Category Archives: Introduction

Professional Philosophy

plantHave you ever wondered why we use terms like “gut-wrenching,” “heartache,” or “hurting my feelings” to describe our emotional state?

The brain and the body are inseparable. 

Pain is the body’s way of saying “something is not right – please fix it!” Expressions such as those above are more than clichés. When we experience emotional stress, our bodies react automatically and instinctively, in ways we are powerless to control. Emotional pain or stress can cause symptoms such as muscle tightness, increased heart rate, headaches, rapid heart beat, clenched jaw, upset stomach, shallow breathing, shortness of breath and more. Studies have shown that emotional pain involves the same brain regions as physical pain, which suggests the two are connected. Emotional pain actually triggers these physical reactions. So although you might not yet have consciously acknowledged that you are upset, the body will definitely point it out! The physical symptoms don’t go away until the emotional issue is resolved.

So why is it important to treat the body and mind together?

I have two primary reasons. First, it’s not always easy to acknowledge or name the things that cause us emotional pain. We have a marvelous built-in set of defense mechanisms to deny or minimize that pain. But the body can’t hide the symptoms of pain. Our bodies are like a cockpit dashboard that displays information about what is going on inside the mind. A holistic approach allows me to “read” the body, looking for subtle physical signs of emotions that are being suppressed. This is important, because emotion denied does not go away. It simply finds a place in the body to curl up and wait. While it lurks, it waves physical red flags such as headaches or back aches or a clenched jaw. The way to conquer unacknowledged pain is to confront and work through it. I use the clues of the body to help me work back to the emotional cause of the pain and thus resolve it.

Second is the issue of long-term emotional health. My goal is to help patients become more conscious of the emotional difficulties that brought them to me in the first place, and more capable of dealing with them effectively, both now and in the future. Our culture teaches us to suppress many of our feelings. But if suppression is our primary or only way of dealing with feelings, it can be extremely unhealthy for the mind and the body. I help my patients understand how to manage emotions, finding appropriate ways to express or contain them, so that they may live more satisfying lives. One way to teach those skills is to teach awareness of the body and its dashboard. You might not immediately recognize or realize mental pain, but you can’t ignore a chronic headache or upset stomach! I will help you learn to acknowledge these clues and go back to the emotions that cause them before they get out of control.

What kind of results does this integrated approach provide?

sunriseThe most obvious result is a substantial change in your life and in your perceptions, attitudes and openness to the world around you. But you may also see change such as pain relief, reduced dependence on drugs, increased energy, healthier sleeping and eating patterns.

I invite you to contact me, and we can discuss the signals your body and mind might be sending.

You can learn more about how the body and mind are connected by looking at some of the resources I have listed.

Remember to Remember

cairnCairn |ke(ə)rn|

1. a mound of rough stones built as a memorial or landmark, typically on a hilltop or skyline. A prehistoric burial mound made of stones.

From Wikipedia:

“Cairn is a term used mainly in the English-speaking world for a man-made pile of stones…. In modern times, cairns are often erected as landmarks, a use they have had since ancient times.”

Why This Title?

I attended a conference in 2010 in Evanston, IL. The topic was trauma; assessment and treatment. Bessel van der Kolk, M.D., who is widely recognized as one of the leading researchers and theorists in the field of trauma, was the presenter. His book, Traumatic Stress*, was available at the conference so I bought it. At the end of the conference he was talking to people and signing his book. I asked him to sign mine and, after talking for a few minutes, he agreed. He signed my copy with his name and the words, “Remember to remember.”

I believe his words referred, among others things, to chapter 2 in his book titled, “Trauma and Its Challenge to Society.” In that chapter he describes the strong tendency throughout society, including the psychiatric profession, to regularly “forget” what we have learned about trauma and victims of trauma. Because trauma can force us to confront the horror of what people can do to each other, the capacity for evil that is part of human nature and our vulnerability as individuals and societies in the natural world, there is a strong urge to put the trauma “behind us” and to “explain” it in ways that reduce our fears. Dr. van der Kolk summarized it this way:

Traumas provoke emotional reactions in proportion to the degree of threat and horror accompanying them. One way of dealing with these intense emotions is to look for scapegoats who can be held responsible for the tragic event. Family members and other sources of social support can be so horrified at being reminded of the fact that they, too, can be struck by tragedies beyond their control that they start shunning the victims and blame them for what has happened” (p. 27).

Researchers in the area of trauma recognize the “universal desire to see, hear and speak no evil” (Judith Herman, 1992, quoted in van der Kolk, p.28) and have identified typical patterns and predictable apologies that emerge after every atrocity which reflect this desire. One needs only to review news articles and “Comment” sections on-line regarding the sexual abuse scandals in the Catholic Church and Penn State University, to name just two institutions that have been in the news, to see multiple examples of these tendencies.

Why the Cairn?

The cairn is a symbol which announces to the passerby, “You are not alone! Others have been this way before you and marked the path so you won’t get lost. Follow the way and I’ll lead you to your destination.” At other times it has been a symbol of remembering someone, a marker like our modern gravestones that points to a life, a person who mattered to others. It is a symbol of remembering and reminds us to “remember to remember.”

My intent in writing these blog entries is first and foremost to honor and remember––remember patients that I have worked with, people that I never met but whose stories touched me in some way, family members and friends that have suffered along with victims of trauma, and those who try in ways both big and small to make a positive difference in the lives of others. Dr. van der Kolk’s words made quite an impact on me. I want to remember both what people have gone through and the strength and courage they have shown recovering from traumas and other wounds in their lives. By doing so and sharing what I have learned, I hope to honor them as well. If these entries provide something useful to even a few, it will be well worth the effort. As I write, I will of course keep people’s identities confidential. If I incorporate examples from my work, I will do so in ways that protect the identity of those involved.

*van der Kolk, B. A., McFarlane, A. C., & Weisaeth, L. (Eds.). Traumatic Stress: The Effects of Overwhelming Experience on Mind, Body and Society. The Guilford Press: New York. 1996.

An Introduction

Welcome to my blog. This is my first entry and I want to introduce myself and say a little about my reasons for writing. I plan to add entries, on an occasional basis, related to my areas of practice and the range of patient needs that I work with.

I’ve been working as a psychologist and psychotherapist for nearly 35 years. While that fact alone doesn’t make me an “expert” or even remarkably qualified to comment, my experience has provided countless opportunities to become acquainted and deeply involved with many wonderful and courageous people. I mean courageous in the sense of the ability to do something that frightens one or strength in the face of pain or grief. These individuals and couples have motivated me to keep learning, to keep dealing with my own issues and growing in ways that help me help interact with them more deeply and therapeutically. In this process, I’ve learned more than a few things along the way that I hope may be of benefit to those who read this blog.

During these 35 years, like most therapists, I’ve listened to such a variety of stories, problems, heartbreaks, tragedies and accomplishments. I’ve helped people wade into the dark recesses of the psyche and, more importantly, to find their way out when they couldn’t do so on their own. It has been a great privilege for me and immensely satisfying to help them resolve problems, recover a firm “footing” in life and learn to live with greater freedom and health.

I’ve also been “in the other chair” in my own therapy and body-centered work during my own dark times and as an integral part of my training. Being a patient and struggling at times with emotions, with depression and despair, and with other issues in my life has “taught” me at a level that formal education just cannot duplicate. An immensely valuable aspect of being a patient is experiencing that therapy really does work. Recovery is possible. I hope that my articles and posts will reflect both these professional and personal experiences.

As a young therapist I searched for several years to find and formulate an overarching goal or purpose for therapy, a philosophy that would guide my work. I read about and heard others describe their goals and philosophies. After I started doing body-centered therapy in the early 1990’s, I began to read a variety of writers in this area. I came across Alexander Lowen and saw his statement regarding his goal for therapy. He said:

The goal of all therapy is to help a person increase his capacity to give and receive love––to expand his heart, not just his mind” (Bioenergetics, 1975, p. 89).

His words resonated with me as did his attention to what was happening in the body as well as in the mind. If I am successful at helping people achieve this primary goal, then, by definition, we will also accomplish the other, more specific goals relevant to each individual.