A New Year — A New You?

January is Mental Wellness Month, which is an excellent place to start.

The World Health Organization defines mental wellness as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” The clean slate that the new year offers makes it the perfect time to evaluate how we are holding up mentally and emotionally–and what we need to do in order to feel even better. 

 In the field of psychiatric treatment, research points to the effectiveness of mind-body practices to foster psychiatric recovery. Research-based evidence also indicates the value of a more integrated and comprehensive approach to psychosocial rehabilitation.

 At Ellenhorn, our wellness clinicians are an integral part of each client’s PACT team and work hard to create a personalized program that integrates all the factors that influence health and wellness, whether mind, body, spirit or community.

 Some clients are ready, able and willing to dive into integrative wellness practices–and some are not. Since each client’s lifestyle, nutrition and resiliency affects their ability to partner with their team in clarifying and working toward their psychosocial goals, we meet each client where they are, assess their ability, find their best starting points and build from there. 

  Below are some tips from Ellenhorn’s wellness team on ways to boost your mental wellness this January—and far beyond. 

Mindfulness: Noticing the five senses can be powerful, so get out those aromatherapy oils, some incense or maybe a candle–and take a nice deep breath. Buy yourself some flowers. Take time to eat mindfully by focusing on what tastes you are experiencing and how it actually feels to nourish your body. Get cozy under a soft blanket–or head outside to take a walk and feel the sun on your skin, even on the cold days. Put on some music, or simply be still–what sounds do you notice most?  

Hydration: Drink that water! Yes, it can be hard to drink when it’s so cold out, but in the dry winter it is just as important to stay hydrated as it is in summer. For a warm alternative, add some lemon and honey to some warm water or consider a cup of herbal tea.  

Movement: When you’re feeling down, lounging around and doing nothing might feel like the preferable option, but inactivity can actually increase negative emotions. Physical activity, on the other hand, engages both your brain and body, and can increase the feel-good chemicals in your brain. The idea of physical activity might seem daunting, but it doesn’t have to be. You don’t always need to push yourself to get in a long run or head to the gym to lift weights. It can be as simple as doing some light stretching, going for a walk around the block or even cleaning your home.

Spirituality: Remember to look for opportunities to develop your spiritual well-being in every-day life. Taking time in the morning (or even before bed) to breathe deeply (in and out, in and out) for even a few minutes will help you build a sense of balance in both body and spirit–and allow time for self-reflection. Consider which rituals ground you, what you do to make yourself laugh, what your dreams are like lately or the ways you enjoy moving your body–

thinking of spirituality can mean many things! 

Meditation: Meditation does not necessarily have to be a sedentary activity. Mix it up by taking a quiet walk (no talking) and try to use all five senses to engage with the world around you. Meditate without a guide, and try some music playlists that you’ve never tried before. (Consider, perhaps, tunes by Alucidnation, Benn Jordan or Shpongle.) Set the stage with an invocation of your choice, i.e., clear the energy by lighting sage or incense or consider using an eye mask, pillow and/or blanket. Stretch or shake out any tension before meditation begins in order to encourage fluidity in your mind. Set an intention or pick a mantra to use as an anchor.

If you find yourself feeling more stressed than relieved by your chosen self-care activities, don’t beat yourself up. Mental wellness is a long, nonlinear journey. Be patient with yourself, and don’t let a “failed” self-care attempt dissuade you from continuing to prioritize your mental wellness–even if that means trying multiple self-care activities in order to find what works best for you. 

Remember: If you are struggling with a substance-use disorder, addiction or mental-health disorder, simply improving your overall mental wellness is not always enough, and it may be a good idea to seek treatment.

 Ellenhorn’s multifaceted assessment approach to treatment provides a stable, thoughtful and holistic picture of where each client is as they begin. It reflects a person so thoroughly that it provides a base from which they can seek and receive the right kinds of interventions throughout their lives. Our assessments are living documents focused on creating both a diagnostic picture and a highly personalized plan for recovery. Once an assessment is complete, the client and their PACT team meet to develop a comprehensive, multidisciplinary treatment plan. 

Our treatment plans are made for each individual and include traditional therapies as well as mindfulness, yoga, nutrition and music therapy. We believe in integrating mind, body and spirit in our approach to recovery. 

Photo by Alysha Rosly on Unsplash

The Importance of Recreational Therapy and Personal Fitness in the Recovery Process

Recreational Therapy

Since childhood, I’ve always been active, participating in just about every sport, including soccer, lacrosse, volleyball, baseball, and tennis. Many of my athletic experiences taught me about camaraderie and what it means to be a member of a team or a family. I learned about the value of staying active and being healthy so as not to let my teammates down when the game was on the line. I felt like I needed to be in tip-top condition so I could do my best for my team.

Toward the end of high school, my athletic focus became lacrosse. The team was like a clan; every person both on and off the field was in charge of one thing. There was a coach who led and mentored, and was respected; an assistant; and each player had their own niche. The goalie needed to be agile and flexible and willing to sacrifice to prevent a score. The attack needed to be quick, athletic and lean, with swift hands. Midfielders, my group, needed to be endurance athletes, ready to run end to end at any given point, ready to hit, take a hit and go for tough ground balls. And every person on the field fit into the mechanics of the game.

I thought I could go far in lacrosse. Maybe the sport could be my gateway to a cheaper education and my leg up in this world. My high school lacrosse team was going into its sixth game of the season. We were 4-1 and projected to beat our school rivals, but not by much. Rumor had it that scouts were at the game from Notre Dame and a few colleges in St. Louis. There may have been a few New England scouts as well. I was pumped and ready for the game of my life.  We were up by three and in a good position to win with about eight minutes to go.

My coach took me out for a quick breather. Our rivals scored two quick goals in 90 seconds. Coach took me aside and gripped the facemask to my helmet and said, “Son, we need you to get a ground ball and control the offense. Can you do that for me?” I nodded and went in at the next break in play. Sure enough, I found myself running for a ground ball in our defensive end. I scooped it with my stick as coach wanted me to do to control the play. But at the same time, I took a defensive shaft to the ankle and before I knew it, my entire lacrosse career shattered before my eyes.

As a young lad, before my days of competitive sports, I also established a love for the outdoors. I found it more relaxing to sit in the shade of big spruce trees and watch the ants march up their branches than to sit on the couch and watch MTV, like many of my friends. While my friends learned about Nintendo and the nuances of the new age of the computer, my father, who resisted getting us cable TV, would take us on full-day hikes and overnight camping trips.  He told us that he never had today’s kind of technology growing up and that his children would learn to appreciate the all-encompassing world.

Recreational Therapy at EllenhornWhile trekking, Dad taught us about local animal tracks and flora and fauna. He shared his love for the woods and local trails. From him, my siblings and I learned how to use a pocketknife, how to set up a tent, and about the importance of reading a compass and map and knowing which direction to go in when lost. He taught us how to leave campsites cleaner than when we arrived at them. I too soon felt his love for the wild. He taught me to respect the land and that nature, in fact, can nurture.

When one of my best friends tragically lost his life soon after high school, the woods became my place to heal and cope. I was still a bit down that I wouldn’t be able to play college lacrosse due to my ankle injury, but with my ankle better now, I became addicted to the trails. Perhaps I wasn’t as fast as I was when on the field, but I didn’t have to be. Life slowed down a bit. I had to stay focused on the terrain when hiking or jogging at a quick gait and be aware of my surroundings. Trail running was a whole new challenge that I started to enjoy. The forest became my place to be alone with my thoughts and it was a good “gym,” as I wasn’t able to afford a real gym membership that summer.

I remember running into the woods on that gray morning after hearing the tough news about my friend and how the tranquility of the forest sank into me. Standing among the tall trees, I felt comforted as the sudden sunrays poked through clouds permeating the canopy. I found peace in the muddy soil beneath my feet as my shoes sank deeper, the birds gliding overhead who could see all, the river slowly trickling so soft and poetic and gentle. My pain started flowing away with the ripples. I’d hiked and jogged the trails in these parts many times, but it was this specific moment when I realized that life had a deeper meaning. I stopped to feel the dew on the blades of the tall grasses and took a big inhalation of the morning air. I took off my running shoes and socks and dipped my barefoot toes into the creek and I stopped to touch a tree along the trail. It was a birch tree, white like computer paper with smudges of black ink.  This birch had been here for quite some time. I had jogged by it before. It was thick, at least 50-60 years old, I’d guess. This tree’s roots got me thinking about how we humans are all connected somehow. I started to understand that life may have more value when you cherish the journeys and experiences you have along the way. Don’t try to get there, simply be here, in the moment. Humans mature like cyclical seasons. Looking back, this must have been my “Eureka” or “Aha” moment.

At that point in my life, I didn’t know what I wanted to do or study, now that I couldn’t be a college athlete. The idea of becoming a recreational counselor or health and fitness specialist never crossed my mind until I was introduced to Ellenhorn. I now realize that the hikes and outdoor experiences as well as the athletic and educational background I had were the stepping-stones that paved the way for a career dedicated to helping others. I knew I wanted to teach appreciation for the woods, as our society is moving more and more toward a sedentary lifestyle. Now that I’ve honed my skills as a recreational counselor and lead personal trainer, each day can involve connectedness, activity, discovery, discussion, exploration, curiosity, relationship-building and shared experiences.

QUEST Program at Ellenhorn

QUEST (Quality, Unique, Experiential, Supportive Treatment) is a unique component of Ellenhorn that helps clients stay physically and mentally active as they participate in a wide variety of excursions and form friendships in a natural setting. QUEST excursions can involve visiting a museum or mall, hiking in the forest, learning to kayak, growing vegetables on a working farm, grooming horses, rock-climbing at a gym and training gentle, affectionate dogs. QUESTers engage with the outside world in a positive way, discover the city’s treasures, and find strengths and interests within themselves that build self-confidence. On every excursion, staff is right at hand to help clients work through any issues that arise. People socialize in a comfortable, stress-free way during shared activities, while building skills and a feeling of competence and confidence.

When a client enters the Ellenhorn community, they meet with their team and complete the assessment process during which the team learns about the client and their goals for recovery. A prescription for psychotropic medicine often leads to unwanted weight gain. So along with the QUEST program, we offer personal training. Clients can team up for personal activity with a certified personal trainer and recreational counselor.  Our counselors are there for support and guidance, and to help design personalized programs for each client. Recognizing that every person is unique, we take a person-centered, collaborative approach to personal training: client, trainer and team construct the perfect experiential program, with goals that offer the client a good chance of success. Some folks may want to use the gym in a conventional manner for strength or cardiovascular training, such as an elliptical ride, a jog on the treadmill, a weight-training circuit or a swim in the pool. Others may want to dance or take a martial arts class, while others may enjoy a walk in the neighborhood or shooting a few hoops out back.  Yoga can also be extremely helpful; just ask my friend and colleague Dave how yoga has influenced his life.

A Little Bit About Experiential and Recreational Therapy

Developed in the 1970s, experiential therapy is a therapeutic approach that encourages clients to identify and address hidden or subconscious issues through activities such as role-playing, the use of props, guided imagery, and a range of other active experiences. The heart of the QUEST program is based on principles of experiential therapy, specifically that of recreational therapy.

According to the American Therapeutic Recreation Association: “Recreational therapy is a service used to restore, remediate and rehabilitate a person’s level of functioning and independence in life’s activities, to promote health and wellness as well as reduce or eliminate the activity limitations and restrictions to participation in life situations caused by an illness or disabling condition.”

Recreational therapy is a type of experiential therapy. Other types of experiential therapy are equine therapy, expressive arts therapy, music therapy, wilderness therapy, adventure therapy, and psychodrama. Many of these experiential therapies are offered at Ellenhorn.

Experiential therapy is an effective component of comprehensive treatment programs for people who are struggling with a range of issues and disorders. It has been successfully integrated into Ellenhorn’s treatment program and can be effective with clients being treated for substance abuse, addiction, behavior disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, grief/loss, trauma, sex addiction, compulsive gambling, bipolar, depression and related conditions.

For a person dealing with trauma, instead of traditional physical therapy, a recreational counselor or therapist at Ellenhorn might use therapeutic horseback riding or gentle stretching. And instead of traditional psychological counseling, we might pinpoint rock climbing or team sports as an outlet. Taking an experiential approach at Ellenhorn, we help clients achieve health and wellness in an interactive way, building on our clients’ strengths and interests to help them achieve their goals and stay on track toward recovery.

Now with the coming of spring in New England, it’s the perfect time to get back outside. This winter was nowhere near as bad as it could have been. But even with the few snowy and cold days, the QUESTers at Ellenhorn got out to check out local ice rinks, sledding hills, the ski slope, historical museums and the indoor climbing gym. As stalks and buds begin to peep up from the soil this April, and as colorful petals begin to open, the participants in QUEST will also respond to nature’s cycle, as many of our adventures move again to the great outdoors.

In some Native American cultures, it is said that moving around the directions of the compass — north, east, south and west — reflects the great wheel of life and the substance of experience in which the soul engages is the journey of life, love and discovery. Native to the New England region, the Algonkians sought the guidance of nature spirits who would share with them how to live in harmony and peace with each other and the natural world.  Some members of the tribe would seek spiritual insights through vision quests during rites of passage into adulthood. Just like our calendar cycles, our true nature lies in the center, which is formless, pure potential, completely free of any defining qualities and yet simultaneously capable of assuming various dimensions.  In winter, we touch on elements of trust, wisdom and acceptance. As the snow melts and spring arrives, we now move to a focus of balance, growth, fertility and renewal.

So let’s open up the windows and get off the couch! The green on the trees is symbolic of rebirth. In order to grow, like the flower, we humans must push our limits. The active roadmap to recovery that Ellenhorn clients build collaboratively allows an opportunity to take the scenic route and gives a chance for reflection and appreciation of the present moment. Clients have a chance to stop and smell the roses as they explore, experience and heal.  Like water, sometimes humans need to operate at a trickle, taking the world in with open arms and compassion, but at other times humans need to crash like waves on the rocky shore. This spring we will experience how life is about being in balance.  The trickle and the crash, the ying and the yang, the mountain and the ocean.

On one of our weekly QUEST eCultivate Counsellingxcursions, we visit the Cultivate Counseling Center at John Sawyer’s Mill in Bolton, MA.  There, clients participate in an experiential farm-based wellness program.  We interact with farm animals, test our green thumbs in the garden, explore equine therapies in the stables and help out with the myriad things that need to get done on a working farm. Clients literally and figuratively heal and grow. In fact, hands-on experience has the power to help all of us heal and grow.

In my own recreational therapy practice, I’ve begun using elements of Shinrin Yoku, a Japanese term translated as forest bathing. This mindfulness-based stress reduction practice is designed to enhance sensory awareness. You take a walk in the woods and simply connect with the moment and feelings that may arise when you are immersed in nature. It’s important to leave your phone behind, as we all know how much distraction handheld devices create nowadays. As a new member of the Association of Nature and Forest Therapy, my goal is for clients to experience firsthand the healing power of Mother Nature as she has helped me so much in my times of need.

It is time to plan the next big adventure. Whether your goal is to finish the Boston Marathon, to start being a bit more present throughout the day, or to simply start moving a bit more outdoors, my hope for you, reader, is that your QUEST be enlightening and ever so fruitful.

Benefits of Exercise and Outdoor Activity in the Mental Health Community

Exercise can help prevent excess weight gain or help maintain weight loss. When you engage in physical activity, you burn calories. The more intense the activity, the more calories you burn. Regular trips to the gym are great, but don’t worry if you can’t find a large chunk of time to exercise every day. To reap the benefits of exercise, just get more active throughout your day — take the stairs instead of the elevator, take the dog for a nice long stroll or rev up your household chores. We find being consistent is the key.

Worried about heart disease? Hoping to prevent high blood pressure? No matter what your current weight, being active boosts high-density lipoprotein (HDL), or “good,” cholesterol and decreases unhealthy triglycerides. This one-two combo keeps your blood flowing smoothly, which decreases your risk of cardiovascular diseases.

Recreational Therapy at EllenhornExercise will improve your mood.  Need an emotional lift? Or need to blow off steam after a stressful day or therapy session? Time at the gym or a brisk 30-minute walk can help. Physical activity stimulates various brain chemicals that may leave you feeling happier and more relaxed. You may also feel better about your appearance and yourself when you exercise regularly, and that can boost your confidence and improve your self-esteem.

Regular exercise helps prevent or manage a wide range of health problems and concerns, including depression, stroke, metabolic syndrome, type 2 diabetes, a number of types of cancer, and arthritis.

Regular physical activity can improve your muscle strength and boost your endurance.  Exercise delivers oxygen and nutrients to your tissues and helps your cardiovascular system work more efficiently. And when your heart and lung health improve, you have more energy to tackle daily chores.

Increasing your exercise can help you count fewer sheep during the night.  Regular physical activity is proven to help you fall asleep faster and deepen your sleep.

Exercise and physical activity can be enjoyable. They give you a chance to unwind, enjoy the outdoors or simply engage in activities that make you happy. Physical activity can also help you connect with family or friends in a fun social setting. So, take a dance class, hit the hiking trails, join a soccer team or come out to QUEST! Find a physical activity you enjoy, and as our QUEST program motto suggests, just go!

The Bottom Line on Exercise and Activity

Exercise and physical activity are a great way to feel better, boost your health and wellness and have fun. Aim for at least 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity exercise, or 175 minutes per week of vigorous exercise if you want to push a bit harder. Try to squeeze in strength training at least twice per week by lifting free weights, using weight machines or doing body weight exercises. Light resistance bands are great for home workouts and they’re cheap too.

Space out your activities throughout the week. If you want to lose weight or meet specific fitness goals, you may need to ramp up your exercise efforts. Remember to check with your trainer and doctor before starting a new exercise program, especially if you haven’t exercised for a long time, have chronic health problems, such as heart disease, diabetes or arthritis, or have any other concerns.

Here are a few introductory videos about the practice of forest bathing or Shinrin Yoku, which has become very popular in Eastern medicine. Check it out.



Yoga, Life and Me

There are literally millions of articles on the web about yoga and its benefits. These include increased well-being and self-esteem, improved physical health and sleep, less stress, and eventually being able to manipulate the physical world with your mind. Okay, maybe that last one is more of a personal goal. But the point is, it’s all been written about to such an extent that, to many, yoga now seems like eating your vegetables and flossing: something everyone agrees should be done but which makes people roll their eyes when you urge them to do it. That’s because people like me tend to make it seem either spacey and weird, or like a boring daily chore.

I want to take a different path and talk about the real-world benefits yoga has given me. Not benefits such as “I can stand on my head on a mat in a hot room that smells slightly of urine,” but rather, benefits that actually help you interact with the universe and/or other humans.

Yoga has helped me deal with many crises — or more accurately, what should be termed “mini-crises” — that I would most likely otherwise have made into much bigger issues (i.e., the aforementioned crises) if I hadn’t been able to approach them with balance.

In the past I was what one would call “reactive,” and would fire back at people when I felt I was wronged or disrespected, or would freak out if anything unanticipated got in my way. Basically I would overact to the daily personal situations we all encounter. This often left me feeling ashamed, or even just angrier than I was over the original incident (Road Rage, anyone?).

It wasn’t until I started doing yoga and was able to, for example, hold Plow Pose and be comfortable, calm and in control while encountering a stressful physical situation that I learned I could, well, be comfortable, calm and in control while encountering a stressful situation in general. I realized that traffic jams were not personal insults and barriers that God put there just to impede my existential progress! Phew.

One of the yogic concepts I “hold” dear is that one never “holds” a yoga pose; rather, one is always flowing into it. This basically means that “the only constant is change,” and for someone who is prone to rigid thinking (see above traffic jam example), practicing flexibility and flow is the perfect antidote. It has helped me both personally and professionally deal with my attraction to the novel. In the past, my rigid thinking would cause me to truncate my options and dismiss new situations before I actually, you know, tried things. I would make up my mind and wouldn’t let anything, not even direct experiential evidence, sway me. In yoga, I learned there is comfort and joy in relaxing into new positions and situations, and that you learn a great deal about yourself when doing so.

This is the birthplace of growth and creativity and joy, I’ve found, and this is what we get by giving ourselves over to novel situations in an authentic way. Early in my yoga career I loved, then struggled with, the pose Warrior One. I found that because it was a pose, I had early “success” when I rigidly held myself to a pattern of hitting it “perfectly.” But when I started struggling with balance in the pose, a teacher told me it was due to arching my back and sticking my ribs out. Basically, I was holding Warrior One with a puffed-out chest. My pride in “holding” the pose was leading to imbalance and frustration. The same thing would happen in life situations. Rigidity would lead to inauthenticity and a feeling of repetitiveness and perfectionistic thinking and voilà, life stinks. Yoga taught me that for life to not stink I just have to relax into things. Then I can make a true assessment of the stinkiness of myself and/or the situation and act from a place of reality rather than from inaccurate, rigid thoughts.

The last thing I can’t deny is that yoga is the first, and only, thing I’ve even been able to do that 1) is enjoyable 2) is something I look forward to 3) is always interesting 4) for which I get to wear funky clothes and 5) still qualifies as physical exercise! Growing up in a sports-mad house and community, everything I did physically was either a game or preparation for a game.

As I got older and didn’t become a professional athlete, the frequency of games lessened and I tended to turn toward what I had otherwise known as exercise, which basically meant weight-lifting and running. As to the latter, while I tried to jog for health, I have two things working against me. First, my body is not built for long distances. It’s thick and logy and runs hot. Like lava. Secondly, due to the sports I grew up loving (basketball, baseball and football), running will forever be encoded in my brain as punishment. In those sports, a mistake in practice meant one thing:  laps. I can therefore never enjoy running, and I consider marathoning to be a form of protracted suicide.

So running is out, and speaking of the aforementioned thickness of my body, I knew weightlifting would be an exercise in adding more thickness and tension.. In the past, while it increased strength it also resulted in a stiffer, thicker, more tensed physical body. What I learned is that I needed to increase flexibility and calmness. When I began doing yoga, I literally said things like “I can’t believe this is even exercise.” As I started to care about progressing in my practice, I started going to more classes. As my body began to change, my brain said, “How about cutting out the Cokes and large Italians every afternoon?” And before I knew it, I was eating a much better diet.

However the most important reason I was able to stick with yoga, and also the main reason I used to abandon every other form of exercise, was that it wasn’t about personal appearance! It was about how I felt! After my first yoga class I remember giggling during Shavasana (the final resting pose, a.k.a. Corpse Pose) over how good I felt. I can still remember the chorus to the song that was playing: We shine like diamonds in the sun….I didn’t care that I was the fattest dude in the room. Actually, I was the only dude in the room (and was about 300 lbs) — but I didn’t care!

After establishing some yogic consistency I began to reflect on all those times in the past when I would get flashes of motivation and go nuts with going to the gym for a week or two, or fire up P90x for a few days, and then be disappointed that my appearance hadn’t changed. I’d also be stressed-out and worn-out from killing myself for a week (out of the blue, with no prep). This left me feeling that if personal appearance was the goal of exercise, and if the path to that was to absolutely kill myself consistently with egregious exercise that left me questioning existence, I would never achieve anything. I’d then say “screw this” and retreat into a world governed by The Simpsons and cheese curls.

Yoga was the only physical activity during which I discovered I was after a feeling —  I’m hooked on a feeling! I’m high on believing! — a felt connection with my mind and body. A felt connection with myself and the universe and others. The funny thing was that this resulted in a complete bodily transformation. Appearance, flexibility, functioning, strength. The whole pupusa! I felt kinda bad, as if I’d tricked my body into bending to the will of my mind but that is kinda the goal too!

If you struggle with exercise or well-being in general and other forms of physical activity have left you unsatisfied, I highly recommend trying yoga. It is also a valuable addendum to other physical regimens, such as weight lifting or running, as yoga touches your body in different ways. In the end, yoga is a highly personal and exciting path to take, and I hope this account of my experiences has given you one example of how it works.

The Integrative Road to Recovery: The Changing Landscape of Mental Health

Over a decade ago, while in psychiatry residency training, I’d put long days in at the hospital and counsel people on self-care with the use of western therapeutic modalities- namely psychopharmacology and psychotherapy- and let them know how to reach me in cases of emergencies. These were all effective tools. But it occurred to me that when I was in need of my own radical self-care during those times of great stress and the necessary painful growth that comes with the rigor of residency training, I’d head straight to my yoga mat. That was where I found the resources I needed to manage the intensity of those years and the ones that followed, as I became an attending psychiatrist learning to work with people in their most extreme states coping with great stress and pain. The resources that I found on the yoga mat turned out to be internal ones, already there, just waiting to be accessed and honed.

Fast forward years later, during a time of real grief, I found my way back to my yoga mat after a when-life-gets-in-the-way hiatus, and it quickly dawned on me that I was leading a double life. My go-to strategies for healing were quite different than those I offered to my clients—a split that needed reckoning. I was withholding powerful tools that I relied on fully, yet I felt somehow didn’t have a place in my ‘consulting room’ as a psychiatrist. After all, I was trained from the more traditional psychoanalytic stance of being a neutral, somewhat blank slate on which my clients could project whatever it was they needed to work through in whatever way they needed. Was there really room for me to talk about chest opening positions to feel lighter, more open, and a general sense of wellbeing, or taking mid-day 10-minute breaks to lie on the floor to ground oneself? It just didn’t quite jibe with my training or my professional sense of self at the time.

Around that time at one of my most cherished places, Kripalu in Stockbridge, MA, (www.kripalu.org) during a four-day mostlysilent retreat on my own, I happened upon an introductory lecture on Ayurveda given by the Dean of The School of Ayurveda at that time. I’d heard of Ayurveda and saw a documentary on this traditional Indian medicine years before, but I didn’t know that this holistic medicine, as it was presented to me that day, had all of the elements of healing that I relied upon—diet, lifestyle principles, yoga, meditation, mindfulness, discernment when choosing relationships, and connectedness with a healthy and supportive community. It was an ah-hah moment for me. I followed the Dean to her office and enrolled in Kripalu’s School of Ayurveda later that week. Now, several years later and more than 650 hours of training, I am a certified Ayurvedic Health Counselor with honed skills and tools to not just practice a healthy and balanced lifestyle in my home, but also to share in my work with clients. And I’ve found these tools to be a great complement to the western modalities that people generally expect from their psychiatrist.

It turns out that I was far from alone. Once I took those first steps in acknowledging that there seemed to be more to healing than my western training provided and I found the nerve to start talking about it with my colleagues, I realized that there were many of us at Prakash Ellenhorn who were also searching for more. It didn’t take long before we established our Mind Body Group—and we’ve met regularly since to explore, support, and learn from each other. We have a varied skill set, yet a shared commitment to complementing our clients’ treatment plans with mind body practices, many of which are traditional in nature, but also have been well researched at this point and are now considered evidence-based approaches to improving health.

And now we’ve taken our group on the road. We’ve offered workshops to the public as well as our clients and their families and, most recently, we’re connecting with Boston’s integrative medicine community. Lisa Carabuena LMHC, our Mind Body Program Coordinator, and I attended this year’s Benson-Henry Institute ‘s conference at Harvard Medical School entitled Mind-Body Medicine: Its Role in Compassionate Care(www.bensonhenryinstitute.org) where we spent the weekend with hundreds of colleagues from all over the globe learning about cutting-edge research, complementary clinical practices, and exploring new ideas in integrative medicine as a community. I reconnected with my MGH colleagues at The Benson-Henry Institute, both researchers and clinicians, who are also on this path towards integration, working diligently to find the evidence to legitimize these practices in western terms and designing clinical protocols to mainstream these practices. We also connected with old and new colleagues at the Osher Center for Integrative Medicine’s Networking Forum in November (www.oshercenter.org) and now I’ve been added to their network of integrative medicine clinicians in this area.

Exciting stuff in our own backyard (we’re so lucky to actually have Boston as our backyard with its robust resources all around). We’re eager to continue to utilize these community-based resources as we build our own program here at our PE home to offer our clients the best of what eastern and western approaches have to offer. By connecting with the larger integrative medicine community, we’ve learned that the clinicians in our Mind Body Group are actually pioneers in bringing these practices to our clients who not only deal often with significantly difficult psychiatric experiences, but also with the documented social stress and even trauma of being identified and treated as mentally ill, and for whom most studies and protocols are not offered. There’s an opportunity here for us to think creatively and innovatively to make these practices accessible and manageable for our unique clients whom we believe can benefit greatly from these approaches.

Who knew that in the span of a decade, the landscape of mental health could shift so much that what seemed to be risk taking in my clinical work just years ago is now considered to be mainstream? We’ve definitely come a long way and there’s so much more work to do. Please take a look at our Mind Body Program’s offerings and stay tuned…there’s much more to come.