mind-body medicine techniques in lowering blood pressure and stress hormone levels, relieving pain, and improving immune functioning, Gordon has expanded the Center’s work to include work with people in places of war and conflict through its Global Trauma Relief
program. Effective programs are now in place in Kosovo, Israel and Gaza, post-Katrina New Orleans, among U.S. veterans returning from Iraq and Afghanistan, and now in Haiti. On-going studies have found direct benefits for crisis-traumatized children and adults including those affected by post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
In describing the Global Trauma Relief programs newest site, in Haiti, Gordon said, “Haiti’s 9.7 million people have been traumatized by both the earthquake and the ongoing aftermath – loss of family and friends, jobs and infrastructure, fear and violence in tent camps, and lack of either adequate mental health assistance or hope. The Center has designed a nationwide program to train several thousand clinicians and educators to provide help and healing to hundreds of thousands of Haitians.” In all of its Global Trauma Relief programs, after training the local groups, the Center provides ongoing clinical supervision, program development and financial support.
AAA: Before we talk about your trip to Haiti this past month, describe your interest in the Center for Mind-Body Medicine.
SB: I use all of the mind-body techniques in my own practice. All of us [health professionals affiliated with the Center for Mind-Body Medicine] do. The genius of Jim Gordon’s approach has been to create a model to train providers who can then work with others and continue spreading the tools to work with many more people.
Everything we use in our practices-- stress management, biofeedback, self-awareness tools can be used with individuals, groups, and entire populations. I’ve led many training sessions in this country [through the CMBM] but I’ve never been able to fit an extended trip to one of the international programs into my schedule. [With the Haiti program] I was finally able to clear the week to participate this past February.
AAA: How did CMBM- Global Trauma Relief initiate the program in Haiti?
SB: Jim Gordon and the clinical director [Amy Shinal] had made numerous trips there post earthquake to set up an office, connect with local organizations, and find local healthcare leaders to work with. Through their efforts, Jim found Linda Delmont Metayer, MA, MPH, who became the Director of CMBM Haiti and identified community leaders to form a leadership team.
Last year, they spent a week there, with additional faculty from CMBM, training the first batch of Haitian health care workers, teaching them mind-body skills for relaxation and self awareness so they could feel better, reduce stress, and understand themselves better. They taught them these tools, and also how to teach them to others. It was an enormous task, and both the Haitian local team and the CMBM international team spent a lot of time getting it organized, and making it happen. I was lucky enough to just show up and teach, after all the details had been worked out.
AAA: Was all of the activity in Port au Prince?
SB: We arrived in Port-au-Prince and stayed for a day. But that program is now established and self run. The people identified previously and led by Linda have really taken it on -- 120 Haiti care workers have been trained [in mind-body medicine] and a leadership team of 15 clinicians has been developed.
They now had the skills to begin a program in a new area - Jacmel - a city in southern Haiti. They found the people there who could participate: community and religious leaders, social workers, health care workers, and other people like farmers. We were doing the initial training in Jacmel.
AAA: Haiti is the poorest country in the Western Hemisphere. What were your impressions?
SB: It’s a rugged, mountainous island. Some things reminded me of India: the smell of fire everywhere. Garbage burning, cars. The commercial part of the city is in a level area on the bay. All the housing goes right up the surrounding mountains. People are crammed in, hovels on top of each other. I could see how everything came tumbling town in an earthquake.
According to my colleagues who were there before, things have greatly improved. A year ago, friends told me, they needed bodyguards. The chaos post-earthquake and post-elections is mostly gone, along with the rubble and many of the tents. Things are not rebuilt, but better. There is definitely a desperate feeling. People get water with buckets from wells; running water and electricity is not always evident.
AAA: Was the situation in Jacmel similar to those Port-au-Prince?
Not really. People there were also devastated by the earthquake
, but it’s a much quieter environment. It’s a former artists colony and it didn’t have the frenetic feeling of the big city.
The population density is much lower than in Port-au-Prince and the buildings are low, one and two stories. Many of the people had lost loved ones, most of the homes had been severely damaged.
The participants were about 130 leaders of the Haitian community: doctors from the ministry of health, farmers, pastors, nuns, brothers. The training took place in a Catholic school, but we are non-denominational. The group included Catholics, Protestants and Voodoo priests.
AAA: Can you describe the training protocol?
SB: There is a very formal, structured system. That’s one of the reasons it works so well. Jim [Gordon] created a model that incorporates not just what is being taught but how to do it. Our team included Jim and 12 trainers. There are a series of lectures Jim gives to the whole group and then we would meet with our small groups of 8 to 12 people - two-hour groups spread throughout the five days. Each trainer has a small group in which we lead the exercises and training. That includes visualizations, meditation, drawing pictures. Each of the small groups is doing the exact same thing each day.
AAA: Were the conditions for the training similar to those you have in your own practice and other venues? What were the main obstacles?
SB: It was physically the most demanding and challenging conditions I’ve ever encountered in leading groups. The days were very long – we left our rooms at 8 AM and didn’t get back until 10 PM. There was no air conditioning or fans in the school where the training was held. [In our sleeping accommodations] we had to double and triple up in the few rooms that had a/c. Six people used my shower, which was just a little trickle. The first night we barely slept; there were roosters outside our windows all night. The work was really hard, but we got into the rhythm.
Language was a major difficulty; Creole is the language spoken, and we had to rely on translators. Some were better than others. When I was leading people in exercises and having them explain their drawings, faulty translation made it extremely hard to convey meaning.
I had to speak very concretely and be careful about my phraseology. But even with the problems, people got it – their headaches went away, there blood pressure went down. The transformation was there.AAA: You mentioned the different religious traditions – you were in a Catholic school with clergy from Catholic, Protestant, and Voodoo faiths. The Haitians are known to be very religious. Did this bring up issues?
SB: They are very religious – they wear it. The nun who ran the school was in my group.
At first, people would take opportunities to espouse ideas and bring their beliefs into every discussion. But we made it clear that this is not the place for that and after a few days the religious stuff quieted down. They would often talk about the Bible and what the religious teachings are and we would ask them to think about what they were feeling, not what the Bible says. This was hard for them.AAA: What worked and what didn’t? What did you come away with and what do you think the participants came away with?
SB: The magic of this program is that it really is useful for everyone. They could see and feel results. And as hard as I worked, it was equally gratifying to see how it changed people. I can’t describe the joy I felt when someone would share with me their new drawing and could see how the skills helped them. The young farmer brought home what he learned to his dad. They were changing and I was changing. We are paying it forward because they are going on to help many others. When we asked them what the growth has meant to them, it’s all about their community and helping to make a new Haiti. That’s their priority. This was a rare opportunity for them to turn inward and reflect on how they felt. It was tremendously moving, exhausting, and exhilarating. It breaks my heart open – I feel things more deeply. It was often painful and we cried a lot. That’s why I keep doing this work. I can bring those enhanced experiences and feelings to my work. It makes us so much more appreciative of all that we have.
They have had many charitable organizations and NGOs (non-governmental agencies) come and go. They bring items, drop them off, and leave. We are leaving behind skills that they can use and teach forever. From last year to this year, the changes have been dramatic. They evolved from the first training session to an organization with a growing leadership team. AAA: Sounds a lot like “give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day; teach him to fish and he’ll eat for a lifetime.”
SB: Exactly. That’s the brilliance of Jim Gordon and CMBM. I’ll be going back in November, but not to do another training. We’ll be providing supervision and support because the Haitian group will handle the training themselves.