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

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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

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

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

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

What does spiritual wellness mean to you?

Spiritual wellness is a very personal journey of self discovery that allows for not only healing, but a life that exudes happiness, purpose and wellbeing.

Stephanie represents The Healing Center of Aurora Sinai, located in Milwaukee's Walker's Point neighborhood.

When I look at my own life, I think of “spiritual wellness” as a way for me to develop my beliefs, values and unique path. Some may refer to the spiritual portion of their lives as religion, while others feel a similar sense when interacting with nature, meditating or connecting deeply with those they love.

Personally, this part of my life is one of the most important. It allows me to walk this Earth in peace and fight for all that I treasure. My strong spiritual self helps me realize what is important and what I can let go. It fills up the empty spaces and makes room for thoughts, feelings and experiences that develop who I am.

In my experience at The Healing Center, I continuously interact with sexual violence survivors, trauma counselors and health practitioners. Within this space, I am reminded of the importance of spiritual wellness for healing from current and past abuse and taking care of one’s self as a caregiver. It can be pretty difficult to work in this field without some kind of self care.

Currently, I am a student, wife, daughter, sister and non-profit volunteer in addition to my 9-5 job. It is a great life, one that allows me to find constant joy, but also a hectic one. Oftentimes, I have to “…hurry up and relax” as Laura van Dernoot Lipsky says so eloquently in her book, Trauma Stewardship. I believe my journey of spiritual wellness helps me take time to reflect and keep discovering my true, authentic self.

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

New Blog for a New Year!

I’m excited to announce that we’ve updated our healing blog to reach more readers and offer a new vision for those who have followed us in the past!

As I write from my desk at The Healing Center, a non-profit that provides free counseling services for survivors of sexual violence, I want to take a brief look back and share my thoughts for this blog: My words here focus on healing from past struggles and transforming and surviving everyday life.

From time to time I may mention a bit about The Healing Center’s services, upcoming events and stories that strike me from the news, but my mission here is to give you a dose of inspiration, calming words to carry you through the day and tips I compile from my own mind and others about how to walk your path in peace.

I chose to go in this direction because I really feel that before our doors open and after they close for the night, I want clients, allies, donors and everyone else to know they are loved, appreciated and thought about even if they may not physically sit in our waiting room.

All of us, no matter where we come from or what we have endured, are survivors. We survive tragedy, heartbreak, addictions, trauma and all the trials and tribulations that we stumble upon each day. I welcome all your thoughts and dreams, no matter how big or small and hope you can use this blog as a resource to cushion your falls and bring you to a state of happiness and balance.

Where do you go to breathe?

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