Trauma Brain Project Premiers in Chicago

Have you ever wondered what it's like for kids who grow up inside of a traumatic life? Or were you one of those kids and had no words to describe the indescribable? Playwright Dayle Ann Hunt has illustrated the impact of trauma on the life of a child, then adolecent, then adult through her dramatic narrative The Trauma Brain Project. She has teamed up with Broadway actresses to share this with New York and Chicago audiences. 

Originally her play was created for medical students to understand the impact of trauma on their patients' every day lives. And then her play grew to new audiences. Ms. Hunt's work is powerful and necessary. It helps the audience understand what it is to get inside the head of someone with PTSD. 

Truama crosses racial, economic, social, political and geographical lines. This play is educational, enlightening and moving. and because of the nature of the material and the questions it engenders, Dayle Ann has asked a panel of physicians, therapists and bodyworkers to be on a post-play discussion panel. We hope you'll join us next week in Chicago Wednesday or Thursday October 4th or 5th at 7pm. at Kibbitznest on Clybourn Ave. The flier and ticket iniformation is attached below.

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Working Through Energy Blocks

What I enjoy so much about being part of the Awakening Center is that I work in a community of professionals who believe in the client's ability to guide herself to wellness. In order for a client to bring about her own healing, a validating and compassionate holding environment is key for her to feel safe enough to explore what isn't working. The client truly has her own information about how to bring in her wellness, to heal herself. Oftentimes, that means looking at the very thing that is hardest to address.

Even though I have years of experience doing trauma work, my counseling style changed drastically since I began to study energy work and energy healing. I'm better prepared to pull what the client needs to heal that particular day. Our appointments are never the same.

The work I do with clients is much like being a magician with a bag of tricks. Each client has a different need and a different area they wish to work at each of their appointments. Occasionally there is an urgent life crisis and the client just needs a bit of extra care and communication with me. Other times there is a pressing request to work on a certain area of the client's life. When the appointments are more laid back, the client is able to explore areas where she wishes to be more joyful or masterful.

What is so rewarding is taking the client through a guided imagery to establish safety and groundedness (providing a safe and holding environment) and then working directly with the blocks and impasses she is experiencing. Often she will be able to identify an image, a time, or a memory and work with that directly. Within the guided imagery I will guide her to clear the impasse using various therapeutic techniques, tools and imagery.

Sometimes there is a blind spot that does not allow the client to be consciously aware of the impasse. Using an awareness of energetic dynamics, I gently point out the thing or phenomenon that she needs to find but was unable to see. Once it is brought into her conscious awareness we can work with it. This is an amazing thing to see a client clear the patterns behind a binge-purge cycle, procrastination around a job search, lack of fulfillment in her love relationships, etc. It is even more gratifying to me when the client can do the healing work for herself.

The Awakening Center is a special place that believes in an individual's ability to unearth her identity, truth and beauty that is already within her. Besides engaging logical thought processes, behavioral components, we also work with the individuals body, mind AND spirit. I witness miraculous change on a daily basis. Daily miracles! What a gift!


Spirit is for Everyone

I was at a wonderfully lavish networking event recently. All invited were asked to go around the room and tell a bit about counseling specialty and to tell what it is that we are passionate about in our work. In my work I’m passionate about spirit. With both trauma and eating disorder clients, it is exciting to see clients inviting spirit into the body and watching the body connect to spirit. One of the reasons clients are drawn to The Awakening Center is because of our holistic approach. My version of that holistic approach is to acknowledge the connection between body and spirit. In my work lately, I’ve been coming across this concept; my clients and I get to explore what this means for them.

I find that this concept can get confusing at times. Is it correct to honor the body? Or to honor one’s spirit? How about both? Some think that if we focus too much on the body experience, then we are not being spiritual enough. Others say that being spiritual is to transcend or even ignore the body. I find that it is important to invite that spiritual aspect, that certain level of awareness, into the body and to allow the body to strive toward an experience of ones’ spirit self.

Internal Family Systems, a popular psychotherapy approach we espouse at The Awakening Center gets around both by calling this “SELF” energy. Smart move. Then our friend Oprah says, “we are spiritual beings having a human experience”. As contrary as I like to be at times, I gotta go with Oprah’s take.

And you know when that is happening, when you are engaged in the moment and something profound is occurring. Maybe it’s the experience of smelling fresh popcorn popping or the joy you feel on the open road, music blaring, singing to yourself in the car. It’s when you cannot put that book down so you stay up all night engrossed in story. It could be at a nightclub, or that warmth in the air at a wedding.

I don’t know about you, but I tend to think of myself as a spirit who wants to have body experiences from the simple to the sublime. When life gets overwhelming, it can be very tough to remember this. And eating disorders can really cause individuals to forget their spirit and deny the body. Eating disorders are designed to send away the aspects of one’s present Self awareness. Eating disorders are a way to escape the body. Amy Grabowski, MA, LCPC, founder of the Awakening Center often says that many of our eating disorder clients wish they could just carry their heads around on a stick, like a lollipop. In my opinion, it’s the integration of body and spirit where recovery happens and the rubber meets the road. And that is one place I find the passion for my work.

Recovering this awareness (an aspect of one’s spirit or Self energy) is a great way to overcome eating disorders. The way I like to think of it is that your spirit would never do you wrong. That part of you that is moved by a nature, travel, a movie, a song, that part of you would never lead you astray. Listening to that inner awareness is a way to move towards wellness (body mind and spirit wellness). There is a Buddhist tenet the holds that we can learn through joy or we can learn through suffering. Dr. Ira Sacker, M.D., a well known eating disorders specialist out of Columbia University in New York endorses this approach. He uses his clients’ passions to move forward in their recovery process by getting them involved in the very things that they are deeply passionate about but haven’t allowed themselves to pursue. I like that. It’s much more fun. And that is where my client work has taken me lately.

But you don’t have to have an eating disorder or even be a psychotherapy client to be invited to connect to your spirit, your passions, your truth.

What is it for you – what connects your spirit to your body? No, seriously. What is it? Have you allowed yourself to have that lately?

For some it’s pilates or yoga. For some, running is a way to connect to body to spirit, (for others running may act as a mechanism to disconnect from and escape the body). For some, connecting body to spirit is painting – a canvas or a wall. For others it’s creating a meal or having a culinary experience of taste, smell and texture in the moment.

What are your moments in life when you have been very clear that your body and your spirit were connected? How can you bring more of that into your life now? Or are there new ways you’ve been wanting to bring forth that connection? Maybe you could give yourself permission to take a step and have that thing! Your body might just thank you.

Awesomeness Fest: Making Space to Receive

When I was invited to Awesomeness Fest by the beautiful tantric yogi Lara Berg she said, “it will change your life.”

I told her “I hope so, Lara, I’ve had SO many transformational experiences even just this past year.”

AFest was 5 days of heart based entreprenuers, thinkers, writers, performers, speakers, healers, designers, marketers, and just people looking to gather and promote a conscious planet. There’s a magic that happens when you gather peaceful fun adventurous people together for 5 days in paradise. It was filled with countless life altering experiences, many of which I’m only now able to articulate. Today I’m present with one of them.

A couple of days into AFest Terry Tillman led us in several experiential exercises. Before I left for the Dominican Republic we were reminded to bring a special and meaningful object to the event. We didn’t know was what Terry Tillman had up his sleeve – an exercise in releasing attachment to the object.

My object was my ballet slippers. I was at a Somatic Experience training which is all about learning to treat clients how to regulate their brains and nervous systems by reconnecting clients to their bodies after they’ve been through trauma, duress or chaos. In one of the trainings I had a moment of inspiration. I told myself that I HAVE to dance. I knew that if I didn’t start dancing I would die. Some part of my spirit would die. At 41 yrs old, I took my first ballet class.

I was so excited to slip on that first pair of ballet slippers. I love those damn slippers sticking out of the pocket of my back pack. I want people to see them. Carrying them to class makes me feel special and proud. The 4 year old in me is all, “look at me, I take ballet! Eeeeeeeeee!”

I still haven’t grown tired of checking into the dance schools on facebook every time I go to class and get to study with the likes of prima donnas like Sandra Adrian and Natalie Rast. I’m so grateful to them. Going to class fills me with happiness.

When Terry Tillman asked us to take the object and give it away to our seat partner I went into terror. He wants me to give away my frickin’ ballet shoes!?!?!?!? I was paired up with Erwin Valencia and at first thought to just tell Erwin I forgot to bring my object. I can’t possibly give away the ballet shoes!!!

I got a grip. Saw the wisdom. And with Tears in my eyes, I told Erwin the stories, the importance of my shoes. How I grew up in a home where bodies were shameful, naughty, expressing with a body was not allowed. I told Erwin how I’ve found a joyful niche treating performers and artists at my psychotherapy practice. And I had finally reached a point in my life where it was important to tend to my own art.

Erwin let me safely tell how I cried through a ballet class at 4 yrs old and never went back because the week before that class I had been raped in a house just half a block from the studio. It wasn’t the dance class that brought me to tears. It was the proximity to the place of the violation. Kids have a protective ability to forget, go into a freeze response or go into confusion. My neural networks had coupled dancing with shame back then.

Luminita Saviuc said it best at AFest that our darkest moments are our biggest teachers.  Those horrible attacks made me the healer, psychotherapist and psychic that I get to be today. They taught me that the unpopular  truth is freedom like Erika Napoletano spoke about so passionately. It transformed how I approached my own traumas. I found peace. And I found permission to dance.

I am a dancer. We`re all dancers. The shoes can’t make that true or untrue. Like Jeff Marx told us about identity being in particular labels…the shoes don’t make me a dancer. Life is a dance.

I placed my slippers in Erwin`s hands. I placed my hands over his and released the slippers.

Not only have we both worked in the healthcare and healing worlds, we both had loved ones in the Phillipines (the typhoon struck just days before). But my partner in the exercise, Erwin Valencia actually was a dancer. He told me that dance is the thing that brings him to LIFE! And he’s a lively guy. He handed the ballet slippers back to me and said, “I know where you are in your journey as a dancer. Keep these. It’s important right now.”

I cried and thanked him. The gift of the exercise was that Erwin had seen me in the moment. The shoes were not the important thing anymore. The release had already happened. When I checked in at Rast Ballet Dance Loft in Chicago this afternoon, it was a freer experience. I owned it in a new way. And you were there with me Erwin. I love you and your dancer’s spirit. Thank you. And thank you AFest tribe!

Reversing Self Abuse

My first passion for psychology stemmed out of an interest in trauma work. And I’m partial to treating adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I have seen an influx of clients lately who are healing from this type of early abuse. When I get an influx of clients handling a particular issue or a particular aspect of a trauma, it can usually indicate that I have something very specific to learn about the bigger picture.

I recently had a realization in working with trauma clients who survived childhood sexual abuse that there is an insidious thing that happens – especially if the perpetrator was any good at what they did. In witnessing the stories and personality cadences of my clients, I saw that the perpetrator’s talent was in teaching the child how to continue to perpetrate the abuse upon herself. It shows up as self-hatred, self-flagellation, criticism, insecurity, self-rejection, self-deprecation and just down right ugly self-talk.

For me, this was a key. The wonderful thing about finding such a maladaptive pattern is that there is a way to work WITH the client to help her to protect herself. The deeper the wounding or abuse (which considers DIF - duration, intensity and frequency) the more likely the survivor of abuse would coil into a pattern of self-abuse through how she perceived herself, talked to herself, and related to others. The deeper the wounding, the more likely my survivor client would continue to abuse herself – behavior taught by the original abuse and the original abuser.

So now I ask a client to look at her negative self talk as it relates to the original abuse and abuser. I am able to gently challenge the client to be in alignment with who she truly is at her core. I often find that she does not want to be in agreement with the original abuser who taught her to turn on herself. If she can begin to see that she has aligned with the abuse and the abuser and begun to turn on herself, may begin to be in a greater place of choice and freedom. She can choose to align with the abuser, to re-abuse herself and become a metaphorical suicide bomber OR she can decide to switch teams from terrorist squad to gentle and benevolent squad or even self-protection squad. Once she makes the link that the trauma taught her to turn the abuse upon herself I find that she is usually more willing to make a new alignment with her child-self. Instead of colluding with the abuser and putting herself down, she may defy the abuser and protect her child-self who was not allowed protection.

At every turn I try to make a game out of it. “Oh, OK, so your outfit looks lame? Is that the abuser re-abusing you or is that your authentic YOU?”

“So you say you’re not an interesting conversationalist? No one likes you? That’s funny because I find you very likeable and you have compelling stories to tell?”

From there I may ask, “Who decided you were a poor conversationalist or were unlikable? Would that be YOU or the abuser?”

I’m careful not to force the choice. Instead, I can invite my client to advocate for herself. Once she sees the pattern of self-abuse, she can decide if she wants to do things differently. She may not have had a choice in the past. The joy of seeing a maladaptive pattern is that it brings her freedom to remain in the pattern or to step in a different direction. I find that she almost always does want to advocate for herself. She can end the pattern of abuse here and begin to validate the child who was silenced.

I applaud my clients and all individuals who courageously move forward after sexual abuse. My hope is that when they have the choice to see themselves as deserving compassion they can see the beauty and light that I am able to see in them. It is truly a joy and a privilege to do this kind of work.