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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Align Mind, Body & Spirit: Connected Care Centers Blossom in CT

May 02, 2017 12:35AM ● By Sheri Hatfield

The mind-body connection in care goes by many names—whether it is mind-body wellness, holistic health, alternative care or another term—and is often considered by the mainstream to be pseudo-science. In Western society, we have spent many years treating the mind, body and spirit as separate entities. We visit a physician if the body is unwell, a mental health professional if the mind or emotions ail, and a spiritual practitioner if the soul aches. Often the three are not taken into consideration as a whole unit or three pieces of a complete puzzle.

This is changing as psychoneuroimmunology (PNI) gains traction in mainstream medical research. PNI is the study of the interaction between the psychological processes and the immune systems of the human body. It often encompasses an interdisciplinary approach, incorporating psychology, neuroscience and immunology with genetics, physiology, pharmacology, behavioral medicine and endocrinology; it seeks to understand the interactions between the nervous and immune systems and the relationship between mental and physical health.

As the study of PNI moves deeper into the mainstream, it legitimizes what some in other cultures have known for years: there is a deep connection between the mind and the body.

As Western medicine developed into the super-power that it is, it often focused on only the body-based ailments and developed medical treatments for them. This has resulted in many fantastic leaps in diagnostic medicine, and the ability to treat everything from indigestion to insomnia and gout to gallstones.

We also spend roughly $201 billion a year in America tending to mental health care, according to a study published by Health Affairs on May 18, 2016. It states that while Americans spend as much money on mental health conditions and care, it does not receive as much funding for research as do cancer and diabetes conditions.

Now add to that the fact that, according to a 2016 Yoga in America study by Yoga Journal and Yoga Alliance, the number of yoga practitioners grew 50 percent from 2012 to 2016 and annual spending grew from $10 billion the $16 billion annually.

As a society, we are searching for mind-body and, often, spiritual wellness. We are willing to spend a quite a bit of money to find it. We are really searching for connected care.

Connected Care Centers Flourish 

As mental-health practitioners seek to better serve their clients, more practitioners across Connecticut are incorporating a PNI-focused holistic approach into their practice and wellness centers.

The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health (CCBH) in Westport is one example. Started by Michelle Feeny, LCSW, the practice provides mental health services for dialectical behavior therapy, cognitive behavior therapy, marriage and family therapy, and/or trauma therapy for kids, teens and adults. It also offers meditation classes, naturopathic medicine, and individual and group yoga classes.

The inspiration came from Feeny’s own strong, personal mindfulness practice. In addition to being a licensed clinical social worker, she studied mindfulness in Costa Rica and India. She saw the opportunity to add some of her own mindfulness practice into clinical work with patients and saw how it helped.

CCBH is located in an airy home-like space, set back from the road. The high-ceiling waiting area features comfortable couches, a chessboard and framed geodes on that wall. A smiling Buddha gazes down on the room. A faint scent wafts through the room as if someone was using essential oils for relaxation. “I wanted to create a place from first point of contact that is a calm, open space,” says Feeny.

A set of glass doors open onto a grassy courtyard where the practice sometimes holds meditation classes, circling participants around a tree and having them root into the ground. “Some people get the growing roots and ground connection, and for some it’s an exercise in imagination,” explains Feeny. “Either way it helps them have something they can do and focus on when they get anxious. It becomes a tool for them.”

The team of eight psychotherapists, a psychiatrist and a naturopathic doctor have protocols in place to help them stay grounded in mindfulness and ensure they are serving both the emotional and physical sides of their patients. The team will refer patients to one another, so a client seeking traditional psychotherapy may be referred to the psychiatrist for a medication evaluation and the naturopath for diet and homeopathic treatments. A therapist may also recommend yoga poses and breathing to help reduce anxiety, anger or stress. One of the therapists in the practice is a licensed yoga teacher who offers individual and group yoga classes.

“We were seeing the physical manifestations of emotional pain and wanted to create a space that treats the mind-body connection,” says Feeny. “We see people who are very open to that connection, who have their own mindfulness practice, and are looking for consistency to people who are not open at all. We tailor our conversations to what they are looking to do.”

In the heart of Sandy Hook, overlooking the Pootatuck River and quaint restaurants and shops, is another wellness center that focuses on the mind-body-spirit connection. The CT Wellness Collaborative offers a multitude of health care options for the whole family.

“It is where Eastern and Western modalities meet,” says Co-founder Vicki Scataglini, LPC. “We are a one-stop shop for people who are savvy and know what they want and we match them up with a practitioner.”

Officially the cooperative positions itself as “a collaborative group of independent practitioners, serving the mind, body and spirit.” Started by Scataglini, Karen Schaum, LPC, and Kim Morello, MS, NCC, LPC, the group now has 13 therapists, two naturopathic physicians, one chiropractor, a psychiatric nurse practitioner, a family medicine nurse practitioner, a massage therapist and a hypnotist.

Each individual practitioner has his or her own unique story and a blend of mind, body and spirit healing. Alex V. Colondona, DC, is a chiropractor who offers traditional chiropractic, applied kinesiology, Traditional Chinese Medicine, nutritional therapy, detoxification programs and counseling. Across the hall, Dr. Sarah Barnes is a clinical health psychologist who specializes in the treatment of eating disorders. Ronna Brier, the consulting hypnotist, holds a masters degree in psychology and has researched the biological basis of the brain and how changes in the brain affect behavior. She also studied shamanistic healing and is a master-level Usui Reiki practitioner who uses hypnosis to help stop or change behaviors, build relationships, improve memory and learning, treat infertility and work with past life regression. She may also combine hypnosis with Reiki for healing the chakras or dealing with physical manifestations in the body.

Scataglini combines her conventional training with her spiritual understanding of the human path into her practice. She uses her personal journey where she feels it might resonate and incorporates or filters it into her clients as appropriate. “Everyone has their own niche,” she says of her business partners and practitioner team. “We believe that you cannot treat anything in isolation. We are a true wellness center.”

The Fairfield County area is home to a growing number of wellness centers, including Crossroads Wellness Center in Stratford, Insight Counseling in Ridgefield, and Roseann Capanna Hodge & Associates in Ridgefield, offering traditional psychotherapy along with a variety of other healing modalities.

Sheri Hatfield is a freelance writer and marketing professional who lives in Shelton with her son. Connect at [email protected].