The Center for Mind-Body Medicine

Arriving in Jacmel

We wound over the mountains from Port-au-Prince and arrived in Jacmel in time for lunch. Spills of fruit, vegetables, brightly painted metal butterflies, ceramic vases pouring out of stands onto the edge of the narrow roadway. Agriculture—hoes not tractors–struggling up steep slopes.

At the community center cum chuch in Jacmel we gather—faculty with our twelve Haitian Interns, some of the brightest and most committed of the first group of 120 whom we trained. We have brought interpreters from Port-au-Prince who have helped us before–absolutely essential to be understood in Kreyol, absolutely essential for us and our new group of 120 trainees to understand one another.

The interns talk about what our model of self-care and mutual help has meant to them. Here is Junie, a Nurse and Teacher: “you taught us to heal with all the stress that was destroying us. And now, as we work with kids who are so agitated and move around so much, we teach them to release tension with breathing and shaking and dancing and they calm down.”

Jacqueline, a public health nurse, tells us that Mind-Body techniques have lowered her blood pressure and helped her sleep. “Now I’m working,” she goes on, “with my husband who has a tendency to be irritable.” She laughs, and so do we along with her.

Spencer, a social worker block wide, gap-toothed, and solid, tells us he is using mind-body techniques with the seven soccer teams he coaches. And, Regine talks about our model of sharing and quieting ourselves as a “bridge to peace” among the warring gangs with which she works.

International faculty, interns, and translators sit at our spaghetti and papaya lunch together getting to know one another, planning the five-day training to come.

James S. Gordon MD, a psychiatrist, is the author of Unstuck: Your Guide to the Seven Stage Journey Out of Depression and the Founder, Director of the Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, and Dean of the College of Mind-Body Medicine with Saybrook University.

Arriving in Jacmel

We wound over the mountains from Port-au-Prince and arrived in Jacmel in time for lunch. Spills of fruit, vegetables, brightly painted metal butterflies, ceramic vases pouring out of stands onto the edge of the narrow roadway. Agriculture—hoes not tractors–struggling up steep slopes.

At the community center cum chuch in Jacmel we gather—faculty with our twelve Haitian Interns, some of the brightest and most committed of the first group of 120 whom we trained. We have brought interpreters from Port-au-Prince who have helped us before–absolutely essential to be understood in Kreyol, absolutely essential for us and our new group of 120 trainees to understand one another.

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In Haiti

The Center always begins meetings with meditation- to calm and center us after rushing to arrive. Now we are here, together– preparing to focus as a team to accomplish the work at hand.

This is the pre-program staff meeting yesterday in Jacmel, Haiti, where the Center is training 120 care providers in our Initial Mind-Body Medicine program. Initial and advanced trainings have been held previously in Port-au-Prince, and some of those trained are now part of a Haiti Leadership Team serving as interns in this training. Dr. Gordon and Center faculty are guiding the deep process of learning that begins today. The trainees will learn the science and practice of self-care, in a supportive small-group setting. They need this support themselves, and will learn to share it with their families and their communities in Jacmel.

Blessings on the work!

Our work in Israel and Gaza in Jerusalem Post

Hi everybody,

I hope you’ve all been enjoying your summers. I’ve been  in Israel and Gaza with our team, and more recently have been working on getting our programs ready for the fall (Professional Training Program in Mind-Body Medicine begins in just a little over a month!) as well as doing some writing.

I wanted to share with you a profile of me and of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine’s work that just appeared in the Jerusalem Post Magazine. The JP is one of Israel’s largest and most influential newspapers–in both Hebrew and English–and I am hopeful that the profile will be helpful as we raise both awareness and funding for the trauma and other programs in Israel and Gaza.

Profile from Jerusalem Post Magazine, by Lauren Gelfond Feldinger:

From War to Ward: An Unorthodox Psychiatrist

In that connection, we are beginning to organize a joint Israeli-Palestinian CancerGuides training in the summer of 2012. The CG program is much needed in Israel, and is of desperate importance in Gaza and the West Bank where  people with cancer, particularly women, are often treated as pariahs.

Over the last year or so, we have organized the first cancer support program ever in Gaza, and now, we have ten groups running concurrently. You may remember that some of these cancer group participants are featured in our short video about Gaza, “Finding Hope in the Face of Another.”

Who Will Lead Haiti's Mental Health Recovery?

We did a workshop for our team while we were in Haiti last week– at a church retreat center, a little, open, green place at the bottom of a hill in the middle of Petionville, bird-filled flowering trees, some fresh, if very warm air—an oasis.

More than 60 of those who completed our Advanced Training in Mind-Body Medicine came for the day—from Port-au-Prince, Petionville, Leogane, and even from further out in the countryside.

They were quiet at first, then fairly bursting with stories about the work they’d done, with children in schools; with patients in hospitals; with Catholic, Protestant, and Voudoun parishioners; with students and colleagues at universities and professional schools; and family members, friends, and neighbors.

Many people who have come to these groups are, we hear, sleeping well for the first time; chronic pains are receding; kids who’ve lost parents and homes are able to focus. The need to talk about what has happened, to share the feelings that continue to well up, is everywhere. The groups have become a place to go—to get relief, to “be at home,” to learn “something that works”.

Amy, Linda, JJ, and I all teach and answer questions–stretching mind and body; how to deal with someone who is, or may be suicidal; how to stay “present” and empathetic without being overwhelmed by needs that cannot be met.

Linda Metayer presides with grace and clarity, gives a lecture on biofeedback and autogenic training that is a model of economy. It’s a pleasure to watch her and to listen as she explains the next steps we will take together—the ongoing supervision, the site visits that we’ll make to our trainees’ groups, the workshops we’ll all be offering in the community.

We also outline our plans to develop a leadership team that will work closely with our international faculty in providing supervision and in training hundreds, perhaps thousands, more Haitians to use our work with hundreds of thousands.

The next morning, we meet with the first nine members of that leadership team: highly energetic, talented people who have deeply been moved by our approach and have begun to lead groups in hospitals, churches, school, and tent camps. Among them are a child psychiatrist, a pediatrician and neonatologist, and a medical student; several psychologists, a consultant to the Ministry of Health who is a professor as well; and an accountant who has left his practice for the more-than-full-time job of leading a tent camp and teaching mind-body medicine. I’ll tell you much more about them in future entries.

In the meantime, here’s a picture of our crew—Haitians and Americans together.

From left: 4th row: Lee-Ann Gallarano, Spencer Aimable; 3rd row: Caroline D. Coicou, Lynda Richtsmeier Cyr; 2nd row:Junie Delmont Fortuné, Linda Delmont Métayer, Amy Shinal, Anne-Kary Perrault, René Domersant; 1st row: Fornia Cenezir, Clairetida Cassamajor, Jim Gordon, Jesse Harding, Marie Ange Octena

Visiting Leogane Haiti – Mind-Body Skills at Cardinal Leger Hospital

We spend the morning at the Cardinal Leger Hospital, destroyed in the earthquake and quickly rebuilt. Haiti’s lepers come here, older people without legs , or with fingers and toes amputated by the disease; brothers 8 and 12 years old whose noses have collapsed and whose faces and hands already bear the scars of the condition.

The kindly and concerned Sisters and lay nurses who are in charge have been overwhelmed by the suffering around them—staff, friends and family killed in the earthquake, as well as by the weight of sadness their patients bring. Out in the country, living with people whose illness has wasted them, meeting acute care needs, they are clearly stretched thin.

Little by little, they brighten during our workshop, appreciating the relaxation of Soft Belly, laughing with the shaking and dancing—“The first time laughing since last January 12th,” notes one sister.

Here’s a quick video we took of participants dancing at a Port-au-Prince workshop—

Sharing their drawings, One sister notes how rigid her body is in the drawing of her “biggest problem”, and how the flower that she draws in the third picture (“the solution to the problem”), bending gracefully toward the sun, is a “lesson to remember.” Before we close, JJ teaches us all to stretch in our chairs.

Afterwards, outside, the Sisters show us the bushes blooming red, yellow, white, and orange, and reach up with a net to fetch us mangos for the road. “We will use what you have taught us, ourselves,” says Sister Yolande, the Director, “and we will teach our patients too.”

Visiting Leogane: Earthquake Epicenter to become Center of Healing

Visiting Leogane the day after the inauguration, we are plunged into the canyon between the promise and its fulfillment.  The city,  which was the epicenter of the earthquake, is desolate, a combination of “the hour before the shootout” in the Westerns, and a scene from after the Apocalypse. There are empty lots where once there were buildings; rubbish is thrown on top of rubble; motorcycles buzz around, but their riders are solemn.

We stop to buy Haitian CD’s and talk with a 30-ish man whose face looks frozen, who is standing near the rack. “Is this your store?”  I ask, of the tiny cabin.

“It is not mine,” he says, “but I built it.”

“What about your house?” I ask.

“My house was destroyed,” he replies.

“Did you lose family?” I ask.

“Yes,” he says, and slowly, deliberately, names them. “My brother, my other brother, my sister, my mother.”

Around us, other young men stand like statues. Only when the music from the CD begins does anyone move. The young man who actually owns the store shuffles his feet and smiles a little. A couple of the other guys sing along with Belo.

We know we will be coming back to Leogane and working there.

To be continued tomorrow . . .

Haiti's New President Michel Martelly, and New Hope

May 14, 2011 in Port-au-Prince felt like January 20, 2009 in Washington DC: a new president producing unexpected smiles, and tears, too– and in devastated Haiti, a sense of new life.

In one of those happy coincidences—psychiatrist Carl Jung called them “synchronicities”—we found ourselves in Haiti on Inauguration Day and in the precise hotel at which the post-Inauguration reception was taking place. All of our US team—Amy Shinal, our Clinical Director; Lynda Richtsmeier-Cyr, our Senior Supervisor; Lee-Ann Gallarano, our Global Trauma Program Manager; Jesse Harding, our Program Coordinator; JJ Biasucci, our yoga instructor; and I—were amazed that we were where we found ourselves.

As the guests assembled, Linda Métayer and I approached those whom we knew or whom we believed would be interested in our work.   Wyclef Jean, whose long time living outside the country had barred him from running for the presidency, was there to celebrate his fellow musician’s election. He gave us his cell phone number and assured us of his support.

Jim &  Linda Metayer, meeting Wyclef Jean

Michaelle Jean, the Haitian-born, former Canadian Governor General, lit up the room with her cloud of red hair and her smile. We spent some time with her and arranged to meet again.

There were officials of the Preval government, including Prime Minister Max Bellerive, and some of the clerics who led the inauguration ceremony. Other leading figures from the Haitian diaspora were there, filled with wonder at the hope, after so many years of disappointment, that Michel Martelly’s election had brought to them.  As we spoke, all of them recognized the central importance of dealing with psychological trauma to the rebuilding of the country.

President Martelly arrived with his wife and four children, each one energetic and very much an individual:  the oldest boy inclined toward his cell phone; the second-oldest boy with a mohawk, gracious and at ease; the youngest boy smiling and well behaved, a beaming little girl. Here too, we are reminded of the Obama family, and of the future for which we all hope.

Meeting Martelly: A New President for Haiti is Inaugurated

On the night before his inauguration, Haitian president-elect Michel Martelly  came to the Hotel Karibe, where our US team and our Haitian program director Linda Metayer were staying. He sat outdoors among us as the band began to play. There were watchful bodyguards, but also a feeling of welcome, of fraternity.

The people I spoke with were happy, excited; not just the tent-camp organizers who had always been solidly behind “Sweet Micky”, the popular singer, as President Martelly was known, but also wealthy people and the intelligentsia. There had been a shift in the weeks since the election, a sense of possibility that, freed from narrow, self-serving needs—he’d already had plenty of fame, adulation, and devotion, and had made plenty of money—he might really mean what he’d said: about rebuilding the infrastructure and making, for the first time, education available to all.

It felt important to talk to him, to tell him how hopeful we were as well as what we were doing. And so, Linda and I arrived at his table. She explained in Creole—the people’s language here in Haiti—about the Center’s work and our hopes for establishing a National Program of Self-Care and Mutual Help.  “Thank you,” he said to us in English, “for everything you are doing for Haiti.” He gave us names and contact information for key advisors and the next Minister of Health, embraced us with a kind of warmth and ease that is rare in politicians.

In the background, the guitarist, Belo, was joined by backup singers and other musicians—two, three, five, ten of them. The music, a kind of joyful Haitian reggae, had us smiling and dancing. I wish you all could’ve been there. The president stayed at his table for awhile, happily greeting supporters, many of whom had returned from the Haitian diaspora, enjoying his evening and everyone’s music.

Mind-Body Medicine is “How to Heal Psychological Trauma”

Dear Friends,

On a recent trip to London, I was interviewed during Depression Awareness Week about my book Unstuck’s UK release by The Guardian newspaper. The reporter was particularly interested in CMBM’s Global Trauma Relief program and our work to bring population-wide psychological healing to places around the world that are afflicted by war and natural disaster. You can read the piece here:

THE GUARDIAN: How to Heal Psychological Trauma: From Haiti to Gaza, psychiatrist James Gordon counsels survivors of disasters around the world

I’m certainly pleased that the author recognizes CMBM’s groundbreaking efforts to teach and support hundreds of thousands of people in Kosovo, Israel, Gaza, Haiti, Southern Louisiana, as well as US military returning from Iraq and Afghanistan. It’s a shame, however, that his tone is so dismissive of integrative medicine and that he fails to recognize the fundamental importance of self-care for psychological and physical healing.

Please note that as of this writing, corrections are being made online for several factual errors, including the following:

-          In Gaza, we trained 90 clinicians initially, only a few of these were “educators” (as the article states)

-          CMBM now has 160 groups meeting in Gaza each week, not 48, as reported.

Beyond factual errors, though, I’m disappointed in the tone of the article. I want to emphasize that our approach to psychological trauma relief is not about “belief,” as the article repeatedly implies. It is based on hard evidence that is just as rigorous – actually more so – than most of that provided by the drug companies he seems to accept as the standard.

It is a common misconception (and prejudice) that psychological and nonpharmaceutical research is less stringent and reliable than clinical drug trials. Each of the approaches that we use, including meditation, guided imagery, biofeedback, autogenic training, yoga, self-expression in words and drawings, and movement and exercise, has a significant research base, one which demonstrates decreases in stress levels and improvement in mood. The CMBM approach combines these into a comprehensive program, and The Center for Mind-Body Medicine takes great care in scientifically researching, documenting, and publishing our findings of our approach in peer-reviewed journals. We recently published a randomized controlled trial (RCT) on our work with war traumatized children in Kosovo that shows an 80% decrease in symptoms of PTSD (read the abstract here).

This was the first RCT of any intervention with war-traumatized children, and sometime in the next few months, we will be publishing a study (in the International Journal of Stress Management) that shows similar results—80% decrease in PTSD symptoms, significant decreases in depression and hopelessness—in war-traumatized youth in Gaza. This study is particularly important because the gains that were achieved over ten weeks of once-weekly group sessions were largely maintained at seven months’ follow-up—in spite of ongoing conflict and severe economic hardship.

The point is that this approach is not alternative. It is fundamental. It makes human and scientific sense. We have an approach that works with large groups of people in developed countries as well as those ridden by disaster. It is flexible, inclusive, and culturally acceptable. And the groups in which we train caregivers can be led by anyone—teachers, and religious and community leaders, as well as health professionals; and the scientific evidence for its effectiveness continues to accumulate. And as the article states, CMBM will continue to be there to provide our program of mind-body medicine for people suffering from psychological trauma, to teach them, and help them help themselves.

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