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The Universal Power of Embodied Healing

Dr. Nan Herron

TIMBo Spotlight: Guest Blog

I have been blessed with an incredible education.

I attended Yale University where I majored in Philosophy and learned how to think critically and argue wisely. Following this I attended Brown University for medical school where I was encouraged to pursue medical training with originality and creativity. I remained at Brown for a five-year residency combining Pediatrics with Adult and Child Psychiatry.

During this time, I became fascinated by the intrinsic strength of my patients and I was compelled to learn more about how individuals survive struggles and adversity. I was fascinated by the growing field of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and its offspring, the study of Resiliency. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to spend a post-residency year in 1993-94 as a "Fellow in Trauma Studies" at Harvard, working with Dr. Bessel van der Kolk at Massachusetts General Hospital. We saw extremely challenging cases, people who had survived horrible experiences often involving the unspeakable cruelty of others.

At the time I was also facing my own struggles of a difficult pregnancy and, soon after, a new baby and stress in my marriage. I quickly realized that I needed to learn skills to navigate what came to be known as "compassion fatigue" and "vicarious traumatization." I realized that my profession also demanded "self-care" skills – and I took this seriously, especially now being divorced with two young children. I found a way to do yoga almost every day, and based on how it had helped me, I completed a yoga teacher training plus a professional training in Dialectical Behavioral Therapy to help me take these learnings to my patients.

I was actively developing my own techniques to augment the therapy that I was offering to my patients on the locked in-patient units where I spent my days working with trauma survivors, and patients of all ages struggling with despair and psychosis. Along the way, I met Sue Jones. I was trying to develop a program I could offer to women of all social backgrounds which intertwined cognitive techniques with meditation and yoga. I wanted it to be accessible to everyone, but I was struggling to find the best approach and to use the right voice. Sue suggested I might benefit from taking her four-day Foundations course in TIMBo (Trauma-responsive Innovation for Mind and Body). And she was right, I did benefit, and my life has never been the same.

Sue had the advantage of not being influenced by traditional medical training, a context in which I was so embedded in that I did not even realize it. She engaged with women from a fully embodied perspective, informed by her own experiences with trauma, and from years of listening to and processing with hundreds of other women, fine-tuning her approach in response to their feedback. No wonder it all made sense!

Despite my mindfulness practice, I realized that I had it all wrong. I had been attempting to create a polished product by reading books and synthesizing information. No, to address the roots of trauma, the approach needs to be embodied, experienced, seeded from the inside out. As a result of growing neuropsychiatric and medical empirical data and new societal awareness, there are many interventions for treating PTSD. Yes, medication and therapy have a role. But in my 25 years as an expert in the field of PTSD, what I have come to appreciate is that the most effective interventions are somatic-based; they begin and end with connecting to the body.

Sue Jones is the first to tell you she does not have standard clinical training – despite assumptions to the contrary of those who meet her, she holds no MD, no PhD, no LICSW. Yet she has created a tool that has transformed thousands…and I am one of the lucky recipients.

TIMBo is now offered to women across various populations, and to the staff of organizations that serve them. What every program captures are the basic skills of structured breathing and facilitated group discussion in a context of acceptance and self-compassion. The format organically allows each participant to acknowledge, appreciate and honor whatever way she has adapted to life's difficulties. However, this is not the end of the story.

Participants also learn how universal our secrets are: by feeling (not avoiding) our feelings, acknowledging our inevitable shame, and sharing the general connection of our basic humanity, we begin to heal, expand our awareness, and celebrate the liberation that is possible with real connection.

After completing my own TIMBo training, I’ve had the opportunity to travel with Sue and deliver TIMBo in Kenya, both to urban ghetto dwellers in the city of Nairobi and to tribal Maasai women in the southern Rift Valley. I also co-facilitated TIMBo in an isolated prison-diversion residential program for women on an island on the outskirts of Boston and offered several programs to the public online.

One of TIMBo's many brilliant benefits is that whenever I facilitate, I am also using the TIMBo skills for myself during the experience, thereby enhancing my own resiliency and precluding the dangers of clinician burn-out. There are few programs with this essential quality, which is a critical ingredient to ensure that healers can actually feel better, the more they help others.

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