Integrating a lifetime of wisdom with personal illness and grief, Isabel is an accomplished licensed clinical social worker (CA. License # 73749), author, public speaker, health educator, and patient advocate known for the following skills:
- Public Speaking & Lecturing: Sought after speaker who lectures internationally to constituencies at universities, medical schools, hospitals, and conferences, on topics related to grief and loss, life-threating illness, transitions, and organ transplantation and donation. Lectured throughout the United States on a national book tour for The Power of Two: A Twin Triumph Over Cystic Fibrosis, as well as throughout Japan for Mirakuru Tzuinzu, and for the documentary film festival tour of The Power of Two.
- Counseling: Counsels bereaved clients of all ages, including patients with life-threatening illnesses, their families and health care providers on diverse biopsychosocial issues including transitions, grief/loss including complicated grief treatment, adherence to medical treatment and healthy lifestyle. Highly skilled at facilitating support groups, case discussions, staff retreats, and group supervision. Utilizes a strengths-based, resilience approach along with cognitive behavioral therapy, existential therapy, narrative therapy and mindfulness modalities.
- Program Coordination: Develops psycho-educational support groups, conferences and memorial events to support patients and caregivers living with illness and grief as well as health care professionals; also developed health education programs for youth and their families with health challenges. Also collaborates to lead retreats for diverse communities. Leads discussion and interactive activities with unique sensitivity, compassionate creativity and positive energy.
- Writing: Trained by Amherst Writers and Artists, and after writing her own memoir “The Power of Two” (University of Missouri, 2007/2014), Isabel facilitates writing through loss and restorative writing groups for staff, volunteers, mothers of chronically ill children, chronically ill adults and bereaved clients. Created health education manuals for diverse audiences. Published author who contributes articles to numerous newsletters, books, blogs and magazines.
Isabel Stenzel Byrnes is a graduate of Stanford University in Human Biology and received Master’s degrees in Social Welfare (Health Specialization) and Public Health (Epidemiology/Biostatistics) from the University of California at Berkeley. Ms. Stenzel Byrnes is a licensed clinical social worker. She has worked at Lucile Packard Children’s Hospital at Stanford for ten years prior to working in bereavement care. Since 2012, Isabel has been a bereavement counselor. She currently is Manager of the Bereavement Department at Mission Hospice in San Mateo, California and manages her colleagues, interns and volunteers. Isabel counsels clients of all ages with a diverse history of losses, including suicide loss and traumatic loss. Isabel is trained in complicated grief treatment, a 16-week evidence-based therapy developed by Columbia University School of Social Work’s Dr. Katherine Shear. Isabel has developed and coordinating a successful writing through loss program at Mission.
Isabel is a much sought-after speaker for conferences and workshops nationwide. She blends her personal and professional perspective into her talks. Isabel has also coordinating workshops including a mix of group activities such as lecture, discussion, small group breakouts and ritual.
Described as dynamic and engaging, she speaks on a wide range of topics:
- Grief and loss
- Palliative and hospice care
- Resilience through Illness and Grief
- End of Life Caregiving
- Psychosocial Aspects of Life-Limiting Illness
- Asian Culture and Grief Expression
- Narrative Writing
- Finding Your Voice: Assertiveness and Self-Compassion
- Transitioning to Adult Care in Medically Fragile Adolescents
- Grief and Stuff: Organizing Belongings after Loss
Isabel was awarded the 2013 Jefferson Community Service Award and the Silicon Valley Women of Influence Award. Other awards she has received include the USACFA Jacoby Angel Service Award 2015; the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation Breath of Life Award 2008; Cystic Fibrosis Research, Inc. Dave Stuckert Volunteer of the Year Award 2002; and Field Placement Student of the Year, School of Social Welfare, U.C. Berkeley 1999.
Isabel believes we don’t always have control over our stories but can control how we tell our stories. The act of constructing one’s personal story is an adaptive way to cope with life’s challenges. Personal challenges must be grieved and integrated into one’s life narrative. Grieving losses, including unmet expectations and disappointments, is life’s hardest work, but it can occur while growth and discovery is happening. Learning to express oneself, develop self-awareness, practice positive psychology including self-compassion, cultivate trusted relationships and find a supportive community of confidantes, can help find meaning in the challenges. Ultimately, finding ways to develop self-confidence as an overcomer and embrace all of life’s challenges with gratitude is our ultimate goal as human beings.
Isabel’s passion is to embolden patients and their families to find their voices and use their personal challenges- whether illness or grief- to empower themselves through storytelling and community service. Isabel believes that love, recreation, creativity and laughter are choices we have to live fully despite illness and grief. She encourages an active pursuit of joy for her client’s quality of life.