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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.


(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)

Well, I had a post all ready to go but life and mild delirium got in the way and I left my power cord for my laptop at work and so I am starting from scratch and the other post will come when I juice back up my computer.  For now, grudgingly plodding away at my husband’s Apple laptop (which is a great machine but for a PC person a bit to figure out), I am going to begin again.  And in this I find a great metaphor for my life path right now.

There is nothing like taking your life and shaking out all the white noise, chemicals and hormones, and waking and “om”-ing at 5 am to make a person feel like they are starting from scratch on the whole.  I feel a bit disoriented, a little big quieter, and a tiny bit more delirious as I step into the last day of my first full week of yoga school.  One week down…seven more to go.

What I have learned so far:

  • I am not as bendy as I thought I SHOULD be but much bendier than I have been before.
  • A graduate degree in Clinical Social Work gives me zero “edge” in this world of quiet mind and intense educational practicum.
  • I find a veggie lifestyle and omission of all the “white noise” of life (radio, television) overall far more satisfactory than I had imagined.
  • Although I am still NOT a morning person I find myself more awake and enlivened with every new 5am waking.
  • It is possible, be it exhausting at moments and delirious often, to immerse yourself in a monastic life even with one full-time job, one part-time job, and a family of husband and dogs (although a little wearing on the quality time).
  • As much as I knew what to expect in this program I truly had no idea what I was getting myself into.
  • That  (above statement) is more a good than a bad thing.
  • Having a yoga teacher who can manifest into a drill Sargent at will is good for my need for structure and stretching (literal and metaphoric).
  • Although my degree is useless in this new professional milieu the ideas of emotion and will and psychology do still come into play as much on the mat as in the world–and therapeutic mindset can be applied to best understand how students come into a class and out of whatever reality they exist in.
  • This one is definitely a “DUH” moment: Taking Yoga Teacher Training means I am being trained fully to be a yoga teacher–I just really got that.  I thought it would be a wonderful tandem piece to learn in my integration of mind/body work and my passion for yoga in the therapeutic context but I guess, duh, it never occurred to me that in the process I would be fully prepared to lead a class myself–I saw myself as a teacher training student in an academic sort of way but never related that to being taught to be a hands-on, in the field yoga teacher.
  • The above realization is both terrifying and exhilarating.
  • While Thursday morning 6am meditations at the beach are messy there is something blissful and wonderful about watching the sun rise one sliver at a time between Sanskrit melodies.
  • The amount I have learned about myself in the last week is astounding…and the prospect of seven more weeks of such an intensive exploration is very exciting and somewhat intimidating.
  • I am finding more and more I love about the nuances and traditions of Sivananda yoga (the tradition I am learning): I will share more on this soon!
  • I am already, of course as I do, found the two follow-up yoga trainings I want to take…but of course cannot afford right now:   Yoga of Recovery for Counselors Training Certification Course (Something new I have discovered created by a Sivananda yoga program director and another teacher)  &  Yoga for Depression and Anxiety with Amy Weintraub (I have heard so much about it I really want to get the training and see for myself)
  • I can’t wait to see what the next week brings…this week brought me effortlessly into wheel and almost into a head stand on my own…that is pretty big for little ol’ me.

NAMASTE and Happy Weekend to everyone!  I am looking forward to my Sunday as we start at 7:45 am instead of 6:00am (like the other 6 days of the week) so I get to sleep in till 7!  The tiny pleasures :).

Maybe it is the New Year creeping in, tax season on the horizon, or the fact that my husband and I are having to forgo Christmas presents this year due to low finances, but I found my mind swirling around the fiscally pragmatic today. 

Another reason money and money woes are on my mind is that I found this amazing Integrative Mental Health Conference in Phoenix in March with the likes of Andrew Weil, Jon Kabat-Zinn, and Amy Weintraub on mind/body healing approaches in mental health–jackpot–and I cannot even conceivable afford to go. 

And it makes me wonder, in this shaky economic time, when jobs are not certain and the stock market even less so, how can anyone afford enlightenment?  I  look at wonderful educational centers like Kripalu and Omega, places where I find enriching workshops weekly that make me salivate cerebrally just thinking of them, but there is no way I could afford the accommodations, airfare, and then coursework costs to attend. 

The saddest part yet is that I am a graduate school educated person with a moderately well salaried job (for my field of social work, which is considerably underpaid as a whole).  So, if I can’t afford enlightenment, enrichment, and the coursework to a more centered self, more soulful life, deeper yoga practice and life path then what about everyone else?!  (Yes, I do believe that moment deserved an exclamation point, please don’t be offended by my virtual shouting).

I received a lovely email from a graduate school social work professor in the midwest last week and we had a rich discussion regarding complementary therapies, yoga as therapeutic, and the potentials for training the young soon-to-be-therapist minds of her students with a curriculum that included yogic practices. 

I was so hopeful being able to be a participant in such a discussion.  It gave me hope that one day affording enlightenment and having accessable mind/body healing practices will not be just for those few who have the cash for the expenditure of a flight and a long weekend away or even those who can plunk down upwards of $20.00 on a yoga class. 

In a world in which mind/body techniques are effectively integrated into therapeutic practice and graduate schools might, conceivably, be churning out eager minds well-versed in mind/body and yogic techniques then this kind of enlightenment, these tools of self-care and self-soothing might just be accessable to everyone.  And it could be billable by therapeutic businesses as a therapeutic activity. 

Now this day, on a mass scale, may not be tomorrow but I believe steps towards it are happening today.  Through motivated and passionate persons like the graduate professor who are willing to impart this learning to a generation of students, with curriculums wide enough to allow for these discussions to be had, in therapeutic workplaces open to trying the programming, and studies on these subjects continuing to bring more efficacy to the field this new journey of healing is beginning. 

My hope is for a future in which an affluent benefactor (kidding, well sort of) could fund my dream project: non-profit holistic therapeutic centers that would incorporate mind/body healing, animal-based therapies, and somatic psychotherapies all under one roof.  The more people I meet with like-minded passions the more I feel this hope may one day be attainable, whether for me or for someone else.  In the meantime I guess I have to hope for a temporary benefactor to pay for me to go to the Integrative Mental Health Conference, or just resign myself to the fact that for now I just can’t afford enlightenment. 

Stay tuned for the second part of YOGIC EQUUS at the end of the week. 

Also, much thanks to www.itsallyogababy.com for listing me among her favorite posts of 2009 and to http://www.cirkla.com/newsletters/112209.htm for listing my blog among the many wonderful yogic bloggers of the blogosphere! 

 

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