The Wisdom of the Wounded Healer
The Wisdom of the Wounded Healer
“When I stand before thee at the day’s end, thou shalt see my scars and know that I had my wounds and also my healing.” ~Rabindranath Tagore
When I first came across Margaret Howard and her writing, it was clear that she embodied the central mission of The Breathe Network – connecting people with healing resources that can address the nuances and layers of trauma’s impact on the body, mind and soul. Through decades of work, training, self-inquiry, and her own healing journey, Margaret has cultivated an eclectic and deeply personalized way of working with her clients and groups for whom she offers consulting support. Her combined service in the U.S. Army and her Master’s Degree in Fine Arts has allowed her to create spaces where veterans can access healing through testimony and story telling. Her yoga teacher training and her training in Somatic Experiencing (SE) alongside her graduate degrees in writing and social work and psychotherapy practice (MFA and MSW) allow her to offer holistic counseling that incorporates all aspects of the human person and options for how to work with sensation, trauma and symptoms.
Powerfully, Margaret has been able to channel her own experiences of trauma and suffering and now holds a sacred, healing and inclusive space for the clients she serves. She took some time to share extensively with me about many aspects of her own journey and how it has formed her practice. We discuss her veteran’s writing workshops, her time in the Army, her work in the anti-human trafficking movement, dreamwork, nightmares and Jungian analysis, trauma-sensitive yoga, addressing the spiritual components of healing from within and also outside of mainstream religious contexts, Somatic Experiencing, canine-assisted therapy, and much more.
When describing her practice, Margaret states that she works from the position of “The Wounded Healer” – referencing Carl Jung’s “Wounded Healer” archetype. This archetype is derived from the legend of Asclepius, “a Greek doctor who in recognition of his own wounds established a sanctuary at Epidaurus where others could be healed of theirs.” For survivors of sexual violence and any kind of trauma who sense within themselves a kind of wisdom borne of pain, she is a reminder of how our experiences may potentially be transformed into healing gifts we can impart upon others who seek our support.
Our conversation was both rich and lengthy – please take your time reading and digesting the many realms of her comprehensive healing practice. You can also reach Margaret directly at: firstname.lastname@example.org if you’d like to learn more.
The Breathe Network: I learned in your bio that in addition to your work as a therapist, you also hold an MFA in writing. Do you think writing can play a significant role in trauma healing? While we are often exploring ways to incorporate body awareness in trauma resilience practices, how might that “embodied connection” better enable us to translate our experiences onto a page? While the body stores so much sensation and information, it does seem that making the connections between body and language offers a very potent experience to join body and mind. What are your thoughts?
Margaret Howard: This is a very interesting direction of inquiry. While I’m very supportive and encouraging of artistic endeavor for every human, and believe that this urge to create is innate in all of us, I have been cautious about incorporating writing into the therapy process. There’s good reason for this. If someone is working outside of therapy on a piece of writing specifically meant to access their traumatic memories and they become activated, that activation state can be difficult or even dangerous. I think it’s better to do slow, gentle work within the safe space of the therapy session, where I am available for support.
That said, writing can be a great way to explore, to express oneself, and to say what has previously been unsayable, or unheard. Also, writing through the imagination, especially if the writing is metaphoric, can be a wonderful way to work with the unconscious. Certainly, if someone is interested in working with their writing as part of therapy we are able to do that. I believe that the body, the unconscious, and the language of metaphor all meet in the place of challenge and the space of healing.
In a sense, the unconscious and the body are one. That metaphoric space a person creates through their writing can be accessed as a safe and gentle route into experiencing the body and the trauma material without actually going to an overt memory of the trauma. In fact, this may be one way the unconscious is available to help us work through and discharge held energy. We simply cannot safely and effectively work with only the cognitive, conscious process and memory and heal without harm. I just don’t think it works like that. It seems to work to a certain extent, but a lot of people come to me after they’ve done their cognitive therapy and are ready to go to the next level, to release the trauma held in the body and work with the unconscious.
Also, I think my experience as a writer has cultivated my ability to form visual images from abstractions, to tap into dreams and language as metaphor, and to move through story even when only fragments are available. I understand this in a whole-body sense. I think when we do art we are accessing something much deeper than the strictly cognitive, and certainly feeling it with our whole beings, and that includes the body and the unconscious. That is one way to think about what we are aiming for in therapy. That kind of holistic experience.
TBN: I think that many survivors are shocked to discover the way in which trauma impacts our dreams – often, manifested as nightmares, since this isn’t an area our culture in general attends to regularly. This can also be so disarming when you are trying to heal, and yet, you begin to fear the images that might show up when you sleep, and rest, deep sleep is also such an irreplaceable resource for healing. Can you talk to me about your work with Jungian dream analysis – what it is, how you might use it with a client, and perhaps what interested you in exploring healing through dreams?
MH: First, I’d like to be clear – I am not a Jungian psychoanalyst. Jungian psychoanalysts have years and years of very specific training, such as through the Interregional Society of Jungian Analysts, and have jumped through many hoops to be able to call themselves that. I do attend some of their trainings and conferences and read some of the literature, but I have by no means gone through their rigorous program. Also, I have been seeing a Jungian analyst myself for about the last six years, in addition to the body psychotherapy I’ve been receiving. I think seeing an analyst oneself is a great way to learn how they work. That said, the dream work I do is “Jungian influenced,” though also updated around the work of people like Donald Kalsched. So what is that?
My own Jungian analyst has told me that if you ask five Jungians what a Jungian thing “is” you’ll get five different answers. Here’s how I conceive of it: Dreams are an important way the unconscious helps us integrate what we know intellectually with the deeper forces at work in ourselves, including our bodies, and the collective unconscious. Like Kalsched, I think that dreams are part of the self-care system, that unconscious part of ourselves that responds to overwhelming events by working very hard to keep us safe. Somatic psychotherapy would identify this as the autonomic nervous system – the fight, flight, or collapse response that all mammals have as a protective mechanism. I actually think these are the same thing, or at least are working in very close concert.
If someone is having nightmares that are literally a replaying of the traumatic event I don’t think I would start with asking the client to talk about the nightmares. Not in any lengthy way. I would likely start with the body, in such a case, then see what happens with the dreams when some of that held trauma energy has dissipated. Very often once that process is underway the dreams change. While my thinking is always evolving, and every person is different so I am not making a general statement here, I do think that sometimes the nightmares are repeating because the body needs attending to. This is critical. Once these acute, repeating nightmares have eased a bit and the dreams have started to change, they will lead us to the work that needs to be done next.
Another scenario is that we may want to work with what arises in the body when the dream is recalled. Maybe this feels safer to the client than trying to access the actual event. In that case, why go to the actual event when it is also present and available in the dream? As with all body work, it is done in small pieces, a little at time. Relief from the nightmares can happen this way, too.
Outside of literal, repetition nightmares, the language of the unconscious is the language of symbol. Much like art. Together the person in therapy and I will work out the big question: What is the language of this unconscious? Some symbols are universal, and some are particular to an individual. People will know if the direction we’re going with a dream resonates with them or not, and we’ll adjust as we go. But looking at dreams is always a mutual endeavor. That is, it’s never just me saying “this means that.” Here is where, I think, Jungian dream work is very different than looking up something in dream dictionary. Here, the dream is always in the context of the individual, that person’s associations and experiences. We look at archetypal images, too, and consider those meanings, but we always add the associations. Also, we can work with what arises in the body when considering a dream or a dream image, just as we would do with waking experience. Either is about the what is present in the moment, right now, in therapy, so whether the “subject” is a dream experience or a waking experience, the body is available to help us sort it out and heal it.
Now, with very difficult dream images, the work might be very slow, gentle. And I am always watching closely for the client’s physical response, monitoring whether we’re touching on sympathetic or parasympathetic activation and not going too far outside the window of tolerance. But we can approach a dream from the edges and work with that. It amazes me always how a person’s dream life will change or evolve very quickly as the dreams are brought into the therapeutic space. If there are nightmares happening, there is something longing to be heard.
Things do get stuck. In the thoughts, in the body, in the unconscious. Even when the nightmares are very close to what happened in the traumatic experience, there is still often something about them that is operating at a level unavailable to the conscious thought process, and the purpose of that operation is to help the client heal. Unlocking that symbolic language can be like finally finding the treasure box buried under the rubble, and then the golden key that will unlock it.
Dreams can also provide an important sense of triumph. When we fully experience beauty, love, triumph, experience it with our whole bodies, that in itself is tremendously healing. Sometimes this comes in dreams before it comes in waking life, and it prepares the client to accept that feeling as real and true and available to them. They can know they deserve to feel this. I have no doubt that knowing this thing with our whole bodies is very different, and much more convincing and lasting, than “knowing” it as an intellectual concept. I love helping people come to that knowing and I am honored and thrilled every time I witness it.
TBN: Many of our readers might be surprised to learn that you are a U.S. Army Veteran, and yet, this is such powerful information about you – as well as really important for our veteran survivors who are seeking someone who can relate to the cultural components surrounding either their experience of sexual assault or perhaps, the collateral traumatic toll that being in the service may take on a survivor. There is really so much here to explore when I consider your work as a trauma healer, a dream analyst, a Somatic Experiencing practitioner, a yoga practitioner and as a veteran – I would be curious if you could share about your journey from the service towards your current work as a holistic healer?
MH: Well, yes, people are often surprised to learn I’m a veteran. There is so much in this, it would take a whole book to really paint a full picture! So I’ll try the condensed version.
I am proud of my military service. I am also aware that it probably compounded the earlier sexual trauma that had, in part, driven me to join the Army in the first place. I had some uncles who were “lifer” Army officers. I really wanted to go to Europe but had no money, and I felt equality for women meant that I had a duty to take on the protection of our country, just as men did. That was my thinking at 19 years old, when I joined.
There is part of me that is very strongly the warrior spirit. I feel like part of my life’s work is coming to terms with what it means to have this warrior spirit and to be a woman at the same time. Our society and culture have a lot of expectations and pressures on women to be “nice” and quiet, to avoid conflict and to make sure to not cause discomfort by disagreeing with others. All of which, though, I’ve thought to be bullshit as for long as I can remember. Yet, I also believe in nonviolent conflict resolution and have from a young age, and that war is a waste of everything and an ineffective tool for change. Nonetheless, I enjoyed competing with men and other women in basic training, and the training itself. I still connect strongly with warriors in myth and story, both men and women warriors, as long as they are just and compassionate, too. I am proud of how strong I often was, and of the job I did, and glad that I did it.
But I saw a lot of injustice. There is a huge way in which being in the Army radicalized me. The financial waste was incredible. Much of the daily operation and even tactical planning and rehearsal for war was idiotic. The way women were treated – this was 1979 and women were new to the Regular Army – was appalling. Working at times in Army Intelligence, I learned first hand about dehumanization of the enemy and the value put on winning over individual lives. Even how it is forgotten by some that it is individual lives that the commanders are moving around on the board and not simply flags of different colors. I was changed by seeing that.
I also was subjected to the misuse of power by people who greatly outranked me, who used intimidation to coerce me into sex, as well as outright military sexual assault. It is very important to me to be here for women who have served and suffered this kind of violation and betrayal.
When I meet veterans now, and even active military members, I very much enjoy the “shop talk” and the swagger and shared experience. Within that, though, I think it’s important to know there is also vulnerability and I see part of my role as making room for that embodied paradox.
When an experience of military sexual assault is also part of a veteran’s experience this paradox is even more complex. I heard the retired VA psychiatrist and author of Odysseus in America: Combat Trauma and the Trials of Homecoming, Jonathan Shay say in a lecture a few years ago that he thinks military sexual assault is particularly traumatic because of the relational betrayal it involves. Your teammates and commanders are supposed to have your back, and you theirs. Like family. If they betray you this way, it’s an inter-relational trauma that he thinks is akin to incest. I understand that in my bones.
Somatic psychotherapies and depth psychologies can be very effective in healing and sorting out misfires in military experience. I’m happy to be able to serve those who’ve served us.
TBN: Coming back to writing again, you have been offering writing workshops for veterans in St. Louis which seems like an excellent way to join together your training as a writer, your experience in the Army and your skill as a trauma healing practitioner. Can you talk about the impetus to offer these workshops? And are these workshops focused around a specific topic, like trauma or healing, or more open? Also, how would a local veteran become involved and are there other ways that veterans outside of St. Louis could do some of this work with you?
MH: This program was designed and implemented by the Missouri Humanities Council in partnership with the St. Louis Public Library system. There’s a great guy at the library, Scott Morris, himself a veteran, who runs the program. I was hired as one of three instructors to teach in the program this summer. Ron Capps, an Army and Foreign Service veteran and founder of the Veterans Writing Project in D.C., which is a nonprofit that hosts free writing workshops for veterans, is joining us at the end of August for a workshop and some beers, after. I hope to do some education for all the instructors about trauma-informed practices we might integrate into the program. I’ll tell you what, though, teaching in this program has reminded me why I taught college writing for so many years. Teaching is wonderful. Writers and aspiring writers are wonderful. I had a great time this summer. The veterans are just amazing, engaged, talented people. We have developed a wonderful camaraderie and I can’t wait to do it again next year.
TBN: Your have served in a variety of roles with organizations that serve survivors of human trafficking, can you talk about how you became involved in that work, what your involvement has looked like in those settings, perhaps even share with us how you see organizations bringing, or moving in the direction of bringing, trauma-informed care to the populations they serve?
MH: I came to this work because I myself am a survivor of human trafficking. I did not consciously know this, though, when I decided to work in the anti-trafficking field. What I had defined as a gang rape, once I started reading cases of trafficking, I realized that I had been trafficked as one person was taking money. That hadn’t even occurred to me at the time, though I think it’s significant that two men I was in relationships with later, in my adult life, had assumed as much, though they didn’t tell me that until I first told them what I had figured out. Why did they know? I think it’s because that’s the sort of information men have, culturally, that has traditionally been withheld or hidden from women. I don’t want to talk much more about that event, but I will say that I think this is a very typical example of what happens with traumatic memory. How it can be fragmented and present, but not present or processed, and how we can dissociate from it even when we don’t forget it, per se.
I went into my Master’s program in Social Work with the intention of working primarily in the field of anti-human trafficking. In fact, I did a degree that was focused in that area. I find now that I have to be very measured about this work because it is so triggering of my body’s traumatic responses, even now.
So what have I done? I have trained law enforcement personnel in recognizing and responding to victims of human trafficking. I’ve been to Kazakhstan, consulting for the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, training government, non-profit and non-govenmental organizations, U.S. Embassy personnel and others in effective policy response and integration of services. I’ve done direct clinical service with victims and survivors in New York City, worked with Amber Alert, consulted on policy and clinical matters and facilitated various trainings for NGOs. My present focus is consulting in clinical service provision and trauma-informed services. I also do therapy with survivors. Close to my heart is my work with the National Survivor Network, which right now is mostly just supporting my fellow survivors in any way I can. In the past, I’ve done more direct work, such as advocating in Washington, D.C. for laws and policies helpful to the effort to eliminate human trafficking and provide services for survivors. The direction is survivor-led policy development and program design. It is extremely important that survivors of human trafficking be consulted in these matters, and there has just this year been federal legislation passed to form a survivor committee to for this purpose. Honestly, I would like to do policy analysis rather than advocacy, but my energy is much more naturally in the clinical direction right now.
We do need more organizations that are survivor led and survivor informed. We also need more organizations that are not developed by Christian churches and faith-based organizations. Of course some of them are doing great work, and I’m glad they’re there. But, I always wonder about unintentional coercion toward adopting the religion. Survivors of human trafficking can be very vulnerable to coercion, even when we don’t know it.
In the work with human trafficking survivors, I do think there’s a need for spiritual work that is not Christian. I have friends and colleagues who are survivors for whom Christianity has been very healing and helpful, and I am so happy for them that they’ve found that. However, not everyone in this world is a Christian, or drawn to that particular religion. It’s hard for human trafficking survivors, though, because there are so many NGOs in the U.S. that are actually Christian faith-based organizations. And no matter how much some of those organizations think they are not “requiring” conversion or adherence to the religion, they very likely are. A person coming out of an extremely coercive, abusive, exploitative environment is often very malleable, and also very motivated to fit in, even when raging against being there or fitting in, on one level. If lots of others are going to prayer meeting or church, or there are Bibles laying around but not the Torah or Koran or or Buddhist writings or books on the Art of the Norse Gods or whatever, then what is going to happen? And what about people who aren’t religious at all? And people who have been abused within a religious context?
There are indeed organizations that make no bones about sending all the survivors they’re serving to church. So there’s that. There needs to be way more choice than that. In fact, I interned several years ago at an organization that is not faith based, that has no Christianity in their mission statement at all. I was grateful to be allowed to attend the survivors-only group, moderated by their Executive Director, a very dynamic and respected person. I was shocked when, at the end of the group, she asked everyone to join hands and pray as she recited an utterly Christian prayer, in fact, a rather conservative Christian prayer. There were a couple of new, young girls in the group that night. Since I had helped them come in I knew there had been no real exploration of what their position on religion might be. Besides that, in most places in America, unless you’ve had a certain kind of upbringing or education, if someone asks you, “Are you Christian” or “What’s your religion,” if you’re confused and vulnerable and you don’t want to be rejected or even lose an opportunity to not have to go back out on the street or back to abusive caregivers, what are you going to say? Are you going to take a chance, or are you going to default to the dominant religion? Some pimps/traffickers use religion as part of the coercion and force inflicted on their victims. How did the this Executive Director know it would be okay to take these girls into a Christian prayer? Why was that okay? Why was that the default? Why could she not see what she was doing?
I think this needs explored very openly and frankly. But there is this reluctance to do or say anything that would “hurt the movement.” I know I’ve had trouble getting past that. But guess what? That’s also been a method of control. Traffickers pretend they are “family” to their victims, and use exactly that kind of language to make people stay with them: “You don’t want to hurt the family, do you?” or “Don’t you want a family?” All of this doesn’t even include the prior family or religious abuse many vulnerable people have experienced. Some people are even trafficked by their families, and those families may be religious. I’m working on a book that presents paths toward healing that integrate body, mind, and spirit, but don’t require religion. It is based on the psychotherapy work I am doing now.
TBN: Your 3-part blog series on the need for yoga teachers to receive training in trauma-informed practices has been read widely on the Huffington Post and I really appreciate your raising attention about the need for yoga instructors to gain skills through their trainings in not only teaching physically safe classes, but also, understanding how to better create emotionally safe environments. Tell us what lead to your writing of this series and perhaps, a bit more about your experience as a yoga practitioner about your thoughts about the power of yoga for trauma healing.
MH: I’ve been practicing yoga in one form or another since around 1984. It is so thoroughly woven into my life, I can’t even imagine my world without it. I have done some yoga teaching myself, though I don’t have the Yoga Alliance certification. I took a training with Rod Stryker, and taught here and there for awhile.
The catalyst for that series was a time when I, myself, was triggered in a yoga class. This was from a very innocent and seemingly innocuous thing the teacher did. What she did not do was listen. She did not appreciate the importance of not asking twice for a student to follow her into a pose when the student has already said “No, thank you.” She let her ego and her ideas of the student/teacher relationship jump out front. It happens. I actually tell the story in the series. I think what’s notable about my story of being triggered into a trauma activation state in a yoga class, though, is that it was not by something egregious the teacher did. I’ve heard those stories, too. This was actually a fairly “small” thing. But I said, “No, I’d rather do it this way today,” and she said, “No, I want you to do it like I’m doing it.” The thing is, that caused me to put my foot on a part of my leg that had been broken at age 11 – though I certainly didn’t consciously think of that at the time – and due to the constellation of environmental, physiological, relational, etc. factors present in that moment, it sent my body into a Sympathetic Nervous System (SNS) hyper-response. This is a deep lesson in mind-body connection, respect for each person’s inherent knowledge of their own needs, even when they cannot articulate them. Trauma-sensitive yoga, as pioneered by David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, at Bessel Van der Kolk’s clinic in Boston also teaches this. Their book is great.
I wrote the piece after that incident and another thing or two happened that caused me to feel very strongly that if yoga teachers don’t get themselves trained in how the autonomic nervous system works, we were going to end up hurting a lot of people. There was great response to it, overall. Locally, where I live, some teachers were very excited about it, and others, not so much. One thing I heard was “People need to take responsibility for their own triggering.” Well, that’s just not how it works. That’s not how the body works. We all need to integrate this knowledge into our compassion system, and take responsibility for our words and actions and our interactions with one another, care for one another the best we can.
TBN: Your work is astoundingly holistic, and I am curious, we have explored the body/mind relationship here, but do you work with people who are confronting or trying to navigate the spiritual impacts of trauma – and what does that look like?
MH: I do. This is a part of the work that is very close to my heart. Often I see the journey through trauma and out as a hero’s quest. As we talked about earlier I work a lot with survivors of sexual abuse, rape, and human trafficking, and I am a survivor of all of those myself. At one pivotal time in my healing process I went into a deep depression. I was then working with a therapist using a book by Dr. Clarissa Pinkola Estes, Women Who Run With the Wolves: Myths and Stories of the Wild Woman Archetype. This work helped me connect with my deeper self, and see that the journey through depression was much like the mythological descent into the Underworld that appears in the old stories of many, if not most, cultures. When we can process through our experience as akin to an archetypal journey that humans have been making and connecting to on this deep level for a very, very long time, where we’ve encountered horrors, fought our way out, and emerged with gifts – we can touch the spiritual strength within ourselves, and eventually, fully realize its wonders. No religion, or even belief in “spirit” is necessary to work this way. It can be encountered as metaphor, and it’s my suspicion that this is a metaphor that plays out in our bodies, in the autonomic nervous system (ANS), the part of us that operates outside of conscious control. That myth, the individual and collective unconscious, and the ANS are all ways of accessing the same crucial healing and protective systems.
Sometimes we need help to emerge from that underworld of the traumatic event. We need a guide. This is also supported in myth. Helping people this way, as I have been helped myself, is my contribution to the world, the community. For example, sometimes surviving trauma brings the gift of tremendous empathy. This is beautiful and exactly what the world needs. But very often survivors are so empathic that they are soaking in everything, too much, taking on others’ responsibilities to themselves and trying to fix their family members, friends, coworkers, and suffering tremendously because of they are losing themselves in that sea of everyone else’s pain and desire. I see this as a very deep phenomenon. I work in a way that helps the person learn to center themselves in their own body and engage filters that let compassion flow freely outward, but to choose when or if to let destructive or draining energies get past the boundary outside the body. Each person decides on their personal boundary – whatever distance from their body that person feels as the boundary. This is a matter of choice and what trauma survivors need is choice. That’s the thing that was taken away from them, whether by a car wreck or tornado, a traumatic birth or rape. Many survivors come in not even knowing they are “allowed” to have such a boundary. So we establish or re-establish it, and practice working with in session.
Also, our culture conditions us to become so removed from our bodies that we’re often not even aware we have an intrinsic, instinctual system that is trying to help us. We can look at this as the gut brain, the self-care/protective wiring of the autonomic nervous system, or as my friend and colleague, Jungian analyst Pamela Behnen pointed out recently what Jungians call the “little animal voice”. We see this appear in fairy tales and myth – such as the lion that asks us to stop and help it, to remove the thorn from its paw and thereby slow down or change our course, and through this paying attention to something softer and older than our cerebral cortex, there is guidance. This is an important system all humans have, but many of us are conditioned out of actually accessing it. There are many languages for this. Whatever way we choose to describe it, it is there to help us. A big part of what I do is help people tune in to that internal wisdom.
I am working on ways to bring these and other possibilities into the field of what’s available to survivors of human trafficking (as well as other traumas). Including the zero spirituality option; the option where a person can get depth without religion, can be atheist or agnostic and still connect with stories and this piece of human history that allegorizes the journey through trauma to wholeness. Even the Odysseus stories do this. One doesn’t have to be a Helenist to feel the Odysseus stories.
I do therapy that has no overt spiritual component, of course. However, I think any time we work with dreams and the unconscious we are working in the spiritual realm, whether or not there is a belief system that frames it within an organized (or unorganized, for that matter) religion. For me, the foundation is that humans are far deeper than what meets the eye, even if we conceive of that as the presence of the unconscious (and the body as part of the unconscious).
TBN: Can you tell us a bit about canine-assisted therapy and how you use your dog in sessions – and perhaps for whom this approach might be really powerful?
MH: Nya, my dog, is a treasure. She’s so empathic and loving. She hasn’t yet been through therapy dog school, though she did graduate her Canine Good Citizen training and I work with her continuously to teach her how to behave in therapy sessions. In Somatic Experiencing (SE) work she provides an excellent counterpoint to those moments when we touch on the trauma in the body. In SE, we want to just reach the edge of “activation” in the body, then move towards the “social engagement” system, which is a body state that is more settled, relaxed, and engaged. Moving back and forth between and within these states increases capacity and flexibility, and also discharges the held energy of the trauma. Nya has a very good sense of when the moment for engagement is ripe, and will approach a client, very often, just in that right moment. Sometimes her empathy overwhelms her and she offers comfort while we’re still working on the activation state – and that’s ok. It’s still comfort, and it’s still therapeutic. Also, she’s just friendly and loving and I think that is good for us all.
TBN: With all that you have studied, is there a way in which you envision your practice evolving or changing over the coming years? Is there anything you are hoping to integrate more into the work you are doing?
MH: I am very interested in getting trained in Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing Therapy (EMDR), continuing my training in Somatic Experiencing, taking more Jungian trainings, and adjusting the many years of mindfulness training I’ve had to integrate it into these areas. Plus listening to my own unconscious and internal guidance to understand what I can do to help people the most. I am always working on refining the integration of these various philosophies and skills. I feel like I’m doing something fairly new and innovative in working at the intersections of the body, dreams, and myth, and I am think I may be in the process of developing a unique practice method.
TBN: Okay, we have covered so much! Just one last question for you Margaret, why are you “The Wild Therapist”? Where did that come from?
MH: I use “Wild” to point to that need in all of us to uncover and return to our essential natures. That essential nature is the heart of who we are, our truth, our connection, and our life’s real purpose. It’s pretty difficult to arrive at that essential nature when we’re constantly questioning whether we’re feeling the “right” feelings or thinking the “right” thoughts or looking the “right” way, or whatever.
It’s impossible to live in our true selves when we’re externally, rather than internally, focused and directed.
Yes, thoughts matter. But they are not the whole story. Which is why cognitive therapy is only one component of the work I do together with my clients. The body, dreams, and spirit (if they’re into that) are also brought into the work.
A big part of my job is to support people in their process of discovering and healing, uncovering and befriending their “Wild Self” – their essential, true self, so that they may live in their purpose as fully as they choose. I call that “Wild” because I observe that the true self is that original self, and that nature, our dreams, and our hearts are naturally full of that freeing wildness/wilderness – we just need at times to engage in a process that supports and assists its uncovering. That process of recognition and healing, through body, mind and spirit, can bring us back to our true, and thus “wild” selves.
TBN: Wow! Thank you so much for sharing and allowing us to explore and be inspired by the many different realms of healing work you provide. We look forward to witnessing the growth of your practice and are grateful for the holistic and diverse range of healing options you provide to survivors of sexual assault – and all people!
Learn more about Margaret Howard by visiting her practitioner page, or explore her professional website for more details about her practice in St. Louis where she offers holistic psychotherapy, consulting, birth and parenting support and more!