Monday, April 4, 2016

Partners in Healing

Connection feels good.  Relationships are hard. How do we bridge the two when connection and relationship go hand in hand?  And even more, how do we bridge the two when either person in the relationship is a survivor of sexual abuse, relational trauma, poor familial boundaries, and/or severe neglect?  

Individuals who have survived relational abuse or trauma can feel threatened by close intimate relationships, or some aspect of them ~ be it emotional honesty, physical touch, sexual intimacy, financial dependency, or psychological closeness.  It makes perfect sense. The ways they were hurt in past abusive relationships cause them to feel triggered and overwhelmed in their current relationships, even when those relationships are safe ones.  

What about the partners in the relationship?  They are often confused and unsure of what is going wrong when the person they love so dearly, and who they know loves them too, at moments seems to disappear, pull back, or get angry, overwhelmed, and emotional.

It is very hard to get into the head, heart, and body of a survivor.  The blueprint for love, touch, sex, and intimacy is just different.  There can be an experiential divide that is as much neurophysiological as it is relational. There is a struggle for the partner to understand ~ even if sensitivity, compassion and a desire for empathy are strong. 

This being said, partners are in a way also a victim to the survivor’s abuse.  There is a natural parallel process that occurs.  The partner has similar reactions to the survivor: disbelief, horror, confusion, overwhelm, grief, anger, and hope that healing can occur.  

Just as the survivor needs safe places and safe people to process the trauma through with, so do their partners.  

“Some of the feelings that are natural for partners would be hurtful if expressed to the survivor. But suppressing their feelings is not healthy for partners either.  Partners need their own support network so they can get healthy or stay healthy and be supportive of the survivor’s recovery.”  - Ken Graber

Partners in Healing is a workshop created for partners with the intent to inform, support, and honor the unique and significant challenges that partners face in attending to the survivor, their relationship and themselves.  

This workshop will be held on Sunday, April 10, 2016 at Womencare Counseling Center. Partners of all genders and sexual orientations are welcome. For more information, go to

Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Parenting With Awareness Workshop

Standing in a showroom of baby furniture and parenting supplies, I felt confounded by the sea of bouncy seats, baby swings, and feeding chairs.  I wondered why people wanted so many places to put their baby down. I wanted nothing more than to be a parent, and I couldn't imagine any reason why I would strap a child into some device and walk away. I didn't want some brightly colored, hard plastic, baby chair with pastel cartoon pictures on it. I had my arms, and that was enough.

Just a few weeks later, I realized the implications of having a newborn and never having your arms free. It's not even safe to not have an appropriate place to put the baby down. I realized that the most heartfelt dreams of parenting, which come from deep places of wanting to do well, can actually lead us to places that are not best for us or for our children. I quickly became the owner of a yellow baby swing with little turtles on it.

We are rarely prepared for the in's-and-outs of the daily realities of parenting. Even the most planful, well resourced parents-to-be taking part in birthing classes, infant CPR, and new moms groups inevitably find practical and emotional surprises, unanswered questions, and triggers that catch them off guard.

We are likely the least prepared for what we, perhaps, want to do most: parent from a place of integrity, warmth, humor - to parent in ways a little or a lot different from the parenting we received. Parents often find themselves in places that are not best for them or for their children, but struggle with how they got there, and how to find a different way.

Parenting With Awareness is a three hour workshop that honors that desire, as well as the in adequate roadmaps we have for parenting differently than what we were shown. Participants will explore the legacy they want to create for their children, the ways they are succeeding, and the challenges they want to address. Participants are encouraged to share at a level that feels comfortable to them, and will leave with hands-on experiential activities they can continue in their daily lives after the workshop.  When parents spend time working and reflecting on how to parent from their best selves, they and their children often end up in a better place together. 

Please join us on May 14 from 10 am to 1 pm. Registration online or by phone, fee $65.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Listening to the Untold Stories

Stories via Greenbookblog

As a therapist, I listen to the untold story. I am the midwife to a narrative that needs to be constructed, told or infused with compassion and new meaning. The loss of the ability to make meaning is crippling. Therapy not only touches the lives of our clients but also transforms the experience of the therapist. It is a cliché to say our clients are our teachers, although it is a truth. How a therapist lives life has everything to do with the capacities of a therapist. I have had the opportunity to train and mentor many therapists. I want to say “live life more fully and your work will follow.’ So therapy changes lives and life changes us. My writing is about moments that have changed my life and lives I have had the privilege to touch. It is also about the spaces in-between where meanings emerge.

Image Via KPLU

Traumas are often wordless. I learned that words were a gift. If you were allowed to name it, describe it, teach it, you could master it or at least tame it. When it remains wordless, the horror and shame takes over and limits people lives and potential.

Image Via Woodbridge

The walls of the counseling room are constraining, although filled with people’s truths and confidences. The moments are profound, yet secretive and private. The lessons, I believe, need to be shared integrated back into community. Words give voice. Abuse silences. My willingness to companion my clients as they face the sometimes-unimaginable horrors changed me. So my work is about moving from wordlessness to words and making meaning out of the traumatic and the ordinary.

- Laurie Kahn, MA, MFA, LCPC

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Thursday, December 11, 2014

“Reflection, Learning, Community, Hope”

At the end of our recent Fall Institute, we offered slips of paper and asked that attendees write about a piece they would take with them.  

Generously, they did.  When we reviewed the papers, we were touched, and so very pleased that people really took in the pieces most important to us- the pieces that we have learned from our most important teachers, our clients. Thank you so very much for joining us and sharing your thoughts.

Here are just a few of the thoughts our attendess left with us, reflecting what they learned:

  • “A deeper understanding of the role that unrecognized trauma (or developmental events not seen as “traumatic” by those not personally experiencing them) can have on individuals and those in relationship with them.
  •  “The importance of being self-aware and taking care of not only myself, but other caregivers, to help them cope with what is going on.”
  • “Better understanding of the dynamics of self-injury and the importance of acknowledging my own response to it in the client-therapist relationship.”
  • “Different breathing practices to help with anxiety or depression”
  • “The effects of childhood stress research, microaggressions, neuroscience- great to have training on this”
  • "Discussion of sexual minority youth had direct implications for the work I am doing with students. I immediately changed the wording on a survey.(to be more inclusive)”
  • “Reflection, learning, community, hope”

We thank you all for doing the work that you do, and for continuing to explore and commit to find ways to better help your clients. We appreciated your participation, and for the depth you brought in your questions, and in your consultation with each other and with us.

With care,

The staff of Womencare

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Holiday Moments: from Mania to Meditation (Or, how to learn to love doing the dishes.)

The approach of winter holidays can feel like a tingling, sparkling, surprise tip-toeing delightfully around each November corner to thrill and delight us. They can also feel like a punch in the gut, accompanied by the dreaded, jingle-tinged whir of the holiday machine. It seems especially unfair and unsavory that we can even feel both at the same time. The dueling realities of childhood history often contain both loving acts of kindness and shocking acts of betrayal, not only in the same lifetime, but in the same year, in the same day. This mosaic can leave us confused, exhausted, feeling hopeful, helpless, and spent.

Picture one of your best holiday memories, and then one that doesn't hold the same warmth. They might be separated by hours or by years. I'm guessing that each of us, each year, puts a decent amount of energy into trying to regain the feeling of the former, and avoid the experience of the latter. We spend quite a bit of time in the past each holiday season, trying to prevent those ugly feelings or re-create serene ones. We also spend time in the future. We imagine the kind of holidays we want our kids to remember, and task ourselves with providing them a blemish-free catalog of memories. We spend all sorts of time, all sorts of places over the holidays. Almost anywhere but in the present.

Wilfred Bion, a 20th century psychoanalyst, is famously quoted for suggesting starting each session "without memory or desire." His aim is to truly hear one's meaning in each new moment, and not confuse it with what you expect, hope, or hope it not, to be. What if we were to approach the holiday season the same way? What if we endeavored to forget what we know about our own heavy baggage of holidays, both the dirt and the dazzle, and just see what is there?

"What if we endeavored to forget what we know about our own heavy baggage of holidays, both the dirt and the dazzle, and just see what is there?"

This may sound as if I'm suggesting we walk through the next few months with an enlightened stillness that may seem hard to achieve amidst the responsibilities and rhapsody of holiday mania. So, I don't suggest that we expect ourselves to achieve perfect neutrality in the face of gift shopping and holiday cookie baking. But, that we set an intention, pick a moment, or commit to picking several moments, when we try out really noticing just what's there. This can be as simple as stopping, breathing, and looking around. Noticing the light, the temperature, and the sounds in the room without judgment or quickly labeling what we find. Maybe try it now for just a moment. Look up and just identify the colors around you. Nothing more. Just that. See if something inside of you relaxes.

Several years ago, I tried a silent retreat in the beautiful green hills of Massachusetts. Each day we were assigned a schedule. My first day included sitting meditation, yoga, self-led retreat, lunch, dinner, and something called standing meditation. When I arrived for standing meditation, I found myself at a sink full of dirty dishes. Fluctuating between feeling baffled and outraged, I begrudgingly began to work, furious, and awash with mixed up feelings. How dare they call cleaning up standing meditation? I wanted to be outside in the greenery. Wasn't that a better use of retreat? How dare they trick a paying customer into believing "standing meditation" on their schedule was something meaningful, when it was just washing dishes? As you can imagine, it took a long time for me to begin to notice the temperature of the water, the hypnotic, shushing sound of it rushing from the faucet, the glisten of each newly cleaned plate. I didn't have to love scrubbing pots and cutlery, it didn't have to be my new forced enthusiasm, but I could pay attention and see what I found. I found my shoulders relaxing, my thoughts settling into a hum. I realized I had never paid attention to washing dishes before, ever. I noticed that surrendering to just the moment and nothing more brought with it an opportunity. Standing meditation became an unexpected refuge and a time to just be, to just be present.

Since my life and most of our lives don't normally involve retreat, I might suggest baking chocolate chip cookies from scratch. Not just so that you can meditate while mixing the batter and striking a tree pose waiting for the oven timer to go off, but so that you can taste them. When you bake recipes from scratch you notice weird things. Like salt in cookies. When you taste what you've made, you pay attention differently. You try to ferret out the ingredients you measured a fourth of a teaspoon of to see how and where they show up. Salt, it turns out, is a really important part of a chocolate chip cookie, but we wouldn't notice that unless we stop and tried to notice it. To love it even. Not in the sense that salt must be your newest enthusiasm, but to love noticing and accepting what happens to be in front of us in subtle ways.

So, for better or worse, you will likely find yourself doing dishes this holiday season. And, I hope you get to bake cookies, if you are the one who gets to eat them. And I wonder what it might be like if for a moment, or even many moments, maybe even when attending a yearly event we usually don't look forward to, we are brave enough to surrender. What if our holidays were experienced with fresh eyes, in the moment, as if we had never known holidays before.

Jennifer Cutilletta, LCSW

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**[Image Credits: Holiday Memories, MeditationCookies]

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Daylight Savings Time

I dread the “fall back” clock changes of the Daylight Savings Time cycle.  The references to increasing darkness and lessening light set off ripples of loss—of what has been and will not be.  Of holidays that are manically portrayed as happy, yet cause so much grief to so many.  Of aging. Of dwindling resources. Of troubling politics.  It is hard to hold hope in this season sometimes.

There is a place in Ireland, Bru na Boinne, that is an ancient man made mound with a burial cave in the center.  It is so dark and still at its heart, that it is hard to discern what is a human heart beat and what is the earth’s.  It is as quiet as a grave, and as still as a waiting womb.  At a particular time of the Winter Solstice, if the sun is shining, a piercing ray of light will enter through a door lintel and penetrate to the center with such blinding brilliance, the chamber looks leafed with solid radiant gold. For 17 precious minutes of awe, the light sustains.  To the Neolithic culture of the mounds, this moment was a symbolic re-enactment of fertilization, a reminder that the dark is a place of growth and the cycle of life is unremitting and relentless.

As autumn days dim and my human spirit quakes that the light might not return to the day, to the world, to my life or to the lives of those I sit with, I remember this place, and gratefully breathe in the wisdom of the Crone archetype, beautifully captured in this poem:

To be of the Earth is to know
The restlessness of being a seed
The darkness of being planted
The struggle toward the light
The pain of growth into the light
The joy of bursting forth and bearing fruit
The love of being food for someone
The scattering of your seeds
The decay of the seasons
The mystery of death
And the miracle of birth.  (by J. Soos)

So in this season, when the light fades and the cold creeps in, when I am vulnerable to questioning hope, I try to remember the life of a seed, where dark stillness can feel like an end, but is the incubator of quickening newness.  We don’t know what will emerge, but if we can see the darkness as a rich loam and stay present to our experience, we enter the cycle of life, where loss makes way for new, hope is birthed from despair, and dreams can unfold to become real.

May this wintering time be a season of patient incubation and tending what wants to be “born.”

-Monica Robinson, MSW, LCSW

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Monday, September 22, 2014



I can’t say I remember much about my young childhood years.  It seems like they would have been fun.  My parents really wanted a second child, and my sister really wanted a younger sister, so I have heard I was well adored and spoiled with much love and affection.

Yet the parts of my childhood I seem to remember more vividly are my adolescent years.  My sister went off to college.  My mom was diagnosed with cancer. After a long battle, she died.

I wasn’t completely aware of the magnitude of these events. Only in retrospect do I identify the shift that took place.

I felt lost.  I felt alone.  I was terribly disconnected.

While I had good friends, I did not know how to talk about all that was going on inside of me.  My family did not talk about it. 

I missed my mom terribly and worried about my family.  I worried that more of the people I loved would leave me.  I worried whether or not I was “good enough.”  I worried about life, and I worried about death.  

At some point I felt mystically led into therapy.  I was skeptical - how could talking help?  But, I needed to talk and I needed someone to listen, even if they seemed a stranger. 

It was frustrating, at first, and hard to wrench out my hurts and fears and suffering. 

Yet, this stranger became a trusted companion.  My sense of person and my losses were known, valued and cared about, which led me to trusting and valuing myself. 

I understand better now - when we stay silent in grief and in our suffering, it turns into isolation, shame, insecurity and doubt.

When we speak to someone who has an empathic ear and our best interest at heart, an amazing type of healing begins.  Sadness becomes a tenderness.  Hurt becomes part of humanity.  A security and maturity forms.  Resilience.  Buds of life begin to grow and take shape.

So much of this world can lead us into isolation, and at times despair.  There is sickness and death - and even worse,  there is the cruelty of so many types of abuse and violence.  The unfair losses and wounds that exist in this world make any type of reckoning seem impossible. 

Yet, it happens.  Women and men find within themselves a resilient spirit, a desire to try to speak the unspeakable. 

They seek connection. 

We seek connection.  To sit with another who is willing to hear us, to name the truth and to care.

We acknowledge the dying and we remark on the living.  We hold on - together.  


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