Denim Day strengthens our community response to sexual violence

On Wednesday, April 24, Aurora caregivers supported Denim Day, a campaign to raise awareness and support survivors of sexual assault.

In some locations, caregivers were able to wear denim in exchange for a $5 donation to the Aurora Health Care Abuse Response Fund.  View a slideshow of activities at multiple Aurora locations in southeastern Wisconsin.

Aurora Health Care Foundation President Cristy Garcia-Thomas and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett

Aurora Health Care Foundation President Cristy Garcia-Thomas and Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett.

Local leaders joined at Milwaukee City Hall for a press conference hosted by the City’s Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault.  This year’s “Persons of Influence” campaign featured local leaders wearing denim in support of the 2013 event.

Aurora Health Care is a champion for sexual assault survivors through the Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) programs throughout our system, the Sexual Assault Treatment Center, and The Healing Center, where survivors receive free counseling, group therapy and bilingual advocacy.

The Healing Center provides services to more than 600 people annually, and the Sexual Assault Treatment Center has treated more than 1,200 people since 2010.

Through your gift to Denim Day, you can help The Healing Center and other Aurora Health Care services strengthen our community response to sexual violence.

Every gift can change a life. Consider yours today at http://bit.ly/XoHTU3

Spirited Souls- Britny’s Gift to The Healing Center

We’d like to recognize Britny for her generous donation to The Healing Center. Instead of birthday presents, she asked for money to help survivors heal. Britny raised $450 and we feel so grateful for her fundraising and caring heart!

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 are you thankful for?

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

As Thanksgiving approaches I am reminded of the true reason we gather this Thursday. While I eagerly await the turkey, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie, I have to remember the meaning behind this holiday: giving thanks for family and friends and acknowledging the little things in life that allow me to feel gratitude.

This year I am thankful for the fact that my family can come together from all parts of the U.S. (Wisconsin, St. Louis and New York) and for all the healthy, happy new babies in my life (born and still on the way!).

For me, Thanksgiving is also a time to appreciate the simple things that make life precious: thoughtful friendships that still last even though we live miles and miles apart, the volunteers I work with each year who graciously give of their time and resources to help The Healing Center, my downstairs neighbor who continually rakes, shovels and maintains the yard we share (even though we really are responsible for the back!).

It’s easy to get caught up in all the negativity that surrounds us on a daily basis and forget about the big and little things that actually make our lives positive. Personally, I’ve found that by truly feeling thankful for all that I’ve been given makes me happier and feel a lot more control to tackle obstacles. Life isn’t perfect and I don’t think it’s supposed to be. It is a balancing act between good and bad, easy and difficult, giving and receiving.

I hope you enjoy this Thanksgiving with family, friends and all whom you love (and enjoy the pie as well!).

What makes you feel thankful?

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

Honor the strength of survivors of sexual violence at the 4th Annual Hope Shining Gala

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

The Healing Center hosts its 4th annual Hope Shining Gala in honor survivors of sexual violence. The event will take place Thursday, December 6, 2012, at the Marcus Center for the Performing Arts, Bradley Pavilion (929 N. Water St. Milwaukee, WI) from 5:30-8:30 p.m.

Enjoy a silent auction, delicious food and drink, a wine/tea/coffee pull, live music by Frank Tarantino, emcee Kim Murphy, reporter from Fox 6 News and heartfelt words from survivors who wish to share their stories.

The 2012 recipients of Hope Shining Awards include Linda Davis and Sally Turner, founding mothers of The Healing Center and champions for survivors of sexual violence. Throughout the evening, The Healing Center will highlight the work and efforts of these honorees and the impact they have made in the community.

Maryann Clesceri, Executive Director of The Healing Center states, “We are honored to host this gala in recognition of all our strong survivors and hope to raise much needed funds to support the work we do in helping men and women heal from sexual abuse. All of our services are free, so we rely on our generous donors to continue counseling, group therapy and advocacy for those who are uninsured or underinsured.”

Tickets can be purchased online for $70 each at www.aurora.org/healingcenterhopeshining.

For more information about this event, questions regarding sponsorship or general inquiries about The Healing Center, please contact Stephanie Shabangu at (414) 225-4247, or Stephanie.shabangu@aurora.org .

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

Fighting for women’s wellness worldwide

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

Last week I watched this amazing film called Half the Sky, a documentary about turning oppression into opportunity for women around the world. This 4-hour special chronicled the lives of these women as they faced abuse and poverty head on and tackled complicated issues such as sex trafficking, gender-based violence, maternal mortality and lack of access to education.

I am in awe of the strength of those who face such brutal attacks, lifelong trauma and hardships at every turn. It was encouraging to see how leaders from the countries highlighted in the film (Kenya, Cambodia, Somaliland and beyond) fought for women’s rights and in many cases, continue to risk their own safety on a daily basis for those in need.

If you have the chance to see this film, I highly recommend it! There is also a great website for learning more about those involved and the important issues: http://www.halftheskymovement.org/

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

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

Meet Caine Monroy, lifting spirits, one game at a time

Last night I came home from work and flipped open my laptop, only to be (pleasantly) bombarded by Facebook posts, Tweets and articles all about sweet little Caine Monroy, a 9-year old from East L.A. with a bright smile and a knack for…cardboard engineering.

Last summer Caine accompanied his father to work in his used auto parts store and to keep busy, decided to build a game arcade out of cardboard. Now, although most kid projects are cute, this arcade wasn’t your run-of-the-mill, fruity markers scented, cardboard cut-out creation. This arcade featured mini basketball, soccer with plastic battle guy defendants, tickets that come out of each game as you earn points, a toy grabber machine and much more!

As neat as this arcade was, Caine didn’t receive much business from his father’s clients and the students in his class refused to believe him when he talked about his latest project at school. He persevered though, held his head high and continued to construct his masterpiece.

Finally, his hard work paid off when filmmaker, Nirvan Mullick came into the shop. He immediately took notice of Caine’s arcade and when he asked about how much it cost to play, Nirvan opted for the $2 “Fun Pass” which gave him 500 turns instead of the 2 turns he’d get by paying $1. Thoroughly impressed by the arcade, Nirvan decided to make a video about Caine and it didn’t take long for his story to go viral. The filmmaker also organized a Flashmob to show up at the used auto parts store one day which created a huge amount of publicity and energy around Caine and his arcade. According to an interview with the Huffington Post, Caine was ecstatic about his boom in business and told his father, “Dad, this is the best day of my whole life.”

I hope you can take a little time out of your day to watch this video. It brought me to tears! Life is crazy and we all have a million things to do, but this story just goes to show how taking a couple minutes to pay attention, maybe shooting a few hoops at the nearest kid-approved cardboard arcade, could change the course of someone’s life.

Learn more about Caine and his arcade at: http://www.cainesarcade.com

Caine’s Arcade from Nirvan Mullick on Vimeo.

Plant Power!

Sometimes it takes big life events or decisions to impact spiritual wellness, like converting to a different religion or making a behavior change. Other times, a simple step is all it takes to help you spirit soar! I often look for these easy tricks, things that require little effort, but make a big difference all the same. I came upon one such step last week—placing a plant (or two!) indoors. Now, I’ve always known that introducing greenery inside is a good thing, but, why exactly? I guess I always attributed this idea to the fact that plants bring life to a room, adding a real, aesthetically pleasing attribute to the space around me. What I didn’t know though, is that they can have a huge impact on mind, body and spirit!

Plants keep us healthy!

Placing plants indoors greatly improves air quality and helps remove chemicals such as carbon dioxide (CO2) from the air. Researchers found that school and job performance decreases when CO2 increases. In fact, studies show that plants can remove about 75% of indoor air pollution! They also decrease dust levels, which lessens respiratory problems like asthma.

Plants make us happy!

Placing plants in your home or office increase a person’s optimism and wellbeing. They can also help us feel calm and de-stress throughout the day. Various studies on the effects of indoor plants reveal people’s anxiety decreasing and recovering faster after an illness.

Plants help us stay grounded!

After suffering a traumatic or troubling situation, it’s common to find ourselves drifting off, and sometimes reliving that event. Feeling the texture of a leaf or watering a plant can help us come back to the present.