Family and Children’s takes a holistic approach to care

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County residents looking for clinical services at Family and Children’s Service of Ithaca won’t just find therapists couches and prescriptions. As demonstrated this weekend, Family and Children’s works with a variety of therapy tools to create a holistic approach for each client.

This past Saturday, around 100 people participated in the fifth annual Peace of Mind Day of Wellness fundraiser to benefit the organization. Between 9 a.m. and 1 p.m. participants could take a number of classes in meditative practices like yoga and Tai Chi, or look for relaxation in acupuncture and reiki. But these practices aren’t a one-day, one-off thing for Family and Children’s. Meditative and self-reflection activities like yoga have become a much more popular practice in mental health care within the past several years and Family and Children’s is no exception.

“If we have practitioners that are experienced and qualified, they might incorporate yoga,” said the interim president and CEO of Family and Children’s Karen Schachere. “Mindfulness practices and meditation is now considered pretty mainstream in the mental health community. So, people do incorporate those practices as part of their work with individuals who come to our agencies.”

A practitioner of yoga herself, Schachere said she had seen an increase in mindfulness and bodywork like yoga as a way to cope with mental health concerns. There are dozens of these practices that can be incorporated, as demonstrated by the variety of classes that were offered at Saturday’s event. There is no one way to help each individual, Schachere said.

One of the goals of the event is to help break down stigmas not only around mental health issues but around mental health care in the many forms it can take. While yoga and mindfulness practices may be seen skeptically by some, they have been extremely helpful to others.

“Not everybody wants to talk it all out,” Schachere said. “Our bodies are not separate from our minds, and our emotions, and so, all the joys and struggles we have our body has been on that journey with us and feels all those things. I think we as social workers and psychologists and other mental health counselors we realized that we can’t just address things one way.”

For some counselors, mindfulness practices are more than just suggestions and possible practices for their clients. They’re tried and true for the counselors themselves. Lex Santi is a psychotherapist and counselor with Family and Children’s and a longtime practitioner of yoga and meditation practices. At Saturday’s event, he led an hour-long class on restorative yoga.

As a therapist, Santi said, you have to find out what your client needs, and sometimes mindfulness can be a good approach. Mindfulness doesn’t automatically mean yoga and acupuncture and other physical practices. It could be about cognitive behavioral changes like rethinking the way you view yourself, and talk to yourself, to be less negative. Sometimes, as a therapist, you just need to help a client understand where their frustration is coming from, like a stressful job or relationship, and find a way out of that situation. It’s different for everyone. But, in general, mindfulness practices have a lot of benefits.

“It allows a lot more body awareness, a lot of relaxation, it allows a re-centering of your goals,” Santi said. “There are various studies where they show that there is more brain activity going on with meditation. The goal of yoga is the same as meditation, yoga is simply a branch off of meditation where the body is performing piece by piece, or limb by limb, actions in order to get the entire system to relax.”

Regularly practicing mindfulness techniques can help calm an anxious mind, Santi explained. These practices can help give people more control over their thoughts and anxieties. Part of the problem, Santi said, is that here in the West we are rewarded and encouraged to use our mind to get through everything in life and that makes it difficult to turn off.

This was Santi’s fourth year teaching a class at the annual event. His specialty is yin yoga, a restorative branch of yoga. Outside of his work as a counselor with Family and Children’s he teaches yoga at a CrossFit gym to hardcore athletes. For him, yoga was an easy and intuitive practice to walk into.

“We have to, one, accept the fact that there’s skepticism,” Santi said of those who view mindfulness practices with suspicion. “But, two, we have to say ‘What’s the big deal? Why not sit and rest? Why not sit and breathe? Why not move your leg in this position?’. To really break it down that simple, because yoga’s the thing that you can do if you have a blanket and a floor.”

The accessibility of the practice is one of the many reasons that yoga, meditation, and mindfulness practices are becoming more widely used in mental health care. Online resources and instructions abound.

Saturday’s event raised $11,317 for the organization to support the mission of the organization.

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