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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Tuesday, July 1, 2014

What Makes You Connect With Us?

[Img Credits]

Dear Friends,

A little over a year ago, Womencare "forged into new territory" - the world of social media.

Over the past year and half we have focused on sharing stories that matter to us - underscoring our values of equality, social justice, feminism, health and well-being, truth-telling, anti-violence, anti-shame, awareness, mindfulness and community.

When we began a more deliberate journey into blogging and FaceBook, we asked for you to applaud us when succeed and gently nudge us when we miss the mark.

We want to know what would make us a better Facebook friend, or a weekly stop on your list of blogs to read? So, tell us! What do you want to hear more about? What would keep you connected?

And we will keep informing you of the ideas, topics, and happenings that matter to us.


Send Us Your Feedback: Please feel free to email us with any thoughts, feedback or suggestions at We request that you put Social Media in the subject line, to make sure it finds the right readers! Thank you for all your care and support as we explore this new space and find a voice that reflects both us and the needs of those with whom we connect!

Saturday, May 31, 2014

The Loss of a Hero

I admit I was crestfallen last night when I received a letter from the Somaly Mam foundation announcing the resignation of their beloved co-founder, Somaly Mam. The foundation is dedicated to eradicating the trafficking and sexual exploitation of girls and women in Southeast Asia. Their vision is breathtaking: a world where women and girls are safe from trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Somaly Mam is charismatic and beautiful, and she has raised millions of dollars for a cause she believes in. She is a magnet for celebrities. She has been instrumental in educating the public about the pervasive crimes and atrocities of sex trafficking in Cambodia and elsewhere.

Why she resigned.

An article this week in Newsweek questioned the truth of Somaly Mam’s inspiring personal story about being sold into a brothel for ten years, by a man she knew as “grandfather.” She told this story hundreds of times at fundraisers and educational events and she wrote about it in her memoir, The Road of Lost Innocence. More disconcerting are the accusations and evidence that Somaly Mam encouraged young women to lie and fabricate stories of their own sexual slavery, in service of media exposure and to help get attention for the foundation and to raise funds. After an investigation of these charges, Somaly Mam resigned.

So do we need to care about her story?

Feminist writer Amanda Marcotte’s article “Somaly Mam and the Cult of Glamorized Victimhood,” in The Daily Beast says that this story “should be a wake-up call, an opportunity for people in the feminist and non-profit world to seriously consider some troubling trends that may hamper the long-term ability to enact change. Namely, there’s way too much emphasis being put on heroic figures overcoming adversity and too little attention paid to systems of oppression.”

Her point is well taken. She invites us to see this story in a larger context: “it’s important not to give into the urge to see the Somaly Mam ouster as an anomaly, so much as the inevitable result of a culture that puts more emphasis on heroic tales of triumph than on bigger picture questions of health and inequality. Mam made up tales of woe because she knew it would attract attention and fundraisers that a more sober assessment of realities would not. That she was right should give us all cause to wonder about reorganizing our social justice priorities.”

Now What?

Amanda Marcotte’s thoughtful and compelling comments should give us all pause. I wonder now do we immerse ourselves in these reflections about the larger context, a context that we who care deeply about oppression, captivity and sexual exploitation of young women, might need to understand?

Or is the answer that we need to pay more attention to how we turn away from the ordinary, pervasive and less glamorous silencing of screams and the devastation of girls, and women’s disempowerment and abuse, in our own back yards?


Somaly Mam’s contributions should be honored.

But Somaly Mam is not just another writer who, like James Frey, fabricated a memoir. Somaly Mam fooled many donors and celebrities with her stories. But more important are the hundreds of girls she misled, girls who loved her, believed in her and admired her. She was their hero in a world where betrayal and abuse was all they had known. She gave them a place to go, a sanctuary. Her life was a testament and her story gave them hope. She asked girls, girls who were in her care, to tell false stories too. She was beloved and she has fallen. She betrayed those she had promised so much. That is hard to overlook and we must not.

-Laurie Kahn LCPC, MFA
Director of Womencare Counseling Center

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Tuesday, May 20, 2014

Event: A Guide to the Treatment of Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders

Trauma Informed: A Guide to the Treatment of Complex Traumatic Stress Disorders

Date: Friday, May 23rd, 2014
Time: 9:00am - 4:00pm
Credit: 6 CEUs. Womencare Counseling Center is approved by the Illinois Department of Financial and Professional Regulation to provide Continuing Education Units to social workers (LSW/ LCSW), professional counselors (LPC, LCPC) and Marriage and Family Therapists (LMFT).
Location: Hilton Garden Inn, 1818 Maple Avenue, Evanston IL
Register: online, by phone at 847-491-0530, or by mail with this form.

About this workshop:

Complex Posttraumatic Stress is often the consequence of prolonged and repeated interpersonal trauma which has occurred during the developmentally vulnerable time of childhood. Most often these events involve abuse and/or neglect by primary caretakers.

We will describe the tri-phasic model of treatment and the special considerations for dissociative disorders, including challenges to sustaining the therapeutic alliance, creating safety, establishing affect regulation, stabilization, and the integration of traumatic experience.

This workshop is designed for mental health professionals who want to learn how to better provide treatment for some of our most injured populations. It is appropriate both for therapists new to the field and those more experienced frontline professionals who want to deepen their work by understanding the impact and treatment of Complex Posttraumatic Stress Disorders.

This workshop will address:

  • The special challenges for clinicians in sustaining a therapeutic relationship with those who have survived ongoing childhood abuse or neglect.
  • The phases of treatment and the corresponding tasks in each phase.
  • Both the psycho-physiological impact of abuse and neglect and the relational implications.
  • Helping traumatized clients learn to restore feelings as signals that promote effective problem solving.
  • Engaging clients in a self-reflective process about ­previously disowned aspects of traumatic experience.
  • The function and creation of dissociative defenses.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Response to “Military Sex Assault Claims Rise After Pentagon Launches Campaign Urging Victims to Report”

(See the original article Judith is responding to here)

Although frightening, this headline is really good news, given the military’s long and shameful history of reporting and prosecuting sexual violence. This article speaks to the new initiatives created and how they are making a more open, less shaming culture for victims of sexual violence to report to their ranking officers. This has also created a dramatic increase of the amount of sexual violence reported in the military culture. 

The tragedy is that the abuse and violence has been happening all along. But now, soldiers feel more permission to report the sexual abuse. 

"There is still a misperception that this is a women's issue and women's crime," said Nate Galbreath, the senior executive adviser for the Pentagon's sexual assault prevention office. "It's disheartening that we have such a differential between the genders and how they are choosing to report." 

This article also highlights the efforts of the military to connect to and encourage men in the military to report when they are victimized. In 2012, around 14,000 men and 12,000 women reported that they were sexually abused. The study’s report emphasized their belief that low numbers of men are reporting their sexual abuse. The seeming disparity in the actual numbers reported is due to the overwhelming ratio of men to women in the military. 

They believe that the numbers are much higher for the male soldiers. One theory around their unwillingness to report is largely due to military culture. There is a commonly held belief that “it will make people think they are weak and will trigger questions of their sexual orientation. In most cases sexual orientation has nothing to do with the assault and it is an issue of power and abuse,” said Nate Galbreath. 

Rape and sexual violence is about power and control not about gender, sexuality or physical power. It is a very hopeful and positive shift in the US military that they are strong voices speaking out. The hope is now more victims will be able to be heard and get justice though the military court.

-Written by Judith Ierulli, MSW, LCSW

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Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Integrating Yoga into Mental Health Care - Event 4/26

The worlds of yoga and mental health continue to overlap. Yoga is being used as an adjunctive treatment for anxiety, depression, and eating disorders as well as an overall wellness and stress management practice. Trauma-sensitive yoga is currently being offered at Womencare Counseling Center. To learn more about trauma-sensitive yoga and other ways yoga is being used as mental health treatment, come to this event sponsored by the Socially Engaged Yoga Network (SEYN).

Integrating Yoga into Mental Health Care
Date: April 26th, 2014
Time: 5pm-8pm

Please join us at the home of Marty Clemons, 1101 N. Damen Ave., Chicago (773-680-7778) for a potluck dinner, networking, and discussion of "Integrating Yoga Into Mental Health Care" featuring SEYN members Livia Budrys, Rachel Sherron, and Alissa Catiis.

Please bring a dish to share, as well as business cards (or the equivalent) for efficient networking. RSVP to Marty at or via SEYN's Facebook Page Invite.  Please share this invitation with interested friends & colleagues.

You do not need to be a yoga teacher or practitioner to attend - all welcome!

Image Credits: Naz.Edu

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Alissa Catiis Inducted Into NaFFAA's Circle of Empowered Women

Womencare Counseling Center is proud to announce that Alissa Catiis, LCSW was inducted into the NaFFA’s Circle of Empowered Women on March 30, 2014! NaFFAA is the National Federation of Filipino American Associations, and its mission is to promote the welfare and well-being of all Filipinos and Filipino Americans by fostering unity and empowerment. 

Every year, NaFFAA Illinois commemorates International Women’s History Month in March, and the international theme this year was “Inspiring Change.” Alissa's recognition acknowledges her individual achievements, leadership, community involvement and contributions to the empowerment of women. It is quite an honor, and one that Alissa richly deserves.

The Womencare community has always appreciated Alissa’s passion for learning and for social justice, and we are thrilled to see her recognized in this way. Please check out the pictures below, from the event where Illinois Secretary of State Jesse White presented Alissa with her honorary plaque. 

Great job Alissa! 
Feel free to leave Alissa some congratulations in the comments below!

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

When Kids Say "No"

Image Source

There are many ways for parents to teach their children to be safe in the world, and to cultivate confidence, empowerment and resiliency.

This article in the Huffington Post illustrates one of those ways: Allowing and respecting our kids when they say ‘no’ to things that make them feel uncomfortable or scared.

Womencare is offering a workshop this Sunday, April 6th, for moms who are survivors of childhood abuse, trauma and/or neglect. Teaching safety without fear and offering a way of parenting that fosters the child’s feelings, voice and setting of boundaries are some of the topics we will be exploring.

Check out the Huffington Post Article Here:

For more information about the workshop on April 6th, click here.

Friday, March 21, 2014

World Down Syndrome Day

Today is World Down Syndrome Awareness Day- 3/21, in honor of the 3 replications of the 21st chromosome. 

The idea of today is to educate people about Down Syndrome. In my six and a half years of active learning about Down Syndrome and its impact on my life and others, there are a few truths I’ve come to: 
  • We can never truly know a person’s gifts and challenges at any one point in their life. 
  • Labels and diagnoses may help guide us, but they never offer the full and complete picture of any of our loved ones. 
  • There is never just one path, or just one answer. 
  • There is such relief, after such struggle, when we learn the above. 

-Ellen Lonnquist, MS, LMFT

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Mother's Survival Guide

Imagine a college sophomore, a young woman with Ugg boots, shiny ponytail, friends, and plans to study Wednesday night. Hearing that she plans to go to a frat party Saturday night might quickly bring to mind some of the dangers around sexual violence that college campuses hold for young women. You might imagine the incredible difficulty this young woman, violated on campus, would face going forward walking through her world.

Now imagine a mother pushing her daughter on a swing at the park. What might come to your mind this time might be laughing, singing, and a shoulder bag at her feet bulging with sippy cups, apple slices, and a change of clothes in case her daughter has a run-in with a mud puddle.

Image Credit
But, what rarely comes to mind in our collective consciousness, the popular images we hold, what we rarely discuss, is that this is the same woman separated by just a few years.  Focus on survivors of abuse and assault, usually centers on the major disruptions that follow the event or disclosure of the perpetration. We rarely connect that one in three females are survivors of sexual abuse, and that 81% of women become mothers. One guess, then, is that one in four mothers is a survivor.

We don't often discuss that this mother carries with her confusing worries, that her daughter could have a run-in far more damaging than with a mud puddle. How terrifying, how complicated it is to walk through the world as a parent - and as a survivor of sexual violence.

While media images of women overwhelmingly include the identity of motherhood, and might also include women as survivors of abuse and sexual violence, we seem to forget as a nation that women don't get to stop being survivors once they're picking out onesies and painting the nursery. Memories, guilt, fear, shame, confusion often come along to the delivery room and to parenthood beyond. What happens when the mother we imagine on the playground sees her daughter run off to the slide with a few of the neighbor kids? She might find herself in a panic that she's not following closely enough, that she shouldn't trust the kids...or their parents.  Or, that not following is natural - maybe no one watched where she was going at that age.

Let's imagine a mother sending her nine year old off on the bus to 4th grade. She's wondering if she maybe said "NO" too harshly when her daughter asked if she could go to the carnival with her friend, Amber. Doesn't Amber have an older brother who's always around? Or, maybe she didn't say "no" loudly enough?  That same mother, almost ten years later, breaks out in a sweat when it's time to go shopping to send her daughter off to college.  A time that should be filled with joy and pride, instead brings memories she can't stop from coming. She is afraid for her daughter, for herself.

The Motherhood Survival Guide aims to gives voice to a dialogue long muted, how to begin to manage parenting as a survivor who may walk through the world with upsetting triggers for difficult feelings. Being a mother is difficult; being a survivor who is a mother can be even more difficult and deserves attention. We seek to offer hope, tools, support, and dialogue to courageous women exploring these worlds together.

-Jennifer Cutilletta, LCSW

If you or someone you know is interested in learning more on this topic, Jennifer Cutilletta will be co-facilitating a workshop with Amy Chandler on Sunday, April 6th. Click here for more information.
Date: April 6, 2014
Time: 10:00am-4:00pm
Event: Mother's Survival Guide: A Workshop for Survivors Navigating Parenting

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