Remembering One…Supporting Many

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Domestic violence is a crime that takes a devastating toll on so much and so many. The victims, families, friends, and society are all wounded by such cowardly and vicious acts. This is why it is so important to proactively support, educate, and protect those affected by DV in the present while always remembering those whose faces remind us of why it IS so important to treat DV like the horror that it is.

Kathleen Cavanaugh, taken from the world by domestic violence in January 2014, will be remembered by family, friends and her larger community on Sunday September 20th. Kathleen’s Crusade “Taking it to the Streets” will be held at Pat McMullen’s in Scranton from 3pm to 7pm. All proceeds go the The Women’s Resource Center to help in their support of those affected by domestic violence.

This event will be a wonderful opportunity to stand with your community in the face of such senseless violence as well as providing support to such an important cause.

To read more on Kathleen’s Crusade, visit https://www.facebook.com/kathleenscrusade

Come stand together so that no one will have to stand alone.

Namaste!

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“Symbolism…It’s Not Just for the Jung Anymore!” Part Two.

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As a continuation of the first part of this article, the role of symbolism and symbolic acts in the healing of past trauma is long standing and can be quite effective. Past events affect us traumatically through the recognition of symbols. Parking garages, fireworks, men with dark hair…these images take us back to the incident that is now burned into our right brain. Yet, if the sound of fireworks triggers flashbacks in an Iraqi Vet, this same individual can be “guided” to recognize something symbolic from Iraq with a strong positive, peaceful meaning. Perhaps this veteran’s primary image of Iraq is the desert and his symbol of the desert is the cactus. He engages in the act of planting a cactus, one he will care for and nurture. He does so in his therapist’s office, a safe place, while invoking peaceful images and positive memories.   He now has a piece of his past memories to his time in the Middle East linked to this positive event.

One of the most widely known uses of symbolic action in therapy is Fritz Perl’s The Empty Chair. Born of Gestalt therapy, this technique encourages the client to become more present-minded by bringing a traumatic event to the here-and-now…where the client can now feel safe to address it. The client is presently granted the opportunity to speak to those that have victimized them in the past. While the event may have been months or years ago, the resolution the client so deeply seeks occurs in their present.  And the present is all we can change.

In my own practice, it is so important that traumatized client recognize that I am going to walk this path with them toward healing. We sometimes symbolize our alliance in overcoming the trauma quite simply. The client provides a symbol of the traumatic event. The dress worn during a violent rape, for example. A snippet of the tag from the dress is removed from the garment and placed in a “possibles bag” (similar to a medicine pouch), which is worn to the sessions. The client recognizes that this is a joint venture towards healing as well as reducing the feelings of “alone-ness” in their trauma.

From Shamans to Carl Jung to Fritz Perls, symbolism and the symbolic act has been a powerful tool in healing emotional pain and moving towards a more peaceful present.

Namaste!

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Managing Anxiety…It’s Not All in your Head.

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These are some techniques that can help with the management of anxiety.

  1. Breathing:   In through the nose, out through the mouth. Find the count that works for you (i.e. Inhale for 4 seconds/exhale for 5 seconds).   Always exhale longer than you inhale. This helps empty the lungs of carbon dioxide of which a build-up can contribute to anxiety type symptoms.
  2. Systematic relaxation:    Work on each body part in a systematic manner. i.e. clench hands tightly for 5 seconds, then completely relax all at once. Then, tighten lower arms for 5 seconds, then completely relax all at once. Do this for each part of your body.
  3. Visualization:   Chose a positive, relaxing place/event that is very vivid to you. Engage all your senses in the visualization (sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch).   The more sensory involvement you have in the visualization, the more effective.
  4. Grounding:   This is used to bring you back to the present and out of thinking/memories that may be triggering the anxiety. This is usually done though physical sensations. Snapping a rubber band on your wrist, using something intense (but pleasant) smelling, using something intense (but pleasant) tasting. A particularly effective grounding technique is to tightly squeeze an ice cube in the palm of your hand. Not too hard as you do not want to injure yourself but squeeze it hard enough to be mildly uncomfortable.
  5. Relaxing the vagus nerve:   One technique that is a good place to start learning how to relax this nerve is to squat. When anxiety creates racing/abnormal heart rhythm and/or breathing issues, it is often due to the vagus nerve being interfered with as the abdomen tightens. When you squat and bear down (as though trying to “push out”) the muscles can not physically remain tightened and will relax around the vagus nerve, allowing the nerve to resume normal function.   As you become more in tune to the sensation of relaxing this nerve, it can be accomplished though visualization and relaxation while in a sitting position.

Namaste!

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“Symbolism…It’s Not Just for the Jung Anymore!”

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Ok, that play on words was pretty cringe worthy. But the lame humor doesn’t make it any less true. The use of symbols and symbolic interpretation has been part and parcel with healing since man has started striving towards emotional understanding and wellness. Both ancient and modern tribal societies recognize the value in the use of symbols to strengthen perceptions and give guidance in the area of our psyche. Shamans are adept at symbolic acts as a source of healing. The works of Freud and Jung are benchmarked by the inclusion of symbols and symbolic interpretation and, therefor, a necessity of psychoanalysis.

The treatment of emotional trauma has never been so prolific and promising as it is today. Medications, DBT, brain entrainment and neuro-linguistic programming, the trauma narrative… I’m sure you’ve got the picture. But what about the use of symbolism in the practice of healing trauma? In my humble opinion, it belongs right there with the rest.

Trauma might be defined as “present maladaptive perceptions and responses based on a past event.” Simply put, you are fearful today because of what happened “ago”.   And despite the term “traumatic event”, there is no such thing. Events are neutral. It is our perceptions and reactions to them that assign a value (good or bad). Much of the emotional pain that comes from trauma is in the form of flashbacks. These are more than memories. Instead, it is the feeling that the past event is going to occur or is occurring at this very moment…even when it isn’t. A woman is attacked in a parking garage on March 12th in Scranton. She enters a parking garage six months later in Orlando and finds herself experiencing the same terror, helplessness and shame as she did on that day in March. Why? No one is hurting her…she is safe. This is because the event in March was extreme enough and her psychological resiliency compromised enough that she developed a trauma response. Her mind is telling her that for her to stay “safe”, she much view all parking garages as an immediate threat. And all men. She is superimposing the emotions and the memory of her physiological responses during the actual event onto the present. She does this out of self-protection so that she will be able to prevent this from ever happening again. And she is doing this on an unconscious level. The parking garage-and men-have become symbolic of pain, fear, and danger.

This brief explanation of the role symbolism has in the development of the trauma response now leads to examining the use and value of symbolism and symbolic acts in the treatment and healing of those souls dealing with trauma.

“Symbolism…It’s Not Just for the Jung anymore!” Part 2-Coming soon.

Namaste!

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“Out in the Country!”

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It’s not just the title of a great song by “Three Dog Night” but a significant contemplation for those seeking to practice in smaller, more tight-knit communities. While pain is pain-and modalities, ethics, and empathy remain the same-there may be some noticeable differences to healing practice out where there are fewer cars on the road but more paths through the woods.

  1. Expect to see the people you work with in the places you never thought you would. Whether it is the local store, watering hole, fish fry or fishing hole, never say never. In smaller towns, there are often fewer places to go and this often equates to more people at any given spot. Be aware of this but don’t let it change who you are.
  2. See Number 1. Because of this, the feeling of confidentiality and privacy may be more important than ever. Folks who live in rural communities are very aware that most people know everyone and that includes what is going on in their lives. Larger, more populated areas may not be as close or personal but this has the benefit of an enhanced feeling of privacy. Remind your clients that what is said (within your code of ethics) remains between you and themselves and reassure them that just because they see you talking to the shared bartender in town doesn’t mean that wall of privacy and safety will be breached.
  3. And if you happen to be at a place where you find yourself in the company of your client…this is pretty easy. All ethical and other considerations remain the same should this occur in New York City or Mayberry.
  4. Rural areas may have unique circumstances to their issues. Higher or lower poverty levels, family issues, social expectations, and an acceptance of mental health treatment and psychotherapy will differ from community to community. Going in open minded will never guide you wrong.
  5. There are things that will always be a constant in a community, large or small. Pain, fear, sorrow, anger-hope, empathy, compassion, peace…emotions speak the same internal language in all of us and it is a language that can be spoken to one another with complete fluency.
  6. Finally, be prepared for an ultimately rewarding experience…as long as you make it so.

Namaste!

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My Tribe: “Go Vegan!”

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Want healthy and delicious? Eden-A Vegan Café may be your place. The food is great, the people are great and, well, they took a chance on my art and I think that’s pretty great. Christian Pilosi, owner/chef/mastermind of this cozy restaurant took some time out of his busy day to sit with me and answer some questions that give insight into the importance veganism holds for him.

What city where you born?

“I was born right here in Scranton. I was actually born in Scranton hospital but grew up in Old Forge.”

What is your birth month and why do you think it is?

“July. I don’t know but I like it. I think I fit the characteristics of Cancer pretty well. Family, closeness.”

What’s fun or interesting about your family of origin?

“My youngest sibling is ten months younger than my own daughter. Also, my father who is still here is on his fifth fiancé and that’s pretty interesting!”

What’s something you’ve learned that you’ve had fun learning?

“Everything about vegan stuff, that’s for sure. Vegan cooking and everything about what brought me to become vegan which has been over the last 18 years.”

What brought you to become vegan?

“I came at it from an ethical standard. I worked at a small cat and dog shelter and when I was given my office, I cleaned out the filing cabinets and came across a PETA magazine, which I had never seen before. The first think I saw was a picture of a pile of dead foxes skinned for fur. Then, I started making the connection between the chicken I would be eating and my own dog and decided ‘I can’t do this anymore.’.  First, I became vegetarian and, kind of like a birth, in nine months I was fully vegan.”

What’s your favorite thing to do on a rainy day?

“Listen to music. I prefer music to watching television.”

What keeps you up at night?

“To be honest, my own personality. It’s not that anything’s on my mind. I try to sleep in but it seems I just keep going.”

What’s the first thing that comes to mind when you hear the word “beautiful”?

“I don’t want to sound all hippy but…everything, I guess. The trees, the flowers, the mountains, the world. The natural world.”

What’s your special gift?

“I sort of have this everyman perspective. I can talk the same way and have a good, mutually respectful conversation with a lawyer or a guy digging ditches. A hunter or someone who’s been vegan for twenty years.”

If there was one thing you could tell the world…?

“Go Vegan! It means so much to so many different perspectives. For the animals and the environment and our own sustainability on this planet. It’s that important. If anything, do it for your own health.”

What is your passion in life?

“Definitely being vegan. And doing this, running a small business. I absolutely believe in it.”

What do you do to facilitate that passion everyday?

“It’s what I do. I talk to people every day, I speak to groups from grade school to college and from business to church groups. I love doing it. I’ve been on PA Live to promote it. I live for it.”

This is the question from my previous interview. ‘What have you done for yourself that would be a benefit for others?

“I grew up with a simple life. I’ve had the big house and a lot of money. Then, I’ve had it so I didn’t have as much. I’ve decided that living simply is a good thing. So, I would say I’ve learned that less can be great.”

What question would you want to ask the next person I interview?

“What do you think your individual role is in this life?”

I concluded the interview with a barbecue sandwich that was absolutely delicious. Much thanks to Christian and the gang at Eden-A Vegan Café.

And if you’d like to grab some terrific vegan food, Eden-A Vegan Café can be found at:

344 Adams Ave

Scranton, PA 18503

https://www.facebook.com/edenavegancafe

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“Holidays are hard.”

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That is an exact quote.  It was spoken by an individual who is working with me in healing from past trauma and the subsequent depression that had resulted.  And, let’s face it, this time of year is never easier for anyone.  Decorating, parties, shopping, writing cards, cooking…we get the picture.  But, for some people these kinds of stressors would actually be a welcome relief.  Often times, those who have experienced trauma find the bad times feel worse and the good times feel…scary.  The “other shoe to drop” mode of emotional survival can turn the holidays into a veritable hell.  Seeing how good things can be is often a painful reminder of how bad things had been…and how bad things might be in the future.

One key to both unlocking the much deserved peace of the season as well as locking away the negative memories and subsequent fears is in present mindfulness.  The abuse suffered as a 9-year-old child at the hands of his father will never again be a possibility.  After all, he will never be nine years old again.   Likewise, the possibility of financial difficulty due to a pending lay off may never occur or may not be as serious as expected.  We can not affect our past and the same holds for much of our future.  Yet our past and future affect so much of what is happening to us at this very moment.  Why not let the moment speak for itself?  Take in what your senses can:  smells, tastes, touch.  What are you seeing and what are you hearing.  Build up that moment around you and live there and only there.  When an instant of peace comes to us, give it its due and your attention.

After all, that peace came to you for a reason and it wasn’t to be ignored.

Namaste and Happy Holidays.

*Credit for the photo goes to 3milliondogs.com

 

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