(Susan Tebb, PhD in yoga class; lower right corner in turquoise.)

THE LAUNCH OF MY NEWLY REVAMPED WEBSITE “EMBODY MENTAL HEALTH” at www.embodymentalhealth.com (final edits to website content still being made), Q&A SERIES, & THE NEW LOOK OF ALL MY SITES INCLUDING THE ARTICLES PAGE OF MY WEBSITE at www.embodyarticles.blogspot.com brings with great excitement the first of a series of interviews with professionals in the field of mental health, mind/body medicine, trauma therapy, yoga and equine professionals and more.

Today’s Q&A is with Professor Susan Tebb, Ph.D.  Sue Tebb,Professor of Social Work at St. Louis University , a former Dean/Director, has centered her research interests around family caregiving.  She has written two books and over forty book chapters and/or publications in this area.  She has been a social worker for more than forty years working with many diverse family configurations in adoptions, medical social work, court mediation and caregiving situations.  Lately her caregiving research , knowledge building and skill training has begun to involve more complementary and integrative interventions, such as yogic techniques,  to deal with stress and trauma.

Q:  What is your background in the field of social work?  Which populations have you worked with and in what kind of mental health settings?


I first worked in the field following my undergraduate degree in psychology as a social work intern at the Red Cross in downtown Chicago in the middle of the Vietnam Crisis.  It was my first introduction to working with families and military men and women who were injured both physically and mentally by combat.  I then got my MSW degree at Wayne State because they were just beginning to work with families and not the traditionally, casework, group work, community organization that were what most schools offered.

After my MSW degree I worked as a maternity and adoption worker and then moved into medical social worker, working in cancer clinics, rehab, medical services and dialysis/transplant.  I enjoyed working with dialysis and transplant and so when I was offered a job to work for a group of doctors beginning dialysis centers I grabbed it because I enjoyed the holistic way we worked with people on dialysis, we got to know them and their families.  I continued this type of work in two other states and then left that area of work to return to adoption and maternity work.

I enjoyed working with families as they went through the adoption process to adopt an older child or a child from another country.  I also was touched by the women who made the decision to relinquish rights to their child and tried to help make this process a healing one for them.  At this time I was a single mom with two young children; their dad had died in a car accident five years earlier.  I realized I needed to make plans to have a secure position with good health benefits and so I decided to go back to school and get a Ph.D. in social work.  Something I had often thought about but never thought it was the right moment, well then was the right moment.

I moved our family to Kansas from California to attend the program at the University of Kansas.  This was exactly the program for me because  it was at this time that the strengths model was forming at Kansas.  I did my research and work while there on positive coping and strengths in family caregivers at the VA hospital.

Q:  How long have you been a professor at St. Louis University?  What do think are the most important things a graduate social work student can learn?

I have been at Saint Louis University almost 18 years.  Longer than I ever thought but it has offered me opportunities to grow and change and to keep challenged.  I think social work students need to learn to stay open to change, to
work for change and to embrace change in themselves and the people
they work with.

Q:  When, how, and why did you become interested in yoga?  How did this interest turn into a professional inclination towards yoga for mental health?

My first yoga class was in Chicago after I moved back following receipt of my MSW degree.  I have always liked sports and have been open to all kinds.  At that time I saw yoga as only the postures and enjoyed it but never pursued it more than an occasional class.  Then when my daughter was in high school we took yoga classes together for about one year, again it was still a physical exercise for me.  I have been running since my daughter was born and she will be 33 this year.

As I got older I realized I could not run as much as I had and needed to find other things to do.  I became interested in triathlons and in preparing for triathlons I read that yoga was a great thing to do to prepare for a race and so I thought, “Oh, I like yoga”.  I will try and see if that doesn’t help my longevity at  triathlons.  So I started going to yoga classes and it began to help my achy joints.  I still only saw yoga as asanas but I went every week for a class.

About four years ago I began to plan for a sabbatical and ran across an article about using yoga in mental health, especially with depression and so I began to look for more information in this area.  My academic scholarship is in the area of family caregivers of older adults; depression and anxiety are experienced by many caregivers.  I wanted to better help caregivers and so I continued pursuing yoga and mental health.

During my sabbatical I had the opportunity to visit Lynn Waelde at Pacific Graduate School of Psychology who uses meditation and yoga with many populations with very good results.  Lynn was so gracious in working with me because I had not a clue about yoga other than postures.  I also decided to take Amy Weintraub’s LifeForce Yoga Training and completed that and became a Level 1 LifeForce Yoga instructor and realized in the training that this could work with all kinds of mental health issues, in particular, anxiety, depression and PTSD.

This workshop opened my awareness to the eight limbs of yoga and thus I began to read, study, practice and meditate more.  I am now involved in yoga teacher training and will be a registered yoga teacher next month.  This training has helped me look at ways that I might work to help others incorporate more yogic techniques into their lives.  I go for my Level 2 LifeForce Yoga Training this spring and look forward to where all of this is taking me and will take me.

Q:  What are the effects you have seen in integrating yoga into mental health?  What do you think the impact of yoga is on a person’s mental health?  Why do you believe this to be true?

So often we forget that we can control our mind and that much of what we fear is in the mind.  There are severe mental health issues and I believe in integrative health care where western medicine and eastern medicine can work together.  Just breathing and being conscious of breath can change people.  Postures are important because they help us begin to bring the body and mind with the spirit together.  We compartmentalize so much and really we are connected to all that happens in our mind and body just as we are connected to all that happens around us.  I believe yoga, working with the various limbs of yoga, help us to begin to see the connections within  and without.

Q:  What other complementary practices are you a proponent of?

I am a proponent of whatever works for you.  I teach a MSW course on CAM (Complementary & Alternative Medicine) and love to see students begin to think of other possibilities for themselves and for those they work with.

Q:  How are you integrating your yoga background into your professional sphere as a mental health professional and graduate professor of social work?

I teach practice courses both to graduate and undergraduate students and I have a section on integrative and complementary interventions so they can begin to see alternatives to talk therapy and that talk does not always work.  There are times it is what people need but then there are times people need to make a connection to body/mind/spirit and that can be through yoga or other methods.

I am also working with several yoga teachers in the area giving workshops for the general public on the benefits of yoga and to social work professionals on how to integrate yoga into your personal practice and/or into your professional practice.  Many social workers were not introduced to CAM while in school so workshops such as these does just that.
Q:  What made you decide to take yoga teacher training?  What school/methodology of yoga are you training with? Why did you pick this particular style of practice?

I decided if I was going to bring it into the classroom I needed a better understanding and instead of bringing a yoga teacher in decided I would get the training so I could teach the section myself.  I picked a teacher who is very open to all the various types of yoga because I wanted to remain open to the various kinds myself and so he is a hatha yoga teacher.  We have been introduced through various teachers in the area to many of the styles of yoga and I probably prefer kundalini, Iyengar, viniyoga and ashtanga/power-and I like anusara and the therapeutic holds in Phoenix Rising and thus you see why I chose the teacher I did.  I teach a combination and on some days with some people more one style than another.

Q:  What are you most passionate about in your life and your work?

Happiness and enjoyment of life.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of complementary medicine and
integrative mental health?

That insurance companies pay for it and more physicians prescribe it.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of yoga in the mental health arena?

That more mental health professionals refer to it and/or recommend it to clients and use it themselves.
Q:  Anything you would like to leave the readers with–inspirations, aspirations, words of wisdom?

Listen to your body/mind/spirit connection and connect with it.

Q:  How long have you been a professor at St. Louis University?  What do think are the most important things a graduate social work student can learn?

I have been at Saint Louis University almost 18 years.  Longer than I ever thought but it has offered me opportunities to grow and change and to keep challenged.  I think social work students need to learn to stay open to change, to work for change and to embrace change in themselves and the people they work with.

(BELOW: Susan Tebb, PhD)

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