Monday, September 16, 2019

Becoming what I might be

by Karen Steinbrecher

Reflecting on this month’s theme of letting go, I am reminded of a quote by Lao Tzu who said, “When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” Bill Douglas, Co-Founder of World TaiChi and QiGong day, recently shared his observation that when some students discover the reality that they are “a flawed wandering human being on this earthly plane,” they think TaiChi and QiGong don’t work and wonder, “Why bother?” He remarked that being a teacher of QiGong can be difficult because students often form idealized versions of their teachers. And, as with all idealized versions of anything, disappointment inevitably follows. Students learn that the teacher is a human being walking on the same Earth with the same journey of life as they are. We are all working through life lessons. In one setting, I am the teacher. In another, you are. Much of the time, our teaching and learning happen simultaneously. As Ram Dass says, “We’re all just walking each other home.”

TaiChi and QiGong and meditation ultimately require “letting go” to be done well, fully present in the moment. Look at the great Masters doing QiGong and TaiChi; they appear to be “unhinged and liquid”, says Douglas. This is not a technical skill as much as a whole soul surrender on the deepest level mentally, emotionally, and physically. In QiGong, we call this level of deep surrender “the sinking.” 

Douglas defines the sinking as “this exquisite, all encompassing love that the world and universe are made of, this energy that is the quantum field from which ALL emerges”. This beautiful, radiant energy is what awaits when we let go of our grip on things. As Douglas writes, surrender “asserts itself in subtle silken ways.” The impulse to “hold on” - to the known, the familiar, the comfortable, the idealized teacher, the old ideas of who we are and how the world should be - is so strong. But the rewards of letting go are profound. The “sinking” has a richness to it that is worth the discomfort of loosening our grip. The practice of QiGong and TaiChi may appear physical in nature, but the positive ripple is pervasive throughout all aspects of our lives. Learning to let go through QiGong helps us move - in every facet of our lives - with greater freedom and peace. 


Thursday, September 12, 2019

Letting Go

by Trudy Gregson, MS, LPC

“When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be. When I let go of what I have, I receive what I need.” - Tao Te Ching

Who hasn't struggled with letting go at one time or another? Cleaning out a closet and letting go of old favorites that don’t fit or aren’t your style anymore. Letting go of expectations - yours or someone else’s - to be the parent, partner, friend, daughter or son you’re “supposed” to be. Or letting go of a wish that something outside of your control can be different.  Maybe you’ve noticed it as feeling “stuck”, or perhaps it’s a little voice in the back of your head, or a good friend advising, “Let it go.” We know we should, so why is it so hard?
There are as many reasons why it’s hard as there are reasons for letting go: fear of judgment or regret, fear of failure, fear of the unknown, to name a few. Holding on can feel safe and familiar, while the notion of letting go may be fraught with fear or anxiety. It can feel like a tug-of-war as we weigh our options, ask for advice, ruminate.
So there we are, stuck in this tug-of-war, neither side letting go. How do we get “unstuck”? Perhaps it seems counterintuitive, but letting go requires us to move towards the fear or anxiety. It’s your fear, unique to you, and your fear can’t actually hurt you. So rather than “letting go” of fear, I invite you to welcome it by tuning in to what you’re noticing as you think about letting go. Maybe it’s a feeling in your stomach, or your chest, or your head, or more of an “all over” sensation. Maybe an image comes to mind, or a memory. Instead of labeling it as unpleasant and pushing it away or trying to shut it down, take a few deep breaths and see if you can be present with it, accepting that it’s here, and noticing what it needs you to know.
Your feelings about letting go are simply trying to get your attention, like the monster that lurks under a child’s bed when it’s time to surrender to sleep. How can a child sleep with a monster under the bed? So the parent dutifully checks under the bed, in the closet, in the corners and says, “There’s no monster.” The parent uses monster spray, just to be sure. When the parent is finished attending to the monster, does the child really believe there’s definitely no monster in the room? Probably not, but the child’s fears feel heard. The parent knows about the monster now, too. The child isn’t experiencing it alone. Maybe there is a monster, but the parent is there with the child, just down the hall.
We can be with the monsters that get in the way of letting go without them overpowering us. We don’t need to persuade them, just to listen. Once they feel our presence and feel heard, they tend to loosen their grip. You don’t let go of feelings, they let go of you. Then you can let go of old beliefs or behaviors, creating space for new possibilities, new opportunities, and new beliefs that fit who you really are. 

Trudy Gregson is a Licensed Professional Counselor who works with adults experiencing depression and anxiety, relationship issues, life transitions, grief and loss. Trudy brings mindfulness practice to her work with her clients to help them cultivate compassion for themselves and create the space for change. Trudy offers a free 30-minute phone consultation and can be reached at or 267-652-1732.


by Elizabeth Campbell, MS, LPC, RPT-S

“Ahooooooooo!”  I had no idea what this phrase means, but it seemed like everyone around me was feeling great as they said it very loudly.  Almost a decade ago, I went on a yoga retreat called the Art of Letting Go in Mexico with Maura Manzo, yoga teacher extraordinaire and cofounder of Yoga Home in Conshohocken.  It was a combination of yoga, meditation, and local shamanic rituals.  One of those rituals was a Temezcal, or a sweat lodge.  It sounds worse than it is.  It basically was a long meditation in a hot little hut with aromatherapy.  You go through several stages of releasing, ending in a metaphorical rebirth.  One of those stages is making noise.  People all around me were screaming and yelling, “Aho” as I sat in the back of the hut, frozen and silent.  I left. 

In that moment, nothing felt scarier than expressing what I needed to release.  There is so much vulnerability in seeing and expressing our feelings, even if it is in a nonverbal catharsis. I needed way more safety than what was present in my system in that moment. I didn’t know all of the people in the group well; I was sitting in the back of the hut between two especially expressive and vocal yogis, and my senses and emotions were overwhelmed.  We need strategies to cope with the overwhelming impact of freeing our emotions, and we have to feel safe in order to let go.  This can be particularly hard if open communication wasn’t the norm in our early lives or if prior attempts to express ourselves were met with confusion, disdain, apathy, or anger. If it was unsafe to communicate feelings in the past, it can be all the more challenging to express them now.

Releasing long held emotional baggage can also connect us with deep feelings of grief and loss.  What do we have if we let go of the things that take up so much of us?  It is important to honor this loss and the feelings that come along with it.  Even if we do not particularly like what we are holding onto, our pain is part of us and may feel like it makes us who we are.  Letting go may feel like losing our roots, our very foundation. So it is vital that we find ways to ground ourselves – in our bodies and to the solidness of the earth.

Of course, none of this was going through my head during my sweat lodge experience.  I was in complete nervous system activation – and flight let me protect myself.  The following year I returned to the same retreat and the same dreaded sweat lodge.  The retreat really was lovely and I was determined to face my fears and release everything I was holding onto.  I spent the year connecting and building my yogi community, including those on the trip and the leaders.  I consciously chose to sit near the exit in case I felt claustrophobic or overwhelmed.  I continuously focused on feeling the ground beneath me and the wall supporting my back.  The safety and grounding that I established were enough to give way to the vulnerability of release and the wonderful freedom that it brought.  And I screamed my head off.  Aho!!

Elizabeth Campbell is a Licensed Profession Counselor who provides empowerment and strength-based support to individuals in personal growth and change.  She specializes in play therapy with children, family therapy, creative counseling for adolescents, and trauma-informed treatment for all ages using an integrative, mindful approach to address the whole individual and promote healing. If you would like to connect with Elizabeth, reach out at or 610-757-8163 or learn more at

Sunday, August 18, 2019

Seeking Spaciousness at Summer’s End

by Elizabeth Venart

No matter our age, summer often registers in our system as “play time.” We are more likely to spend our time outdoors, take vacations, attend outdoor concerts, and stay up late.  And the month of September – Labor Day specifically – often marks the end of this time of recreation. Schedules fill up and the demands on our time grow. We feel the tug to return to “life as normal”. Darker, cooler days ahead, we retreat more and more indoors, losing some of the spaciousness of summer.

So that begs the question – How do you feel about your home? We react to the decreased sunlight – yes – but we may also be reacting to a weightiness we feel when we spend increased time inside the four walls of our home. Does your home feel warm and welcoming? Does it feel like a sanctuary? Are you able to rest and play comfortably in your home? Or does it feel stifling, more like a prison of expectations and shoulds, unfinished projects, old memories, and clutter?  
One of the things I love about my work as a counselor is helping people find spaciousness inside, identify what truly resonates in their lives, and make choices to let go of what no longer serves them. Perhaps this is why I have become a tad addicted to the Netflix show, Tidying up with Marie Kondo. Marie is a Japanese Cleaning Consultant who wrote the book, The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up, and her show helps people create lives of deeper love, connection, and joy – through the process of tidying. When we tune into our experience of joy and arrange our homes in a way that highlights this joy, everything we see has a positive emotional resonance for us. “Focusing solely on throwing things away can only bring unhappiness,” Marie Kondo explains. “We should be choosing what we want to keep, not what we want to get rid of.” Through the KonMari process, she invites us to take each item in our hands and ask ourselves, “Does this spark joy?” and if it does, keep it. If it does not, thank it for the role it has played in our lives – and then let it go.

On her television show, some participants express confusion initially about what Marie means by “sparking joy,” but once they get the sense of it, the clearing begins to move more quickly and more easily. It is so individual – and purely subjective (although I’ve never seen anyone keep a ripped, thread-bare t-shirt). An item that resonates with one person won’t resonate for another – which is why we can never successfully clear clutter for anyone else. Happily, when we release items, we create the possibility they can spark joy for someone new.

Marie Kondo invites us to listen to and honor our heart’s desire. Like in my work, this process of deeply listening to oneself can be truly transformative. Embarking on the KonMari process myself – and talking with friends and clients who have done it – the overwhelming response is one of gratitude, a feeling of lightness, and an increase in energy. People also comment on the positive ripple effect in their lives. The practice of tidying not only helps us create spaciousness and joy in our homes, it also helps us tune into ourselves – the inner compass of our intuition – to assess what resonates and doesn’t in all aspects of our lives. What hobbies and habits nourish – and drain? What relationships feed us? Which don’t?

Taking the time to connect and be this honest with ourselves can bring up some real discord – within ourselves and with the people in our lives who may have certain expectations of how and who we should be. My work as a counselor involves helping people come home to themselves – with acceptance, self-compassion, and deep appreciation for their many facets. The internal changes made in our work together reflect outwardly and impact family, friends, and workplace relationships. Usually these relationships are strengthened. But is also becomes clear when others’ values and one’s own are at odds.

As older generations pass away, many objects may be passed down. Some may spark joy – connecting us to fond memories and having a place of honor in our china cabinets and on our walls. But many may also bring a weight of obligation, a heaviness, a tug to the past that pulls us away from the vibrancy of the present moment. We may feel an obligation to hold onto our grandmother’s china, father’s cufflinks, or uncle’s rifle because they loved it, even though we know we don’t.

When letting go is challenging, unprocessed grief and endings that feel unfinished are often at the root. It is unsettling when relationships haven’t had the closure we felt we needed at the time – whether because of conflict, death, divorce, or disconnection. I recently had a conversation with Natalia Volz, author of Passing through Grief about this. She reflected, “Before we can let go or move on, it is important to take some time to examine all that relationship meant to us, to clean up unfinished communication, and to say goodbye to what was. It does not mean we forget. It simply means clean it up so that we do not get stuck in the past painful feelings. We carry forward all of the relationship and the ways it made us who we are today because of it.”

Similarly, Marie Kondo writes, “It is not our memories but the person we have become because of those past experiences that we should treasure. This is the lesson keepsakes teach us when we sort them. The space in which we live should be for the person we are becoming now, not for the person we were in the past.”

Reflecting on the uplift in mood possible from something as simple as a vase of fresh-cut flowers, imagine a whole home – and a whole life – that truly resonates. Our home can be a place of peace, inspiration, comfort, and happiness. Michelangelo said he carved away everything that was not the sculpture, as the beauty of the sculpture was hidden, waiting patiently inside the stone. Like Michelangelo and his stone, when we carve away all that does not spark joy, we free what waits inside us, yearning to have a more central role in our lives.

Surrounded by objects we select with intention and love, our time indoors this fall and winter can bring happiness, comfort, a sense of spaciousness, resonance, and ease. We live our lives in the present moment, and, in a home that nourishes us and supports us in exploring what has us curious today, our time indoors can be as relaxing, enjoyable, and fun as summer.

Elizabeth Venart is the Founder of The Resiliency Center. She is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Certified EMDR Therapist, and EMDRIA-Approved Consultant who specializes in providing counseling and mentorship to other therapists. Trained in laughter yoga and Internal Family Systems, she loves working to empower Highly Sensitive Persons to heal the wounds of the past so that they can embrace their gifts more fully and experience greater joy. Learn more at or by contacting her at


Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Why Writing Together Can Seem Magical

by Rachel Kobin

The "perfect" writer sits down in front of their laptop at five in the morning, admires the sunrise over their duck pond, and proceeds to tap out thousands of words. These words represent essential sections of their latest masterpiece for which their editor waits with gleeful anticipation. The rest of their day balances self-care activities like exercise and meditation with creativity-enriching jaunts to readings, art openings, and live concerts.
These romanticized writers may exist, but when I asked local writers to e-mail me about how being a part of a writers' community had impacted them, Eric Jacobs, a writer in my own workshop said, "I am not the kind of person who can get up early and set aside an hour a day every day to write. At least not yet.  Probably never. But I know that with the workshop there will be at least one night when I can block out everything else and devote my full attention to writing. Willingly, I am a captive audience." Like most writers, Eric has a full-time job and social responsibilities. Based on my observations and the responses I received to questions I asked local writers about how becoming part of a writing group impacting them, not having enough time is the simplest challenge writers face.
As an act of self-expression, writing evokes feelings of vulnerability. Often, prior experiences in educational or professional settings have left emotional scars. Remarking on his decision to join the Ambler Writers' Group, Robert Wright coined a fabulous phrase for the self-doubt that plagues us all: "…I was unsure of my writing and my choice to write. The chattering monkeys played havoc with me then. Occasionally they still do." At various points along their journey, most writers face these “chattering monkeys.” Clearly, Robert made the right decision because since joining the group he has made a lot of made friends and completed an MA in English and Creative Writing. Everyone who wrote to me reported that joining a writing community boosted their self-confidence. As Maureen Fielding, a member of a group in Lansdowne, said, "Participating in the group and conferences has made me feel more 'legitimate.' That is, I don't have that sense of not being a 'real' writer just because I didn't get my novel published." Maureen has published several poems, and Christine DiJulia, a member of the same group and others, said, "Hearing others' challenges to write and publish, and more so, learning that their work was accepted for publication is inspiration to continue on."
If finding a community plays such an important role in boosting writers’ self-confidence, what is it, exactly, that happens in a healthy group that facilitates these experiences? Several people who responded to my questions said they had joined a group or found a workshop during a transitional period in their lives, either going through voluntary and involuntary career changes or hitting a rough spot in their lives when they needed to take stock and shift directions. I was moved by Vicki Marklew's account of what happened when she first took a Tuesday Night Writers session with The Philadelphia Writers’ Workshop (PWW). Her experience so closely echoed my own as a new participant in Alison Hick’s workshop in Havertown. Vicki said, "The first couple of weeks were terrifying – everyone could spin such gorgeous phrases and ideas out of the ether, while I felt like a wordless lump…" Vicki continued to describe her first workshop with a word I hesitated to use without corroborating sources. She said, "Then something magical happened—a prompt that triggered an image, and suddenly I was reading my words out loud to 12 near-strangers who were all laughing gleefully. It was a truly life-changing moment. I drove home feeling exhilarated, energized, and bursting with ideas. It honestly felt like a dam had burst, and I started to see the world, and myself, in a new light."
Vicki's story confirmed that even more than providing a time and place for all things writing-related, something magical happens when the presence of the other people and their collective positive energy allows the writer in each of us to emerge. As another PWW alumna, Heather Emens Rudalavage wrote, "…I found the most supportive group of adults I have ever known. Even when my own harsh inner critic is telling me my writing is terrible, this group magically finds the gem in the rough. Their kindness has brought me to tears on more than one occasion." Heather's words revealed another component of writing together that makes the experience seem magical: compassion. When a writer receives feedback that buoys their confidence, the actual magic comes from how the group’s positive energy allows the hidden writer in each person to emerge. As other writers in the group respond with empathy and compassion, each member of the group becomes less critical of their own writing and of themselves.
On the other end of the spectrum, receiving inappropriate, destructive feedback can easily shut us down. Rosalind Kaplan with whom I had the pleasure of writing in Alison Hick’s workshop, had shown her manuscript to one person she respected who dismissed it outright. She put the manuscript in a drawer until years later when we encouraged her to keep working on it. Eventually, she found an agent and published her memoir, The Patient in the White Coat, her riveting story of being a physician who contracted Hepatitis C from an accidental needle stick while working during a period when the disease was incurable and carried a considerable stigma.
Reading and hearing others’ writing plays an equally vital role in this cycle of expanding kindness. In The Atlantic magazine article “The Psychological Comforts of Storytelling," Dan Dilistraty wrote, "Storytelling, especially in novels, allows people to peek into someone's conscience to see how other people think. This can affirm our own beliefs and perceptions, but more often, it challenges them. Psychology researcher Dan Johnson recently published a study in Basic and Applied Social Psychology that found reading fiction significantly increased empathy towards others, especially people the readers initially perceived as "outsiders" (e.g. foreigners, people of a different race, skin color, or religion)." While participants in local groups do not exclusively write fiction, my observations and the responses to my questions confirm Johnson's finding that reading stories develops empathy toward others. The live, interactive quality of these groups encourages writers to stretch such that they and their writing gain a deeper understanding of "outsiders" experiences. As another PWW participant Eric Jacobs wrote, the people in the workshop have "…unique points of view far different from my own.  For example, recently, one of the writers in the group, when critiquing my writing, commented that my description of a woman in a fiction story as "classically beautiful" was a real turnoff. This was great feedback and something that I would likely have not discovered on my own." Based on what he learned, Eric went back to make revisions with energy and enthusiasm. Like many others from all of the local writers' groups, several of his revised stories have been published.
Whether a writer's work is published or shared only with their writers' community, several sources, including the article in The Atlantic confirm that telling stories helps the storyteller and the reader understand their own lives. Nick Pipitone, a PWW alumnus and founder of a Meetup group called “DelcoWriters” said being in workshops and writing communities "…has also made me more humble and realistic about my own writing abilities. It made me realize that there are so many of out there with dreams and aspirations, and the real goal of writing for me has become to share a story that may inspire someone or make them think. So, in other words, it has made writing less of an ego-feeding thing for me, and more about sharing a part of myself with others. Being in workshops and communities is so fun because you get to meet so many talented people from different walks of life and you get a little glimpse into their inner selves by what they share with the group."
As writers learn from their group leaders how to give and receive useful feedback, they are, essentially, learning how to feel and express empathy.  In turn, this empathy strengthens our emotional resilience by helping us develop strong interpersonal relationships. As Robert Wright wrote, "I have received a number of blessings meeting writers through the group: camaraderie, friends, sounding boards and honesty." At some point, all writers have to sit down in front of their laptops and tap out hundreds or thousands of words, revise, edit, and dare to show our work to someone. I'm confident that even the solitary writers with duck ponds who write every day and persist despite a plethora of literary disappointments have a date circled on their calendar marking the next meeting of their writers' group.
Rachel Kobin has over twenty years of experience writing in a variety of professional settings. She founded The Philadelphia Writers Workshop in 2011 and continues to lead creative writing workshops at The Resiliency Center.  She works with writers privately as a coach and editor to help them make their final drafts as brilliant as their original ideas.

Tuesday, June 11, 2019

Coping with postpartum depression

by Kim Vargas, LCSW

Jessica walked into my office in a sundress with her hair and makeup done. [For the purposes of illustrating key points, a fictitious client has been created.] She smiled and spoke in a calm, warm tone. Had I not had a phone conversation with her the day before where she detailed her reasons for making the appointment, I would never have guessed that this woman was suffering deeply. To look at Jessica, you would wouldn’t have known that she was terrified to be alone with her baby; that she wasn’t sleeping at all because she was so anxious that her baby would stop breathing if he wasn’t constantly monitored; that she felt hopeless and filled with despair almost all of the time; that she sometimes wondered if her baby would be better off without her; that she spent most of the day crying as soon as her partner left for the workday. To look at Jessica, you would never have known she was in the throes of postpartum depression.

Jessica’s mother told her that she was just suffering from the baby blues, and that all new moms go through a tough stretch. Her mom told her she just needed to get out of the house more, spend time in the sun, and pull herself together. For three months after her son was born, Jessica suffered in silence, and told herself that she was a terrible mom for not feeling joyful about her new baby. She was fearful that her baby would be taken away if she revealed the truth, so she made sure to act upbeat at her six week postpartum check-up.
As it turned out, Jessica was one of the 1 in 7 women who struggle with postpartum depression.
Luckily, Jessica had a sister-in-law who had previously suffered from postpartum depression (PPD), and knew to ask Jessica important questions about her mood and coping. Had that not been the case, Jessica could easily have fallen into the 50% of women who are never diagnosed (and consequently never get help) with postpartum mood disorders.
Women suffering from untreated PPD are more likely to develop Major Depressive Disorder down the road. They may have more difficulty bonding with their baby. These moms often have lower self esteem. Their babies may experience language delays, have more difficulty with self regulation, and experience depression themselves later in childhood.
Postpartum depression is more likely to occur in parents with a baby who spends time in the NICU, parents who experience complications at birth, parents with a history of depression, parents with a high needs infant, and/or parents with a lack of social, emotion, and financial supports.
It is worth noting that it is not only biological mothers that suffer from PPD. 1 in 10 fathers experience depression in the postpartum period. Adoptive and foster parents are also at risk. Because these parents did not give birth to the child, they sometimes feel unjustified in their depression, and are therefore unlikely to mention the feelings to anyone.
The good news is that there are many wonderful options for treatment and healing. Many parents find immediate relief in working with a therapist trained in postpartum issues. These professionals can validate and normalize the thoughts and feelings, make concrete suggestions for behavioral modifications, and assist new parents in finding resources to help manage new parenthood. Sometimes just being “allowed” to say the deepest, darkest thoughts and fears in a confidential setting lifts a tremendous burden.
Many women find that talking to their doctor about their mood enables the doctor to prescribe medication that helps manage the feelings. Doctors knowledgeable in postpartum issues may be able to prescribe a medication that is compatible with breast feeding, as that is often a concern for new parents.
Support groups offer an opportunity to connect with other new parents in a safe setting filled with individuals at a similar life stage. Sometimes parents benefit from hearing someone else speak a familiar thought, feeling, or fear. Likewise, joining local baby-centric activities connects new parents to each other, and offers a structured activity outside of the house. For breastfeeding mothers, attending a breastfeeding support group and/or getting the support of a lactation consultant can be extremely beneficial in making the breastfeeding process smoother and more comfortable, physically and emotionally.
Asking for help from friends, family, and/or paid professionals, especially in the very beginning, can go a long way toward allowing the new parents to heal. Because lack of sleep is often a contributing factor to postpartum depression, having someone else wake up with the baby some of the time may improve mood quickly.
The bottom line is that there is an extraordinary amount of help, support, and resources for people suffering from postpartum issues. Because postpartum mood disorders can develop any time during pregnancy, and up to a year following the birth of a child, it is imperative to know the signs and symptoms, and to seek help immediately.

Kim Vargas, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 19 years. She specializes in working with individuals and couples navigating the various stages of parenthood (including the journey to become parents). She is especially passionate about working with new parents surrounding issues of postpartum depression, anxiety, and identity. Kim can be reached at or 267-568-7846.

Monday, May 20, 2019

21st Century Wellness on College Campuses

by Tracey A. Smith

June is a month for graduations and the start of summer. For parents getting ready to send their High School Seniors off to college – or to send older students back to campus for another year this August – you may have a lot of questions about how you can best assure your child’s well-being when they are no longer living at home. If you are a student trying to choose the right college campus setting, you may be curious about how universities are similar and different in addressing your wellness and promoting positive wellbeing. We may have heard a lot about stressors and challenges facing students on college campuses all over the country but less about programs specifically geared to support students with these challenges. You may be asking … how does a university address college students’ needs while upholding their mission and values? What resources or strategies does the university have in place that can assist with college students’ well-being? What opportunities will there be for college students to grow in their self-care?

What's happening on university and colleges campuses these days? Quite often you will find that student health, wellness and recreation centers are the hub for student health and engagement. Most universities provide a holistic approach to campus living, working, and learning. For many students, this may be their first time living away from home. For some, it will be their first time independently exercising life, problem-solving and decision-making skills. The Wellness programs and activities found on college campuses support students in making positive behavioral and lifestyle changes.

Universities’ comprehensive health and wellness services will include programs geared to support students in areas such as:
·      alcohol & substance abuse
·      healthy relationships, including information about dating violence
·      women and men’s health, including sexual health
·      managing anxiety and depression
·      nutrition, finances, and tools for life after graduation
·      managing stress and anger

Most college campuses include free counseling services for students. This is an important resource to support students in navigating the many changes and challenges they face during this time of transition. In addition to counseling services, academic advisors, professors, and residence life staff can provide additional support.

I have the unique opportunity to be a Life Coach on a college campus. It is a very rewarding experience, being employed by a university that values health and wellbeing. The service allows me the opportunity to help students navigate the college experience from freshman year to senior year. I assist the students in all areas of wellness, not just academic (intellectual wellness), but the whole student (emotional, spiritual, interpersonal, and physical). I am able to witness tremendous growth and development as students find their way in living their lives on their own terms. It is energizing to coordinate and provide programs that encourage this transformation.

Universities experience many challenges in light of the high levels of stress impacting our society. Challenges to academic success can include finances, poor sleep, unhealthy relationships, unhealthy and addictive use of social media, depression, anxiety, poor nutrition, trauma, and family issues. There is hope. It is encouraging to observe greater engagement of students in health and wellness programming that supports their needs. Below are some practices that have been documented to support healthy living on campuses.

Students First  
Student-driven programs and activities work the best. Students have formed Wellness Ambassador and Peer Education Groups and have designed and implemented special events from physical challenge activities and “healthy campus” weeks to mindfulness activities. The use of Health and Wellness Surveys can provide staff with vital information about student interests and needs.

Calling All Practitioners! Most universities draw upon the expertise of outside health practitioners in order to provide additional wellness services and speaking engagements. This can include wellness education, counseling, yoga, trauma informed services, health education, and spirituality.

Campuses often offer a multitude of services, organizations, and events that can be used to support wellness. These can include student health services, campus life programs, student organizations, athletics, dietary services, career services, environmental services, disability offices, and LGBTQ/diversity groups. Collaboration may also appear as an intergenerational program that includes employees, students, community members and the online community. Thinking broader, collaboration may include linking with larger nonprofit agencies such as Michele Obama’s Partnership for Healthy Campus Initiative and National Consortium for Building Healthy Academic Communities https://healthyacademics.organd the
American Cancer Society

Community Integration
Developing community partnerships is the key. This enables you to provide more comprehensive health and wellness services. Most colleges have strong alliances with outside healthcare agencies that help them to best meet the needs of students, staff, and faculty.

In conclusion, college campuses provide young people with the information, strategies, and supports that can serve as the foundation for a lifetime of healthy life practices, relationships, and resiliency. We can encourage students to make connections, access the services available, and experiment with new wellness practices can empower them to launch into the world as happy, healthy, and resilient adults. Ultimately, this benefits young people and also their families, friends, coworkers, and the communities in which they live.

Tracey A. Smith, M,Ed., CTRS, owner of Wellness W.R.K.S. LLC is a Certified Recreational Therapist, Wellness Lifestyle Management Educator, and Trainer. She is also a Life Coach at Cheyney University of Pennsylvania. Enthusiastically, she provides wellness education programs, workshops, trainings, conferences & retreats to companies, schools and community organizations to promote self-care and well-being. She specializes in Workplace Wellness and team-building for remote employees. To learn more about Tracey and how you can bring her creative, experiential workshops and consultations to your agency or business, contact her at or 215-605-3221 or visit her website [Insert link to:].

Wednesday, April 10, 2019

Woman and Wild

Woman and Wild

I can't tell you
the first time the wild
whispered into my 
tiny child heart
because the wild
has always been here...

always an undeniable
aliveness tucked just
behind my ribs
stretching from 
collar bone into the
rich bowl of my (now)
crone woman hips.

we occupy each other
as woman and wild
creating spaces
where life flourishes

each of us

 each of us

each of us
at home

© 2018 Tracie Nichols

A Poem about Hope and Place by Wendell Berry


It is hard to have hope.
It is harder as you grow old,

For hope must not depend on feeling good
And there is the dream of loneliness at absolute midnight.
You also have withdrawn belief in the present reality
Of the future, which surely will surprise us,
…And hope is harder when it cannot come by prediction
Any more than by wishing. But stop dithering.
The young ask the old to hope. What will you tell them?
Tell them at least what you say to yourself.

Because we have not made our lives to fit
Our places, the forests are ruined, the fields eroded,
The streams polluted, the mountains overturned. Hope
Then to belong to your place by your own knowledge
Of what it is that no other place is, and by
Your caring for it as you care for no other place, this
Place that you belong to though it is not yours,
For it was from the beginning and will be to the end

Belong to your place by knowledge of the others who are
Your neighbors in it: the old man, sick and poor,
Who comes like a heron to fish in the creek,
And the fish in the creek, and the heron who manlike
Fishes for the fish in the creek, and the birds who sing
In the trees in the silence of the fisherman
And the heron, and the trees that keep the land
They stand upon as we too must keep it, or die.

This knowledge cannot be taken from you by power
Or by wealth. It will stop your ears to the powerful
when they ask for your faith, and to the wealthy
when they ask for your land and your work.
Answer with knowledge of the others who are here
And how to be here with them. By this knowledge
Make the sense you need to make. By it stand
In the dignity of good sense, whatever may follow.
Speak to your fellow humans as your place
Has taught you to speak, as it has spoken to you.
Speak its dialect as your old compatriots spoke it
Before they had heard a radio. Speak
Publicly what cannot be taught or learned in public.

Listen privately, silently to the voices that rise up
From the pages of books and from your own heart.
Be still and listen to the voices that belong
To the streambanks and the trees and the open fields.
There are songs and sayings that belong to this place,
By which it speaks for itself and no other.

Found your hope, then, on the ground under your feet.
Your hope of Heaven, let it rest on the ground
Underfoot. Be it lighted by the light that falls
Freely upon it after the darkness of the nights
And the darkness of our ignorance and madness.
Let it be lighted also by the light that is within you,
Which is the light of imagination. By it you see
The likeness of people in other places to yourself
In your place. It lights invariably the need for care
Toward other people, other creatures, in other places
As you would ask them for care toward your place and you.

No place at last is better than the world. The world
Is no better than its places. Its places at last
Are no better than their people while their people
Continue in them. When the people make
Dark the light within them, the world darkens.

Spring Perspective

by Tracie Nichols

In the spring, I wander the course of the stream that skirts the bottom of my yard. It’s one of hundreds – possibly thousands – of small, nameless, feeder streams striping the landscape here, meandering towards rivers that empty into the Atlantic Ocean.

It’s something I’ve been doing for over twenty years, now. As you can imagine, this stream and I have seen some life together. Over time, I’ve come to think of this wandering little waterway as family.

So this spring walk is when I discover where the stream is now, after the winds, snowmelt and hard rains of the winter months. By visiting before the riot of jewelweed and other creek bank plants overrun the terrain, I can see where banks have been undercut or collapsed. It’s easy to notice where the streambed has cut more deeply into the red sandstone bedrock, or where trees have fallen or held their ground.

This walk is also when I discover where I am, now and how my course has changed through winter. As I walk and notice the stream, I also notice myself. Where I’m feeling undercut, or rebuilt. Where I’m letting go and where I’m continuing to stand my ground.

Walking the length of this small stream is a moving meditation. An exercise in deep listening and deep presence, teaching me about cycles of death and rebirth in the land and in myself. Walking the length of this small stream offers me the gift of perspective, and anchors me in the reassuringly unending cycles of this land.

Tracie Nichols, M.A., IAC believes that if there ever was a time when the deep perspective of 50-ish+ sensitive, introverted womxn is needed, it’s now. She is a mentor, poet, aromatherapist and rebel crone creating spaces where sister Rebel Crones can find community, information and support to unfurl their voices, be who they choose to be and do what they choose to do. You can learn more about her at

Finding Your Sense of Place at Home

by Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW

The weather is quickly warming up and soon we will find ourselves outside more, traveling to the beach or the mountains to relax, slow down, and enjoy the beauty of nature. We may experience a sense of awe and wonder when we realize just how connected we are to the universe.  But what happens to that connection when we return home again, when routine takes over like an invasive vine and The Commute, the Target Run and the school or work commitments become the focus of our day?  Do we check out the sunset?  Do we know what the plants and the birds are doing?  Do we have any inkling of the water level in our local streams?  If not, what’s the psychological effect of living like this: an “alien” or a tourist in our own land?

These are the types of questions that Eco-psychologists study in their efforts to create a sustainable, livable world and to foster a more psychologically healthy population.  Their premise is that the attachment and meaning given to a particular place is central to the health of the planet and the person. A “sense of place” here refers to “...a psychological construct that involves attributing a geographical location with meaning, values, and a sense of “connection.” [From: The Power of Connection: Sustainable Lifestyles and Sense of Place.  Ecopsychology Journal Vol 4, No. 4 Jan 31, 2013, found at].  It follows then that if more people felt a sense of connection to their natural environment, they would feel motivated to engage in actions for sustainability. I would also add that having a sense of place cultivates curiosity, belonging, connection, and a greater sense of well-being in us.

A disconnection to the land may be a uniquely American problem.  As Americans, most of us came here as immigrants.  Because of that we may have an evolutionary proclivity to restlessness.  We are always on the move, searching for greener pastures and hoping a change of location will promise a better life.  Over caffeinated, hyper busy and digitally connected 24/7, we move through our daily life at an unnatural pace.  The downside of this movement, borne of our pioneering spirit and freedom to roam is an underlying feeling of displacement, alienation and a lack of identity.  Wendell Berry says we don’t know who we are unless we know where we are. So, who exactly are we?  How do we connect to an adopted land?

Know the Plants
One way to counteract alienation is to reclaim the space where we live or as Robin Wall Kimmerer says, in Braiding Sweetgrass, to become “naturalized” citizens of the land.  Kimmerer would agree with the poet Gary Snyder, who teaches that spirit of place is accessed only through knowledge gained by direct experience in a specific locale.  "Know the plants" is his mantra. Once you become curious and start to know the names of the plants and trees around you, it’s like a faucet has turned on.  More questions come and you begin to be curious about all the things you may have previously ignored and taken for granted.  The plants become like familiar friends or trusted allies.  This is the beginning of belonging and connection.

Write a Poem or a Love Letter
Wallace Stegner in his great essay entitled “Sense of Place” states, “that no place is a place until it has had a poet.”  
[Insert link to:,%20Wallace%20%20Sense%20of%20Place.pdf  ]  Who is our poet?  Edgar Allen Poe wrote about the Wissahickon, sure, but who is the modern day poet laureate of the entire region?  Beth Kephart who writes Flow, a prose poem history of the Schuylkill River may be a contender.  You can read an excerpt here. [Insert link to:

Many people have written love letters to their favorite places in the Wissahickon.  It was inspiring to read this article about how many people went to the Red Covered Bridge to feel their “fullest and best versions of themselves”:  Go to your favorite place in your local park and try to write it a love letter.  You may feel a deeper attachment to it after you’ve expressed how you feel. 

Don’t Get Discouraged by Urbanism
Even in this major East Coast city, we can still feel a sense of place that doesn’t involve cheesesteaks and Rocky.  We who live in the Greater Philadelphia area are lucky to have an active urban garden scene, two major rivers, Fairmount Park, the Wissahickon, Pennypack, Morris and Awbury Arboretums and Bartram’s Gardens.  We may not be able to walk barefoot through the parks, but we can walk like “each step is a greeting to Mother Earth”.  With respect and reverence and love.  Slow down, observe the little things that are all too easy to overlook.  Our personal wellbeing and our planetary survival just might depend on it.  What’s happening right now outside your window?

Ways to Connect with Local Nature:
  • Join Friends of the Wissahickon or the Wissahickon Valley Watershed Association or Like them on Facebook.  They post a lot about the local wildlife and plants.
  • Start an in-home naturalist training course through the Wilderness Awareness School: (I loved this program.  Please reach out if you want to learn more about my experience)

Heather Hill, MSS, LCSW has been a psychotherapist for over 10 years. She specializes in helping anxious and depressed teens and women connect to and live in harmony with their true nature.  Heather is passionate about using mindfulness and Eco-therapeutic approaches to restore balance, reduce isolation, and create a greater sense of wellbeing. She can be reached at  or 215-485-7205.