NYWRAC Training on Alternative Healing by Jack M. Freedman

Jack M. FreedmanGiven the horrific events that have occurred so far in this new millennium, including bombings, natural disasters, and an anorexic global economy, mental health issues are on the rise. One in five people in this day and age will be diagnosed with a mental illness sometime in their lives. Mental illnesses such as major depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), and post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), are commonly treated by conventional means, including psychotherapy and psychotropic medications. These include Prozac, Lithium, Abilify, and Klonopin. Treatment of mental illness has come a long way since the days of lobotomies, insulin shock “therapy”, and “The Thorazine Shuffle.” However, there is a long way to go.

A new trend in mental health recovery is peer advocacy. People who have mental health diagnoses are rising to the occasion when it comes to paying their recovery forward. Advocates known as bridgers specialize in providing support for inpatients in psychiatric facilities and provide support for when they are ready to be discharged into the community. In most cases, they will follow the clients into the community for a given period of time. Peer advocates work with outpatients living in the community. They assist in giving their clientèle the opportunity to obtain social security benefits, government sponsored medical insurance, and supported housing. Some advocates specialize in employment. Others specialize in housing. Most notably, peer advocates and bridgers are well-versed in a rising alternative healing best known as self-help.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), self-help groups are considered alternative forms of healing. They are completely peer-facilitated. In other words, everybody in the room is on the same, level, regardless of where somebody is in their recovery. This is commonly considered to be one of the best methods for mental health recovery. Of course, there are many more methods that can be utilized. Some of these alternative healing methods have reached the mainstream, such as yoga, acupuncture, and the aforementioned self-help groups. Others are breaking through to the mainstream. For example, I am a practitioner of an ancient Japanese healing modality known as Reiki. Naturally, if it were more well-known, the spell check on my computer would not underline it with a red squiggle.

Reiki is what is commonly known as energy healing. A similar modality is known in Christianity as “laying of hands.” A session involves the Reiki channel using the placement of his/her hands over certain areas of the body without actually touching them. The amazing thing about this healing modality is that it can be used to alleviate physical and mental stress up close or from a distance. The first level involves the basic placement of the hands above certain energy centers of the body known as chakras. The second level involves the use of drawing symbols to increase the effectiveness of the healing. The third level, also known as the master level, utilizes a symbol that is meant to be used in every healing to maximize the healing to its fullest potential.

I recently conducted a presentation with Angela Hebner, the Program Manager of the Staten Island Peer Advocacy Center (SIPAC), a division of the largest peer-run organization in New York State, Baltic Street AEH, Inc. We gave this discussion for people being trained at the New York/Westchester/Rockland Advocacy Coalition (NYWRAC), part of the Mount Vernon situated organization, The Empowerment Center. These were students learning how to become peer advocates and nearing graduation from their classes. We lead the group in meditation and discussed alternative forms of healing and therapy. Topics ranged from aromatherapy to creative arts therapy to energy healing.

Towards the end of the presentation, I gave a live demonstration of Reiki on a woman with fibromyalgia. For the purposes of anonymity, we will refer to this person as “Lena.” I worked with “Lena” by centering on all portions of her back, which contains three of the seven chakras. While giving the healing, I explained the principles of Reiki, including the virtues of remaining calm by not reacting in anger and worry, as well as being grateful, honest, and kind. It is these principles that greatly assist the Reiki channel in bringing forth the energy needed to bring healing to a wounded mind, body, and/or spirit. After the session ended, “Lena”, a practicing Kabbalist, felt much better. She mentioned that she had a desire to take a pain medication, but had no need to after energy circulated through me to the chakras in the heart, ribs, and lower abdomen.

A common theme in this presentation at NYWRAC was spirituality. We all agreed that a healthy sense of spirit was a necessity in recovery and many of the students were spiritual people themselves. It was nice to see that there were so many open minded people in the room when Angela and I were speaking. This is oftentimes the case when people are stricken with mental illness. All options are explored, but not all of them are completely available. Hopefully, in a Western society that is greatly being influenced by Eastern remedies, the mental health field will be expanded as a whole.

For more information, contact Jack at jfreedman@balticstreet.org, or visit www.balticstreet.org and www.nycvoices.org.

by Jack M. Freedman
Jack M. Freedman is a peer advocate/bridger who resides in Staten Island, NY. He works for the peer-run advocacy organization, Baltic Street AEH, Inc. He is also a published poet, Reiki Master, and a poetry editor/columnist for the mental health consumer run quarterly, New York City Voices. For more information, contact Jack at jfreedman@balticstreet.org, or visit www.balticstreet.org and www.nycvoices.org.