the increase in salary and would be forced to confront my fear of taking the reigns of leadership. What that position offered in addition to valuable experience was tuition to Michigan States’ osteopathic continuing education program. I took two classes a year there for 7 years and knew it felt like home. I went to soak up the knowledge and the instructors being wickedly intelligent and authentic made me want to be part of their family. I declared I would be someday. 

A few years later, after I had gotten comfortable in the role of being in charge, I saw that I wanted to be in charge of everything. This is not to say I wanted control professionally but I desired to be in control of my life. I wanted more freedom; I wanted more time to handle myself care and I wanted to not be at the mercy of insurance companies dictating my treatments. So, I started my own practice in 2013. 

I have been in private practice ever since. In 2014, I received the opportunity to assist in Michigan States Craniosacral course. Honestly, the instructor scared me but she was brilliant and I wanted to know what she knew. That began my love of all things cranial, the structure, the function, and the brain. This is where I started to understand the effects of my brain injury and started the unraveling of the stories it had created in my mind. I loved understanding and helping others to understand that physical injuries and physical treatments have far-reaching effects into the other layers of who we are, mind and body and spirit. My instructor also turned me on to a deeper look into the integration of those layers and I began meditating regularly. Her influence changed my life in so many ways I can’t put into words the gratitude I have for her. 

In 2017, I treated a young boy who had a brain tumor removed with subsequent radiation. I treated him for free because his family couldn’t afford my fees and my heart burned to help this young man find some relief. He had persistent headaches and had undergone puberty at age 7 because of his treatments. He was thrust into a journey that he struggled to navigate even after all the treatments were over. 

At the same time, I had met a man that I had fallen deeply in love with. This man had been doing some work with a local nonprofit that supported children with cancer. It seemed like kismet that I had this experience with this young man I treated at the same time as meeting someone that had the drive to raise money for kids just like him. We decided to not only get married but to start a nonprofit together to attempt to help other children with their post-treatment repercussions. I have to say planning a wedding, getting married, and starting a business together was maybe not the smartest move at the time. However, our drive to help has continued to push it all forward. Sometimes, the goal of serving others is big enough to get you through the smaller issues. It gives you perspective. 

We now have an established nonprofit called Just In Power Kids that serves children and families in the state of Maryland in a number of ways. We have a focus of holistic health and support but in navigating the changes Covid has presented we have added many programs to assist families financially and emotionally not just physically. The most rewarding part has been learning about the pervasive hope children have and being a witness to strength that could blow you over, repeatedly. We have created a larger family for all our kids and families. When I think of leaving a legacy behind after my time, this is one of the pieces of me I hope lives far into the future. You can find us at www.justinpowerkids.org for more information. 

I look back at the “story” that is my life and see all the magical turns it took to get me exactly where I am. It is as if my life is a perfectly mashed-up casserole with all the ingredients being given to me along the way. 

I’m sure you wouldn’t say it’s been obstacle-free, but so far would you say the journey has been a fairly smooth road?
I really just laughed out loud when I read this. I would love to know if anyone has ever replied with “why yes, so easy, why do you ask?” I don’t believe that being part of the human experience was designed to be easy. I believe deeply that we grow through resistance and the individuals you see that can offer the world the biggest gifts only do so because they encountered big resistance and the will within them was bigger. 

I am not any different than so many others in that way. I have had struggles for sure. I grew up within a household that was mixed bag of divorce, remarriage, and kids and step kids. There were 7 of us kids total, coming and going at various times through the years. That meant struggle with the financial means to support us all and a pretty decent amount of “growth opportunities” around navigating relationship dynamics. 

I struggled with finding my place in the family and adopting the role that could get me the love and attention I needed as one of many. Unfortunately, the default role I leaned into was ” the perfectionistic, controlling, high achiever, without any outward needs including emotionally” 

If you know anything about life you know that was a setup for struggle. Life doesn’t allow for perfect and it for sure doesn’t take away having needs as a human. I struggled with frustration and resentment when life wasn’t doing what I wanted it to. It also, not so kindly, taught me that nothing was in my control. I could attempt to give you a list of what I perceived at the time to be specific struggles but ultimately everything I came up against and still do have to do with my resistance, my learning, and my evolution. 

Alright, so let’s switch gears a bit and talk business. What should we know about your work?
I am a manual physical therapist that is certified in functional manual medicine. I use an integrated and osteopathic approach to treating the whole person. I look at patients as humans that are complex with interconnected parts that are ultimately a WHOLE being, mind, body, and soul. A physical issue might be presenting physically but may have links into other areas of who they are. It’s rare that a chronic physical issue hasn’t affected some other layers of who someone is. 

I am known for being somewhat of a “failed case expert” in that if someone has had pain and dysfunction for long periods and tried other modalities, I try to look at them from a bigger and more integrative view. I try to find what has been missing in assessing the issue. I specialize in concussions, headaches, TMJ problems as well spine issues, chronic illness, and pediatric manual therapy (specifically craniosacral) 

I think my desire to help coupled with my fascination with solving a mystery helps me have the drive to discover where and what is really occurring to cause the issue in people’s lives. 

What would you say have been one of the most important lessons you’ve learned?
The most important lesson I have learned along the way is to know who I am at my core, maintain a growth mindset, understand my values and stay focused on serving the highest good for both myself and the world and let go of everything else. 

Contact Info:


Image Credits

fivearrowsmedia

Suggest a Story: VoyageBaltimore is built on recommendations from the community; it’s how we uncover hidden gems, so if you or someone you know deserves recognition please let us know here.

2 Comments

  1. M Jonczak

    February 10, 2022 at 12:59 am

    Wow! What a journey! Congratulations!

  2. Melanie

    February 10, 2022 at 2:26 am

    Great interview!! Great person!!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

More in Local Stories