An unspeakable act of hate leads a PLNU Integrated Wellness M.S. graduate to a career helping others find self-love, healing, and purpose.
In the sea of time, your life experiences are like waves that crash onto the coast — sometimes gently, and other times vehemently. The echoes of these waves reverberate all over and often shape how you live and who you become, for better or for worse.
One of these waves crashed violently for Kyle Descher on Martin Luther King, Jr. Day in 2008, completely altering life as he knew it.
At the time, Descher was a 22-year-old Washington State University senior, ready to enjoy a night out at a local bar with his friends in Pullman, which is known as a college town, but not at all for its diversity.
Descher was adopted from Seoul, South Korea as an infant and was raised by what he affectionately calls his hippie Irish Catholic parents in the small coastal town of Aberdeen, Washington. This upbringing gave him plenty of experience growing up in predominantly white spaces.
So when three men walking behind Descher and his friends before entering the bar hurled racial slurs at him, he just brushed them off.
However, these men weren’t done with Descher. They decided to follow him into the bar. Five minutes later with his first drink in hand, one of the men snuck up behind Descher and punched him … hard.
“The impact shattered my lower right mandible, the force of it all shattered my lower left [jaw], and tore out all my teeth. I was rushed to emergency reconstructive surgery, had my jaw wired shut, and three titanium plates in my face,” said Descher.
Although he healed from this physically, Descher would admit he didn’t take the “mental health piece of it seriously.” He explained. “Mental health was not really part of the public discourse yet. So, I carried that trauma around with me for about 10 years.”
As an adoptee, some identity issues played into his story, but this brutal assault would be the inciting incident that ultimately led him on his journey to healing and helping others through becoming a board certified health and wellness coach, and earning his master’s in Integrated Wellness at PLNU.
“As much as I’ve struggled with identity over the years, ultimately this decision was made to give me a better life,” he said.
Even in being given up for adoption by a birth mother he still doesn’t know, Descher recognizes how lucky he is to have been raised by his family. “I feel like I’m a needle plucked out of a haystack and just plopped into this beautiful opportunity of life,” Descher said.
He continued, “I’ve been supported my entire life. Even from the moment my birth mother gave me up for adoption. There was love in that decision.”
Instead of focusing on his assault, Descher said he buckled down and strived to live the American dream.
“For the majority of my life — and this is where my adoption plays in a little bit — I had been conditioned to live the American dream. You go to school, you get good grades, you get a good job, you become a CEO of a Fortune 500 company, and you make all the money and you do all the things,” Descher said.
Descher followed that path to a tee. After graduating from Washington State University, he worked his way up the rungs of the corporate ladder and found success in a sales position at Google by his mid-twenties.
He would ultimately learn that money doesn’t buy happiness and it can’t heal deep wounds. Even though Google seems very shiny on the outside, he confessed the intrinsic reward and motivation was no longer there for him. “I got to the proverbial top and I was looking around and I was miserable,” Descher revealed.
“The work stress, the workload, and the expectations were so heavy all of the time” and this wore on Descher. He was feeling unwell mentally, which caused him to also begin to feel physically unwell.
Then in 2018, the trauma from his assault resurfaced. “My body just remembered, and then started having these crazy flashbacks,” he said. This is what made him realize it was time to set in motion his mental health and healing journey.
He began therapy and EMDR (eye movement desensitization reprocessing), which he credits to saving his life. And then, he found his first wellness coach – a mentor at Google.
“In combination with my therapist and my coach, I was given this new perspective to be able to pursue the things in my life that I want to pursue and to help people in the way that I want to help people,” Descher said.
His wellness coach from Google helped him tremendously. Descher explains, “He was able to reflect back to me where I was out of alignment, where I was out of integrity, and some of the things I was tolerating.”
This shift in perspective gave him the epiphany that he wanted to become a wellness coach too–to bring people’s minds and bodies to a state of peace, strength, and happiness.
“Everything comes back to our thoughts, which create our emotions, which create our decisions. And breaking through fear and some of these beliefs that were limiting me changed my life. That was the first moment where I [realized coaching is the] direction I wanted to go,” Descher elaborated.
At the beginning of his health and wellness career, Descher worked alongside his coach on some internal programs at Google while still focusing on his personal journey. It was this coach who helped him process all that happened to him and see the actions of his perpetrator from a new perspective.
“The thing I realized is that the person who did this to me, for them to take this act had to be in so much pain internally,” Descher said.
This solidified his mission to help others — Descher wanted anyone in as deep of pain as his perpetrator to be able to find healing and live a meaningful life.
On a leap of faith, Descher left his stable job at Google and moved to Los Angeles to help open a yoga studio, serving as one of the primary investors and teachers. He thought this would be the direction of his life until a serendipitous meeting at his yoga studio Shefa Yoga in Venice would change everything.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, Descher wasn’t expecting anyone to walk into his studio, but unexpectedly, a friend of a friend popped her head in to say hi. After exchanging some pleasantries, this woman in passing mentioned she had just completed her M.S. in Integrated Wellness at PLNU.
“It was like one of those conversations that is just not a coincidence,” Descher said. “For whatever reason, we were meant to have that interaction. I searched for the program right away, and as soon as I looked it up, I [thought] this is it.”
He quickly got in contact with Jessica Matthews DBH, the program director in the College of Health Sciences at PLNU, and decided to focus on his studies full-time in order to complete his Integrated Wellness, M.S.
“My education at Point Loma was a game changer for me. I feel like it really took my knowledge base of how to learn and research to the next level.”
“I was a full-time student, and I realize how privileged and fortunate a decision that is.” He continued, “Google supported me with that for sure. I would’ve never been able to do that without my time there. So I’m grateful for every step along the way.”
Descher is also glad that he ended up pursuing his master’s later in life, explaining that “one of the benefits of pursuing higher ed a little later in life was that it was very clear why I was there, what I wanted.”
As a motivated adult learner, Descher vowed to soak up and fully integrate the information from the integrated wellness program into his practice as a health and wellness coach.
“The focus of the curriculum, specifically opening with lifestyle medicine, set the foundation for the rest of the program, and the rest of my life and my growth as a board certified health and wellness coach,” said Descher.
After graduating in May 2023, Descher reflected, “My education at Point Loma was a game changer for me. I feel like it really took my knowledge base of how to learn and research to the next level.”
He credits Jessica Matthews and Professor Lee Jordan, MS, NBC-HWC, for making his time at PLNU an experience that will continue to leave an indelible mark on his practice as a coach.
“Dr. Jessica Matthews is like a little angel sent from above. She is just one of the most amazing genuinely authentic and kind human beings I’ve ever met,” said Descher. “It is just amazing what she has done in terms of dedicating her life to this mission of health and wellness.”
About Professor Jordan, Descher said, “I’ve never met anyone with such a big heart and great sense of humor. The way he teaches, guides and leads is also second to none.”
Incorporating his Integrated Wellness M.S. knowledge into his practice is what Descher says sets him apart in an industry of health and wellness coaches, which can sometimes seem like the wild west. He regularly uses the evidence-based science and extensive research of lifestyle medicine, along with behavioral science with his clients.
“The way we live our lives is a form of medicine in and of itself, and there is hard data and research to back that up,” said Descher.
“What we learned from the program is that in order to change your behavior with new habits and new decisions, the motivation has to come from within.”
Tapping into the science behind behavior change and motivation really helps his clients come into deeper insights about themselves. “I love the science component to it. And my clients do as well, and that gives me —in an industry of health and wellness coaches — a leg up because [my practice] is rooted in hard science.”
He credits understanding the science of motivation to achieving many breakthroughs with his clients. Descher often hears his clients saying they feel they need to do things differently. They feel pressured to change their lifestyle or fitness habits, and show telltale signs that their motivations are coming from outside of them.
“What we learned from the program is that in order to change your behavior with new habits and new decisions, the motivation has to come from within,” he said.
One of Descher’s favorite parts of the job is helping his clients tie their behaviors and actions to their intrinsic motivators. Descher knows what it’s like to get to your deeper “why’s” from first-hand experience.
“I’ve been on the other end of being well,” said Descher. “It’s through my own personal experiences working with my own coach to help me emerge from those darker places that I’ve experienced the power of coaching to now be able to understand what real transformation looks like, feels like, and smells like.”
Descher healed from his 2008 assault with the help of his therapist and coach, but the criminal justice system was never able to hold his perpetrator accountable. About six years after the attack, Descher got an unexpected call from the Washington Police Department asking if he was the kid who had his jaw broken in the bar years ago.
Through another case in litigation, the police discovered evidence that Descher’s perpetrator had confessed to an ex-girlfriend about the incident, and she was the one who brought this information out in the court system.
He was finally able to put a face and a name to the horrendous act done to him, but due to a statute of limitations in Washington, the perpetrator could not be charged. Filing a lawsuit was also not a viable option, because the man who harmed him had almost no money to his name.
Despite being unable to hold his perpetrator accountable criminally or civilly, Descher does not harbor bitterness for his perpetrator. In fact, he hopes to perhaps sit down 1-on-1 with him someday and “turn it into a story of redemption, forgiveness, taking responsibility for your actions, and changing the narrative around racism,” he revealed.
Descher’s work as a health coach echoes his own life experience finding healing and purpose through his pain. Knowing how much the path to wellness impacted his life for the better, he wants to join others on this journey as well to help them lead an enriching life.
“It was after twelve years of healing that it all came into focus: I deserve to live a happy, healthy, and deeply meaningful life. And you know what? So does my perpetrator. And you know what else? So do you.”