Former Vail doc teaches ‘Freedom to Choose’ |

Former Vail doc teaches ‘Freedom to Choose’

Karin Weber
Community correspondent
Vail, CO Colorado

VAIL, Colorado –Margaret Mead may have said it best: “… never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed it’s the only thing that ever has.” I’ve always loved this concept and am lucky enough to have met some amazing people who demonstrate Mead’s observation.

Over the next few weeks, I’d like to introduce them and their projects to you. You’ll meet Dr. David Paul, Pam Smith, Dr. Kim Schilling and others. Each of them is effecting great positive change within populations that are commonly overlooked or ignored.

Dr. David Paul lived in Vail for over 12 years. His life took an unexpected turn when injuries from a car accident made it impossible for him to continue practicing emergency medicine. Not one to dwell on losses, he shifted his love of helping others to a career in education, earning a masters degree in spiritual psychology and a Ph.D, in “traditional” psychology.

David and his wife Bonnie Paul, Ph.D., both faculty at the University of Santa Monica, are co-directors of a service project that teaches some of the same communication and relationship skills taught in the masters degree program at the college.

The name of the program, “Freedom to Choose,” was inspired by the work of Viktor Frankl, a psychiatrist and Holocaust survivor who postulated that the only freedom which cannot be taken away is the freedom to choose one’s attitude, regardless of circumstances. Frankl arrived at this philosophy as a result of having been imprisoned in a concentration camp.

Twice a year, David and Bonnie lead a group of volunteers and present three-day workshops at Valley State Prison for Women in Chowchilla, Calif. At the end of this month, the 13th such workshop will be held for 350 inmates.

A short film about the project won “Best Documentary” at the Emerging Filmmakers Showcase at the Cannes Film Festival in May, 2009. It can be viewed at

Whether the women remain incarcerated for the rest of their lives or eventually are released, follow-up surveys indicate that 95 percent of the participants reported positive changes in their behaviors, attitudes and improved communications and relationships with their peers, prison staff and their own families.

The skills learned in these workshops enhance their chances of staying out of prison once released. And in a true “win-win” scenario, the volunteers (many of whom travel from out-of-state at their own expense) also report experiencing great value through their participation.

Doctors David and Bonnie Paul – stepping up and making a difference.

Karin Weber lives in Edwards and became an optimist after moving to the valley in 1989. She holds two masters degrees and has authored two books.

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