Even cancer couldn’t crush a little girl’s spirit

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

I’ve been following this story since the local news picked it up in the hopes that Hailey’s dream would come true: to meet Justin Bieber. Hailey, a spirited 5-year-old from Mukwonago was diagnosed with AT/RT (Atypical teratoid rhaboid tumor), a rare form of brain cancer. She has already undergone several major surgeries and continues to push through chemotherapy and radiation.

Hailey’s story touched my heart and countless others, and when Justin Bieber came to town for a concert, he took some time to meet with her. Here is a link to Hailey’s story:  http://www.indiegogo.com/healinghailey?c=home

You can also follow her on Facebook and check out all her great pictures! https://www.facebook.com/HealingHailey

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

Spirited Souls: Meet Rhonda Begos

Rhonda Begos survived childhood sexual abuse. She experienced a great amount of trauma from an early age and because of this, had a difficult time making positive life decisions into her adulthood. She finally took the brave step to seek counseling and called The Healing Center.

Rhonda believes this allowed her to address why she struggled with certain parts of her life and helped her understand that she needed to learn how to forgive herself and take responsibility for her own happiness.

The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel recently wrote a nice feature story on Rhonda, and I’d love to share it with you here!

We’d also like to share this video interview with Rhonda, explaining how The Healing Center helped her live well as a healthy adult.  For more information, view our YouTube playlist or visit our website.

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.  Please consider making an online gift to extend our reach in the community.  To learn more about our services, please visit our website

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.

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

Today is the Day: Denim Day!

For months now, The Healing Center and Aurora Health Care have sold stickers that display the popular slogan “Ask me why I’m wearing jeans,” and we’ve worked hard to spread the word about the importance of wearing denim on April 25th.

We celebrate Denim Day in honor of a woman who was forcibly raped by her driving instructor. The woman pressed charges, but the case was dismissed because the chief judge decided that, “…because the victim wore very, very tight jeans, she had to help him remove them, and by removing the jeans, it was no longer rape, but consensual sex.”

Aurora Health Care has 1000’s of employees and many of them have agreed to participate in this truly special day. Imagine what could happen if everyone in the City of Milwaukee was allowed to wear jeans to work on just this 1 Wednesday of the year. The message could then spread to other cities and across the country. What kind of empowerment would this generate if we ALL wore jeans on Denim Day?

Education and awareness are very powerful tools in the fight against sexual violence. Everyone who purchases a sticker, wears jeans proudly and speaks out on Denim Day plays an integral role in helping to keep themselves and others safe.

Every 2 minutes in the United States, someone is sexually assaulted.* Statistics show that this vicious epidemic affects everyone’s life, regardless of one’s demographic. Together we can broaden our understanding, support survivors and inspire change.

Please join me in the fight to end sexual violence.

*RAINN

Spirited Souls: 10 questions for the Executive Director of The Healing Center, Maryann Clesceri

Maryann Clesceri is the Executive Director of the Healing Center of Aurora Sinai.

1. Tell me a little about your background. How have the situations you’ve dealt with and the choices you’ve made impacted your current position at The Healing Center?
In 1997, I was moving, (more like running!), along in my life as a mom, wife and as a program director, administering a program for sexually abused children and for youth who sexually act out, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was 37. This changed my life. I always knew my work was important but it taught me to really appreciate the magnitude of my family, my work, and my life. After my surgery and treatment, I decided to work to make my life more meaningful and impactful. When the position became available at The Healing Center, I had to give it a try. I do not regret it at all. 95% of the time, I love my job!

2. How do you incorporate spirituality into your life?
Every night I read from a daily spiritual book. This is a non-denominational book that offers daily spiritual insight. It is interesting how often the passages relate to my day. I also say the prayer the “Our Father” especially when I can’t sleep. It is very comforting to me and gives me peace. Lastly, I often just thank God often for keeping me here to watch my daughters grow.

3. What do you feel The Healing Center does for the community as a whole?
When people come to us with long term un-healed trauma, we often see that they are struggling with anxiety, sleeping, relationships and drugs and alcohol. When I see survivors who have used our services and the complete shift it has made on their lives, it is immensely rewarding. This change often allows people to become better parents, employees, spouses, and caregivers. All of these make our community stronger.

4. Do you think you are a different person today (mentally and emotionally) because of your work with trauma survivors?
I have to admit that this work does change you. You cannot hear so many stories of pain and suffering and not have it change you.  Unfortunately, this work has made me more fearful of my surroundings and I have a need to feel safe. Because of this, I know I need to have a good balance between work and family. I cannot do sexual assault work on the evenings or weekends. I need to separate that intensity with things that I love to do like gardening, reading, exercise, and spending time with friends and family.

5. What daily activities do you participate in that foster healing and peace in your life?
I love to breathe deeply everyday. It feels so good.

6. If you could describe your outlook on life in just one word, what would it be?
Dance

7. What do you wish the public knew about The Healing Center that you feel they might not?
I don’t think people know how exceptional we are and how doing this work in non-traditional ways makes an important impact on the lives of survivors.

8. Whom do you most admire?
I admire my brothers and sisters. I have three of each! All of my siblings are hard working people very committed to family and faith. I feel so lucky to be a part of my family.

9. What is one long term goal you have for The Healing Center?
I really would like to see multiple locations of The Healing Center. This model works so well that I think it should be everywhere. The difficult part will be getting our healing collective partners, Core El/Centro and Aurora Walker’s Point Community Clinic to be with us.

10. If you could meet anyone, who would it be?
I’ve always wanted to answer this question. I would like to meet our president, Barack Obama. I think he is an amazing man who has accomplished something that has never been done before.  It is not often that you get to meet people like that.

The Healing Center provides counseling, group therapy and other support services to adult survivors of sexual violence. All of our services are free, as we believe that everyone, regardless of inability to pay, has a right to heal from abuse. To learn more about our services, please visit our website