Spirited souls: Meet Olivia, nine-year-old athlete!

It was a beautiful summer morning when I met up with Olivia, her mom and younger sister Maya on the steps of Concordia University, overlooking the water.

“It’s so pretty here. I feel like I’m on a beach in Florida!” I exclaimed. “But it’s not an ocean, this is a lake!” laughed Olivia and Maya. Ahh, but I can dream, can’t I? Alright, back to the important business of the day. Let’s meet Olivia!

She’s an active and very busy 9 ½ year old, going into the 4th grade. She loves math (I wish I could say the same for myself!) and the color purple. Olivia also has Prader-Willi Syndrome which makes her crave food so intensely that it can be difficult to focus on other tasks. People affected by this syndrome often have difficulties managing their weight, which can lead to obesity, type 2 diabetes and high blood pressure. Despite the fact that Olivia has Prader-Willi Syndrome, she is not letting this challenge slow her down. She’s working hard to keep herself healthy and just accomplished a great feat! Running an entire 5K!

To learn more about Prader-Willi Syndrome, find support or donate to help those affected, please visit: http://www.PWSAofWI.org

Take a look at my interview with Olivia:

1. Tell me one thing about yourself that you think makes you unique?

I’m in a Pomeranian dance group and practice the German Backfische dance. During a show, I wear an 8-layer tracht (traditional German costume) with a red skirt and a white shirt. I also wear an apron with a vest.

2. You worked really hard and just ran your first 5K. That’s amazing! How did you train?

I ran 3 days a week. In the beginning, I started running for 2 minutes and then I added 1 minute every time I ran. A 5K is about 3 miles and on race day I ran the 5K in 1 hour and 4 minutes.

3. You also keep yourself healthy and ready to run by eating lots of nutritious foods.  I’ve been told you have a good system for figuring out what foods are good and what are bad. Can you tell me about it?

Every food has a color (This is similar to a stoplight. Green means go! Red means stop!). An example of a green food (ok to eat a lot) is salad. A yellow food (good in smaller amounts) is something like bread and a red food (tiny amounts as a treat) could be M&M cookies.

4. Was it always easy to wake up and run or did you have some days where you just wanted to take a break? What did you do to keep yourself going?

Some days I didn’t want to practice, but my dad would say “Come on! Let’s go!” Then I would go with him.

5. What did your parents say or do after you crossed the finish line?

My mom cried and gave me a big hug. My dad also cried and said, “I’m so proud of you. You did it!”

6. Do you have another goal for yourself right now that you’re working towards?

I want to do the Power Run. It’s a ½ mile run in Green Bay.

7. Ok, one last question. Since this blog is about spiritual wellness, what’s something you do if you’re feeling sad about something and want to feel better?

I have a sip of water and take a deep breath. My dad also always makes me feel better.

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The Soul Journey

I found inspiration for this post from “The Soul Journey.” It came from a blogger named Denise Andrade, who I believe received it from a friend. It’s a sweet, little exercise in spiritual wellness, so I thought I’d pass it on to you!

Step 1:

Take a deep breath.

As you breathe in, hold it for just a second and close your eyes. Breathe out.

As you breathe in and out, imagine all the goodness of life flowing through your body, out your lungs. As you breathe out, exhale positive energy and goodness into the world. Allow this breathing to become a rhythm, taking in goodness and giving it out as well.

Step 2:

Try to feel the positive energy moving inside your body as you breathe.

Come into the present moment by asking yourself questions such as: What do I notice around me? Do I feel hot, cold or just right? Notice the texture of something around you- a soft flower petal, the roughness of soil beneath your feet or a smooth coffee mug on your desk. No matter how chaotic things are around you, you can control your breathing and your focus.

Step 3:

Begin to see yourself for what you are on the inside, rather than what you notice in a mirror.

You have a strong, kind soul, full of creativity, compassion and grace. As you look to others around you, know that they are made up of these attributes as well. Surround yourself with others who make you feel loved and cared for.

Could EMDR therapy be right for you?

In discussing post-traumatic stress disorder in my last post, I’m excited to include this interview with counselor Brooke Phelps. She offers an in-depth look at eye movement desensitization and reprocessing and how it may help those who experience trauma.

Brooke Phelps is a licensed therapist at Midwest Center for Human Services.

1. What is EMDR?

EMDR (eye movement desensitization and reprocessing) is a form of therapy used to alleviate symptoms that occur after traumatic and disturbing experiences.

EMDR works to heal the mind much the same way a body works to heal a wound by giving the brain a chance to process disturbing memories and information and remove painful blocks. Once blocks are removed, the mind begins the healing process and actually transforms previously held negative beliefs, emotions, and sensations to more adaptive ones. The transformation process is a psychological as well as physiological one.

While EMDR was originally developed for use in trauma clients, it has been very effective for use in more everyday issues that people suffer from, such as low self-esteem or other concerns that people decide to engage in therapy for.

The general process of EMDR begins with the therapist and client discussing what issues they would like to work on and taking a history of the client’s life, experiences, as well as determining what memories and situations will be targeted in the treatment plan. This is also a time to assess whether or not a client is ready for EMDR and what skills need may need to be developed or enhanced for self-soothing and/or coping for the future when disturbing memories and emotions are brought up.

The actual processing phase involves the therapist having the client bring up the targeted memory along with a negative belief about themselves and any emotions or body sensations. While the client focuses on the image, emotions, and sensations, the therapist uses bilateral stimulation (such as waving fingers, taps, or tones) and the client is instructed to just notice anything that comes to them. With each set of stimulation, the client is encouraged to just notice and the therapist will help guide or assist the client if distressed or whenever necessary.

The client will also identify a positive belief in the beginning that they would like to hold about themselves and both negative and positive beliefs will be rated and assessed at the beginning and end of each session.

The end result is to replace the original, negative belief with the positive one along with emotions and sensations. While the procedure may seem to be simplistic and straightforward, the actual process looks different for each person and the length also varies.

2. Why did you choose to learn this type of therapy?

I decided to become trained in EMDR while completing my externship hours for licensure. During this time I was working with survivors of sexual trauma and was well aware of the effects that trauma has on a person’s mind, body, and spirit.

Healing from trauma is often a long and painful process, but one very much worth doing. I was eager to learn anything I could to help my client’s have some relief from their pain. Several other counselors at The Healing Center had been trained in EMDR and shared their positive experiences with me. Wanting to add more tools to my own toolbox, I decided to pursue specialized training.

The end result was more than I was expecting. While I gained knowledge in the protocols and procedures of EMDR, I learned that it is more than just a technique, but also a form of psychotherapy. EMDR helped me to see my clients and conceptualize them in a more thorough way, whether or not I am engaged in an active EMDR session.

In addition, I found that I became more connected to my clients and therapy progressed regardless of whether we were using EMDR.

3. What do you think EMDR does for survivors of trauma that regular talk therapy does not?

EMDR has been proven to reduce the amount of therapy needed when compared to traditional talk therapies as it it speeds up the processing time. This is a clear benefit as well as the fact that EMDR allows a client to transform their previously held beliefs and emotions in a more natural way that is driven primarily from the the client rather than therapist.

Athough, it is important to note that EMDR is not a quick fix nor can it or should it replace traditional talk therapy. EMDR should only be used after a solid therapeutic relationship has been formed and only if the client is ready.

Sometimes, it is necessary to spend time talking and resourcing before the reprocessing of target memories begins. While this is all a part of EMDR, the reprocessing should never be hurried as that can harm the process more than help.

4. Is it advised that children participate in EMDR therapy or only adults?

EMDR has been used with children and can serve as a very effective form of therapy; some therapists believe that as children tend to be more imaginative and are more easily able to change patterns as trauma and phobias have had less time to take hold.

I believe it would be a good idea to consult a therapist for EMDR who is also experienced in working with children. As with any therapist, it is a good idea to interview several therapists and ensure that you have a good connection with them.

5. Do you offer EMDR in your current practice at Midwest Center for Human Services in Milwaukee? If so, do you have openings if someone was interested in contacting you for services?

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

Yes. I am always willing to discuss EMDR as a possibility with any current or potential client.  I must stress that EMDR differs with each person and is not a one size fits all technique. When done at the right time, it can be an incredibly powerful form of therapy.

I have been honored to work with and observe the empowering transformation that clients have made with the help of EMDR and to witness the relief of suffering and pain is a reward like no other. I am currently accepting new clients and would be happy to hear from anyone who is interested in therapy and EMDR.

Interested in learning more about EMDR? Contact Brooke Phelps at the Midwest Center for Human Services at 1-414- or brookephelps@mchs-milwaukee.com

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website

What happens when spirits are shattered by violence?

Post-traumatic stress disorder can disrupt mind, body and spirit long after the violence that caused it.  

 “These days I live in three worlds: my dreams, and the experiences of my new life, which trigger memories from the past” (Ishmael Beah, former child soldier from Sierra Leone).

Most of us have heard of PTSD or post-traumatic stress disorder and know it is often associated with soldiers who return from war or survivors of physical or sexual abuse. Have you ever wondered how it actually affects someone?

This is often a very popular topic discussed at The Healing Center, as we work with survivors of sexual violence. I decided to do a bit of research on the topic and this is what I learned:

When someone experiences something incredibly traumatic, the information processing system of the brain can become interrupted.

According to a New York Times interview of Dr. Francine Shapiro, sometimes “…an event is so disturbing that the [information  processing] system is unable to perform…natural functions.” She goes on to explain that these traumatic memories, along with the psychological and physical aspects and negative reactions of what happened are stored. These memories and feelings can come to the surface once again through current situations and alter the person’s present reality.

Stephanie coordinates volunteers, marketing efforts and operations for The Healing Center in Walker’s Point.

PTSD can affect some people more than others, depending on “…genetics, the intensity of the experience, length of exposure and earlier life experiences.” Dr. Shapiro also explained that people who have had positive life experiences may be more resilient than others. On the other hand, negative experiences with friends or parents at an early age can lessen someone’s self-worth, making them more susceptible to PTSD when a traumatic event does occur.

One kind of therapy that works with those who suffer from PTSD is called EMDR, or Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing. This type of psychotherapy helps people develop positive coping mechanisms to deal with traumatic events from the past.

Stay tuned for next week as I delve deeper into this process and interview a counselor who practices this type of therapy!

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, deserves the help they need. To learn more about our services, please visit our website