healing

Horses As Healers: Personal Experience with Equine-Assisted Therapy

Me and Clyde.JPG

A little over a year ago I joined some colleagues on an Equine-Assisted Daring Way retreat hosted by Laura Reagan, LCSW-C, and Charlotte Hiler Easley, LCSW. It was a magical, healing experience. Until then, I hadn’t spent much time around horses. After this day-long retreat with two beautiful horses, I was hooked.

This week on the Woman Worriers podcast, Charlotte and I talk about why horses are particularly gifted at picking up what’s happening in the moment. They might be picking up the herd’s experience, an individual horse’s experience, or that of the human in the arena with them. They are very attuned to what’s happening in relationship to others.

Charlotte explained that a well-cared-for horse is present minded and grounded, and it picks up on whether or not we’re also grounded and safe. At the retreat I attended, I noticed that at times when other people weren’t comfortable, the horses were calm and quiet. With others, they could be very playful. For example, I was feeling very comfortable in the arena the horses. Clyde, the horse I worked with was very playful. He nudged me, bared his teeth in a smile (horses have very big teeth). At one point as I sat with the group on the other side of the fence, he came and stood very close to me, with his head near on my shoulder and his face next to mine.

When the horses are grounded and present, it’s much easier for us to be in that experience with them, and that can ease our anxiety and stress.

Feeling so connected to a huge animal I’d met for the first time, and being able to share the experience with like-minded people, opened up something deep inside me. It made me feel more connected to the universe in a way I hadn’t felt before.

Setting aside time for your own personal growth, whether it’s doing an equine-assisted therapy workshop, going on a retreat or reading a self-help book, can be a powerful, self-affirming experience. I highly recommend it.

I hope you’ll tune into this week’s episode to find out more about Equine Assisted Therapy with Charlotte Easley.


  If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979 .

 

 

Mindful Self-Compassion: How To Be Your Own Best Friend

I’ve been practicing mindful self-compassion for about five years and I recently gave a presentation on the topic.  Being an introvert, I found it extremely hard to stand up in front of 500 people and share some of myself! I was nervous and a bit anxious, but I practiced a lot of self-compassion and I did it! You can see the video below.

Intensive Practice

The following week, I attended an intensive self-compassion retreat. Going into the retreat, I figured it would be a bit of a refresher for me. I’d been practicing for years. I write about self-compassion in my blog pretty often. I advocate for clients to adopt a self-compassion practice, explaining what it is and how to incorporate into their lives. In the women’s group that I facilitate, we talk about it a lot because women tend to be pretty hard on themselves. How much more could I learn?

You might wonder why I decided to spend a week away from home if the material wasn’t new to me. The presenters were Kristin Neff and Chris Germer— pretty big name in my world. They’ve pioneered the training, writing and research on self-compassion. When I learned that Kristin Neff would be stepping away from presenting for a while, I didn’t want to miss a chance to meet her, so I signed up for the retreat with two friends/colleagues.

The six-day intensive was designed for therapists and laypeople. It was filled with meditations, experiential activities, education, movement, laughter, tears, bonding with friends and lots of sharing with the other participants. I came away with a much wider perspective on self-compassion and how much more difficult it can be than I ever expected.

Self-compassion encourages us to be our own best friends with kindness and compassion when we’re suffering. And through the practice, we gain greater compassion for others’ suffering.

What Is Self-Compassion?

The practice of self-compassion has three main tenets, or principles—mindfulness, common humanity and self-kindness.

Mindfulness allows us to be aware of the present moment and how we treat ourselves at any given moment. Recognition of our common humanity helps us recognize that we don’t suffer alone. Everyone has struggles because we’re human, and being a human involves experiencing emotional and physical pain from time to time. Self-kindness encourages us to be gentle with ourselves when we’re struggling— to treat ourselves with the same kindness that we would offer a friend.

I learned a lot at the retreat. Some points were new and some reinforced my ongoing self-compassion practice. What I didn’t expect was how hard it was for me to feel truly compassionate towards myself at moments throughout the week.  I found myself up against some pretty strong resistance.

Looking back, I get it! Mindful self-compassion can make us more aware of how often we haven’t been kind to ourselves. It also brings in to our awareness the times when others didn’t show us compassion when we were struggling.  

Training Highlights

Our last day together at the intensive mindful self-compassion retreat

Our last day together at the intensive mindful self-compassion retreat

Although I don’t have space to give a full synopsis on the training, here are the highlights that stuck with me:

  • Compassion feels more deserved when I’m offering it to others than when I’m offering it to myself.

  • Finding the right compassionate phrases to offer yourself is incredibly important for self-compassion to feel true.

  • There are two types of compassion: the Yin, which offers more caretaking and comforting support, and the Yang, which is more fierce and protective support and motivated towards change. We need both comfort and protection when we’re suffering. Both together are a fierce, caring force!

  • Using tender, compassionate touch, such as a hand on your heart or cheek, and a soothing voice helps to reinforce and internalize the compassionate messages we offer ourselves.

  • Tuning in to our physical response to stress and distress helps identify where to offer ourselves soothing touch.

  • The number-one block for people around the idea of self-compassion is that it will undermine motivation. But the research shows that a self-compassion practice is a better motivator than self-criticism!

  • There can be a back-draft effect from self-compassion. As we offer ourselves love and compassion, we might become aware of the times when we weren’t received with compassion. We can meet that pain with a mindful compassion for what we didn’t get.

  • It’s really important to have grounding skills in place and to be aware of self-care routines that help us feel nourished so we can manage when back-draft, resistance or traumatic memories show up.

  • Offering ourselves loving-kindness isn’t focused on fixing the problem or trying to make us feel better but because we feel bad.

  • Our critical voice often stems from the need for protection and safety. It wants to keep us from making mistakes, to keep us safe from others’ judgment, and to protect us from emotional harm.

  • Our compassionate voice can actually create emotional safety.

  • When we can embrace who we are with all of our imperfections and our human suffering, we are creating space for a radical acceptance.

  • Difficult emotions are a part of daily life. As we practice being mindful of our emotional and physical state, we can choose how to respond to those feelings. No choice is better or worse. It just depends on where you are in that moment. We can:

    • Resist them

    • Be curious about them

    • Tolerate them

    • Allow them

    • Befriend them

  • Self-compassion takes practice. The goal is not to be perfect at compassion but to be a compassionate mess!

It’s also important to know that mindful self-compassion can trigger traumas that we might not be aware of. If you decide to practice self-compassion and it feels more distressing than helpful, take some time to ground yourself, provide self-care in ways that are meaningful to you and seek professional help with a therapist for support and to explore alternative ways to keep you grounded in your practice if needed.

You can find out more here:

Elizabeth Cush on Self-Compassion

Ignite Annapolis

Self-compassion.org

Center for Mindful Self-Compassion

Kristin Neff, Ph.D.

Christopher Germer, PhD.


If you enjoyed this blog post and would like more insights into living with anxiety, tune into the Woman Worriers podcast. In each weekly 30-minute episode, host Elizabeth Cush, LCPC, and her guests explore living with anxiety, relationships, parenting, surviving trauma and other topics and offer insights into mindfulness, meditation and other helpful resources.

Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979  

A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being

*This post was originally published on The Practice of Being Seen blog.

Healing begins when you’re seen. Healing deepens when you see yourself.

girl spinning.jpg

Throughout most of my life, anxiety has been a constant companion. As a young child, anxiety was part of my emotional landscape, and it also inflected my physical world. I needed to feel that my body was safe and secure. I’d get my mom to tie the ribbons at the waist of my dresses so tightly that I could feel them cutting into my skin. I couldn’t fall asleep at night unless the covers were tucked so tightly that I felt the pressure of the blankets pushing me into the bed.

As a teenager I often disconnected from my difficult feelings. I wasn’t fully present and it was as if I was in a fog. At other times, it was as if all the wires in my system fired at the same time. When I was stressed and anxious I became hyper aware of my clothes touching my skin. Irritable and angry much of the time, I struggled with depression. All of this confused me. I wasn’t making the connection between the physical sensory discomfort and my emotional discomfort.

I felt like I didn’t fit in. I believed that there was something wrong deep within me and that I was the problem. When I’d try to “fix” that, I’d mold myself to other people’s needs and agree to things I wasn’t sure I wanted. My body would try to get my attention: a heavy tightness would press down on my chest. To this day, that pressure continues to remind me when I’m holding back and not speaking up for my wants and needs.

Surviving Abuse

It’s not easy for me to open up and it takes a lot for me to let down my guard - to be vulnerable, to trust, to be me. So much of that comes back to my childhood. The physical and emotional symptoms that I described didn’t just crop up one day. When we were very young, my sister and I were abused by a powerful man in my family. The abuse was allowed to continue even after my sister and I came forward and told my parents and they consulted with the other adults in the family. It took a huge leap of faith to tell our story, but the adults we relied upon rationalized the abuse. My sister and I were told to figure it out on our own.

We were 4 and 6 years old.

I can picture my younger self in a starchy, smocked calico printed dress. Chubby legs, a smile on my face, wanting to be loved, cared for... I just wanted to be seen, heard, and protected. Instead the message I received was, “Don’t make a fuss! Please, go figure out how to protect yourself.” As we grew older the abuse stopped, but the emotional scars are still present and they show themselves when I’m feeling most vulnerable.

Seeing the Unseen and Hearing the Unheard

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I know what it means to feel like no one sees you and no one hears you.  I know the fear of showing my real self. And this is why I became a therapist, because I care so deeply about those who feel unseen and unheard.

As a therapist, I hold sacred space as I see my clients in their most vulnerable moments. I work with women who have trouble showing up as who they really are. They feel inauthentic in their lives and they struggle with anxiety and depression. As we work together, they experience what it’s like when their voices, their needs, their wants, and their pain are finally seen and heard.

Truly Seeing Myself

My own deep dive into therapy has helped me understand my shame and self-blame. It’s helped me to re-integrate the parts of me that I pushed away. I’m able to feel the power of those voices inside me that long to be heard. I’m able to acknowledge the parts of myself that need to have their stories told, shared, and embraced with compassion. I’ve begun the process of listening, loving, trusting, and seeing all of me.

I’m not sure I’ll ever rid myself of the need to protect myself, or the worry that I’ll show myself and there won’t be anyone to see me, but I’ve learned that I can be there for me. I am the one who will be able to see me, to hear me, to support me, and love me.

The abuse I experienced used to feel like a liability, but now I see it as my strength. I am a better therapist because of my story and I appreciate how it’s shaped me both personally and professionally. My clients feel that I truly understand their pain and trust that I can see their true selves in ways that might be hidden from them. I receive their stories with empathy and I support them with encouragement and compassion. As they reach out, as they explore their experiences and move forward on their journey, I continue to grow and heal right there beside them.

**You can hear me read this story aloud on the Woman Worriers podcast. episode 40.


Elizabeth Cush, LCPC is a therapist, blogger,  creator and host of the Woman Worriers podcast, and the owner of Progression Counseling in Annapolis, Md and she’s been featured in these major publications. Elizabeth helps busy, overwhelmed men and women manage their anxiety and stress so they can live their lives with more ease, contentment and purpose. If you'd like to know more about how individual, online and group therapy can help ease anxiety and stress call me 410-339-1979.  

You can follow me and the Woman Worriers podcast on these social media platforms — Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Twitter

Seeing And Being Seen: My Story Of Survival And Healing

Me as a young girl

Me as a young girl

Earlier this year I decided to write what I thought would be a “how therapy helped me become a better therapist” story. Over the years, I’ve been in and out of therapy to help me manage my anxiety and depression. I created what I thought was a vulnerable, open piece that shared how my own therapy helped me learn to cope with trauma and how each of the therapists I’d worked with led me to insights that help me be a better therapist today.

I submitted the piece to colleagues who have a contributor’s blog on their website, The Practice of Being Seen. Although I felt I’d been open, honest and vulnerable, I was told that the piece didn’t go deep enough into my story. I think one of the comments they had was, “We want to know about you, not your therapists.”

I went back to the computer and started again. After multiple edits and rewrites, it turns out that the story I needed to tell was a much different, much more personal story — the story of being the survivor of childhood sexual abuse. You might wonder, “Why anyone would want to share that story? Isn’t that too much to share with the world?” That’s precisely why I needed to tell it.

I recently had the honor and pleasure of attending a talk by author, speaker, researcher, social worker extraordinaire Brené Brown who said, “When we deny our stories, they define us. When we write our own stories, we write the ending.” I knew then it was time for me to write my own ending.

When we hold our stories so close that they rarely see the light of day, the story remains the same. For me, avoiding the story created a negative feedback loop. For years I felt damaged by the abuse, because all I could feel was the shame of what happened. Avoiding what happened, and the feelings associated with it left me feeling disconnected from me and those around me. I needed to retell my story from a place of strength.

Writing my story, A Story of Survival and Healing: A Therapists Journey Into Seeing and Being Seen, has been a difficult, raw and extremely empowering experience. As Anne Lamott writes, “It's good to do uncomfortable things. It's weight training for life.”

Let me know your thoughts and if you’re ready, start writing your own story.