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January 9, 2011 @ 4:20 pm

Struggling with a chronic health condition?

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Psychotherapist & Bodymind Specialist Anna Stookey joined the show to discuss struggling with a chronic health conditions, reconnecting with your body, weight loss and more...


Note: Refer to audio player below to listen to this episode.


Anna Stookey, MA, MFT, CHt has over twenty years’ experience working with the mind and body, first as a massage therapist and now as a licensed psychotherapist with additional certifications in EMDR, medical and clinical hypnosis, and LAISPS certification in the treatment of eating disorders. She has worked extensively with hospitals and organizations devoted to health and wellness as a clinician, program consultant and teacher, including the Santa Monica Rape Treatment Center, WeSPARK, The Wellness Community and City of Hope Cancer Center as well as A&E Television and Lifetime Networks. Anna is also monthly expert on'Your Caregiving Journey,' a radio show devoted to self-care for caregivers.

The Truce/Body Reunion Process was developed by Anna as a way to help clients reconnect with their bodies through trauma, illness, eating disorders and struggles with body image and self-esteem. Rather than seeing the body as an object to be controlled, it asks us to form a healthy relationship with our physical selves, interacting and relying on our bodies for insight, dialogue and healing. The tools in the Truce Process have helped hundreds of people to feel more present in their lives and heal physical symptoms untreated by other methods.

Anna maintains a private practice in Beverly Hills and Larchmont, California and is the author of numerous articles on self-care and the bodymind relationship. Anna also writes an ongoing blog on the Truce Process called "The Body Reunion Solution" (www.bodyreunion.blogspot.com) and can be contacted through her website AnnaStookey.com or by email at annastookey@gmail.com.


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Edited Transcript of Interview with Anna Stookey

Refer to audio player below to listen to this episode.


Eric Michaels: You've said in many of your articles that the body relationship is one of our most important assets for health and wellness. Why is that?
Anna Stookey: Every one of us is born with a body. If you think about it, it's the oldest and longest relationship in our lives. Whether we acknowledge it or not, we have a subcurrent of thoughts and feelings about our bodies going on all the time. Many people feel slightly uncomfortable in their bodies, judge them or maybe no longer trust them following an illness or injury. That barely conscious level of thought is what we want to become conscious of, because how we think about and feel in our bodies is affecting us all the time. Once we begin to notice what's there and to change how we feel toward our bodies, develop a more positive and cooperative relationship, miraculous changes can happen. But what happens instead for most people is they think of their bodies as objects, things to be controlled or disappointed by. There's no partnership and no sense of accountability. We both lose.


Eric Michaels: You've worked with clients with all kinds of different health issues, from cancer to eating disorders to chronic illness. How and why did you develop the Truce Process?
Anna Stookey: I struggled a great deal with my own body relationship as a young woman--first as a dancer and then as an actress. I was always at odds with it, always objectifying and comparing it. One day it suddenly occurred to me that no matter how much I changed on the outside--even if I lost the weight, I'd almost invariably put it back on anyway--if I didn't change how I felt toward my body on the inside it didn't matter. I was always negative and judging myself, no matter what size. Many women--and men--have that same experience. But it wasn't until I started working with cancer patients in my clinical internship that I realized the impact that negative feelings can have on our health. I trained at the Wellness Communities, founded by Harold Benjamin who very much believed in the importance of locating and diminishing our stressors and finding the best ways to maximize relaxation in order to thrive. He'd found that that made a huge difference with  his own wife's fight with cancer and with others. At the Wellness Community, I started developing workshops that asked cancer patients to see their relationship with their body as something that either helped their wellness or hindered it. What we found was that--similar to my own struggles with my body--many cancer patients struggled with feelings of mistrust or betrayal toward their bodies following their cancer diagnosis. As a result, rather than working with their bodies, they were experiencing painful and distracting feelings that took them away from their wellness. I realized that healing the relationship with our bodies is not just a nice thing, it's an essential thing for our health. Out of that came the Truce Process which asks us to treat our bodies as something we're in a relationship with, being willing to look at any negative feelings and begin a repair process of listening, forgiving and beginning to communicate with them.  It's a five-part process I take my clients through, getting them from where they are now to their highest vision of health and wellness, including their best possible feelings and connection to the body. The results have been extraordinary and very helpful to anyone struggling with a health and body issue. The point is, we have to change how we're feeling about and seeing our bodies in order to really let health in.


Eric Michaels: For people who might be struggling with a chronic health condition, how can reconnecting with their body help?
Anna Stookey: There are so many ways it can help. If you've been diagnosed with a chronic health condition, I think one of the first and most important steps you can take is to stop and ask yourself how that diagnosis has affected how it feels to be in your body. Most people don't even ask themselves this question, but it's essential. It's likely that the diagnosis--and living with the condition--may have created feelings of shock, betrayal or resentment. Sometimes feeling of guilt are also present--why did this happen, what should I have done differently? Our relationships to our bodies often mirror the responses we have in other relationships. If you're feeling those feelings toward your body, it's likely that they're impacting your health. What we want to do is get you to some more positive feelings. I'll often have clients write a letter to their own body saying how the diagnosis has made them feel, getting everything out and either asking for forgiveness or forgiving their own bodies. Then the next step is to enlist the body as a partner and begin to go through the condition together rather than at odds with each other. I'll give you a remarkable example: one client I worked with who had been newly diagnosed with cancer and was, understandably, quite anxious about going through treatment. We did some work to reconnect him with his body and then he actually wrote a letter to his body explaining the chemotherapy, what it was for, and that it was okay for his body to let it in, his body didn't have to resist it. We also had him visualize going through the treatment and coming out the other side feeling great. Well--guess what? No side effects. His doctors were amazed. His body came through with flying colors and he didn't lose his hair or his appetite. It was a big lesson for both of us--this was early in my doing this work--of the power of the body relationship and how to use it. I've since had several rather miraculous examples of how connecting and communicating with the body changes everything. I think it's one of the great overlooked health tools we're just beginning to understand.


Eric Michaels: What simple tools can we use to get reconnected to our bodies in our daily lives?
Anna Stookey: One of the most important things is just being open and willing to pay attention to our bodies. We mostly neglect them. I tell my patients, a lot of times it's like we're in an arranged marriage and nobody's talking to each other. We need to step in and start listening. So some simple tools I give to people just starting to reconnect is to spend some time in meditation with the body. Just sit with it, be willing to notice all the sensations and feelings there. Sit with a willingness to connect and witness. Eventually we also start getting better at listening. One of the biggest causes of overweight in this country is that we simply have stopped listening to our bodies--we don't know, or don't want to know, the difference between being hungry and being tired, for example. Or sad. Our bodies are sending us cues all the time, subtle differences that we don't pay attention to. I'm often retraining clients just to listen differently. Another great tool to pay attention to is how we're talking to our bodies. Do you get up in the morning, look in the mirror and say, "oh God..." How do you think that makes your body feel, and therefore you? You can't separate yourself out. Once you get that you're in a relationship with your body, you start having to be more accountable to how you're treating and being with it. So start watching the self-talk you're engaging in and see if you can shift to language that's more supportive and loving. When you do, you can feel an almost instant shift in the body and the way it feels to be in your own skin. Sometimes I'll tell clients to start or end their day by telling their body everything they're grateful for, thanking it for everything it does for you. That's only going to help you with whatever health or weight goal you're trying to accomplish. We all know from our own experience that when we're in relationship with critical or nagging people we almost never feel motivated to change; we usually stay stuck. We want to shift those dynamics in our own body relationships as well.


Eric Michaels: It's after the holidays, that time of year when a lot of people start making resolutions and want to get fit, lose weight, etc. Is there a way to work with our bodies to achieve those goals?
Anna Stookey: The first thing I'll have clients do is get a vision for how they'd most like to feel in the healthier, skinnier body they're imagining. And by a vision I mean: how does it feel? What are you doing? How has your energy changed? Get it so grounded in your body that it's something you and your body can feel, can get aligned toward. Then any time you go to make a choice about eating, exercising, etc. go back to this vision and feel which choice supports it, moves you toward it. You'll find yourself actually wanting to make healthier choices. I think our changes have to come from this embodied place, not just an idea of all the things we'll do to get thinner or healthier. We're not connected enough to those goals--the checklists of getting up at 5am to run or eating a thousand calories a day. As in my work with cancer patient, you have to give yourself and your body a road map for where you want to end up, something you feel good about moving toward. And then you want to be consistent about calling that vision up when you need to, so that it's actually guiding you in your choices. This work also gives you the feeling of working with your body to accomplish something that feels good to both of you, rather than pushing or judging your body and dieting or working out from that feeling of shame or negative thinking. Too often we're pushing our bodies out of judgment rather than really listening and working together. That will make all the difference in accomplishing your goals.


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Note: The views expressed do not necessarily reflect the opinions or beliefs of the show host or it's owners.

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