I met Emily via email a couple of months ago when she sent me a kind email related to a comment I had made on Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s blog for CNN in which he reported that there was no healing from traumatic experience. I disagreed and so did Emily. She thanked me for my comment on the blog post and so a lovely email communication began. Emily’s work began in the bodywork realm and through the access to the body in her treatment approaches she began helping her clients express and deal with traumatic material from a bodywork perspective. I, coming from the opposite origin (learning psychotherapy and the mind realm first) but coming to the same endpoint (learning how much emotional pain is stored in and can be released from the body) am always interested in bodyworkers who have always worked in and explored the rich realm of body-oriented healing. Emily’s work and her story is lovely to read and I hope you all enjoy learning about her practice as much as I have!
Q: What is your professional background? What interested you in holistic therapies and treatment approaches?
A. I’ve been a practitioner of the healing arts for almost 20 years. I’ve always been interested in natural healing, preferring plant based medicines to chemicals made in a laboratory. In 1991, I read Louise Hay’s “You can heal your life”. That was my first introduction to how our thoughts affect our health. It made sense. I became fascinated in working with healing modalities which encompass aspects of body mind and spirit, and which are based on the premise that all of life is energy and that we have everything we need to self heal.
Q: Can you explain your practice as an Energetic Bodyworker, Somatic Trauma Resolution practitioner, and your use of Polarity therapy and Craniosacral therapy? Please explain these different treatment approaches for people.
A. My main focus is helping people resolve all types of trauma both shock and developmental traumas. To start with I help them find what their resources are. Whether it’s cooking for friends, walking in nature, or organizing the office Christmas party or riding their bike I help them discover what is working in their life. We call that resourcing, which is the first step in re regulating the nervous system. I ask them to become mildly curious about the physical sensations happening while thinking about something that makes one feel joyful or successful or good in the body. This sensation awareness combined with imagining something you like or used to like doing, becomes a supportive tool when unraveling an experience that has been overwhelming for someone. I see profound results when we focus first on healing the nervous system first. When the client is able to track or follow their sensations when thinking of a resource as well as when addressing something traumatic and be able to go back and forth between the two sides, we are on the way. The next step which I consider foundational to the process is to do some simple boundary exercises. The whole thing is a sort of complex and delicate process which is difficult to explain or imagine being effective, but it works really well.
Polarity Therapy is a whole healing system which involves bodywork, exercises, counseling, and nutritional guidance as away to relate to life force energy. I help the clients energy field to open up and clear blockages and get things flowing again. With CranioSacral I’m accessing the tides of the cerebral spinal fluid through subtle hands on palpation which encourages the body into self healing mode. I use both these methods as compliments to the STR work.
Q: How are these approaches effective for trauma and issues of mental health? Where did you study and train in these different approaches?
A. In my experience many mental health issues stem from unresolved trauma. It is key to help a person out of fight/flight/freeze, and assist them to feel safe in the body before delving into specific issues. When the client has been able to discharge the shock from the nervous system, it’s much easier for them to talk about difficult experiences.
Most of my training has been through Polarity Healing arts here in the LA area, although I’m constantly updating and learning new skills new modalities to help people heal.
Q: Where did your passion for working with survivors of trauma come from? What other ailments and issues do you work on with your clients?
A. I guess because there is so much of it around! Every time I read a story or hear about someone who has experienced trauma I feel compelled to help. I feel uncomfortable seeing someone suffer needlessly, especially when I know I have skills that could be potentially life changing.
As a foundational part of the trauma work, I work with boundaries and resourcing. Until people feel safe in the body and the body knows it’s ok to defend itself, it’s hard to heal. There are specific exercises I do with clients to help them reestablish boundary muscles and complete truncated fight flight or frozen defensive responses.
Q: What have been the effects and results you have seen with clients seeking your help with mental and emotional distress? What are so examples of how these treatments have impacted client’s lives in positive ways?
A. My clients have experienced relief from issues that have been troubling them, from acute to chronic both emotional and physical. After just one session, one of my clients was able to resolve 3 phobias; not being able to sleep with the light off, fear of public restrooms and fear of heights. Another felt her chronic neck pain dissolve after renegotiating a childhood trauma. Things like being able to sleep without medication, feeling safe in situations that had previously been anxiety provoking, or even something like a woman who resolved her “frozen shoulder” issue that had it’s roots in a brutal attack more than 20 years ago. After just one session one of my clients stopped having flashbacks of a car accident that was plaguing her for 30 years. It usually takes more than one session, but is meant to be a short term approach with long term effects. In general people end up being more resourced and functioning better in all aspects of life.
Q: Do you ever work in coordination with or receive referrals from other holistic practitioners, bodyworkers, yoga teachers, or mental health professionals? Would you work in collaboration with other practitioners, mental health or otherwise, to bring healing and wellness to others?
A. Yes, dentists, therapists, chiropractors, acupuncturists and physical therapists have refereed me. Other types of treatments work much more quickly and effectively once shock has been discharged out of the body.
Q: Do you find that there is a community of like-minded professionals you can collaborate with on ideas and work together with on projects?
A. Sometimes but not as much as I would like. In LA there are so many alternative modalities available that it’s sometimes hard to interest people in yet another healing approach that isn’t well known in the mainstreem. I think if therapists and health practitioners had more exposure to this method they would be more eager to try it themselves and to refer their patients.
Q: Do you find that people seeking treatment has diminished with the recession? Or do you see people coming more readily to treatment due to increased stressors?
A. I’ve found both. One thing I’ve noticed is sort of a wave of people who have known they’ve had “issues” for years and suddenly they feel compelled to make changes and begin to heal. The old ways of managing are no longer acceptable.
Q: What approaches do you use for your own self care? Yoga, acupuncture, meditation, or other activities or practices for enjoyment or to relieve stress? DO you feel it is essential to take care of oneself when working in this field?
A. Hiking and yoga are both great outlets. Also, I’m a painter so I think I work things out through the paint. I’m also constantly learning new modalities which keeps me on my toes and keeps me doing my own work. I never have the attitude that I’m done. I’m always pushing myself to do my own inner work, resolve old patterns and keep my energy field clean.
Q: Who and what have been your greatest inspiration(s) in this work? What book do you feel is essential? What lecturer would you recommend anyone with an interest in these practices go see? What training was essential?
A. Years ago, I had the pleasure of watching Dr. Peter Levine doing some live SE demonstrations. I was so moved, I knew I had to study the work myself. I have had many mentors along the way. The first was Gary Strauss who taught me to palpate an energy field which was an amazing discovery. I would recommend Anna and John Chitty in Boulder Co. for the study of BioDynamic CranioSacral. I learned STR with Sharon Porter who came from a Polarity/Cranial background like myself. I’m grateful to have the energetic component of her teachings, which makes the work multidimensional. Having had the opportunity to teacher assist with her has deepened my understanding of the trauma work. Joel Hipps facilitated my clairvoyant training which has been invaluable for keeping me grounded an increasing my perceptive abilities. I’m very kinesthetic so I had to learn to see energy instead of feel everything. Lastly for anyone who really wants to “think outside the box” I would highly recommend taking a weekend “Matrix energetics” workshop. Your life will never be the same!
Q: What are your hopes for the future of complementary medicine and alternative treatments for mental health and wellness? What are your hopes for the future of your work over the next 1 year, 2 years, 5 years?
A. I hope that I will see the day when we stop labeling trauma as a disorder of the mind and begin to see it as a dis regulation of an overwhelmed nervous system; a result of our natural healing mechanism being interrupted.
I would hope that every mental health professional, every paramedic, policeman, fireman, physical therapist, and Doctor could be more educated about how the autonomic nervous system works in relationship to trauma. Minimum that they could all at least read “Waking the Tiger” and “Crash Course”, and that we would stop medicating people with developmental trauma, and learn some basic first aid tools that would help shock trauma from setting in in the first place. I know that sound like a lot, but some of the principles are so basic. The less traumatized people there are, the less patterns of abuse and violence will continue to repeat.
Q: What would like people to know about the work you do? Any words of wisdom, inspiration, or advice to others interested in this field of study or practice?
A. Sometimes people comment when they find out I don’t usually start out working on the table, they might say, “so what, it’s just talking?” NO, this work is very different from traditional talk therapy. It’s a body centered approach and even though I’m not usually touching you, you will feel things physically. That’s why you have to have an experience to “get” it, because it’s not like anything else that we do. That it’s a relatively short term approach and that you will learn self healing skills that you can use throughout life.
Q: Any advice to persons seeking a variety of paths to healing from trauma, ptsd, and emotional issues?
A. Keep trying things until you find what works for you. Not the same thing works for everyone. There are some great modalities like EMDR, EFT, and even dietary changes. Myself for example, I experienced huge benefits for depression using NAET. The important thing is to make your healing a priority and don’t give up until you find what works for you.
EMILY VAN HORN PRACTICES OUT OF SANTA MONICA, CALIFORNIA. TO LEARN MORE ABOUT HER WORK PLEASE VISIT HER WEBSITE AT: http://www.emilyvanhorn.com