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Join us as we discuss trauma, nutrition, and the microbiome with post-traumatic stress expert, Dr. James Gordon. In this episode, Dr. Gordon shares his insight as a trained psychiatrist on the process of transformation towards healing trauma that people experienced in their lives.
Dr. James Gordon is the author of The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. As the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, D.C., he has created and implemented the world's largest and most effective program for healing population-wide psychological trauma. Dr. Gordon and his 130 international faculty at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine have brought this program of self-care and group support to more than 6,000 health professionals and other communities here in the US and overseas and they, in turn, are using it in a wide variety of clinical, educational, and community-based settings.
He and his colleagues have also developed community-wide programs for refugees from wars in the Balkans, the Middle East, and Africa; for New York City firefighters and U. S. military personnel and veterans and their families; for students, parents, and teachers who have survived school shootings; for Native American children and their families; for those affected by the opioid crisis in Allegany County; and for communities in the aftermath of climate-related disasters in New Orleans and Southern Louisiana, Houston, Puerto Rico, and Sonoma, Shasta, Butte, Napa, and Siskiyou Counties. To learn more about Dr. James Gordon click here.
Hello and welcome to The Better Biome Podcast, where we explore the universe within. There is a complex and mysterious community of organisms that lives in, on and around us, that have an impact on every part of our health. These communities are called you biomes, and we're here to explore all the different biomes to help you and your family be the healthiest you can be. I'm your host, Dr. Nicole Beurkens, and on today's show, we're talking with Dr. James Gordon about trauma, nutrition and the microbiome. Dr. Gordon is the author of The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. He is a world-recognized authority on post-traumatic stress and a mind-body medicine pioneer. He is the Founder and Executive Director of The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in Washington, DC, where he has created and implemented the world's largest and most effective program for healing population-wide psychological trauma. Dr. Gordon and his 130 international faculty at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine have brought this program of self-care and group support to more than 6000 health professionals and other communities here in the US and overseas, and they in turn, are using it in a wide variety of clinical, educational and community-based settings. He and his colleagues have also developed community-wide programs for refugees from wars in The Balkans, the Middle East and Africa, for New York City firefighters and US Military personnel and veterans and their families, for students, parents and teachers who have survived school shootings, for Native American children and their families, for those affected by the opioid crisis and for communities in the aftermath of climate-related disasters. Dr. Gordon, it is such a pleasure to have you with us today, thank you for being here.
Thank you for having me.
So you are a world-renowned expert in using mind-body medicine to heal things like depression, anxiety, psychological trauma. I'd love to start by having you share a bit about the journey of how you came to be doing this work.
It started with my understanding that people have a large and largely untapped and even unknown capacity to understand and help themselves and help one another. So I began to see that when I was a medical student, when I saw the patients who were treated often as not very competent mentally. Everybody had to be subject to what physicians and other health professionals told them to do. What was clear to me was that we weren't really paying attention to what people were actually saying about how they felt and to their own strengths. We weren't giving them, often enough, a chance to talk about vulnerabilities, we were kind of categorizing those as pathologies, and we certainly weren't helping them explore their own possibilities for self-healing. Now I'm estranged as a psychiatrist and the ground of modern psychiatry is people sitting in a room with a professional and making discoveries about what's going on with themselves and coming up with answers to what they should do about it. So it was a kind of violation of what seemed to me fundamental to psychiatry and that we were moving into a much more authoritarian way of looking at human beings. It didn't sit right with me, and it also fit very closely with my own commitment to the Civil Rights Movement, and to representing and working side by side with people who were trying to find their place in society and trying to fulfill their position as full citizens in the society. So the work of patients and the work of people of color who were being discriminated against, and also my own efforts to discover who I was and what I wanted to do all seemed to fit together. So it comes right out of that, right out of the time I was a very young man, and this continues. I've watched over the years and seen the quite remarkable ways that people can come to understand themselves and take steps to make major changes in their lives.
It's such an important shift in focus, this idea of empowering people to see what's right about themselves and what their strengths are, as opposed to, as you mentioned, how we tend to view it, at least here in North America and the medicine that we practice here where I'm the doctor, you're the patient, I know what's best for you, I have something you need. It's a very disempowering position for people to be in. This is a real shift from that.
It is. If that position worked, and of course it works if you're hit by a truck, you need somebody to — Lie down, give you the anesthesia, fluid replacement. But for most of the conditions that most of us have most of the time, whether we call them physical of psychological or social or spiritual, there is no simple answer that somebody in a position of authority can give, so it's not only a more democratic, and therefore more appealing to people I meet who are Americans who believe in democracy, but it's also much more effective, that the answers to the chronic problems we have lie in those things that we can do for ourselves and the way we deal with stress, in what we eat, how eat, how we move our bodies, how we relate to other people and whether or not we have meaning and purpose in our lives. None of those are conventional medical specialties. These are part of being human and we need to understand how powerful those can be in both reversing and preventing illness of all kinds, as well as promoting resiliency.
Absolutely. I want to get into this idea of trauma, because certainly, you've done a lot of work in that area, and trauma is something that all people face in some way, shape or form at various points in their lives. We tend to think of trauma as — as I was reading through your bio, people in war-torn countries or people who experience really extreme events, but let's start by having you give your definition of what trauma is.
I go back to the Greek word: Trauma means injury. Injury to the body, to the mind, to the spirit. And I also go back to the Aboriginal understanding that all indigenous people have, that trauma is going to come to all of us, and that's also there in the world's major religions. The idea that somehow trauma just comes to those people is a misconception and also a violation of an understanding that is really important to us living our lives. Because if you understand that it's going to come, then it doesn't come as quite as much of a shock, and you understand that sooner or later, if not early in life because of poverty or illness or discrimination or abuse or neglect, or in midlife when we have disappointments — and those disappointments in romantic relationships, those disappointments in work, economic disappointments, those are major traumas and they need to be respected as such. And if that doesn't happen to you, which it does happen to most of us, it's certainly going to come as we grow old and we become frail and we have to deal with the loss of the people we love and our deaths.
This is the fundamental inside of Buddhism, for example. The young prince saw old people, he saw people dying and he said, "Oh my God, I've been living in a kind of fool's paradise. This is the world and I've got to learn how to deal with this world. And I think that's true for all of us, we have to learn how to deal with the world in which challenges, calamities, what we call trauma, what we should understand as trauma is going to happen. And we also have to — I think this is important too, understand that sometimes, some of the behaviors and thoughts and feelings that we have that are distressing to us, that we don't understand, that the source may be in trauma. Again, that's the inside of modern psychiatry, which we somehow seem to have forgotten, we think it's just a Prozac deficiency condition! But really, it comes out of our experience, the difficulties that we have. So we need to understand that and neither blame ourselves nor think we have a disease. We're human beings who have endured certain challenges and who need to learn how to meet them.
So really, normalizing that experience that these are things that happen to us in some way, shape or form to everybody. I think that's a helpful way to think about it, because often, there is this idea of "Oh, that's something that happens to other people." And what you are saying is no, this is a very essential part of the human experience.
And that's also important because when it does happen to us, one of the most terrible things about trauma of any kind is we feel so alone with it. So one of the reasons that I suggest in the transformation that we do, in the work that we do for The Center for Mind-body Medicine is suggest that people share their experience with each other, that they find a way to do it. That, there are many things we can do psychologically and biologically to rebalance ourselves, we can talk about those physiologically and psychologically. And, we need to connect with other people. We need to share our experience with others. That makes the healing so much faster and so much more complete and so much more satisfying, ultimately.
Absolutely. There is so much research that's been done on when people feel lonely, when they feel isolated in their experience, how much worse they experience the issues that they're having.
Also, when we are traumatized, it disables parts of our brain that make it easier to connect with other people. So we have to bring those parts of our brain online and also we have to make some effort to see if we can connect with others and also to decide: Who do we want to connect with? Who could understand me? Who was willing to be there with me while I go through this experience.
Absolutely. I want to delve into — you just touched on the physiological and the spiritual and emotional pieces. I think a lot of the time when people think about trauma or someone having trauma, they think about the treatment piece of that as "Well, you should go talk to a mental health professional about that. You should get some counseling", or as you mentioned, "You should get some kind of psychiatric medication and some counseling." That's sort of become the standard of practice for that. But what I love about the work that you're doing is you talk about that in such a bigger picture way and really, a root-level way of: Here's lots of things that need to come together. So let's delve into that. What are the important components of that?s
I would start off, and this is the way I begin my book, The Transformation: I say, first of all, there is hope that you can move through this experience. And I give some examples of people who have been terribly traumatized who have mobilized themselves to move through and even learn from the experience and grow through it. And then I begin to teach techniques, very simple techniques that give people the actual physical experience of making a change in their lives. So whether it's in The Transformation or in work with groups or individuals, we begin by teaching people to breathe slowly and deeply, in through the nose, out through the mouth, with our belly soft and relaxed. What this does, as you do it for just a few minutes is you may begin to feel your heart rate slowing down. Blood pressure might go down. Big muscles that are tense and in fight or flight response relax, digestion begins to come back online, and if we look at it physiologically, there is a decrease in activity in the amygdala, the part of the brain responsible for fear and anger, increase in the activity in the frontal cortex and areas responsible for judgement, self-awareness and compassion, and we feel more connected with ourselves and with other people.
So you and I, as we're sitting here, breathing together, I can feel "Oh yeah, that's who she is. I see her, we're having a conversation. I can feel it more. So that's a way to begin, and it's very important to begin to reestablish that balance. And also, the message is you can make a difference. When I do this work with people, even in the middle of a war, and I ask, after teaching people soft belly breathing and teaching the physiology, as I do in The Transformation, for 10 minutes, I ask "How many people notice a difference? Raise your hand." And 80% of people raise their hand. And those people know that they can do something. So that's one method that's very important. Another that we use very soon, which is not used terribly often in much trauma treatment which relies — talking is great and talking to a professional can be very useful. But trauma is there in our bodies, and our bodies start to shut down, particularly if the trauma has been overwhelming. We not only are in fight or flight, but we go into what's called the freeze response. We kind of collapse and shut down, put out endorphins to numb the pain, dissociate ourselves from what's happening to protect ourselves. So we need to come back into our bodies. So I get people up very early on, moving their bodies. Shaking and dancing and doing other expressive meditations. These are the oldest meditations on the planet. And in The Transformation, I teach a number of them. I'd like to begin with shaking and dancing, which anybody can do. You get up and you shake your body. Put your feet shoulder-width and you shake your body for about 5 minutes and lo and behold, some of the stress is gone, you feel a little more energy. Sometimes, emotions that have been buried in the wake of trauma begin to surface, and you begin to say, "Oh, I really am feeling sad/I'm feeling angry/There's happiness inside me that I've forgotten about."
So all these techniques can be useful. And then we teach, when we work with people maybe 10 or 15 different techniques for moving through trauma. And in The Transformation, I teach about 25 different specific ways that anyone can learn, no matter what level of education and no matter what age. You can teach these techniques to kids as young as three.
Absolutely, which is great because it gives people this toolbox of things that they can have and feel empowered to use to help themselves when they're having those experiences. Let's delve a little more into the physiology of it, particularly as it pertains to nutrition, because you're one of the only people that I've come across, at least, who is talking about this component. And as somebody who integrates nutrition into the clinical psychology work that I do with people, I find that to be such an important pairing. So I'm excited to have you delve into that with us. Why is that a piece that you feel is important?
Sure, it's a great question and it was very important for me. The longest chapter in The Transformation is on nutrition because I wanted it to be complete, and because as you say: Virtually nobody else who is talking about trauma is talking about, first of all, how disrupted our digestion gets when we're traumatized or under chronic stress, and how there is so much that we can do to restore balance. So first of all, the disruption. Trauma affects every cell, every organ in our body, and it has major effects on the gastrointestinal system from our head where we're thinking about food and making food choices, to our mouth, esophagus, stomach, small intestine, large intestine, liver, pancreas, they're all affected by trauma. So we need to pay attention to that and there are a couple of things that come when we're traumatized. I don't know about you, but it certainly happened to me: The tendency to reach for comfort food. That's there, it's physiological. It's not because we're dopes, necessarily, and we don't understand about nutrition, but we want those carbs, we want that sugar to decrease the cortisol, decrease the stress hormone, bring up the serotonin, bring up the dopamine, and so it's a short-term solution, but of course it becomes a long-term problem. So we need to become aware of what we're eating, and that's where mindful eating comes in, eating more slowly, more meditatively. Forgive yourself for rushing to the comfort food, do it for a while, it's fine, but after a while, you're going to find you need more and more of it, and it's not going to do the job. And if not earlier, then that's the time to wake up and to really cut down on those foods. And to be eating the foods that we all know are more healthy for us. Whole foods and more fruits and vegetables and less Omega 6-containing foods and more Omega 3-containing foods like fish.
So we need to shift in that direction, and one of the more important pieces of that is eating much more fiber. Most of us in the so-called civilized world, eat a tiny amount of fiber, maybe 15 grams a day, whereas our Aboriginal sisters and brothers eat 100 grams a day. Their bowel movements are correspondingly more majestic than us and their gut is much more cleaned out and functioning much better than ours. So that's the beginning. We also tend to eat fast when we're traumatized, so we're swallowing air, which is disrupting our digestion. We tend to eat more because we're eating fast and we're not giving our stomach time to send signals to the brain saying, "Enough." The organ that's particularly damaged with trauma is the small intestine, which is responsible for most of the absorption of nutrients. So one of the things that happens, and many things happen in the small intestine: One is we simply don't absorb the nutrients as well. So we generally need supplementation and a multivitamin, multi-mineral supplement. There have been some interesting studies done that I quote in The Transformation, done in New Zealand, after the earthquake, randomized control trials, you know those!
Yeah, Julia Rucklidge's research, yeah, right!
Simply eating the way you've been eating customarily, but adding a high-dose multivitamin, multi-mineral, there's less anxiety, there's less depression, less feelings of stress, better sleep, less anger, etc, etc. So that's one piece. Second piece is what happens when we've been traumatized is that the cells in the small intestines, the endothelial cells, the ones that line the small intestine, normally are very close to one another and they're called tight junctions where the cells come up against each other. When we're under extreme stress, when we've been traumatized, those cells separate. So molecules that should not be going into our bloodstream, proteins in particular like gluten go into the bloodstream and then they create inflammatory reactions or can create inflammatory reactions everywhere in the body, including our brain.
That's that leaky gut phenomenon that we talk about.
When we first started talking about leaky gut, my colleagues and I at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, we were talking about it 20-25 years ago, people were saying, "Oh, that's fiction." But now we know, it's absolutely a scientific fact. The other thing that happens is that there is a major disruption in the microbiome. Putting it very simple, the good bacteria die off, the bad bacteria multiply and migrate from the colon, the large intestine into the small intestine, disrupting the balance and in turn, affecting the vagus nerve, and the vagus nerve, big nerve, major part of the parasympathetic nervous system responsible for resting and digesting and also playing a major role of the regeneration of brain tissue that's been damaged. So when our gastrointestinal tract is functioning well, vagus nerve is going back to the brain and it's helping areas of the brain like the hippocampus, which help to module stress and help with memory to function maximally well and also when we're traumatized, the vagus nerve wants to be go back, to put it in a kind of teleological way, the vagus nerve wants to be going back to the brain saying to the hippocampus, "I'm going to help you rebuild yourself. I'm going to help the brain put out more BDNF'', Brain-Derived Neurotrophic Factor, which helps to rebuild all cells in the brain. But when we've been traumatized and the microbiome is upset, the vagus nerve is not getting those messages. So the vagus nerve can't help with repair to the brain. The science is becoming pretty good in that. The other thing, and the science is not as good in this, but it's certainly, the scientists are fond of saying "suggestive" is that the vagus nerve is in contact with billions of nerve cells that are producing serotonin and dopamine and other neurotransmitters in the gut. So it looks like that may be disrupted, not just in the brain, but also in our gastrointestinal tract. So we need to repair, we need to devote significant attention — it's not terribly complicated, it's certainly not expensive, and it doesn't even necessarily take a great deal of effort, but we need to rebuild our gut, and we need to do that by eating in a healthier way, by eating more mindfully, by replenishing our microbiome, by having more fiber, both soluble and insoluble fiber, and by just generally attending to what's going on in our gut, as well as doing techniques, like the soft belly breathing, which mobilize the vagus nerve directly. So it all fits together, and this is why it's so crucial as we're trying to deal with the stress that inevitably comes and the trauma that inevitably comes that we pay attention to nutritional aspects and that we really focus on taking care of our gastrointestinal tract.
This bidirectional relationship becomes so important then, one impacts the other, right? We may have trauma that is emotionally-based or something that we're thinking about in our mind, but then that impacts our physiology, and then that, in turn, shifts and impacts what's going on up here.
Beautifully-said, absolutely right. We can enter into that conversation between our gut and our brain in very productive ways, both with words, with quieting ourselves, with meditation, with moving our bodies and with working on our diet.
People often don't think about those things as having an impact on one another. They think about soft belly breathing or some of the cognitive strategies that we might use as "That's just impacting me from the head up" and we think about things like mindful eating or what we're eating as impacting our body, and what you're really saying is these things are so interconnected and each is helping both.
Because the head is connected to the rest of the body.
Despite what some people might think or how our medical system still works!
These are modern misconceptions, and this is something that we really need to overcome, this siloing, this specialization. "I'm just focused on the gastrointestinal tract/I'm just focused on the brain." Psychologists and other mental health professionals need to be learning this information about digestion, and people who work with the body, whether they're doctors or nurses, need to be understanding the importance of brain physiology and the importance of meditation. And also, and perhaps most importantly to the people who are watching us, everybody needs this information. And don't wait for your doctor to give you the best advice about either nutrition or mediation. There are some doctors who will, but you can learn this for yourself. And the science is there. One of the things that I do in The Transformation is I not only present all of this in ways that are easily accessible, I give people the references. So you can check out the science for yourself.
Well, I think that's a really important point because sometimes, when we talk about these kinds of things, people say those are nice ideas, or it's nice that you think that, and no, there are published scientific studies that support, these aren't just nice ideas. This is actually how things work. I want to go back to what you were talking about, when people experience a trauma, how that can negatively impact digestion, how that can shift the gut microbiome in problematic ways. Is the opposite also true that somebody who maybe has a strong, diverse, healthy gut microbiome, who goes through life getting movement and getting good foods into their body, is it true that those people then are better able to handle some kind of trauma when it happens to them?
It makes absolute sense. I don't know if we've done the research on it, but what I have observed in working with people who were traumatized: Once you've been traumatized, you're more vulnerable to future trauma. If you've grown up in a very stressful family, you're actually more vulnerable to later stress. So what I've observed is that people who do put themselves into balance psychological and physiologically are more resilient and deal with stress better in the future, and deal with the traumas that inevitably come to us better because they're more in balance and they're more flexible and they're more able to deal with the challenges that inevitably come. Yes.
I was thinking about that in particular because you have done work in all different parts of the world, certainly in the US where we tend to have a certain type of diet, we call it the SAD diet, right? The Standard American Diet, very high in those unhealthy fats, processed foods — but you've also done work in the Middle East, in Africa, in more indigenous kinds of places and obviously people in those areas are eating and just interacting with the art and doing things in a very different way, and I wonder if you see differences in that in terms of what people bring to the process of navigating this stuff.
It's a really good question. I think one of the problems is that SAD, the Standard American Diet has now become this SWD, this Standard World Diet. When I was in the Middle East, there were fast foods that people were serving all the time. I would say that in certain areas that look like they're deprived, I've done a lot of work in Gaza, for example, that the diet is significantly better. But there are still a lot of pesticides and herbicides, but in general, people are eating more fresh food, more whole foods. The fast food just isn't available. But one of the other problems that is in indigenous people, particularly here in the United States, and for people generally are more vulnerable, because it's more convenient, they live in so-called food deserts. So you see that they're chronically under stress, there is so much obesity, so much type II diabetes, so much depression, which is significantly related not only to stress, but to the nutritional patterns, to the going for the foods that are more convenient, faster, cheaper. So yes, it's true that indigenous people — I was in South Sudan not so long ago, people there, the diet is healthier. So perhaps, on a biological level, they are going to be a little bit more resilient, on the other hand, the stress is so overwhelming in so many of those places.
Absolutely. And I think that really gets into the layers of this for people, right? I mean what people bring to their traumatic experience in terms of their history, you mentioned poverty and discrimination and living in food deserts, all of those things, there are just so many layers for so many people, and yet what I think is really amazing about the things that you're teaching and the things that you're doing is you sort of say there are all these factors for all these people, but there are fundamentally still things that are effective that we all can do, regardless of all of those layers of things.
Absolutely right. And once you start doing some of these things for yourself, not only do you get interested in doing other techniques — so once you start doing soft belly breathing and shaking and dancing, then you get interested, because you're feeling a little bit more in balance, a little bit more hopeful, then, well maybe I can use my imagination to affect my body or to solve problems, or maybe I can explore drawings, use guided imagery or move my body in a different way. And also, maybe I can make some changes. So even in places where people are struggling with some of these food challenges, what I've seen is they eat more mindfully, they do eat more intelligently and they find ways, it becomes more important because they're aware of the difference that eating in a healthy way can make to them. So they do their best and they do their best to deal with the challenges. Also, the other thing about this kind of comprehensive approach that I'm teaching in The Transformation and that we're teaching all over the world is that people begin to come together with each other and begin to figure out solutions to problems. I don't have the answers, but I'm helping to give them the tools so they can find they can come together and find collective answers. So for example, people want to take more time eating and eat with each other and create an atmosphere that's less stressful and more fun for certain parts of their lives, and that comes out of their experience in working with us.
Which I think the research has shown too that people, even from a health standpoint, regardless of what kinds of health conditions they have, there are [inaudible 0:32:19.5] when we can bring people together in community with one another that that quickens the healing process, it just improves outcomes across the boards.
Absolutely. I'm going to take the single — most of us who have worked with trauma for a long time, of course I value the enormous power of these self-care tools, but equally important is connecting with other people, And the same is true for people who have chronic illnesses. One of the terrible things about them is they feel isolated. So part of what we're always encouraging people to do is to begin to reach out, to come together, to learn together, and to share their experience with each other.
I'd love to have you share a little bit about the work that you're doing at The Center for Mind-Body Medicine, because this is really a unique organization that you've put together. So what kinds of things do you do through that?
Well, I started The Center for Mind-Body Medicine in 1991 because I wanted to bring self-awareness, self-care and group support into the center of all healthcare, the training of all health professionals and the education of our children. I also wanted to create a community of healers and a healing community. To my delight and sometimes amazement, we've certainly succeeded in the second, and we're helping people see the crucial importance of the first part, of really seeing how vital self-care can be for all of us, and how it needs to be a part of the training of health professionals, because without that, what we're seeing is so many health professionals are burning out. Half of all doctors say they wouldn't go into medicine if they had to do it all over again. I don't want those doctors working on me! But I do want those doctors and the psychologists and the therapists and the nurses and the community leaders coming to our training programs. So what we do, our focus is on education and has been from the beginning, is we're teaching health and mental health professionals, educators, leaders of women's groups, clergy, other community leaders and youths, we're doing more and more training of youth in this model of self-awareness, self-care and group support. That's exactly the same model that's there in The Transformation, in the book. People learn this approach on themselves in the first part of our training, and they learn the science that underlies all the techniques, and then they begin to put together programs for themselves first and then in the second part of the training, we teach them how to use what they've learned with other people. To share it with family members, with friends, with patients, clients, students, with people in their community. And then, we also provide ongoing supervision. So if you want to go back to your practice working with kids who are really going through terribly critical and difficult situation, if you'd like, we have somebody who has used this model in exactly that same situation who is available to you as a supervisor and who can say, "Well, when this came up and you faced this challenge, here's something that you might want to think about", or helping you think through what the obstacles were. Now we've been doing this, training people here in the United States since about 1993, and in the last 20 years, we've begun, not only to work with individual clinicians or educators or community leaders, but to work with whole institutions, whole communities, regions and sometimes whole countries that are dealing with significant trauma and significant stress. As you said in the beginning, this can take many forms. We began working in war zones, working after the war in Bosnia. And then, during the war in Kosovo, because what I saw — I was with a colleague who was a family physician, what we saw in Bosnia after the war, was a whole population devastated. Everybody is more or less anxious, depressed, irritated, angry, smoking, drinking too much. Men beating up their wives who have never done it before, women hitting their kids who never — so it was clear as a powerful object lesson. So when the war in Kosovo started in 1998, we went there during the war and we began to work with people: Women, children, older people initially who were bombed and burned out of their homes, and also with the peacekeepers, the military who were trying to monitor the situation and keep the peace. That work continues, we ultimately trained 600 people in Kosovo. Our work is central in the community mental health system there and is still going on 21 years later. Now, we've continued that work in the Middle East, we have a program in both Israel and Gaza with people who have been traumatized by the ongoing conflict. We're the only group working in those settings. We don't take political sides. We work with all parties and we're there to teach people what we have to offer. Sometimes, also in the course of doing that, we're teaching something really interesting and we invite both Israelis and Palestinians and people from both sides show up for the training. And a lot of our work here in the United States, as you mentioned earlier, is in the wake of climate-related disasters. I just got back from Puerto Rico. We've been working there since the hurricanes a couple of years ago, now they've had the earthquake, so I was just in the earthquake zone two days ago and working with people whose homes were destroyed by the earthquake. What we do is we train a critical mass of people whether it's in Puerto Rico or Northern California after the fires or Haiti after the earthquake or Houston after the hurricane, we train a critical mass of people in our model, help them figure out how to integrate it into the work they're already doing with other people, provide them with mentorship and supervision and then, as time goes on, develop a local leadership team so that the work becomes self-sustaining within that community.
It struck me as you were talking about that, how important that is. Sometimes we have initiatives where people go in and they do something and then they leave, and it's not sustainable. It's not something that can really take root and continue to grow, but the model that you're using of empowering and training communities to be able to keep this moving and keep thing going so that you can move on to the next place and that can continue to grow, that's a really effective way of doing that.
Absolutely. It's both effective and it's also respectful because I was just in Puerto Rico and some of the people who were doing work, early childhood work, head start and programs for disabled kids, they said "We love what you're doing because we've had so many training: People come, they give us this big manual and disappear! We don't know what to do with it. But you're here with us." And people need that support, and it really makes a huge difference, especially when you're going through a crisis, just like it makes a difference when you have another person, it makes a difference to have a whole group of people to have our community be part of their community and vice versa.
Right, it's more of a partnership, as opposed to "We're coming in to tell you what to do, dump this material on you and then leave."
And I like the focus too — you talked about even in your trainings for professionals about at the importance of those of us who are professionals of using these tools on ourselves, of learning how to care for ourselves in that way, not just to avoid burnout, but also to better be able to model and be of service to the people that we're working with. I think often, that's a missing piece.
It is. And it's also fundamental to our professions, our mental health profession. Modern psychiatry, in a sense, started with psychoanalysis. Started with those folks taking a look at themselves and what was going on before they started helping other people do the same. And this is also ancient. This is Aboriginal, that the way people became official healers in tribal societies or indeed the way they became the official healers in the high classical medical tradition: Chinese medicine, Indian Ayurveda and Greek Hippocratic medicine is they learned on themselves. And they learned through dealing with their own crises, their own issues and problems.
Yeah. So interesting. So let's talk briefly about the book, The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. Beautiful cover, beautiful book. Why did you feel like this was the book that you needed to write?
Because people said to me — I've written a number of other books. My most recent book before this was about depression. They said "It's great and the techniques are very useful, but what about a book for the rest of us? I'm not depressed." And I heard this again and again and again. "Why don't you write a book for all of us?" So I said, okay, what can I write about that really is relevant to all of us, where I have something based on my 50 years of doing work in this area, what can I help people with? And it was trauma! Because as I said, as we know, trauma comes to all of us. So that's why I decided to write the book and to bring together all the work that I've been doing in many places around the world with many different kinds of individuals and many communities. And also, with myself, because it's my learning too. I wanted to make that available to everyone.
Exactly, and making it as available, as accessible as I possibly could. People who have read other books — I've written a number of other books and people said "This is the best book." And I said, "Well, why do you say that?" They said it's so clear, it's so simple. And that's the idea, that's what I want to do. I want to write a book that anyone can understand. And I've heard a lot of teenagers have been reading it and they said, "Well, that's cool!"
You know you've written something good when you can get teenagers interested and thinking that it's cool! That's great. This is available on Amazon and anywhere books are sold, right? People can access it. I highly recommend that listeners check that book out, The Transformation: Discovering Wholeness and Healing After Trauma. Your center, what is the website?
Website is cmbm.org, and look on the website, we have a couple of training programs coming up. People who are interested in the training in Mind-Body Medicine, all these techniques we've been talking about, you don't have to be a health professional. About 80% of the people who come are health professionals, but others are people who want to learn for themselves and then share with others. So that's the ticket for admission: What you want to learn on yourself and that you are planning somehow to share what you've learned with other people. And one of the things in our training programs, we often have 10 or 15 or 20 young people who are there. We're doing a lot of work with peer counsellors in schools around the United States. It's an amazing group of people. So if you come to the next one, it's going to be in Minneapolis. We have people from about 10 Native American tribes, we have lots of physicians and psychologists and social workers and all kinds of interesting people who come to the training, and it helps to build the community. It helps to build community for the people who are coming. And then we have a training called Mind, Mood and Food which we're doing — the Mind-Body Medicine training is in July, in Minneapolis, and then we're doing Mind, Mood and Food at Esalen Institute in California in September, and anybody can come to that. It's great, Esalen is one of the most beautiful places on the planet. People are welcome to come. What I would suggest, and this is not — I want you to come, so it's a sales pitch in that sense, but I'm saying sign up early because both of those are going to fill up, and Esalen, the space is limited to about 120 people.
So many great resources that you're making available in your book and through your center, just wonderful — such life-changing, healing work that you're doing and I would go so far as to say not only for individuals but for the planet and for society as a whole, so thank you so much for what you're doing and for spending the time with us today.
Thank you very much for having me.
Thank you for joining us for today's episode of The Better Biome Podcast. Tune in next week to continue with us as we journey through the universe within.