How CIIS helped two people deepen their self-exploration, realize their dreams, and rekindle their love.
For one young couple recovering from the drain and demoralization of working in tech, CIIS will always be the place where they found health, meaning, and a deepening love.
It’s not uncommon to hear a happy, committed couple tell of a fleeting interval, years ago, in which they split up, then quickly realized they’d made a mistake and returned to each other. The separation period is usually described as a strange, confusing time — a time of seeking, in which each person examines and realigns their values. But for Luna Lucas (Integral Counseling Psychology ’18) and Devin Hexner (Integrative Health Studies ’18), their brief breakup was especially potent — for it was during that time apart when they each, separately, discovered CIIS.
They’d met on a Thursday night in 2014, at a bar called Chambers in San Francisco’s Tenderloin. “It had a huge, lit-up sign that says ‘Be Amazing’ behind the bar,” Devin, 29, says. “I was on a group blind date, Luna was also on a date, and our dates weren’t going well. When we looked at each other, there was some kind of palpable cosmic pull.”
“We couldn’t really be obvious about getting each other’s numbers in front of our other dates,” Luna, 31, chuckles. “But because I worked at LinkedIn, I knew I could find him — I just needed his current employment and his first name.”
She’d ended up at the tech giant in a predictable manner: fast-paced advertising and marketing gigs in New York after college, then coming West after that traumatic first job to work in recruiting and sales in the mini-Silicon Valley of San Francisco’s South of Market neighborhood.
“I had been fulfilling the things I thought my friends, family, and the greater society wanted of me: make the most money; climb the corporate ladder; and get the title, position, and status that had been sold to me in high school and college as the most important thing,” she recalls. “I was making more money than I’d ever made, and because of that, my friends paid more attention to me than they ever had before — it’s like they acknowledged my voice because of my status. I had my own studio in San Francisco, I was able to send money home to my dad, and yet I felt completely unfulfilled. My soul was atrophying. I became very depressed and unhealthy, lethargic, with a very low mood. I had to take a whole week off for my mental health.”
Devin had a similar background. As he puts it, “I wanted to go straight to fame, power, money — that was my life. I wanted to be a professional athlete, and I was on the golf team at UC Berkeley. After college I got into sales and marketing — that grind of being in front of the computer, learning to ‘optimize all of the things,’ get the most money, and deliver the most money to a company was disheartening. The stuff I was doing was so frivolous — for example, trying to save Home Depot $10 million dollars a month by coming up with a UX solution to increase online sales. I was about 25 years old. That’s when I met Luna — we were both in tech, both selling software. We started falling in love as we were falling very much out of love with what we were doing. We both wanted something different, to fulfill us in a different way.”
A year into her job at LinkedIn, Luna found a psychiatrist and a therapist. “Then I focused on finding what I intrinsically wanted to do with my life,” she says. “My soul was seeking fullness because I had constantly been ignoring myself for the gratification of others. This was very difficult because I was shedding everything I ever worked on in my life, throwing that all away, letting it all go. I thought everyone would lose respect for me.”
At some point came that brief and painful breakup, and each continued their seeking — this time on their own. Luna kept hearing about this place called CIIS. “It was so strange — before I started the Integral Counseling Psychology (ICP) program, people in the city kept asking if I had gone to CIIS or was currently going there, telling me I had a sort of ‘essence of CIIS,’” she laughs. “In my search for fullness, there were these little hints, these little synchronicities. Once I figured out I was interested in psychology, CIIS’ high pass rate for the MFT licensing exam was another thing that brought me here. And I remember talking to an admissions counselor who just blew me away — he was so human. I was instantly sold on the depth of authenticity at CIIS. In my former life, there was no room for the authentic self. But at this place, there were no masks needed. Later, I heard someone say that CIIS is like a bell that rings, and whoever can hear it comes here. And I could hear this bell ringing.”
Meanwhile, Devin had quit his job to take much-needed personal time. “I was going through health stuff, and one night I had this “aha!” moment that I wanted to pursue wellness as a vocation,” he recalls. “I didn’t want to be a conventional doctor, so I started searching for holistic health and wellness programs online. That’s how I found the Integrative Health Studies (IHL) program at CIIS.” He recognized CIIS because his mother, Karen Justis, had completed the Sound, Voice, and Music Healing certificate program with Silvia Nakkach and found it transformative. (Karen is also a donor to CIIS and a former member of its Public Programs Advisory Board.)
The couple eventually reunited, their paths growing ever more intertwined as they both immersed themselves in CIIS. “I found it very attractive that Devin went to CIIS because it showed he was seeking meaning in life,” Luna says. “I felt that we could evolve together, and I liked that he was in a different program than I was. ICP is very process-oriented, while IHL is goal-oriented. Another way to say it: therapy is about behavior acceptance, while health coaching is about behavior change.”
As an ICP student, Luna completed her practicum at CIIS’ Church Street Integral Counseling Center, which offers Gestalt-focused therapy on an affordable sliding scale. In particular, she says, “I’m really into working with couples.” (Given her and Devin’s love story, is it any wonder?)
At Church Street, she saw a range of clients, including LGBTQ+ clients, immigrant clients, and clients of color seeking treatment for anxiety, depression, trauma, and life transitions. CIIS’ learning community helped her develop the compassion needed for this kind of work. “There’s something really special at CIIS that you don’t find anywhere else,” she muses.
“When you go up and down the stairs, people look you in the eye and recognize your existence — that’s powerful. Even if people are having a hard day, they will care for each other.”
After completing yoga teacher training, Luna founded CIIS’ student-taught yoga program, which offers free classes on campus nearly every day of the week. Devin helped her with the program, creating music playlists for the classes and setting up the room. “It was cool seeing the support from the institution and the students, coming together and engaging in a pretty vulnerable activity week after week, creating an outlet for one another,” he says.
For Devin, encouraging healthy behavior is the essence of the IHL program. In particular, IHL chair Meg Jordan’s multidisciplinary healing circles demonstrated how varying perspectives can come together for individual and group transformation. “CIIS does a really good job of showing that different health disciplines are never threatening to each other — they’re only supportive,” he observes. “It’s been very pleasurable to educate each other on our disciplines. I feel like I have a counseling psychology minor, and Luna has learned about health coaching.”
A CIIS education nurtures the capacity for difficult conversations, and this has certainly been a boon to Devin and Luna’s coupledom. “We’ve both really grown as communicators, in large part due to CIIS,” Luna notes. “If there’s an issue, we will talk about it rather than keeping it inside. It’s also created a lot more challenge — for instance, me wanting my biracialness or my femaleness to be heard. That was not part of the conversation before, because we weren’t aware of it.”
Most importantly, the couple has seen how their individual development allows them, in turn, to develop together, in a synergistic feedback loop. “Our relationship is fundamentally different from what it was before we entered CIIS,” she reflects. “We were dating our fantasies of each other before we came here, and now we’re dating each other as full, flawed humans. There’s a deepening of respect around the fact that we both have a subjective reality, and we’re better able to hold each other as equals — not letting gender roles or heteromonogamous expectations run our relationships. We’re shedding those roles. We’ve hit the bedrock of who we actually are. As we launch into the world as real adults, our growing together at this school has built a foundation that’s pretty f***ing impenetrable.”
“We’re much more empowered, much more able to try new things — there’s a lot more courage and a deeper sense of self.”
That shared confidence allows them to support each other in their professional explorations. Since graduating, Devin has established his own consulting business providing a mix of coaching and project execution. “I want to help people flourish and achieve their dreams,” he says. Because people sometimes resist the hierarchy of a coaching relationship, Devin has embraced the role of “ally” to make it clear that he goes beyond coaching and instead acts as a colleague and accomplice to their endeavors. Devin is also writing a book that chronicles his personal and professional journeys, entitled “Revelations from a Millennial Wanderer.”
Luna recently entered private practice under the supervision of ICP faculty member Gieve Patel. Ironically, her career plans also include a return to the world she fled: She wants to use therapy to help tech leaders with social anxiety, recognizing the outsized impact these individuals have on the rest of us. “A lot of these leaders are making really big decisions for the world. I want to help them become more aware of their own psychic and bodily health as they’re making these decisions,” she says. She also dreams of opening a Gestalt-focused counseling center modeled after Church Street, continuing her sliding-scale community-based work and providing more opportunities for MFT Associates working toward licensure.
It would seem that Devin and Luna’s love bloomed in large part due to CIIS, as their individual journeys paralleled and then merged in the context of this special community’s life-altering pull. “I’m not willing to go beyond my boundaries anymore,” Luna asserts.
Written by Sarah Heady, Senior Grants Writer, CIIS Development Office
Header photo is of Devin and Luna celebrating CIIS’ 50th anniversary at the Salesforce Tower. Photo credit: Irja Tannlund