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perfect feet pt. 1 by dml82.

“The place where you made your stand never mattered. Only that you were there… and still on your feet.”

Stephen King


Since I returned from Sonoita I have been assessing my emotional state, feet first.  There is a very pointed reason for this.  A wise horsewoman and trauma survivor with a casual penchant for qualitative research pointed some really profound things about the nature of the foot and reading body language from the toes up.  In all my time focused on somatics I had never given much attention to the foot–almost none.  But I met someone who spent her life’s work noticing the nuances of human and equine body language from head to toe and with a very finite lense on the feet.  In traditional psychotherapy the feet are not a focal point but in horsmanship the foot, where it is, the angle, the flexing and all, are the language in movement between horse and rider.  So, of course, the well-versed horsewoman Shelley Rosenberg has been spending a career looking at feet in a way that I, as a therapist, never would have thought to–she can read the language of the body in a completely different way than I and, it seems, feet have been speaking especially loudly to her.

Even at a distance her acute vision notices things like toe curling in a boot and feet flexing on tippy toes.  She tells me this as she notices my toes curling in my own Mountaineer size 7’s as I sit with some dis-ease atop Max–an elderly white horse who is teaching me a lot about what my body is saying to him.  She tells me that she noticed her own toes doing this while standing, walking, or crossing her legs as a sort of last stopping point for trauma or tension trapped in the body.  She found that even the trauma survivor that had peeled back all the other layers and evaporated all the other clenching of muscles seemed to linger at the toes–hanging on to that one last muscle of control and space to prepare for danger.  A person’s whole body could be lax, she tells me, but she can read what they are really feeling with one glance at their feet.

Until she mentions it to me I don’t notice my own toes clenching, unfamiliar with the back of a horse and the gait of a trot, I had ,unknowingly, clenched my last bit of muscle and flesh–hanging on when I didn’t even realizing it.  But since she pointed this out to me all I can do is realize it; I am assessing my life in steps and flexes.  And finding it to be amazingly accurate on a personal case study level.  I am beginning to explore myself and my emotions…feet first.

I was discussing the other day the ripples and waves that are created in the self post-trauma and post-PTSD.  I have shed the PTSD of my self and have been lifted to a beautiful place where I can explore this life after Post Traumatic Stress Disorder.  In the process I am attuned and aware of my “self” at a new level of clarity.  In this awareness I am learning more about the ripples after PTSD.  I am exploring those things that linger in me that are nowhere near that of a DSM-IV version of any disorder but are, what I can only describe as, the ripples and aftershocks; the behaviors and responses in body and mind that have to be undone after years spent in a state of constant fearful survival, raw and empty all at once.

This exploration of my sensory responses and my emotional sensibilities through my feet is another layer of that onion of aftershocks.  Now that I am thinking feet first I have found my toes to be a very accurate barometer of how I am feeling, even below my own first glance interpretation of myself–at the layer below conscious or superficial self and down to the muscle and bone, “subtle self”, if you will.  I wonder what we all might discover about ourselves if we spent a little more time in our toes–also the place of grounding and centering and rooting into the earth.  In yoga I have spent much of my time for myself and for students exploring rooting into the earth with every toe, from heel forward, but in psychotherapy and daily life I have paid it less attention.  Now I find myself starting in myself, in my patients, and in general, eyeing the world feet first.

Take a look down at the ground and see what you find!

Breathe Deeply by creativedc.

“It is impossible to be in a state of panic and to breath deeply, slowly, quietly and regularly.  It cannot coexist.

The subjective experience of anxiety is often of being out of control.  If you deal with this by giving a patient a drug you are reinforcing the notion that the locus of control is outside.  If patients can discover that they have within them access to controls over emotional states it is a revelation.  And when you try to deal with this with an outside suppressive measure the effectiveness of the measure decreases with frequency of use. Whereas when you rely on an innate measure like this the power of technique increases with repetition.  This is the single most effective anti-anxiety measure I have come across (breathing exercise).

When I tell colleagues about it it is TOO simple.  How did we get to this state where we think the only effective medical treatment is drugs? ”

BY DR. ANDREW WEIL,  BREATHWORK Workshop, INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE 2010.

BREATHWORK:

I am a huge proponent of breath as a potent healing activity and so I was excited when I got my 2 disc CD recording of the first ever INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE in the mail and found an entire workshop with Dr. Andrew Weil on a biological, neurological, scientific and psychological affirmation of the power of breath for healing!  His quote above only touches on the mastery of the workshop, the hopefulness of breathwork integration in the field of psychotherapy, and plenty of rich data from the anthropological to the biological as to why breath can alleviate many of the ills we, as a society, might presently over-medicate before looking for alternate solutions.  He perfectly synthesizes above the crux of the reason why internal resources can be more potent and long lasting than chemical and external solutions for issues of anxiety.

In Dr. Weil’s workshop “Breathwork for Optimum Health” he discusses breath as the “Master Key” and I could not think of a more apt description of this tool that I have imparted to every client I see–and so, apparently, does Dr. Weil.  I feel in good company.  He stated that his simple breath exercise, similar in structure to my own, is the one thing he teaches everyone he sees.  I take clients through a breathing exercise and ask them how they feel, when they say how relaxed they feel I remind them that THEY not I got themselves to that state of relaxation.  I may have said the words but the only thing that got their body and mind relaxed was their own body and mind.  Another thing I was excited to hear resonate with Dr. Weil’s description above of the internal resources versus the external crutches that over-medicating can produce.  We have such powers for change inside ourselves which I explored in the NEUROBIOLOGY & NEUROPLASTICITY post a short while ago–we just don’t tap into that power for change for the positive nearly enough.

If I can teach one client breath and they can sleep better, calm down faster, diminish their anger in one situation they would not have had the internal resources to deal with prior then, to me, it is a valuable tool.  When I hear a COMBAT MARINE VETERAN tell me he is practicing alternate nostril breathing at home for anger and sleep or another telling me that he presses his palms together at his chest and practices nostril breathing for anxiety, both with amazing anecdotal results, then I can say that if it works for them it could work for any of us–given the chance!

If you have not tried a basic breathing practice then maybe just try listening to a quick soundbite, mp3, cd of a simple breathing technique or maybe I can outline a simple one on the site if there is interest.

INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE:

Am I a nerd because I checked my mail anxiously every day awaiting it’s arrival?  Answer is: yes!  But I was waiting all last week to receive the INTEGRATIVE MENTAL HEALTH CONFERENCE recordings as I could not make it to the conference but I wanted to imbibe every moment of the rich material with speakers like Jon Kabat–Zinn, Dr. Weil, Amy Weintraub and many other academics, researchers, and practitioners in the field of integrative practices for mental health and wellness.  The CDs, which contain 40 hours of material, are a rich and hopeful array of work in this field and an inspiration of what is possible within the field.

The conference was made up of social workers, nurses, doctors, psychologists and psychiatrists and was sold out weeks before the event.  If this doesn’t show the hunger in the health and mental health field for treatments outside of the scope of what western medicine is capable of then I don’t know what is.  It shows that this field is burgeoning and that more professionals than ever before are integrating holistic approaches into the course of traditional treatments they already provide.  The point of INTEGRATIVE is not to get rid of anything just to find the perfect complement of what is being done and what else can be added to the equation for more effective results for a whole person: mind, body, and spirit.

The recordings are phenomenal and I recommend them to any professional in the healthcare field or any person interested in a variety of treatment approaches for their own health–body and mind.  The conference sessions can be purchased as a complete set or a-la-carte per workshop for $15.00 per session.  Each one has a dense collection of material and each presentation gives a variety of resources where you can learn more about the practices discussed in the lecture–a lovely bonus.

A few of the amazing lectures included:

  • The Psychoneuroimmunology of Resilience, Optimism, and Hope
  • Mind-Body Medicine: Clinical Hypnosis for Medical and Mental Health Conditions
  • Transforming Your Mind: Meditation and Neuroplasticity
  • Spirituality and Mental Health: Paradigms and Evidence
  • Deficiencies in Omega 3-EFAs & Substance Abuse Mechanisms
  • Creating the Chemistry of Joy
  • A Vision of the Future of Integrative Mental Health
  • Lifeforce Yoga: Empower Your CLients to Manage Their Moods

Can you see why I was in love with these CDS?

For more information on the Conference & The hosting facility ARIZONA CENTER FOR INTEGRATIVE MEDICINE: http://integrativemedicine.arizona.edu/integrative_mental_health_conference.html

For more information on the recordings go to: http://www.conferencerecording.com/aaaListTapes.asp?CID=IMH10


“Let that meek (quiet) darkness be your whole mind and like a mirror to you. For I want your thought of self to be as naked and simple as your thought of God, so that you may be with God in spirit without fragmentation and scattering of your mind.”

THE BOOK OF PRIVY COUNCIL , Author Unknown (same as THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING)

“Do not imagine that when I call it a darkness or a cloud that it is a cloud amassed with vapours that float in the air, or a darkness such as you have in your house at night, when your candle is out, for such a darkness. With little imagination you could picture the summer skies breaking through the clouds or a clear light brightening the dark winter. This is false, it isn’t what I mean for when I say “darkness” I mean a lack of knowing, just as whatever you do know or have forgotten is dark to you, because you do not see it in your spiritual eyes. For this reason, that which is between you and your God is termed, not a cloud of the air, but a cloud of unknowing.”

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Cloud of Unknowing is an ancient text and may be, some say, the origin of contemplative practice and dialogue within the Christian faith–we know meditation, contemplation, and philosophy around it is an ancient practice worldwide.

The Sufis did it, the Kabbalists did it, the Buddhists did it, the Mystics were everywhere, all over the globe and in every faith practice doing it. But what is it? Ah, the hard part. Deep inner silence, spiritual and corporeal centeredness, listening and hearing, and as always dealing with the “unknowing” of it all.

Whether we are deep in addiction, eating disorders, PTSD, or any disordered plane of existence we are plagued by the known demons and enemies in our minds, hearts, and souls. Part of addiction rhetoric says, “Let go and let God.” Mantras become mantras because they are so simple, succinct, and right on. This is no exception. Whether you believe in God, a universal force, or just human morality there is a part of us all that want to hold on to what we KNOW in life, about life, about ourselves. Knowing is comforting, even when, and it often is, it’s misleading.

When we KNOW we have no room to GROW. Unknowing however, as uncomfortable as it may be, leaves us ripe and ready for growth, change, and expansion beyond anything the known could ever provide. I say this with all humility as I struggling with my own battle of unknowing in my life right now. How I hate it!  And how I love it!  Maddening tis’nt’ it!

Can you spend a minute, an hour, a day intentionally “unknowing”?  Undoing all the dogmas, preconceptions, all the stuck-ness, ruts, predispositions….and just LET GO!  Give it a shot–it is scary like falling but also freeing like flying.

I am paragliding my way through the present, coasting across the sky to an unknown landing zone.  We will see where it leads.  Follow you own wind, paraglide into your own unknowns….and I hope everyone has a lovely weekend!

Where then, you say shall I be?
Nowhere by this tale!
Exactly you say this well,
for there would I have you.
For nowhere physically is everywhere spiritually.

THE CLOUD OF UNKNOWING, Author Unknown

Brain by dierk schaefer.

“Every man can, of he so desires, become the sculptor of his own brain”
Santiago Ramon y Cajal

Santiago Ramon y Cajal was a nobel laureate and one of the greatest neurobiologists in history.  His assertion above has been proved more and more true as time has gone on and more elaborate science has been able to affirm the brain’s ability to change.  REMEMBER one of my favorite words for 2010 NEUROPLASTICITY?  I have been, as a trauma therapist, trauma survivor, and passionate advocate for people’s ability to find healing out of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, more invigorated by the day with the overwhelming new science proving that my experience and beliefs are more than just hypothesis in the mist.

I went to a lecture last Friday on “Neurobiology & Trauma” presented by the highly esteemed and eloquent Dr. Amanda Evans of Florida Gulf Coast University (and President of Florida’s National Association of Social Work).  I love a good neurobiology and trauma lecture as much as the next person–well, ok I guess I love it probably more than MOST of the people next to me–but I never know what to expect and get nervous for a 101 type generalist discussion.  I was blown away by Dr. Evans workshop–she affirmed all of what I have already learned and threw her own vantage point into the mix in a refreshing way.

One of the things she stressed, and I loved her description (I will paraphrase), was the difference between a traumatic experience, trauma survivor, and a person living with Post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  I loved that she made this distinction because as a trauma therapist in a small field with this focus–most mental health professionals don’t specialize in this area–I have found there are so many perpetuated myths and misconceptions about PTSD that often get passed on as truths to clients and other professionals.  Some of the greatest myths I have heard perpetuated by other mental health professionals (well-intentioned but can be so damaging for clients and the perceptions of PTSD as a whole) are:

  • PTSD is a terminal diagnosis–You will have it forever.
  • PTSD is incurable, un-healable and can only be moderated with medication.
  • PTSD exists if you have even one or two of the symptoms and even if they go away if they return (even one symptom) then it means you have had it all along.
  • PTSD happens to anyone who has experienced trauma–if something traumatic happened you have PTSD.
  • PTSD is treated with talk therapy and medication–there are no other treatment approaches that do any good.
  • …I know there are more but these are the biggest.

Dr. Evans, in her eloquence, stated: (paraphrased)

“Having a symptom of PTSD does not make the diagnosis.  A person may have a flashback or intrusive thought at some point triggered by something that happens but that does not mean they have PTSD.  Post traumatic stress disorder is a persistent cluster of symptoms so great and overwhelming that they impact functioning and living life.  They affect a person’s ability to work, have personal relationships, and generally function in the world.  If you are not experiencing these elements in your daily life then you are having a normal response to a traumatic experience if you occasionally are reminded and it brings on a singular nightmare, thought, flashback–that is ok and does not mean that you have a disordered condition.  There is a misrepresentation of the difference between a normative response of a trauma survivor and a disordered way of being.”

Again, this is my paraphrasing of her words but the gist is what she stated.  It is always exciting for me to hear another professional, especially a well-versed specialist in the area of trauma, neurobiology, and diagnosis, describe what I know to be true as well.  Our brains can change.  The very nature of our own capacity for survival–mind,body, and spirit–that help us to SURVIVE are what can entrench that survival instinct and create a disordered response to the world–one that is all survival mode all the time.  This entrenched way of being that becomes a disordered response to the world in all aspects (mind,body, and spirit) are PTSD.  We can chip away at those responses and CHANGE our brain with the same resilience and survival capacity that brought us into a PTSD state in the first place.  The brain and our humanity are complex but also simple–we survive and hopefully through work we can do more than that and begin to THRIVE.  This is true for trauma survivors and everyone overcoming difficulties in life.

This also relates so much to MIND, BODY, and SPIRIT WELLNESS in that it gives hope and the potential for hope and change in ourselves and our lives grounding in reality and science!  Whether you are dealing with traumatic issues, stress, anxiety, or any emotionally distressing experience you can know that there is hope in our world and in our own BRAINS for CHANGE.  Neuroscientists are saying it, therapists are saying it, and the illusions and myths are being dispelled to make way for the truths of hard science and soft science.  I have known my own truth in my life, PTSD, and recovery journey in a visceral way…these new facts only help me to depict this truth concretely for others and be able to be an instiller of hope in my clients lives rather than handing out terminal diagnosis of disorder with no end.

APRIL is the beginning of Sexual Assault Awareness month and in the honor of that I wanted to discuss the exciting world of hope in recovery and healing from traumatic experience.  I hope more people can believe in themselves, their brains, their spirits, their bodies and the ability to find healing from a variety of sources!  I discovered yoga as an avenue to my own wellness and found, through neurobiology and the roots of trauma and trouble with speech in trauma, that movement can often be a great outlet for emotional pain when talk cannot.  I hope everyone, trauma survivor, and just those surviving their own issues of life, takes the time to search for their own avenues to wellness!  What do you love? What brings you comfort? Start there and reach out for professional help if you need it–there are ways to healing and there are people who can help!

All my thoughts and blessings to those suffering from emotional pains today and every day.


“The horizon leans forward, offering you space to place new steps of change.”

Maya Angelou

This week has brought a plethora of wonderful blessings and magical gifts my way!  Let me list the three prominent highlights:

  1. New Partnership with Lisa Kelly & THE RED TENT : A Healing Arts Center for Women in Delray Beach, Florida.
  2. PASSED my Yoga Teacher Training Final Exam last night–85% thank you very much.  And I thought NYU Graduate School was hard.
  3. Article on “COMPLEMENTARY THERAPIES FOR TRAUMA” was posted at Michele’s HEAL MY PTSD “Professional Perspectives” section of her website today.

Every time I wonder how I am going to take the next step forward into the wild blue yonder of my life and then something beautiful and wonderful happens.  I would say, without hesitation, this was the case in meeting with Lisa Kelly, owner of The Red Tent, trained Doula, massage therapist, and passionate advocate of the ability to heal oneself by accessing the body to get to the emotional content inside.  In our discussion of our mutual passions for healing and wellness and vision for a community of holistic healthcare I realized I had stumbled upon–in one short email, a Facebook connection, and 48 hours–one of those kindred spirits that I thought were so rare.  What I have realized is that the more you shout into the abyss your passion, the more kindred souls you find echoing back.

I have begun the embryonic phases of a partnership with Lisa and her wonderful center THE RED TENT whose name is meant to symbolize (as the book by the same name does) a community of women joining together for healing.  I will begin practicing at her oasis of a location (complete with outdoor foot bath/ jacuzzi!) providing services such as: individual, couples & mother/baby therapy, individual, couples & group yoga for mental health/wellness, and a mosaic of creative workshops.  My practice in this soothing environment will be given the freedom to apply the tools I find so healing including: breathing exercises, guided visualization, yoga techniques, mind/body and somatic attunement, creative arts, and imagination.  I believe this new venture is going to be the beginning of a wonderful journey towards cultivating a healing community and bringing the intention of “embodying mental health” to life in full 3 dimensional form.

I titled this post “New Horizons: Watching Life Unfold From the Driver’s Seat” because that is how it feels as I begin this process of rebirth, as it were.  The horizon shifts and the sun peaks out from the landscape without any help from us, we only direct the path of where we drive, towards it, away from it, or meandering slowly in it’s direction.  There are times in my life were I definitely went in the opposite direction of light and other times where I took the winding hard way to get to the sun on the horizon.  But today, in this moment, in this breath, it feels like I am full of intention and on a steady path towards the sun rising ahead.

The sun rises and sets in our life and we either go with it or steer away–I am ready to gaze into the sun and drive right into the warmth and brightness of its glow.

One exhausting and wonderful adventure, yoga school, is coming to a close.  And so it seems an apt time for the newly donned subtitle of the “MY EMBODIMENT” blog: “…exploring mind, body, and spirit wellness.” That is where I think I am headed, on an exploration and continued journey into self, wellness, and continued healing paths of myself and others.  I am leaving yoga school having learned much and knowing that I have much to learn–the best educational experiences provide more questions than answers, more quests into the unknown and momentum forward.  I have stretched in every meaning of the word: mind, body, and spirit.  I have met wonderful people and found some kindred spirits along the way.  And I am grateful for every moment spent struggling towards balance and head stands along the way!  I am proud to say I can finally balance on my head, even if momentarily, and I think this progress is literal and metaphoric as my life propels forward into the upside downs and unknowns.

Whatever tomorrow brings I want to stare into the sun and drive straight towards the horizon of my life!  Sometimes life reminds you that you are on the right path.  I imagine a road sign on my metaphoric highway towards the sun with a sign reading “Next Destination Just Ahead: Beware of Speed Bumps”.  Reminding me that I have the potential to enact all the things I want to, I just need to make sure I keep myself in check in the process.  In yoga and in life, our human flaws and egos are the enemy of all good works.  I want to be on the side of Karmic Service & try to leave as much of my human flaws at the last rest stop before I reach my next destination.  I hope yoga gave me some of those tools.  I hope my passion for this work has given me the energy and stamina for the trek.  And I hope my car’s tires have warranties–because there are always bumps along the way.

**ALSO my “Yoga for Trauma Survivors” at Yoga & Inner Peace in Lake Worth, FL continues tomorrow 1:00-2:30pm: visit http://www.yogapeace.com for more information!**

CHECK OUT…

The Red Tent: A Healing Arts Center for Women at www.redtentwellness.com

Heal My PTSD: Conquer the Past. Create the Future at www.healmyptsd.com

The old glass half empty versus glass half full is an overused phrase but most overused phrases become so because they are both succinct and apt–as is this particular tome of truth.  So often we look at life, emotional distress, and healing from a glass half empty vantage point and in doing so we short change ourselves and our own capacity to find healing and wellness in our minds, hearts, and spirits.

I spoke in my 10 Words of Inspiration for 2010 post about the word “neuroplasticity” which is defined as the brain’s ability to CHANGE.  What a fascinating and optimistic truism of neurobiology that we, as humans, have been privileged to discover.  And what wonderful hope this truth can bring in life and healing if we choose to see it.

I was made privy on Sunday, via a facebook link, about a post from May 2009 by Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s “Paging Dr. Gupta” blog, medical correspondent for CNN.  He was asked whether there is healing from PTSD and his opinion, I believe more personal than medical, dictated that there was no full healing from PTSD and that it was a constant, lifelong struggle just to manage.  I felt provoked, by the certitude of his assertion to leave the following comment on this post  that I think describes in full my vantage point on the matter (as old as the post was it was just too in my core to say something):

Hello,

It is always a difficult thing as a survivor of trauma and sufferer from PTSD to tell your story. Thank you Dr. Gupta for doing that–it takes much bravery and internal strength. I think, also, that it is hard when you are in the immediate throes of traumatic experience and the aftermath of PTSD to see outside of it–very understandably so. I remember sitting on the side of traumatic experience where I thought there could be no relief or release and unable to find anyone that would insinuate otherwise. It is, again, so understandable to be so deep inside the pain of trauma and not yet in on a path of reprieve and healing that it is hard to imagine real healing or reprieve is possible.

I am a trauma therapist who has worked extensively with combat veterans, survivors of sexual trauma, sufferers of domestic violence, war torture and a variety of other traumatic issues to include chronic illness, eating disorders, and addictions. I have also integrated an extensive amount of mindfulness practices, mind/body techniques, yoga methods, animal-bond therapies and creative arts to facilitate healing in my own recovery as a trauma survivor over the years and in present-day in the lives of my clients. I have found that a multitude of approaches can facilitate a great amount of healing even to the point of being curative in most respects.

Can things be triggering to a person with traumatic history? Yes. But that does not PTSD make. PTSD is misunderstood so often and in that there are a lot of professionals and survivors alike giving themselves or their clients these, as I call them, “terminal PTSD diagnosis”. Telling people with PTSD that they have it forever, there is no way out, is beyond demoralizing it is minimizing a human’s ability to heal or (as we have learned from the study of neuroplasticity in the brain) the brain’s capacity, neurologically, to CHANGE ITSELF.

We learn survival response in overload during traumatic experience and when it gets “stuck” PTSD ensues. PTSD is a cluster of sever symptoms that equal up to a disorder by definition. We are all effected by the things that happen in our lives and painful experience leaves a mark. We cannot erase the existence of traumatic experience from our memories but there is possibility to heal the traumatic response and that stuckness of the survival mechanism so that one is not diagnostically, by definition, a sufferer of Posttraumatic Stress Disorder.

Are there moments we are reminded of painful experience? Yes. Are there moments that might trigger that memory? Yes. But we also have a way to pull ourselves out–body, mind, and spirit–of the PTSD of trauma and live a healthful life. I have done this and I work to help others do the same daily as a trauma therapist. I believe in neuroplasticity, the brain’s capacity to change and essentially heal itself back to repair. I believe in all of our abilities to find our own resilience and wellness. These things are not easy and there is a process but I will not tell my clients that their PTSD is terminal–this was not true for me and I don’t believe it has to be true for others.

All my best wishes, prayers, and hopes for healing to all those suffering from PTSD and to yourself Dr. Gupta–I believe in your potential to heal and find wellness!

Teresa Bennett Pasquale, LCSW
http://www.embodymentalhealth.com

I figured that my comment would go into the blogosphere oblivion and then today I received the following email from Emily Van Horn, a somatic and energy bodywork professional from Santa Monica, California:

SUBJECT: thank you!

FROM: Emily Van Horn

Hello Teresa,
I just wanted to say thank you so much for your comment to Dr. Gupta.  As a trauma healing practitioner myself, I was appalled when reading that post that someone in such a position of “authority” would promote the mis conception that people can only manage their symptoms but can’t ever heal from PTSD.  I see the opposite of that on a daily basis in my own healing practice.

I wrote a comment that was never posted so it’s a relief to see that your was.  Again, thank you for taking the time to share your truth and help dispel the misinformation that is being promoted about the human capacity to heal from traumatic experiences.

many blessings,
Emily

I had been discussing earlier that day with my friend and co-professional Michele Rosenthal over at Heal My PTSD.com the impact a survivor and trauma professional’s voice can have when leant to the prospects and hopes for a healing journey.  That is why I started all the work I have, am trying (slowly) to write the memoir of my trauma experience and healing journey and created my website to expand people’s vantage points of potential angles and paths to healing.  Then there are the days I wonder if I am shouting into an abyss with only my own echo.  I know we all have those days.  Yesterday, on all fronts was not one of those days.  From the wonderful comments I got from people on my Karma-Infuse Your Life post to the wonderful surprise of an email from Emily  (LOOK FOR UPCOMING INTERVIEW WITH EMILY) I really felt as though my dreams, hopes, and personal journey of healing had some purpose and place as I shout into the void with my voice and my story.

My hope for everyone is HOPE.  A hope for healing.  A hope for peace.  A hope for a CHANGE OF MIND–as neuroplasticity tells us is possible for all of us with the right amount of effort.  See what we can do when we just try.  I tell my clients that all the time and they surprise themselves with proving that truism for themselves.  I hope for the hope of healing for Dr. Sanjay Gupta and all of the readers of his writing about trauma and all those who have not found the own healing properties and resources in their own minds, hearts, and spirits.  IT is there.  I believe in that.

“Taking one breath after another with my horses–and you must breathe with them if you want to understand their rhythms and emotions–I can settle myself, become calm, take stock of my surroundings.”


“I have spent my life with horses, eventually becoming a horse trainer and riding instructor.  Horses were my true teachers so I tell my story through them.  They are why I stand and speak.  They are my touchstone and bridge to my own kind.  They help me heal myself and go into human relationships a little stronger. “

Excerpted from MY HORSES, MY HEALERS by Shelley Rosenberg

Shelley Rosenberg is a courageous and impassioned woman.  Wounded by the trauma of childhood abuses she was not broken.  Her relationship with horses over the course of her life helped her to bolster her own inner strength and eventually write her memoir, My Horses, My Healers, which explores horse-human bond, her personal intimate experience with horses, and how the bond between horse and human can create healing out of traumatic experience.  She has collaborated with Dr. Nancy Coyne, MD (whose interview was posted earlier this week) to create a workshop entitled “Horses as Healers” which incorporates mind/body techniques, yoga, guided visualization, and horse-human relational experiences to facilitate healing experiences in trauma survivors.

Shelley is an Epona Advanced Approved Instructor working out of Arizona ( at the Epona Center) and Maine in facilitating growth, healing, and wellness through the horse-human relationship.  I am always profoundly impacted by the universal elements of traumatic experience and healing catharsis.  Shelley references multiple times in the interview below the process of going from “surviving to thriving” which I also discuss in my website http://www.embodymentalhealth.com as my credo: “Life: Don’t just survive, thrive.”  I think it shows a like ambition in those who have healed from trauma and search for ways to help others find healing and wellness from their traumatic experience.  Shelley’s book is a story of strength, courage, and discovery through intimate experience and exploration of horses as healers.

I hope you take the time to look into her work with Nancy Coyne and her memoir which is beautifully written.  I am in admiration of her voice as a survivor of traumatic experience.  I believe strongly that the more survivors who have learned to thrive can speak out the more they can inspire others to work towards their own recovery and healing–and give courage to people who need it.  I thank Shelley, as a fellow survivor, for her courage in telling her story and taking the time to do so again on this blog.

Q:  Why did you decide to write out your traumatic experience and healing journey in your book “My Horses, My Healers”?  Did you have any trepidations or concerns about opening up so much of your inner journey in writing for others to see?  What did you hope would come out of telling your story?

I truly had only one reason to write my story, to help others use there voice. to give words to there story, and be deeply heard.

Q:  What do you think, at the root, is so healing about horses and the horse human relationship?  What for you was the cathartic element of your experience with horses?

Horses were my ears  to the little girl who heard “if you tell you will die”. They can listen, react, and go back to grazing. Something I was not able to do. How the horse knows by nature after a trauma peace move on, life is no longer in danger.

My cathartic experience as you ask was breaking my arm so I did not have to go to Grandpa’s house. My learning to use my voice was what set me free to move through the past and like the horses go back to a full life.

Q:  You describe your experience with horses as “self-healing”; what do you mean by that?  Do you feel “healed” from you traumatic experience?  What were the essential elements of your healing process?  What do you think got you to the place, emotionally, that you are today?

Horses mirror the authentic self, I was living a life from horses accident to horse accident. Each fall was a way to get out of the inner pain I was in. Each injury was worse then the next, until I got that I was the cause of these falls. I found one therapist after another until I found someone who deeply listened to the pain in my soul. I still am doing my own work I believe we are never done learning. It is my job as a healer to keep up on my own personal work.

Q:  What attracted you to horses as a child?  Why did you follow the equestrian path professionally?

My very best friend had horses, I have Joanne Clark to be thankful for leading me to them. As I started to learn more and more about horses, spending every minute I could with them.   I knew I wanted to be a horse professional at a very young age.

Q:  When did you begin to explore using your professional horsemanship capacities to help others heal from their emotional issues of trauma and the traumatic experience?

I think as a riding instructor we all listen to stories of the clients’ accidents. If we ask questions and offer our own truth we can help anyone. I am more careful now and work on deep issues with Dr. Nancy Coyne a trauma specialist. We work directly with the horses as co-facilitators.  Riding and ground work are incorporated in all of our workshops.

Q:  You have created a program called “Horses as Healers” at the Epona Center in Arizona.  What led to the creation of this program with your co-facilitator Nancy Coyne, MD?  What led you to create the program in the format you did–with the incorporation of creative arts, yoga, and other methods of complementary therapies?

We started this work first in a Horses As Healers workshop in Bath, Maine. I was working for the Epona Center so our next full workshop was at Apache Springs ranch. The creations propose was to give a safe space for the participants to be deeply heard. and given tools to help change the patterns they are in. To go from surviving to thriving, the arts and yoga and body work are all incorporated to move the process along in a new pathway for radical self care.

Q:  What kind of riding and horsemanship techniques have you implimented to facilitate a psychotherapeutic experience for participants in your group?

We do so many different mind body connections, like feeling the movement of the horse while mounted, reflective grooming, and connected round pen where four people go into the round pen with one horse. They must speak to each other before any movement takes place. Like asking the horse to walk they need to all agree to do this action before the person who they decide will ask the horse to move. So they ask if everything they do is okay before they move ahead. If someone’s arousal level goes up the group stops or time out, and they come together in the pen to speak the fear. Most of the time the horse will come in and listen to what is going on. Then they go back to what ever goal they set for themselves. The object is communication, and being heard.

Q:  How is it, as a dressage trained professional, to work in a mental health capacity with a psychiatrist?  How do you both balance your professional backgrounds and goals for clients (re: learning horsemanship skills and creating therapeutic experiences) to create a cohesive psychotherapeutic experience for your clients?

Dr. Nancy Coyne is the mental health professional, I am the trained horse professional, we must be open to what ever takes place with the clients. We have now been doing this work for four years and are very good at speaking our own truth in the moment. We respect each others decisions and always have the clients best interest and safety first.

Q: On your Epona website biographic information it discusses your work with “reflective riding”?  What is this technique and how is it therapeutically effective for clients?  What is “passive roundpenning” and how is that different from “active roundpenning”?  What are “Journey Rides”?

The reflective ride has evolved in many ways it can and usually is a profound experience. The rider reflects what is going while they are lead by a trained staff employee. If they are having an issue with a fall or a body sensation we can ask all kinds of questions to have them reflect on what happened frame by frame.

Passive round pen is a more private time the client has with the horse they choose alone in the pen. Active round pen is where we teach the client how to move the horse safely. The journey ride is a guided meditation on horseback. With a story I have created to fit the group.

Q:  What have you discovered in creating and implementing this program?  What did you expect?  What were the results?  What has surprised you?

I have discovered the voice is one of the tools to set us free from our well used pathways that have not been helping us move on. I have learned I have great joy in helping others. I wanted to help others speak and we have done this many, many times. The results  truly  take my breath away. People come now ready to do the work they came for. I am not surprised I am truly grateful for the gifts i have been given.

Q:  What do you envision in the future of Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy and other Equine Assisted Activities?  What do you hope to see moving forward in your own practice and programming in the field?

I see the future being more guided by rules from EFFMA or NARAH. I hope people take this work as serious as it is. I am writing another book accessing your intuition I will be telling the stories of what has evolved in my own work with others.

Q:  What would you like to say to other trauma survivors struggling on their own journey of healing?  What would you like to say to other professionals looking to explore alternative ways to trauma and mental health treatment outside of traditional talk therapy?

To trauma survivors I hope they find someone to listen to them in a way they have there process deeply heard. Do not stop looking until you find this human. If you can find a therapist who has access and has worked with horses as healers.

To traditional talk therapists please take a step out of the office with a horse professional and try this very powerful work for yourself.

Q:  Any words of inspiration, wisdom, or anything else you would like to leave the readers with.

This is the way to help the clients move from surviving to thriving, the way of the horse.

Thank you for letting me speak.

THE FOLLOWING IS AN INTERVIEW WITH NANCY COYNE, MD. She is a trauma therapist, psychiatrist, yoga practitioner, horse lover, and artist who has taken all her passions and made the best use of them to assist traumatized persons in healing.  She uses a combination of mind/body, creative arts, and animal-bond approaches in her therapy and has collaborated with horse professional Shelley Rosenberg at the Epona Center in Arizona to create a therapeutic program for trauma survivors incorporating all her practices and passions entitled “Horses as Healers”.

I was blown away by both Nancy and Shelly in their stories, their passion for their work, and (for my own self) having found other people out there motivated in the same direction and integrating a mix of creative arts, yoga, and equine facilitated psychotherapy for healing from trauma.  I hope you all will find as much joy, passion, and inspiration in the following interview with Nancy Coyne, MD.  I am excited to bring Shelley Rosenberg’s interview in an upcoming post–equally as passionate and poignant as the one to follow.  Enjoy.  Be inspired.  Be moved to action.

Q:  How long have your worked in the field of trauma and PTSD?  Is this your primary population in your practice?  What led you to work with this population of people?

30 plus years.  Don’t know why but people just found me.

Q:  What is your psychotherapy background?  What led you to work in Equine Facilitated Psychotherapyand train with the Epona Center apprenticeship program?

I have always studied and practiced psychotherapy-learning whatever has been current dynamic, interactive, Reichian (where I started ) CBT, DBT, somatic , and in the past 5 years equine facilitated.  Horses came back into the forefront of my life by chance- a friend who ran a therapeutic riding program wanted me to help start a program to treat trauma survivors.  Then I came out west to learn what other people were doing.

Q:  You use yoga, breathing exercises, EMDR, and creative arts as well as EFP in your therapy practice.  What led you to incorporate mind/body, creative and complementary therapies into your practice?

I started out interested in mind-body- as a Reichian therapist, and I have been a longtime yoga student and practitioner.  Also I have always been an artist so incorporating art into psychotherapy seemed natural.

Q:  What is effective about using yoga in mental health work?  Creative arts? Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy?  What have you learned about yourself, healing, and mental health practice in the process of applying the above techniques in your work as a mental health practitioner?

Effective- yoga re focusses on the body where experience lives.  Art-to right or old brain image making-by passing defenses and pointing right to the authentic self’s truth.  As for what have i learned- that I best practice what I preach and that teaching or healing is the best way to learn something.  That I best take very good compassionate care of my self and that life is brief and precious and that we can alleviate lots of suffering by meditating and accepting what is with compassion.

Q:  What has been most rewarding about this creative approach to mental health?  What has been most surprising?

I can be fully authentic and speak in my own languages .  Surprising – that the rest of the world seems to be getting interested recently (holistic healing is going mainstream)

Q:  When and why did you become involved in the Epona Center’s programming?  What drew you to this work?  Did you have any hesitations about moving into the world of EFP?  What have you learned from the horses and the work with horses about yourself, your clients, and your work as a whole?

2006-came to Epona center for experience and training.  Horses are natural yogis-slow down, stay present, breath, connect with soul, nature, one another.  No hesitations.  Horses teach me about my fears, my difficulty setting boundaries, my spaciness, my ability to have fun and just play.  Clients have life changing moments with horses much more rapidly and deeply than in the office.  We all love being outdoors, in nature, being authentic and we all meet as equal partners (horses don’t care who has the diploma)

Q:  You have created a program called “Horses as Healers” at the Epona Center in Arizona.  What led to the creation of this program with your Shelley Rosenberg?  What led you to create the program in the format you did–with the incorporation of creative arts, yoga, and other methods of complementary therapies?

About 70% of the people who came to all the programs seemed to be trauma survivors- so we crafted the program to fit their issues.

Q:  How is it working in a mental health capacity with a trained equine professional?  How do you both balance your professional backgrounds and goals for clients (re: learning horsemanship skills and creating therapeutic experiences) to create a cohesive psychotherapeutic experience for your clients?

It is challenging and also wonderful.  We work as equals, and each do what we do best.  There is lots of crossover.

Q:  What would you like to tell other mental health professionals looking into complementary therapies for mental health?  What suggestions do you have for integrating a variety of holistic approaches in treatment for mental health?

90 % of all experience and communication is non verbal.  So complementary (non verbal) approaches are very important.  Each of us needs to utilize whatever gifts and talents we have.

Q:  Have you encountered any issues of boundaries using these versatile approaches?  How do you believe a mental health professional can implement a variety of approaches (creative, mind/body, animal-human bond) while maintaining their role as a therapist?

Humility, honesty and being willing to stay with uncomfortable conflicts, talk, work them through and move on. Compassion and humor help.

Q:  What are your hopes for the future of mental health care and integrative/complementary therapies for mental health?  What would you like to see happen in the field in the next 5 years?

I hope we continue to experiment to find ways to alleviate suffering

Q: What would you hope to accomplish in your work in the next 5 years?  What project do you want to do that you haven’t done yet?

I want to finish a book I began 15 years ago about my experiences with abandonment – It is a picture book with some text for adults.

Learn more about Nancy Coyne, MD at http://web.mac.com/coynecreations/iWeb/Site/Welcome.html

Q:  Any words of wisdom, inspiration, or anything additional you would like to leave the readers with?

Each one of us has the capacity to help and heal our own and each others’ wounds.  The horses and yoga remind us not to get too serious or arrogant.

“At times our own light goes out and is rekindled by a spark from another person.
Each of us has cause to think with deep gratitude of those who have lighted the flame within us.”

Albert Schweitzer

In beginning to write my book and, in doing so, trudging through the worlds, aches, and muck of my life within my traumatic experience and posttrauma self I am finding myself exhausted daily by the memories of eight of my nine lives.  I am also finding myself mourning for the prior selves of “me” in a way that has been truly unexpected.  I didn’t realize how sad it would be to remember myself in my past and to watch and recreate the worlds in which I survived but never quite thrived inside of. 

In fighting my way, literarily, through all that has past–in a hopes of illuminating the past, present, and futures of others on similar journeys I am finding a persistent need for finding moments of gratitude and light in my present-day existence.  I find myself needing to really enjoy the moments of beauty and laughter, revel in every minute spent outside the pages of my old prisons and keep my insight into the past just that–the sight of an observer recording experience anthropoligically.  And save my living and reliving for those things of pleasure. 

I am rediscovering the importance of present-centered living, and consciously affording myself moments of appreciation and gratitude.  And for that I am very grateful for this exercise in rising old ghosts from the grave to the page.  It has given me perspective and reverence for the present.  I love the life I am, the family I am in,the state of place and state of mind I sit snugly inside of as I type out on my spastic laptop with 50 degree Florida chill whipping around my tiny cottage on the end of a discreet dirt road. 

I am grateful for life, and even more so for MY life right now.  I urge tomorrow to come but not too quickly and I hope to distill this appreciation through the next 10 chapters of this book and into my future.  In visiting old ghosts I am meeting ghosts of Christmas present and learning to treasure today as if it were the first, last, and only moment.

Happy Holidays to everyone and I hope for everyone this joy of today and gratitude for what IS in your life.

Blessings!

“With the past, I have nothing to do; nor with the future.  I live now.”   Ralph Waldo Emerson

 

I have had one of those weeks that has been enlightening, invigorating, and inspiring on every human level possible.  From the human to the equine I have heard the journeys of survivors, thrivers, and those who have a story to tell that is so profound it wells tears and lapses breathe just in having heard it. 

 

In the Rumpus (yes I saw Where The Wild Things Are last weekend) of it all I found synapses blasting and neural paths sparking with a realization of how much all of my work, all of my passions, and all of my life seemed to have been leading to this point of alignment (not to be too dramatic about it) in some way.  If someone had told me before this moment that I would be in a position to both love and align yoga, horses, and psychotherapy together I would have laughed at the incredulousness of the idea.  Today I will say that nothing makes more sense or is more clear to me than how these three worlds collide and echo with sound bites and fragments of each other.

 

I spent last week (Wednesday to Saturday) at the NARHA Conference in Fort Worth, Texas.  I learned about “Prey Psychology” and the corollaries between Winnicottian Theory and Self-Psychology and Equine Facilitated Psychotherapy.  I found an entire world that had blended so many of the ideas and passions I had been working with into a body of therapeutic work that had been alive for 10-20 years without my even being aware of it.  I was invigorated by the passion of the people in this profession and the well-thought academics behind their practices.  It wasn’t just teaching horsemanship to people in hopes of effecting change in some emotional way it was a full basis of therapeutic practices working with horses as partners in effecting change in people’s lives.  One woman even referred to her equine counterparts as “colleagues” in a context that made it seem absolutely an apt description. 

 

I heard people discussing the importance of mindfulness, self-soothing techniques, and even horseback yoga as a means of creating emotional wellness not just through the client’s relationship with the horse but also their body, mind, and emotional awareness of themselves.  It was a wonderful experience to be amid people in a world of therapy, present centered living, and holistic treatment for people in emotional distress that I never before knew existed.  I found myself hoping with more earnestness and a real sense that  it was possible for a world of therapy that broke down the four walls of a therapy room and can, will, take people’s healing to creative and intuitive new heights. 

 

I heard one particular horse trainer describe the horse as a very “present oriented” being stating that as an animal of prey a horse is instinctually imbedded in the present moment, needing to focus on those things that bring them safety, security, and comfort and make them feel wholly well.  I was instantly drawn to consider the two parallels of that–trauma and yoga.  The horse is a great balancer in that it represents a healthy reflection of the traumatized person–it manages its present centered quest for survival while the traumatized person cannot moderate their “prey” experience and feels overwhelmed with their survival needs and unable to find the comfort in the present moment.  I thought also of how the horse is such an excellent metaphor for the perfect yogi/ni.  The horse is able to look at the now, live in the now, and be comforted by what they are given that helps maintain their sense of balance–rejecting that, that does not help them maintain that homeostasis.  They are the perfect mirror to the traumatized person of both what they are and what they want/need to be.  I was fascinated by this beautiful parallel and how the horse is the bridge between emotional disarray and yogic, spiritual centeredness. 

 

I feel on the precipice of breaking through my own glass ceiling of sorts–personally, professionally, philosophically.  Ever moment I turn around I find a new bread crumb, rich metaphor, deep symbology of this shift–in the good, the bad, and the ugly in my life.  I am grateful for this journey and excited for the next bread crumb that will lead to the next discovery. 

 

In the world of wordless connection I see horses as the symbol of something ancient, mystical, beautiful, and simple all in one.  As Linda Kohanov states so eloquently in her book The Tao of Equus speaking about her young new horse, “She was standing in a box stall smelling of pine shavings, and she spoke to me more eloquently in silence than anyone ever had in words.”  This is the kind of connection I could only hope for all of us to have–in life, in healing, in growth of self. 

 

“The wind of heaven is that which blows between a horse’s ears.”             Arabian Proverb

 

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