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Natural Awakenings Fairfield Cty/Housatonic Valley, CT

Changing Behavior Via Whole Being Therapy: CCBH Uses DBT to Create Sustainable Change

Oct 02, 2017 03:21PM ● By Nicole Miale

As the evidence mounts to support the undeniable relationship of the mind-body, mental health professionals are discovering using new methods to support the whole person they treat. No longer limited to traditional “talk therapy,” some professionals are seizing this newer connected care model as a raison d’être. Michelle Feeney, owner and clinical director of The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health (CCBH) in Westport, started her center with this concept in mind. Now entering its fifth year in practice with an expanding staff of 10 therapists-including one psychiatrist and a naturopath who is also a nutritionist-CCBH is a model for a new paradigm in mind-body care.

“Basically, I’m a weirdo from California who came here with a strong appreciation for naturopathic, holistic and spiritual concepts,” Feeney explains. “I wanted to create a center grounded in evidence-based medicine that didn’t exclude other possibilities. Within this very clinical, evidence-based practice, we’re able to explore some very spiritual things, which I love.”

The center’s core philosophy and primary therapeutic approach is Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), a novel approach pioneered in the 1980’s but rooted in ancient mindfulness teachings. The primary goal of DBT is to help people with serious issues create self-change in their lives, increasing quality of life and positively impacting relationships.

“A limitation of traditional psychotherapy is that it’s not enough for someone to feel understood/validated,” Feeney says. “They need to actually create change. And we can only move towards change when we have come to accept the present. Acceptance is a key.”

Designed to help children, adolescents, adults, and families more effectively regulate their behaviors and emotions, DBT has demonstrated success in the following areas: impulsive behaviors; emotional ups and downs; depression; anxiety; anger; addictions; eating disorders; self-harm; suicidal thinking; relationship or family conflict; borderline personality features; and PTSD. Each member of the CCBH DBT treatment team is “Intensively Trained,” meaning they have undergone the highest level of training offered by Behavioral Tech, LLC: DBT-founder Marsha Linehan’s training and research institute.

The center treats individual patients emerging from institutional settings as well as whole families affected by emotional dysfunction of one kind or another. As Feeney explains, “DBT is like learning a whole new language and skill set so it is important to involve the family. This allows for a familial understanding of (and commitment to) concepts and goals.”

Within the practice each therapist has their own specialty, but the team works collaboratively-meeting twice per week-and the center treats patients of all ages, with all diagnoses. The focus at the center is more on the type of therapy rather than a type of patient. All initial referrals and intakes are handled by Feeney; she then makes a plan for the new person and places them in the capable hands of the therapist she thinks best for the situation.

“Each therapist has the ability to do their work and build their practice as they want,” she says. She considers herself one of the team, but as practice director she is also guardian of the business. She practices her own connected care to maintain healthy balance for herself as she juggles multiple roles at the center with her personal responsibilities at home. Therapy with her own therapist, meditation, exercise (SoulCycle is a current favorite), and taking time away are some keys to her personal care plan, Feeney says. That mix of mind-body techniques is not unlike what might be recommended for a patient at CCBH, where physical aspects such as biological testing, nutrition, cranio-sacral therapy and exercises may be considered integral parts of an individual’s holistic care plan.

“It really depends on the patient what services we might use,” Feeney explains. For example, she says body-centric techniques such as yoga have proven to be very successful with those with eating disorders. Certain yoga pose sequences seem to allow the patients to connect with their physical bodies in a way they might have resisted doing before. Once the patient can truly “feel” their body, it helps to lessen or aid in elimination of the extreme body dysmorphia that can be so destructive.

Radical acceptance is the goal, Feeney says. Understanding the difference between pain (sometimes unavoidable) and suffering (often self-inflicted) is a critical component to the DBT approach. “Before we can do anything about what we want to change in our lives, we must first notice it,” she explains. “We can only move towards change when we have come to accept the present.”

The present for CCBH is one of growth; the practice celebrated its fourth anniversary by adding two new part-time therapists. Feeney has carefully selected the team and says watching the practice grow over the years has been a beautiful blessing. “From the moment this place was even a concept, it has just unfolded in front of me,” she says. “It has truly been amazing.”

For more information about The Center for Cognitive and Behavioral Health (CCBH), call 888-745-3372 or visit See ad, page 57.

Nicole Miale is publisher of Natural Awakenings Fairfield County/Housatonic Valley and Greater Hartford County. Connect at [email protected].