from Rosemary Clark, LPC, LMFT
When we moved into our new office last May we knew we were creating a very special place. We had so many exciting things on the horizon - new groups, workshops, services, and ideas spilling out of our minds. The eagerness and desire to approach mental health under a new light was palpable for all of us who call Whole Health home.
As the time came to dedicate our space with a ceremony we began to think about how to best commemorate what we believe is so special about our approach. I personally spent a great deal of time in reflection about why this growth felt so necessary, so critically important. The question that kept ringing in my mind was “how could we honor our core beliefs with something permanent that would stick around to tell the story again and again”.
Grand openings typically have a ribbon cutting of some sort. Everyone gathers around and the owner of the business cuts a ribbon to say “we did it, we are here”. That approach rang shallow for me as this business has become so much more than just what I envisioned for myself. I may be the name on the lease, but Whole Health has truly become a place where many of us share a belief in the promise of a better way of talking about mental health and an improved way of embodying wellness.
Moving into our new space gave me opportunity to intersect with lots of folks who don’t typically walk through the doors of a business like this. My primary role at Whole Health is to serve as a counselor. As I tried to explain what a counselor does, I realized I am not sure that is an accurate term. “Counselor” seems more appropriate for an attorney who gives counsel and advice. That isn’t what I do. What I do is quite different. I am really more of a historian of someone’s life.
You see, I daily bear witness to someone’s pain, their most shameful moments and beliefs, their trauma, their sadness, fear, and loss. I also bear witness to their beautiful imperfections. I watch them heal and grow. I am privileged to stand alongside someone’s triumphs, love, acceptance, forgiveness and empowerment. I hold their stories in my heart and am impacted by each one of them. I find it to be my greatest honor to know the truth of another person’s soul - their beautiful humanity.
As I sat with the truth of what I do and believe about the normalcy of "mental health”, we all have to manage this, I realized it wasn’t just one ribbon that needed to be cut, but many ribbons.
And so we did. The instructions given were to visit a table filled with cloth and ribbons and to select the one you desired. Then, with intention, give that piece of fabric meaning. Infuse it with the meaning of something you want to leave behind. If there was a pain you did not want to carry, leave it in the ribbon. If there was a shame too heavy to bear, leave it in the ribbon. If there was a gift for another on this journey of life, leave it in the ribbon. Then we wove those ribbons together to signify we need each other and we are all in this together. We heal in relationship with others and Whole Health offers a place of community to do just that.
The art we created, the testament of our humanity, resides in our hallway. It isn’t finished, just as each of our stories is not finished. We will hold this wall of pain and hope and love as a testament to what we offer in each session we conduct, whether it is a counseling session, massage, somatic therapy, meditation lesson, group, or whatever else may be on the horizon. Each provider offers a different approach for this, however, we are all headed in the same direction.
We also still have ribbon. You are invited to stop by and weave a piece of your pain and triumph with ours. We would be honored to hold a piece of your story in our hall.
from Shannon Miller, LMBT
Let's face it, there isn’t anyone you can talk to these days who has not been affected directly, or doesn’t know someone who has been affected, by cancer. A brother, a wife, a co-worker a neighbor, an old friend. Thankfully, over decades, the vision of cancer care has broadened, to not just the eradication of the disease and to keep people alive, but to “live well”.
Consistently, Oncology Massage is reported as a popular complementary modality and clinical research shows that massage can be safe and beneficial for people in, or with a history of, cancer treatment. There are huge benefits to this work, which include reduced stress, temporary reduction of pain, increased energy, decreased nausea and anxiety, improved sleep, improved appetite, increased feelings of well-being, peace, acceptance and remembering Joy.
Oncology Massage therapists have received advanced training and will ask for more medical information and history from their clients, than a typical visit to a spa or private therapy session would require. Although for some, it is a lengthy intake, it ensures the most safe and effective session possible. Oncology Massage Therapists know that each patient has been through a barrage of medical experiences and may just need to distance themselves from that part of their life, while trusting that their particular medical concerns are known and understood. People in cancer treatment work hard to “keep on going”, a massage gives them permission to stop, even if just for an hour.
An Oncology Massage Therapist provides a safe and warm holding space, where deep human compassion and caring are communicated not necessarily with words but through touch. To be touched. To be seen. To be cared for. A cancer survivor of 10 years, will require vastly different massage modifications than someone currently undergoing radiation or chemotherapy treatment, and yet another may be receiving massage because medical treatment is no longer an option. But human, compassionate touch and presence are vital and always an option.
The Society for Oncology Massage offers a Therapist Locator to help you find a trained oncology massage therapist who can provide safe, effective massage therapy for people affected by cancer, which includes those in active treatment as well as those with a cancer treatment history.
“Massage Therapy is not contraindicated in cancer patients. Massaging a tumor is, but there is a great deal more to a person than the tumor“ Bernie Siegel, MD
A mandala (Sanskrit for “circle” or “completion”) is an art therapy technique that can be a powerful tool for gaining insight and self-awareness. It is a circle composed of lines, shapes, and symbols that has been used for centuries to represent wholeness and unity, or as an object of meditation. When I created my first mandala, looking at a blank circle I wondered what I was “supposed” to draw. Then I compared my basic image of a sunset to my classmates’ mandalas and wondered what the point of this was. My negative judgments and expectations set me up for frustration and feelings of failure.
Do you remember being a child playing with art materials? Before your ego was developed, you were able to make art without a care in the world. In life, when we make judgments about what things “should” be like, we can end up feeling frustrated and disappointed when reality doesn’t meet our expectations. It is natural to make judgments, but we see things through the lens of our own experiences, rather than how they are in reality. For example, you might think your art looks “bad,” but in reality, it is nothing more than lines, colors, and shapes on a piece of paper. You are the one who creates meaning out of it. I never attempt to interpret my clients’ artwork, but instead ask questions to help the person find meaning in their own creation. And if they don’t know what it represents, that is okay too.
Many times, our struggles in life are not the situations we find ourselves in but the meaning we make of them. When we allow ourselves to approach life with an attitude of curiosity and acceptance, we can start living with our eyes wide open. We can use our imagination to be flexible in our thinking and identify options. Imagination houses our deepest fears and inadequacies, but also allows us to look at things outside of the box.
I often integrate mindfulness practice into my work with clients using mandalas as a tool for reflection and gaining insight into one's inner world. When we can create with an open mind, we can find deep meaning and significance in our work. By identifying and talking about these images that emerge, we can work on resolving many of the underlying issues that are causing discomfort in life. The images act as a stimulus that allows us to examine parts that have not been serving us well.
Now that I create mandalas with an attitude of playfulness and with no expectations, I can actually enjoy the process of being free to use whatever materials, colors, lines, and shapes that feel right to me in the moment. This freedom allows me to put my inner world out into a tangible form. Sometimes I do not see anything profoundly meaningful in the resulting artwork, but it is still a relaxing mindful process. Other times, it can be a powerful experience to recognize symbolism and meaning that was not planned or intentional.
This is an image one of my clients drew to demonstrate how she felt when she first started therapy. She described herself as being on the edge of a black hole, about to fall in, and seeing me as her only lifeline.
This was a mandala the same client created several months into our work together. It reflected things that gave her life meaning as well as issues she was still struggling with.