Mental Health Professionals blog

Denise Bunner: Trauma yoga a game changer for veterans

Tuesday, June 21, 2016

Every Thursday morning, a group of Veterans arrive at Bloom to take part in a weekly Yoga practice at BLOOM Collaborative.  This is not an ordinary yoga practice.  These veterans are taking part in a yoga practice that is specifically designed to address their symptoms of PTSD, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

PTSD is a psychiatric disorder that can occur following the experience or witnessing of a life-threatening event such as military combat, natural disasters, terrorist incidents, serious accidents, or physical or sexual abuse.   These experiences can cause intense physical and psychological stress reactions.  The trauma can be a single event, multiple events, or a set of circumstances that is experienced by an individual as physically and emotionally harmful or threatening and can have lasting adverse effects on the individual’s physical, social, emotional, or spiritual well-being.
Trauma can happen to anyone at any time. However, Veterans have a higher than normal range of PTSD symptoms.  While PTSD was not officially recognized by the Psychiatric community until 1980, Veterans coming back from serving in various areas of the world have been showing symptoms of this diagnosis for many years.  In the years since the diagnosis has been recognized, the trauma field has gone from obscurity, to become one of the most clinically innovative and scientifically supported specialties in mental health.  Trauma researchers have led the pack in setting off an explosion of knowledge about psychobiology and the interaction of body and mind.  

Since completing a 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training in June of 2015, it has been my desire to focus on the treatment of trauma through Yoga.  I have worked as a therapist for the past 20 years and have recognized the lingering effects of trauma in the lives of many of the clients I have worked with over the years.  I wanted to provide individuals who have experienced trauma with a different type of treatment, one that would help them to make a mind / body healing connection.

I have observed in traditional therapy sessions that there are times when the individual is stuck back in the time and place where the trauma took place, and sometimes, traditional talk therapy is just not helpful in getting a survivor of trauma past that moment. 
According to psychiatrist and noted PTSD expert Bessel Van Der Kolk, “Words can’t integrate the disorganized sensations and action patterns that form the core imprint of the trauma.  If you really want to help a traumatized person, you have to work with core physiological states and, then, the mind will start changing.”  

Van Der Kolk has been gaining the attention of the trauma community due to the approach he has taken in identifying different methods of alleviating the suffering endured by trauma survivors.  He has headed a team of researchers at the Trauma Center in Boston, Mass.  Their research is showing very promising results with Trauma Sensitive Yoga.  There are now published results that this form of yoga can significantly decrease the trauma symptoms that trauma survivors are experiencing in their bodies.

I took part in a 40 hour Trauma Sensitive Yoga Training at Kripalu Yoga Center in Stockbridge, Mass. this past March.  This program, this style of yoga and this training was developed at the Trauma Center and presented by David Emerson at Kripalu.  The class hosted approximately 50 students from all walks of life including yoga teachers, clinicians, social workers, and medical professionals.  These participants came from all over the world to participate in this innovative approach to helping survivors of PTSD.   I am honored and excited about offering Trauma Sensitive Yoga to the Veterans at Bloom on a weekly basis. 

Denise Bunner is the clinical supervisor for Stairways Behavioral Health's Forensic Outpatient Clinic.

Little Free Library opens at BLOOM

Monday, April 27, 2015

Note: Little Free Library is a “take a book, return a book” gathering place where neighbors share their favorite literature and stories. In its most basic form, a Little Free Library is a box full of books where anyone may stop by and pick up a book (or two) and bring back another book to share. 

Started in 2009 as a front-yard book exchange in a Hudson, Wisc., neighborhood, 25,000 Little Free Libraries now stand as part of a global phenomenon that keeps gaining momentum.

Individuals from Stairways’ Psychiatric Rehabilitation class “Developing Community” recently helped design, configure and decorate a re-purposed newspaper box at BLOOM Collaborative filled with books for neighbors to share.

The Stairways and BLOOM Collaborative library is accessible on the sidewalk outside BLOOM’s property along Holland Street. It is one of 11 Little Free Libraries within the City of Erie.

I was very excited about the idea of introducing the Little Free Library project as part of the Psych Rehab class curriculum. I knew it would be a fun and exciting way for participants to learn skills for greater community involvement and I especially liked the idea that this was a project which they could continue to be a part of once the class was over.

Throughout the class, participants practiced group decision-making and task delegation. They learned about community agencies, and the process that goes into starting and following through with community service projects. This included networking and making connections with members of the community who could provide advice and supplies as well as making considerations for a project which would become part of public space.

The group chose a wellness theme and chose images to represent wellness to decorate the chalkboard paint background. The project helped them to learn more about personal wellness. Visitors to the library will be invited to add their own images of wellness using provided chalk. The final piece is a book adhered to the top which will describe each of the Eight Dimensions of Wellness.

The group’s design is completely interactive and inviting and the end result is very eye catching. The group members are very much looking forward to their work being part of the community and are very proud to be part of project that has such a strong impact. Overall, the skills that participants practiced in this group contributed to their sense of self-determination and empowerment.

Michelle Jaggi, Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialist

Deb Grill: Program Outcomes

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Early in our education, we are taught that 2+2=4.  This simple formula laid the foundation for not only future math lessons, but also the knowledge that when certain pieces are put together, they should equal a specific product.  It would seem, then, that the Stairways’ formula of dedicated and highly-qualified staff + invested consumers should equal effective service and positive change.  But how do we know for sure? 

The system of outcomes data collection implemented in June 2013 is the start of a way for us to “check our math.”  By completing surveys, progress reviews and placement logs, we can track the progress our consumers make in different areas.  As clinicians, we tend to be acutely aware of “where” the individuals we serve are in their recovery.  The outcomes data we’ve begun to collect allows us to quantify and chart that information.

With a year and a half worth of data collected so far, we’ve learned that the individuals we serve are overwhelmingly satisfied with our work and our staff.  The majority are also resilient and steadfastly hopeful in the face of past or present obstacles.  Documentation regarding out-of-home placements and progress toward goals allow us to be more aware of new or recurring obstacles so that we can more astutely attend to them. 

Moving forward, we are dedicated to continuously improving the tools we use to collect the most useful information possible.  Additionally, tracking information on a regular basis will allow trends to emerge and exhibit progress over time.  This data will demonstrate the great work we are doing and be of assistance as it may inform ways to improve our services.

Deborah Grill, LPC

Supervisor of Program Outcomes and Evaluator

Holistic Wellness

Monday, October 13, 2014

There are always many new things happening in the field of mental health. One of the most recent things that the Forensic Clinic is working on is having a holistic approach to approaching treatment needs. Recently in our General Mental Health Recovery and Wellness Group we have been discussing the importance of linking many systems together for a holistic approach to treatment.

These systems include many powerful supports for our clients; Blended Case Management services, Mobile Psychiatric Rehabilitation services, Homeless Case Managers, Probation/ Parole, Dual Diagnosis, Independent Living services, and many more. The idea that our clients need and receive a support team is nothing new to our field. The challenge has been linking each client to their own system to support them based on their own personal needs and desires.

Here at the FOPC, we will continue to link clients to the best possible systems to have wellness in their lives today.

Kari Thompson, LPC, CAADC

Impact Therapy

Monday, September 08, 2014

Have you ever felt motivated to change something about your life?  Last week, I was motivated to start lifting weights.  I felt great until the next morning when pain and stiffness woke me up.  I asked myself, “Do I really want to exercise?”  It hurts and it’s going to take work. 

Do you know how muscles grow?  They have to be broken down first.  Weightlifting causes muscle fibers to tear which ushers in a rebuilding process.  The muscle fibers repair themselves, building a stronger, bigger muscle.  But growth can’t happen unless the muscle is ‘changed’ through resistance.  The catch: Change is hard and people don’t change easily. 

I recently attended a DDAP training presented by Heidi O’Toole who introduced Impact Therapy.  Impact Therapy was developed by Ed Jacobs and is based on the premise that “people don’t change easily.”  The therapy recognizes that clients will struggle to change.  It offers counselors multi-sensory, concrete therapy strategies to help clients experientially envision change.  The Dual Clinic staff is committed to helping clients make changes to achieve their goals.  We are excited to make a stronger therapeutic ‘impact’ by welcoming the use of new skills and strategies.    

Krista Godlewski, BA

Stairways Behavioral Health Dual Clinic



Tina was pondering today...

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I’m sure everyone has asked these questions of themselves at one time or another - Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing?  Is this my place in life? Am I making a difference?

The answers to these questions come often in the most mysterious and unexpected ways. 

Yesterday I received a text from a number that I did not recognize and when I went to open it there was only an attachment.  The attachment opened up to a picture of a past client of mine standing on a hill covered in flowers, in front of a Montana highway sign, holding a hand- made sign that read:  I’ll never forget the hug and I am doing fine."

I knew at that moment that I am doing what I am supposed to be doing.   

Tina Loomis

Supervisor, Fairweather Lodge

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