Archive for the ‘Complementary Medicine’ Category


Reiki and PTSD

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I have been told by many people over many years including intuitive clients that I should be using my hands in my healing work. Up until this past year I politely and firmly declined. Therapists consider touch to be taboo and risky. Most agencies make it clear that touch is not to happen between client and therapist – ever.

What happened to change my mind was Reiki. I started to do some research and found that many therapists (as well as nurses and doctors) across the United States use Reiki in their practice, including in the hallowed hospitals of the Harvard Medical system. Over 800 hospitals use Reiki, and it is an evidence-based practice for stress and chronic pain, two symptoms clearly related to PTSD.

As it turns out, one does not need to even touch a client in order to provide Reiki healing energy in a session. So last April I received my Reiki I and II attunements and started offering Reiki to my clients.

The results were astonishing:

– I’ve had several clients report a full night’s sleep after several months or years of sleep disruption, a common side effect of PTSD

– Clients are able to release emotions and cry on the treatment table in a way they usually do not in session. The beauty of Reiki is that they may not know why they are crying; they don’t have to have a reason or specific memory, but they always feel better afterwards and move forward in resolving previous traumas.

– Many report a feeling of a loving, warm and compassionate energy that they have not felt before or in a very long time.

– People report improved digestion and bowel function. On the table I hear people’s gut making bowel sounds, a sign of parasympathetic function being restored to the autonomic nervous system.

– Although I talk about grounding in sessions as do many trauma therapists I have found that Reiki helps clients inhabit their body more fully, and they can really notice the lack of grounding or energy in their lower body. This improves greatly over 2-3 sessions and instigates a firmer resolve to practice grounding exercises such as walking barefoot outside.

– Clients become deeply relaxed and often report the deepest states of peace in their body than they have felt in many months or weeks. Too often therapy is a very stressful experience; Reiki provides a corrective emotional experience for treatment!

– Sometimes people experience physical symptoms resolving. One patient who’d had a persistent red rash for many days reported the rash clearing up within hours of the session. Another experienced her feet becoming stronger and less prone to injury.

Often there is validation between what I as the Reiki practitioner am feeling and what the client is feeling in their body. I had one client that when I held my hands in the position around her face and temple I felt intense heat between the jaw and temple, almost as if my hands were held up next to a flame. My client felt this heat as well, and became very emotional. Later she connected that very spot to where she received electroshock therapy years before which, for her, was both validating and healing.

Although I had the intention that I would probably not touch my therapy clients, I found that people were more offended if I would not touch them. So now before sessions I get their permission and usually only touch around the head, neck and lower legs.

This past December I went back to become a Reiki Master, and have signed up for my next level of training in August. I hope very soon to be offering Reiki attunements, trainings and certifications for therapists. Stay tuned!

If you have received Reiki, I would love to hear about your experiences in the comments section!




Don’t Let Anyone Tell You That PTSD is Permanent

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I hear from a lot of clients and friends that they have been told by their therapists that they have to learn to live with PTSD.  “Walk beside it like a friend” is how one therapist put it.

 PTSD is not your friend.  You do not want its companionship for life.

 In the yogic model of the human being, there are multiple layers. We have a physical body, an energetic body made of prana or qi/ki, two layers of mind: one cognitive and one intuitive and a bliss body.  We cannot hope to heal PTSD unless we understand this important concept:

 All layers of our being are wounded by the injuries and abuse that result in PTSD.  PTSD is the manifestation of those wounds.

 In the Western model of medicine we treat only two of the five layers.  We treat the body and we treat the cognitive mind.  In other words we address less than half of the system that has been injured.  In many cases we don’t even treat both.

 Usually people with mental disorders are remanded to some variety of psychiatric care with little attention paid to the rest of the body.  Or the reverse. If the person expresses symptoms mostly through the body, it can take years for a physician to ask simple questions about a history of trauma. 

 Most therapists and counselors pay little to no attention to anything but the latest “evidence-based” treatment, even though “evidence-based” most often means showing an effect for only 3-6 months.  Mental health treatment has become highly politicized and regulated, and essentially a casualty of the free market capitalist system here in the USA. 

 But I digress.

 As a therapist and a survivor, I am here to tell you that  you can heal fully from PTSD. In order to do this you will have to assemble your own treatment team and techniques to heal each of the layers of your being that were injured by trauma. That is essentially the thesis of my book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out.

 Please don’t give up.  There is an end to suffering.  The “peace that passeth all understanding” is real.  It may take a while, years perhaps, but life these days is long. Keep going. You can heal fully from PTSD. 




Lessons From Shannon

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          This summer I lost my friend, teacher and mentor, Shannon Kelly.  Many who knew him called him Shannon the Shaman.  But Shannon was many things.  He identified as a “Bubba”, a regular guy who grew up in the South hunting, drinking and loving the outdoors.  As a single father to three children, he was deeply committed to parenting as best he could. For me, he was one of the best therapists and supervisors I had the pleasure to work with (he was the first therapist in Portland I met who knew what reaction formation was, and he was an accomplished Ericksonian therapist).  Prior to his “coming out” as shaman, he worked 25 years as a mental health professional.

          Our first session together was bodywork, held up in the tiny little room down the hall from his kids’ bedrooms (to make ends meet he always worked in his house those first years).  Bodywork from a therapist?  Actually, he had dropped the mantle of therapist long before, but not the knowledge, as his work expanded into broader and deeper realms. He had fully embraced the knowledge of himself as shaman after calling a Northwest Native American tribe. The woman who had answered the phone had not picked up a phone in ten years. She was the medicine woman and he asked to meet with her.  Fresh from the Southwest, guided to work in the Northwest and pursue shamanism by a vision of red-tailed hawks, Shannon asked her who the best teacher for him might be.  As the story goes, she laughed and laughed and then told him to look in the mirror.

          As I was lying on the table, feeling his large hands elongate into even larger hairy bear claws (yes, he validated chuckling, bear medicine was his main access) I had a very strange sensation.

          Shannon, I’m feeling weird.  I feel all this sadness leaving my body, but somehow it doesn’t feel connected to me.

          That’s because it’s not yours.

Lesson #1:  Many of the emotions we carry around with us aren’t even ours.

           Wow.  That first session was a mind blower. I had been told before that I tend to carry other people’s “stuff” around with me, but until I could actually feel it leaving I really didn’t understand the power and detriment of it.  At that point I had been in human services for over 20 years, not to mention my own family’s “stuff” so there was a lot to let go of.  I felt immediately lighter after that and subsequent sessions, and the feelings of release persisted.  Once we feel what is not ours and let go of it, it becomes easier to stay clear and to know and work with what is really our stuff and what isn’t.

            During that first bodywork session I started feeling light and fluttery like I would just float away off the table. This was a familiar feeling, but because Shannon’s energy was so powerful, it became even more pronounced.  I had started to feel a familiar dizziness when Shannon placed large river rocks under my hands and feet.  The feelings immediately subsided and I felt a really wonderful sense of being calmly present throughout the rest of my session.  I loved the sensation of solid rock underneath me and began to breathe more deeply as I relaxed.

Lesson #2:  Get and stay grounded

            My gymnastics teacher in middle school used to call me Pixie Fairy because I ran on my toes, and no matter what she said, she just couldn’t get me to muster a proper run to the vault.  Maybe it’s a result of some of my earlier trauma, maybe it’s my celtic fairy blood, maybe it’s all the air signs in my astrological chart, but for whatever reason being grounded was always tremendously challenging for me, when I even knew what that meant!  As I have said in my book, The Trauma Tool Kit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out, being ungrounded is necessary at times for visionaries, high creative and healers, but we cannot live there.  If we are not grounded we are not in touch with our bodies, our emotions and our earthly selves. As long as we are living on Earth, we need a grounded, functioning ego.  We need to fully inhabit our body and all of our senses.  When we don’t, anxiety fills up the void.

Shannon was very insistent on this point and wasn’t afraid to use tools like big honkin’ river rocks to get me there.

            I had been taught by earlier therapists and supervisors to talk about anything and everything that came into my head.  This technique came directly from Freud, who discovered the say anything approach of free association was a “royal road” to unconsciously repressed material in the psyche that caused neurosis and mood disorders. So, of course, I wanted to excitedly process all my experiences and thoughts.  Shannon listened patiently for a while, and then in a booming mountain man voice said, GET OUT OF YOUR HEAD.

Lesson #3:  Your thoughts aren’t as important as you think they are, and they may not even be your thoughts.

          Shannon explained. We cannot solve our feelings at the level of our thoughts, and our thoughts distract us and get in the way of getting grounded and releasing.  This can result in headaches, malaise, exhaustion and anxiety.  If this pattern persists, it can lead to profound depression.

            It turns out that he was exactly right from a neuroscience perspective.  The cortex, the thinking part of the brain that is all wrinkly and sits on top, has only a few pathways that work themselves down deeper into the emotional brain, the mammalian part called the limbic brain.  The limbic brain, on the other hand, has a bazillion ways to communicate its urgent messages to the cortex.  This arrangement helps the organism to survive in the environment. For example, if you see a rattlesnake moving towards you on the path do you debate what kind it is, or just jump out of the way with your heart beating hard? I rest my case. (There may be those genetic anomalies that would debate the snake, but they may not survive to have offspring.)

            This is why we cannot talk nor affirm ourselves out of our feelings.  You can try and try to think of reasons to be happy when you are sad, but does it really work? If it works at all, it only works for a brief period of time.  Until the fundamental conflict that is affecting the limbic brain is resolved or released, there will be no peace in our thoughts. The limbic brain is hardwired to the senses and body.  Even our sense of smell, our olfactory bulb, is actually part of the limbic brain!

            Unless thoughts and words are grounded in the reality of the body and awareness through all the senses, we are just spinning out meaningless stories that can distract us from the work at hand.  Actually, I realized later, I was trained to look for overthinking as a therapist.  In psychodynamic therapy this phenomenon is called “intellectualizing” and it is classified as an ego defense that affects those who like to experience the world through thoughts and the intellect.

            But the important thing I gradually came to understand was that, just as many of the feelings in my body weren’t actually mine, neither were the thoughts.

~ to be continued

 




Healing Together With An Infinite Mind

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HT_logo_HPI just returned from my favorite conference of the year, the Healing Together Conference put on by Infinite Mind.  Infinite Mind is a group of people with DID, which is Dissociative Identity Disorder.  You might know it better as Multiple Personality Disorder.

Why is this my favorite conference?  Many reasons.  This group of people who suffer from DID and those who support and/or treat them are the most dedicated, open and knowledgeable group I have been involved with.  There is no lying, no minimization, no disinformation.  Pain is acknowledged but not dwelt on. Jaime Pollock, the main organizer, is known for her organizational skills, her comedic timing and her immense sensitivity to the suffering of others.  She is completely open about her own journey, but never triggering.  There is an art room and a quiet grounding room with lots of pillows and blankets with student psychology interns available to help as needed.

Remember the movie Sybil?  Well, the real Sybil, Shirley Mason painted her way through her treatment.  There was a beautiful and moving exhibit of some of her paintings during the conference.  Despite the recent book questioning her diagnosis, most people who knew her, and most specialists believe, she was, in fact, DID.  The pictures in this article are some of hers.  Some facts about them: she often painted telephone poles, sail boats (to sail away from her pain?) and yellow, she said, was the color of her mother’s screaming.

Another famous multiple, Truddi Chase, wrote the runaway best seller When Rabbit Howls.  Her daughter, Kari, gave a very moving account of what it was to be the daughter of a multiple growing up.  It was very clear that a distant, mean father was much more of a liability to a growing child than a mother with DID.  Another interesting presentation was a mother-daughter pair from England discussing the same topic.  Carol, who only “discovered” her DID later in life brought some remarkable videos of herself in other personality states (called ‘alters’ or ‘parts’).  Her daughter with much patience and humor described a mother who often could not remember what she had said five minutes ago, but she was fun to play with!  They shared a very dramatic and, at times,  journey of healing which continues today.

On a more serious note, the mental health system in England and other places is severely lacking and there is much international work to be done on educating practitioners not only about the reality of DID, but how to work effectively on integrating painful memories.

Here are a few important facts to know about people with DID:

 1)   DID begins at an early age, usually before 7 but is often not diagnosed until later in life.

2)   DID is always the result of severe and prolonged trauma.  There has to be immense force involved to shatter a mind.

3)   Most people with DID are law-abiding and peaceful people who suffer from extreme internal torment.

4)   Many people with DID grow up to be loving (if somewhat dysfunctional) parents.

5)   Children of parents with DID can thrive, especially with support from the community.

6)   People with DID hold jobs in all sectors of society.  They are preschool teachers, lawyers, police officers, writers, hospice workers, etc.

7)   You cannot tell if someone has DID by looking at them.

8)   With appropriate treatment people can integrate fully and heal from DID and their traumatic histories that were the cause of their problems.

9)   People with DID almost always have problems with losing time.  Often people think they are pathological liars because different alters give different information. Over time they learn how to compensate for these difficulties.

10)  DID is fairly prevalent.  It is estimated that  1 out of 100 people in the USA suffer from DID, and it is found in every country.

 I had the privilege of giving trauma informed yoga classes in the morning and presenting two workshops: one on Yogic Modalities For Healing From PTSD and one on The Effects of Abuse and Trauma on Developing Children. The audiences were engaged, and responsive.  

 If you are a therapist, a physician, someone suffering from DID or you know someone with DID I would highly recommend this yearly conference as a place to learn, to laugh and to commiserate with a group of compassionate and knowledgeable people. It is held in Orlando, Florida every year in late winter.  I feel very grateful to be involved with this amazing group.

 




The Power of Persistence (or What you Resist, Persists)

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I don’t know how to say this to you any other way so I’m just going to say it:  There is no easy way to heal from psychological trauma.

There is no pill, no elixir, no magic wand, no therapist, no book, no workshop, no yoga class, no blogger that will give you a quick fix from your suffering.  I’m sorry; I truly am.

If you want to heal from PTSD you are going to have to work very hard for a long time. You are going to have to spend money (probably a lot of money relative to your income) to get help to overcome what you feel should have never happened to you. And then you will have to work some more.

In my book I compare the journey of healing PTSD to the journey that Frodo takes in The Lord of the Rings trilogy to cast the evil, all powerful ring back into it’s source: a dangerous volcano hidden inside of an even more dangerous enemy territory governed by an all seeing magical evil sorcerer.  Frodo has two choices.  He can either stay in his comfort zone in the bucolic shire of his childhood and live in denial until his land is ultimately overrun with evil mutant elves and destroyed while the ring has corrupted him (or someone else) completely.  Or, he can man up and take the journey, one that is most perilous and with no guarantee of success and try to destroy the thing forever.

This is basically our choice as well. Is the journey so easy? If it were, everyone would make it.

Yes, I know it sucks.  But suck it up folks. That is the way it is.  I can only say this to you, not because I am cruel and heartless, but because this is a journey that I’ve taken.  I’ve done the dirt time, so to speak, in spades.

It is totally worth it.  The sooner you get over resistance to healing and begin, the better.  Healing PTSD takes a chunk of your life.  Not healing from PTSD takes your entire life (and possibly future lifetimes if you believe in that sort of thing).

Take a moment and review the pros and cons of healing:

 Pros                                                                 Cons

 Peace of mind                                                  Nightmares and flashbacks for the rest of your life, chronic anxiety

 

 The ability to love and be loved                  Failed relationships; people who are afraid of you; persistent loneliness

 

 Bodily health                                                  Heart disease, migraines, joint pain, digestive issues, diseases

 

 Wisdom                                                           Ignorance, bitterness, confusion

 

 Compassion for self and others                   Self-pity, entitlement, self-loathing, shame

 

 Money well spent in healing                        Money ill spent in addictions, diversions and distractions

 

Well, you get the picture. 

 So which will it be?  Healing PTSD does have an endpoint.  It brings gifts beyond compare but only if you finish the job.  You have no more time to lose. Put this at the top of your New Year’s Resolutions and you will ring in a much brighter 2014.

Blessings on your journey of healing!

 

Endurance is the most difficult of all the disciplines but it is to the one who endures that the final victory comes. ~ Buddha

 

 

 

 

 




Ribes Nigrum – a PTSD elixir?

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A few months ago my naturopath suggested I start on the Unda formula of Ribes Nigrum for adrenal support. If you have suffered from chronic anxiety or PTSD, your adrenals are likely depleted. In fact my acupuncture friend, Michael Berletich, said that fully half of his new patients show signs of adrenal fatigue. This formula, made from the black current berry that is found in Northern Europe and Northern Asia, had a wondrous effect on me, and from what I am seeing on the web, on many others. First of all, it tastes delicious and wholesome. But more important, soon after I started taking it I had a clearer head, more even energy and felt, well, nourished by it. Now, whenever I have been through a stressful period and my adrenal function feels sluggish I go back to it. I did not discover this wonderful product until my book had already gone to print, so it won’t be in the first edition, but it will definitely be in the second! Like all medicines, it is probably best to use under the care of a physician, but it is available over the counter.




Heal Your PTSD!

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Michele Rosenthal of Heal My PTSD has a wonderful video here that underlines the principles behind my upcoming book The Trauma Toolkit: Healing PTSD From the Inside Out. PTSD is a multidimensional injury and requires multidimensional healing modalities, or, as she puts it, a combination of traditional and alternative treatments. I think you will enjoy her website: HealMyPTSD.com.




The Promise of Complementary Therapies for PTSD

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I was happy to see that our cousins across the ocean are so open to working with traumatic stress in a variety of ways.  I had the pleasure of meeting with David Marteau, the head of substance abuse treatment for offenders in London, England.  He felt that the complementary therapies “showed real promise” for helping with traumatized people. 

Here at home the military is increasingly turning to alternative therapies for PTSD in their personnel.  The great thing about the American military is that they are intensely pragmatic and great at following protocol. Treatments that have been researched by the Pentagon and/or used to date include:  acupuncture, aromatherapy (yes, really), yoga, reiki massage, relaxation techniques, mindfulness.  The Ft. Bliss Restoration and Resilience Center has an integrative model that has treated dozens of officers with multidimensional holistic treatments.  They went from a 10 percent redeployment rate of officers with PTSD to a redeployment rate of over 60 percent for those who completed the program!  Complementary therapies work!




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