Transcript: Episode 7: The Trauma Bridge: Connecting Shamanic Spiritual Healing with Clinical Therapy

This tran­script has been edit­ed for clar­i­ty. There may be dif­fer­ences between the audio and this tran­script.

Over­com­ing Obsta­cles to Unite Spir­i­tu­al and Psy­cho­log­i­cal Approach­es for Deep Heal­ing

John Moir: 0:08
Grief rebels as it stirs deep with­in us, spark­ing a pro­found resis­tance to a life devoid of emo­tion. It embold­ens wild­ness and flash­es with the pow­er of thun­der, while remain­ing untamed and free. As we learn, grief becomes the pri­ma­ry emo­tion for the soul’s vital­i­ty. Grief, like love, embod­ies life itself. It resists, being gen­tle, and yet moves of so pas­sion­ate­ly, leav­ing no doubt. This emo­tion erupts from the wells of our soul. In our pod­cast, we explore this defi­ance, embrace its wild­ness and find peace with­in its untamed vital­i­ty as we live in the hus­tle of every­day life. Wel­come to the Urban Grief Shamans. Join Patri­cia Jones, a psy­chother­a­pist, and John Moy­er, a retired para­medic, as we explore the spir­i­tu­al side of grief. In our episode today, you’ll dis­cov­er the pow­er­ful fusion of shaman­ic prac­tice and clin­i­cal ther­a­py in treat­ing non-phys­i­cal trau­ma, also known as PTSD. We will also explore how these dis­tinct fields inter­sect and enhance each oth­er. My guest, alex Solomon, shares first-hand expe­ri­ence and togeth­er we explore the prac­ti­cal chal­lenges and reward­ing out­comes of merg­ing spir­i­tu­al prac­tices with clin­i­cal approach­es to trau­ma. Let’s join in on my con­ver­sa­tion with Alex.

Alex Solomon: 1:48
My mas­ter’s, I have a con­cen­tra­tion in group work, which I did. I was told that the group work­ers were the fun ones in this pro­gram which. I think was the case. We had some fun. But think­ing again about shaman­ism, right, it’s not some­thing that’s done in a soli­tary sense, it’s some­thing that’s done in com­mu­ni­ties. A lot of my pro­fes­sion­al train­ing is real­ly in the idea of the cir­cle right. A ther­a­py group is a cir­cle and we’re sit­ting there and we’re joined togeth­er. That had­n’t real­ly occurred to me until now, but there’s a sim­i­lar­i­ty there, I think.

John Moir: 2:26
So when was that point that you thought that you would just mix or bring your shaman­ic prac­tice and your clin­i­cal prac­tice togeth­er?

Alex Solomon: 2:36
That was a chal­lenge for me because and you and I have talked about the chaos of insur­ance in the Unit­ed States it’s quite dif­fer­ent from your expe­ri­ence in Cana­da, I think. But insur­ance com­pa­nies want to pay for what they deem to be evi­dence-based allo­path­ic med­i­cine, which some of it is based on research and some of it is some­what arbi­trary. But, work­ing in agen­cies and work­ing in non-prof­its that are con­tract­ed with the state to pro­vide these ser­vices, I found that there was a vari­ety of open­ness to the admin­is­tra­tions that I worked for in terms of bring­ing in these more shaman­ic prac­tices, these more spir­i­tu­al prac­tices. I nev­er expe­ri­enced clients not being open to it, but I had to sneak things in a lit­tle bit. So I nev­er real­ly was able to do a heal­ing ses­sion or any­thing like that in a treat­ment set­ting, which I would have loved to do. I think it would have been love­ly. I think it would have been love­ly to do things like drum­ming cir­cles, to do singing and danc­ing, but it was­n’t ever some­thing I was able to do because I think it’s not accept­ed.

John Moir: 3:50
There’s some skep­ti­cism there. Is it more? Or is it just? You just did­n’t fit the mold?

Alex Solomon: 3:57
I think it does­n’t fit the mold. I think psy­chol­o­gy start­ed very much as art and then it swung into the direc­tion of becom­ing sci­ence, because there was such a push to get us to rec­og­nize as men­tal health pro­fes­sion­als and say, no, we’re just as good as you doc­tors that treat infec­tions and do surg­eries and set bones, we do some­thing. That’s just as impor­tant and that’s true. But where we’ve swung to is now every­thing has to fit this very spe­cif­ic mold of what it’s sup­posed to look like and I think we’ve lost the art of it. And when I say the art of it it real­ly means a feel­ing aspect, the somat­ic aspect of being able to go where we feel guid­ed with a par­tic­u­lar per­son. And I think most ther­a­pists I know would say that, whether they think of it in a spir­i­tu­al con­text or not, that some­times we just have a feel­ing and we get pulled in a direc­tion ends up real­ly open­ing up a new avenue.

John Moir: 5:04
From a heal­ing phi­los­o­phy stand­point, how does your under­stand­ing of trau­ma dif­fer when viewed through a somat­ic lens com­pared to a psy­chother­a­peu­tic one?

Alex Solomon: 5:13
I cer­tain­ly have a merged view at this point. It’s almost like I have two trains of thought going at the same time. And I real­ly do try and hon­or. If some­one’s com­ing to me for psy­chother­a­py, I’m not going to inject shaman­ism when it’s not asked for. I think that’s rude. I’d advise first that. But when some­one’s com­ing to me with trau­ma and com­plex trau­mas is repet­i­tive ear­ly trau­ma is real­ly the focus of my prac­tice. I do find myself think­ing of it in terms of soul. When I look at my train­ing around trau­ma, most of which has been after my mas­ters in all the hun­dreds of hours of train­ing I’ve done around it, while they don’t use the word soul, I think there real­ly is not that much of a dif­fer­ence in terms of think­ing about it. We talk about the self and the self con­cept, and how does ear­ly trau­ma cause some­one not to be able to have a cohe­sive sense of them­self? And so, from a shaman­ic view, if we say this is soul loss, I think it real­ly fits togeth­er quite nice­ly. And peo­ple will come in and say I feel like I’m not whole, I feel like a piece of me is miss­ing, and I don’t think there’s con­flict in terms of think­ing from a shaman­ic per­spec­tive. This is soul loss and from a psy­chother­a­peu­tic per­spec­tive, this is what­ev­er we would call it. This is frag­men­ta­tion.

John Moir: 6:51
Where­as in a shaman­ic treat­ment would be a soul retrieval, I guess in the tra­di­tion­al clin­i­cal side of things it would be the. Is it EMDR?

Alex Solomon: 7:03
Yeah, so I’ve-.

John Moir: 7:05
Maybe explain that for our lis­ten­ers that EMDR is-.

Alex Solomon: 7:09
Yeah, so I’ll explain it as best I can Explain it all the time. So EMDR stands for Eye Move­ment, desen­si­ti­za­tion and Repro­cess­ing, and it’s dif­fer­ent than talk ther­a­py in that it’s get­ting your brain to cor­rect­ly process a mem­o­ry that has not been cor­rect­ly processed. So we think of the mem­o­ry as being unprocessed, in the sense that past trau­ma feels like it’s still hap­pen­ing in the present. The mem­o­ry is stuck and it’s not processed or stored cor­rect­ly. So with EMDR what we’re doing is using what we call bilat­er­al stim­u­la­tion, which can be eye move­ments from side to side, it can be tap­ping, it can be audi­to­ry. We’re using that process to get the brain to process the mem­o­ry cor­rect­ly. So it gets stored as long-term mem­o­ry and what it does is it pulls out the neg­a­tive emo­tion and the som­a­ti­za­tion that’s attached to it. That’s so dis­tress­ing, and it also, through the way that we do it and set it up, it can shift the belief that’s attached to the mem­o­ry. So peo­ple tend to have core neg­a­tive beliefs like it’s my fault, or I’m bad, or I’m not safe, or I’m lov­able, these deep beliefs that are hooked into all these dif­fer­ent mem­o­ries, and so a big piece of what we’re doing is caus­ing that to shift. I’m lov­able, I’m okay, the way I am, I can keep myself safe. And with EMDR it’s real­ly not a talk ther­a­py. There does­n’t have to be any talk­ing at all. It’s a way to get the brain and the body, because it can real­ly be quite somat­ic for peo­ple. It’s get­ting, it’s look­ing for a state shift, and so when I think of soul retrieval, peo­ple tend to expe­ri­ence some­thing very sim­i­lar, that they real­ly feel that some­thing is dif­fer­ent. And I think a lot of peo­ple think that the best they can do with trau­ma in any way, so ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly or oth­er­wise, is learn­ing to cope with it, and shaman­ism cer­tain­ly teach­es us that we can do bet­ter than that. And. I think a lot of the new­er trau­ma ther­a­pies not just EMDR, but things like sen­so­ry motor psy­chother­a­py and in ego state ther­a­py, which I have a lot of train­ing in as well show us that’s not the case. We can do bet­ter than just cope with it when I feel trig­gered.

John Moir: 9:50
Now the EMDR. Is it the sense that the trau­ma is stored in a par­tic­u­lar part of the body or in the brain?

Alex Solomon: 9:58
Yeah, so one of the things we look at in EMDR is where do you feel this in the body? And some peo­ple tend to hold dif­fer­ent things in dif­fer­ent places and some peo­ple have just a part of their body where they always feel that trau­ma. It’s often in the core, some­where in the heart or in the stom­ach. But peo­ple hold things in their arms, peo­ple will feel it move around the body, right, and when you think about shaman­ic train­ing, you would call that some­thing else. Right, feel­ing some­thing move around the body. You would call that an intru­sion and you would remove it Again. You see these par­al­lels here. But what hap­pens dur­ing EMDR is that there’s an allow­ing and allow­ing your body to release those things and allow­ing things to shift with­in you. So when I think about it from a shaman­ic per­spec­tive, I don’t know why I would call it a spon­ta­neous soul retrieval, because it’s not spon­ta­neous. We are try­ing to do some­thing, but the way I think of it is open­ing an invi­ta­tion, fight­ing that part to come back and cre­at­ing an open­ing for that to hap­pen. And often there’s cre­at­ing an open­ing for releas­ing and I use a lot of metaphors with this and can go after it more direct­ly some­times but can you feel that flow­ing out of your body? Can you feel a releas­ing in that part of your body? So I real­ly do think some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing and I see peo­ple expe­ri­enc­ing things not just at a men­tal lev­el, but at a soul lev­el, even though we’re not talk­ing about the soul.

John Moir: 11:44
I under­stand Peo­ple have repet­i­tive trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences. I’m think­ing of my broth­ers and sis­ters in emer­gency med­ical ser­vices, polic­ing and fire ser­vices, who have been car­ry­ing many dif­fer­ent types of calls that they’ve expe­ri­enced over per­haps their work­ing career, and there’s a num­ber of dif­fer­ent new trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ences that are pil­ing on. Would that be the right way to explain it, or to sug­gest that? How does one keep wrap­ping their bod­ies around this trau­mat­ic ener­gy and not let­ting it go?

Alex Solomon: 12:22
And that’s the thing with repet­i­tive trau­ma that there is a dif­fer­ence in expe­ri­ence between what we would call a sin­gle inci­dent trau­ma I’ve had a real­ly good life, then I have this hor­ri­ble car acci­dent and now I’m expe­ri­enc­ing PTSD from this one inci­dent and there’s a dif­fer­ence between that and a repet­i­tive trau­ma, some­thing that’s hap­pen­ing over and over. It cre­ates a dif­fer­ent expe­ri­ence and that’s what we would call com­plex trau­ma and folks that are expe­ri­enc­ing com­plex PTSD, which is not an offi­cial diag­no­sis. There’s a lot of debate around that and has been for years. But for com­plex PTSD, a lot of the time it’s repet­i­tive child­hood trau­ma because and we talk about this shaman­i­cal­ly too how chil­dren have both put in both world, so psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, chil­dren’s sense of self is informed. We don’t come out as infants with a full sense of self. So hav­ing those repet­i­tive expe­ri­ences as a young child can real­ly dis­tort your abil­i­ty to look at the world as a safe place and look at your­self as a per­son who is able to be in the world. And then, think­ing about first respon­ders, there’s this sim­i­lar thing of repeat­ed trau­ma and this idea that it’s inescapable. It keeps hap­pen­ing over and over. There’s some­thing to that inabil­i­ty to escape over and over. That real­ly com­pounds it, and I talk a lot about how trau­ma is cumu­la­tive. It’s not these sin­gle sep­a­rate inci­dents that our brains are real­ly good at find­ing pat­terns and they link these things togeth­er and it can cre­ate real­ly severe belief sys­tems that make it very hard to be in the world in a healthy way.

John Moir: 14:38
And oth­er sit­u­a­tions would cer­tain­ly be like domes­tic abuse or phys­i­cal abuse, any­thing that’s repet­i­tive. Even for the nurs­ing staff, er, mil­i­tary peo­ple who have mul­ti­ple griefs. Is that sim­i­lar? Because some­times I won­der that when we talk about trau­ma non-phys­i­cal trau­ma, I see, because that’s where patri­cian I’ve spe­cial­ized is look­ing merg­ing grief, aware­ness and shaman­ism, and I find that to me it seems like it’s one in the same, that peo­ple who’ve had a lot of trau­ma not trau­ma but a lot of grief seem to have a lot of the symp­toms that I hear when I hear some of my col­leagues express­ing their trau­ma sto­ries. Any thoughts?

Alex Solomon: 15:33
Yeah, absolute­ly. We talk about the dif­fer­ence between grief and trau­mat­ic grief, and there’s this idea that there’s and I don’t love the word appro­pri­ate here, but it’s the word we tend to use there’s an appro­pri­ate grief process or a typ­i­cal grief process, and I don’t know any­body who real­ly knows what they’re talk­ing about, who would try and med­icate away grief or ther­a­pize away grief. Right, it’s sup­posed to feel it, but hav­ing mul­ti­ple loss­es and even again com­ing back to first respon­ders wit­ness­ing a lot of death and this applies to com­bat trau­ma as well it cre­ates this real­ly pro­found. I just tend to describe trau­mas that are linked togeth­er and this is just my metaphor as a string of Christ­mas lights. They’re all linked togeth­er and you can’t just light up one bulb, right, when you plug in, all the bulbs light up. And so when some­thing reminds you of a trau­ma, it’s not just that one trau­ma that gets trig­gered, it’s the whole string of Christ­mas lights gets lit up, and so you get flood­ed with all of this emo­tion and all of this somat­ic sen­sa­tion and you might not get a whole series of mem­o­ries, but what it is, all of those mem­o­ries are light­ing up. And so that’s very true of grief, that these griefs can com­pound each oth­er if you haven’t gone through the process and if you haven’t found I would say, found your peace with loss. I think that’s some­thing that we don’t talk about a lot in our cul­ture because we’re so removed from death, we dis­tance our­selves from it. It’s not the way our ances­tors would have had care­tak­ing elders and then dying in the home and hav­ing grief rit­u­als, and so much of that is gone, and so you can end up with this inter­rupt­ed process, and that’s what trau­ma is right. It’s an inter­rupt­ed process of allow­ing your brain to com­plete the pro­cess­ing of a mem­o­ry, and that hap­pens with grief. We have these inter­rupt­ed expe­ri­ences that we don’t get to grieve, or we’re dis­cour­aged from griev­ing, or we don’t have time to grieve. Maybe you don’t have time. My last employ­er would give you, I think, five days off of work for a par­ent in one day off for a non-par­ent right. How could you pos­si­bly grieve in that time?

John Moir: 18:03
And it’s just like even in the first response com­mu­ni­ties it’s not mas­cu­line enough to grieve in pub­lic or to. If you have a good part­ner, it gets you through so much and if you don’t have some­body that you trust or you feel safe with, then you’re cer­tain­ly not gonna talk about your deep­er feel­ings. And as the same, through child­hood shame or being in a grief of being rebuffed in a roman­tic sit­u­a­tion, and these are all called per­haps the small griefs that we just sup­press and we just keep build­ing it up in our­selves. And one of the things I real­ly loved about Weller’s teach­ings was that unat­tend­ed grief just becomes such like lead and it makes us numb and so that we just don’t do any­thing about it. But we don’t live a full life, we don’t live a big life. And then you have that big grief that comes along like a death of some­body real­ly close to you or and it just takes you down. But what it does, the big one also opens up all the small­er ones, and then you’re being hit all at once with all these past mem­o­ries and it’s very over­whelm­ing.

Alex Solomon: 19:11
Right, and yeah, psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly, we call that flood­ing, which I think such a love­ly word for it, in a way, because it’s think about get­ting knocked over by a wave. That’s what it is. Yeah, you’re mak­ing me think of so much of work­ing with my folks who expe­ri­enced child abuse is deal­ing with things like aban­don­ment and rejec­tion. And those are severe. So we don’t think of it as a grief because you’re not expe­ri­enc­ing a death. And I think we’ve lim­it­ed the word grief to a very spe­cif­ic thing, not allowed it to encom­pass things like los­ing a job, los­ing hous­ing, which I’ve had so many clients all of a sud­den home­less, all of a sud­den unem­ployed. What do we do with that? And you go into prob­lem solv­ing mode, and I’m cer­tain­ly guilty of that because I want to fix it. I’m a prob­lem solver, so how can I house this per­son? How can I help them income, how can I help them find food? But we have to remem­ber it, that we have to deal with a grief of it. It’s still a loss.

John Moir: 20:16
Exact­ly, and it’s not just loss of a par­tic­u­lar place, it’s also loss of the. I don’t know, if you men­tioned iden­ti­ty, who you are with­in that com­mu­ni­ty, and all of a sud­den you’re thrust out of that. And now if you’re try­ing to reestab­lish your­self in anoth­er place, you start from scratch. Some­times, a lot of times, right, nobody knows who you are or what val­ue you have or don’t have, and that’s a big grief for a lot of peo­ple.

Alex Solomon: 20:46
Absolute­ly.

John Moir: 20:48
So, com­ing back to trau­ma and the you call it com­plex trau­ma, how would you take a shaman­ic approach to com­plex trau­ma?

Alex Solomon: 20:57
So com­plex trau­ma is extreme soul loss from a shaman­ic per­spec­tive, and espe­cial­ly because it often starts when some­one is so young. We’re so vul­ner­a­ble at that age from a soul per­spec­tive and we talk about that sense of iden­ti­ty. Psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly we devel­op a sense of iden­ti­ty over time and shaman­i­cal­ly we’re talk­ing about the soul. Our soul drinks ends as we get old­er and as we learn ways to empow­er our soul. But chil­dren are vul­ner­a­ble in many ways, at a soul lev­el, at a phys­i­cal lev­el, it’s just a very vul­ner­a­ble time and we’re depen­dent as chil­dren. We’re depen­dent on our care­givers to sur­vive. We would­n’t sur­vive with­out them and that’s why it’s so incred­i­bly dam­ag­ing when a care­giv­er is hor­ri­ble, because it’s basi­cal­ly a pos­si­ble for a child to rec­on­cile that idea. I need this per­son to stay alive and this per­son puts me at such incred­i­ble risk and so we devel­op rejec­tion and aban­don­ment and attach­ment issues from that dichoto­my. That’s just too much for a child to hold. And so, look­ing at com­plex trau­ma from a shaman­ic per­spec­tive, it’s a deep and pro­found lev­el of soul loss. And it’s soul loss for when I’m work­ing with adults, because I work with adults. That hap­pened many years ago and what hap­pens then is we form our iden­ti­ties. With­out those pieces of us. We can heal the trau­ma, we can do the soul retrieval, we can do the trau­ma psy­chother­a­py. But then, you’re exact­ly right, we have this issue of okay, who am I? If. I have these full parts returned to me. Who am I now? Because I’m dif­fer­ent and I feel dif­fer­ent and I’m more whole and I’m more in myself. But it can feel very uncom­fort­able and the same is true with trau­ma. If I sud­den­ly have this belief that I’m wor­thy, what does that mean if I’ve lived my whole life like I’m unwor­thy? And so there’s this whole piece of iden­ti­ty work that has to be done, I think shaman­i­cal­ly as well as ther­a­peu­ti­cal­ly in terms of what does this mean? How does this allow me to walk through the world? Now it’s real­ly learn­ing to walk again. It’s almost like being a tod­dler, because you haven’t been in the world in this way, and it cre­ates a whole dif­fer­ent way of act­ing and of being. And when I see my clients who have been so pas­sive sud­den­ly start to advo­cate for them­selves, it’s love­ly and it’s why I do this work to see peo­ple start to do that, start to act like they deserve love and care. But then what hap­pens a lot of the time is peo­ple around them are not expect­ing it and have these reac­tions, and then my folks don’t know how to respond because they’ve nev­er done it before. They’ve nev­er stepped up them­selves before, it sounds to me like sor­ry, I cut you off there.

John Moir: 24:06
I’m gonna fin­ish I was gonna say that when you men­tioned that they just don’t know how to find their place in the world or what they should do. It sounds to me like that’s prime or they’re prime for ini­ti­a­tion or rit­u­als to help them make that leap from who they were to not that they’ve grown, that they are dif­fer­ent and they’re liv­ing a dif­fer­ent kind of life now, a life per­haps that they were clos­er to the kind of life that they were sup­posed to have. Do you think rit­u­al would be a pos­i­tive addi­tion to their heal­ing?

Alex Solomon: 24:46
Absolute­ly, absolute­ly, and I think a huge piece of this is the way com­mu­ni­ty has shift­ed so dra­mat­i­cal­ly even in the last 50 years. Right, my back­ground is in addic­tion work and, in par­tic­u­lar, in man­dat­ed addic­tion work, peo­ple who are involved in the legal sys­tem, and some­thing I don’t know who ini­tial­ly said it, I don’t even know if I could find it, but some­thing we say a lot is that the oppo­site of addic­tion is not sobri­ety, the oppo­site of addic­tion is con­nec­tion and the idea of feel­ing con­nect­ed and being in com­mu­ni­ty and being in cir­cle, and it’s such a huge piece of what is miss­ing for so many peo­ple. And so I think ini­ti­a­tion is a big piece of it, and I think in some ways, the heal­ing can be an ini­ti­a­tion because you’re com­ing out the oth­er side, some­body new, and heal­ing is uncom­fort­able a lot of the time, and so there’s this tri­al and tribu­la­tion and then this com­ing out the oth­er side, but then who receives you right and tra­di­tion­al­ly, an ini­ti­a­tion would be into the com­mu­ni­ty in a dif­fer­ent way and you’d be embraced. And what I see a lot of the time is there’s not this com­mu­ni­ty to embrace, and I think that comes back to grief a lot too. There’s so many peo­ple who are put in this posi­tion of hav­ing to grieve alone, and so they just don’t and the grief does­n’t hap­pen, and so it stays stuck. But there’s not this com­mu­ni­ty to receive and to sup­port.

John Moir: 26:21
Yes, and I would even think that for many peo­ple the fam­i­ly’s not nec­es­sar­i­ly the best one to go back to, because the fam­i­ly could have been a big prob­lem for them to begin with.

Alex Solomon: 26:32
Exact­ly. Most of my folks are com­ing to see me because of trau­ma, at least par­tial­ly in their fam­i­lies of ori­gin, if not exclu­sive­ly. It’s as we’ve retreat­ed into this idea of the nuclear fam­i­ly. What do you do when your nuclear fam­i­ly is unhealthy? Who per­forms your fam­i­ly? And I think about when I’ve been involved in queer and trans­ac­tim­ism for over 20 years, and so I think about cho­sen fam­i­ly and how many peo­ple have gone to an event and felt like, oh, this is fam­i­ly, this is what it feels like, and the efforts that are made to cre­ate com­mu­ni­ty when peo­ple have been reject­ed from their fam­i­lies. But I think in our greater soci­ety there’s not an effort to do that and, as a result, peo­ple are with­out com­mu­ni­ty and with­out that sense of fam­i­ly.

John Moir: 27:19
There’s not an easy solu­tion for that one build­ing com­mu­ni­ty, because it takes many peo­ple.

Alex Solomon: 27:25
It takes many peo­ple and I think about how online we are and I do online train­ings and I’ve done online cir­cles and I do online heal­ing and online ther­a­py and all of it but it’s I’ve heard some­one say at the begin­ning of the pan­dem­ic when we’re all doing this online, it’s the we’re reck­on­ing with the pres­ence of the per­son­’s absence. You can see the per­son in front of you, but they’re not there. And, as com­mu­ni­ties have gone online, I think there are a lot of ways. That’s pos­i­tive, because if you and your lit­tle small tail can’t find some­body who real­ly gets you, you could prob­a­bly find some­one on the inter­net who gets you. And at the same time, what does that mean? If you can’t sit in a cir­cle and I’m just metaphor­i­cal, using sort of shaman­ic lan­guage here if you can’t be in cir­cle with peo­ple and have peo­ple in the room, have peo­ple embrace you, what does that do and how does that impact your sense of belong­ing and being in com­mu­ni­ty? I agree with you there is not an easy fix and I don’t even know if we’re head­ed in a fix­ing type of direc­tion with it.

John Moir: 28:37
I know that shaman­ic prac­tice is. When you think of First Nations peo­ple, they’re deeply root­ed in spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al tra­di­tions and we just don’t see that to have that in the greater urban com­mu­ni­ty.

Alex Solomon: 28:50
Yeah, and I think about my ances­tors who came to the Unit­ed States about 100 years ago and they all set­tled in the same place because that’s where the East­ern Euro­pean Jew­ish com­mu­ni­ty was. So that was com­mu­ni­ty and they all end­ed up right there in Pat­ter­son, new Jer­sey, and peo­ple have spread out and there’s a lot more mobil­i­ty and we feel less tied to a place, not just a peo­ple but, a place and think­ing shaman­i­cal­ly about com­mu­ni­ty. That does­n’t just involve peo­ple, of course. It involves the land and the spir­its around us, and I think there’s so much that we’re miss­ing in terms of what is it to belong?

John Moir: 29:37
I agree, that I was going to fol­low up on that, since the spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al tra­di­tions are tied to a com­mu­ni­ty, and so when peo­ple ask, won­der­ing how do you ensure cul­tur­al sen­si­tiv­i­ty and respect in your own prac­tice with your clients, I know the answer because I know you, but I was won­der­ing if you have a thought for that.

Alex Solomon: 30:01
Yes, I have a thought for that, so I always ask about that. I always ask about cul­ture and that’s my train­ing, and as a social work­er, I have to get cul­tur­al com­pe­tence con­tin­u­ing edu­ca­tion cred­its every year and dif­fer­ent states have dif­fer­ent require­ments, but there’s a cer­tain num­ber of my units that have to be relat­ed to cul­tur­al com­pe­tence. But my train­ing is to ask about this. I think a lot of peo­ple skip it because it makes them feel uncom­fort­able, but I think it’s impor­tant and I think about my own tra­di­tions and what Greek rit­u­als look like for us, and we have spe­cif­ic Greek rit­u­als and peo­ple con­tin­ue those spe­cif­ic Greek rit­u­als in a way that a lot of cul­tures don’t, and I’m real­ly very thank­ful for the Greek rit­u­als that I’ve been involved in that way and that I know and have been taught to me. Also, I think that there’s a root­ing in ances­tors and cul­ture and even if fam­i­ly of ori­gin is unhealthy when I’m not some­one who says, oh, you should always keep the door open to your par­ents, no, some­times you should­n’t, and I don’t ever tell any­body what to do, and I say that. I say I can’t tell you whether to keep talk­ing to your father or not. That’s he’s not my father, he’s not my life. That’s your call. We could talk about it, but I’m not going to tell you what to do. But I think there can be a root­ing in ances­tors and cul­ture, even if the imme­di­ate fam­i­ly of ori­gin is not healthy for you. So I’ve cer­tain­ly failed that myself, as I’ve deep­ened my own shaman­ic prac­tice and my shaman­ic train­ing is core shaman­ism. I’ve trained with tra­di­tion­al shamans in a cou­ple of dif­fer­ent tra­di­tions, but I would still say I’m a core prac­ti­tion­er because that’s real­ly where I’m root­ed. But I’ve inte­grat­ed a whole lot of tra­di­tions from my own cul­ture and my own ances­try and my ances­tors have taught me how to do things in dif­fer­ent ways, includ­ing things I haven’t seen doc­u­ment­ed any­where nec­es­sar­i­ly, or they’ve taught me things and then years lat­er I hear about it or I read about it and I say, oh, I do that. So I think there’s a root­ing in a com­mu­ni­ty with our unseen fam­i­ly that can real­ly be very heal­ing. So shaman­i­cal­ly, it’s some­thing I talk about a lot because ances­tors are a big part of my prac­tice and a par­tic­u­lar inter­est of mine. But I think there’s some­thing to be had there not just shaman­i­cal­ly in terms of root­ing in cul­ture and what helps you feel root­ed and what helps you feel resourced.

John Moir: 32:42
Can you just explain the core shaman­ism for our lis­ten­ers?

Alex Solomon: 32:47
Sure, so core shaman­ism orig­i­nat­ed with Michael Harn­er in, I’m going to say, ear­ly 60s I can’t remem­ber the exact date that the foun­da­tion for shaman­ic stud­ies was formed at the time.

John Moir: 33:01
I think it was in the 70s, was­n’t it?

Alex Solomon: 33:04
Yeah, it was the soci­ety for shaman­ic. It was some­thing else in the begin­ning, found­ed in Nor­walk, con­necti­cut Fun fact, not far from me and core shaman­ism is the uni­ver­sal, near uni­ver­sal and com­mon prin­ci­ples and prac­tices of shaman­ism world­wide, togeth­er with the shaman­ic jour­ney, which is a com­mon fea­ture. And so what is? It’s not tak­ing spe­cif­ic cul­tur­al prac­tices from dif­fer­ent places and try­ing to knit them togeth­er, because that would be, I would say, inef­fec­tive at best, and it is look­ing at glob­al­ly what is typ­i­cal to shaman­ic prac­tice and shaman­ic cul­ture and using those prac­tices as a way to get in touch with your own help­ing spir­its. So it is a tra­di­tion, even though it’s quite a young tra­di­tion. It has a lin­eage to it, even though it’s a young lin­eage. But what it is for is it gives access for peo­ple that don’t have a shaman­ic tra­di­tion that they’re con­nect­ed to in their cul­ture and their com­mu­ni­ty, gives those folks a way to access com­pas­sion­ate help­ing spir­its so that they can do the work. And I think it’s such a won­der­ful thing for us to have, because I can’t go be a Mon­go­lian shaman or a Peru­vian shaman, because I’m not Mon­go­lian and I’m not Peru­vian and I’m not immersed in that cul­ture and I could go live there for 40 years, but I still would have at least pieces of the world­view from the upbring­ing I received. So we can’t just become of anoth­er cul­ture, and so what core shaman­ism gives us is a way to engage our own help­ing spir­its and our own cul­ture in order to be able to do this work in a real­ly deep and pow­er­ful way.

John Moir: 35:05
That was well said, thank you.

Alex Solomon: 35:08
Can you tell? I’ve said it before.

John Moir: 35:10
Maybe once or twice. I just want­ed two ques­tions that I’d like to just focus on next. I was just won­der­ing do you have a case study that you could present with­out any iden­ti­fi­ca­tion and then fol­low­ing up on that? I’ll let you han­dle that one first.

Alex Solomon: 35:30
Are you look­ing for some pos­i­tiv­i­ty or do you not care?

John Moir: 35:33
Just some­thing that’s real, that for lis­ten­ers can see an indi­vid­ual and what was the out­come? That was good or what­ev­er and how you applied that. I think so that if some peo­ple are a lit­tle bit cyn­i­cal lis­ten­ing to the show or to not quite get­ting it, that’s an exam­ple of what takes place.

Alex Solomon: 35:56
So I’ll give you a ther­a­py client. This is a sad one, unfor­tu­nate­ly, but she came in to work on trau­mat­ic grief. She had lost a child. We were doing EMD-OMR and she was feel­ing very stuck with it. I became aware as we were doing it of the spir­it of the child in the room. I’m not some­one who nor­mal­ly sees, that’s not how. I usu­al­ly per­ceive. but I could see the out­line of this spir­it and start­ed to receive in a pret­ty audi­to­ry. So I start­ed to engage in con­ver­sa­tion. I could hear the child say things and then she would say I’m imag­in­ing him say­ing and it was the same thing that he had just said to me. What was so sad is that she just could­n’t let him go and they were tied togeth­er. At the time I saw her, she just was­n’t ready, she was still hold­ing him. It was real­ly sad because I can’t make her. I can’t make her, let him go, but it just it kept her in this real­ly very grief-strick­en place and in ther­a­py and in shaman­ism. I don’t force peo­ple to do things. That’s not how I work. I know it’s not how you work but I was­n’t look­ing for this spir­it. Just all of a sud­den there he was, and I hope that she can find a way to relax the hold­ing enough for him to be able to go where he needs to go. But it was just very sad. There was a lot of sad­ness for me because I felt like I had two clients, because I had my ther­a­py client, but then I also had this spir­it in the room. I know that’s not a fun uplift­ing one, but it was clear as day. It was clear as he was.

John Moir: 38:00
Well, that’s, I would say it’s com­mon and grief-tend­ing, but it’s one of the ones that peo­ple just can’t let go of their loved ones and they real­ly need to be let go. It’s the same thing, and some of those promis­es of I’ll love you for­ev­er and through posi­tion work, you have one that’s. This could be like from the past, 100 years ago, sure, and they made a promise and it’s show­ing up today because this is the first time that they had got­ten togeth­er.

Alex Solomon: 38:36
Yeah, and it was. This was the liv­ing per­son that would­n’t let go. And yeah, it just speaks to how grief, how pro­found grief, can be such a stuck place.

John Moir: 38:48
Now, do you have some­thing specif­i­cal­ly a sto­ry relat­ed to what they would call more of a clear trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence and how you worked with that client?

Alex Solomon: 39:02
Yeah, I actu­al­ly I have a Psy­cho Pop sto­ry if you want to hear it. So I did a lot of addic­tion work and I was work­ing in an inten­sive out­pa­tient pro­gram for folks who were ear­ly in their recov­ery and as a result, we had a lot of peo­ple relaps­ing and opi­oid addic­tion is the most lethal men­tal health diag­no­sis. And so I’ve I have lost peo­ple and it’s real­ly hard and I know every loss feels dif­fer­ent. But I, in my inten­sive out­pa­tient, the folks, I, my col­leagues and I lost some­one and it was a real­ly hard one. He was a younger guy, he was in his twen­ties and he had over­dosed and we weren’t sure if it was inten­tion­al or not, but it was just, it was real­ly hard. It was a real­ly hard loss and so I felt sor­ry for myself for a lit­tle while and then I said I’m going to go, I’m going to go find him. I was the self des­ig­nat­ed agency psy­cho­pon at the time and so I went to look for him and he was very stuck. But he was stuck because he did­n’t think you’d go to heav­en and of course that’s a result of trau­ma, right, like I’m bad, so I can’t go any­where, because I have to stay here right, because help­ing deceased peo­ple is real­ly so much like ther­a­py because it’s the con­ver­sa­tion and it’s fig­ur­ing out what’s the way for­ward. So I feel very much like a ther­a­pist when I’m doing that kind of work and he was. But what I had to explain to him, which sort of I think relates to the oth­er sto­ry is that you can’t be there for your fam­i­ly this way, you can’t be help­ful to them this way. But if you’re able to get where you need to go, then you can be help­ful to them and then you can be an ances­tor, then you can be of assis­tance. And so he was able to move on and I was doing psy­cho­pon, I don’t know, maybe three years lat­er and I got to him and he was. He was oh good to see you. It was real­ly very sweet. He was a sweet guy when he was alive and I think it’s so impor­tant for us to real­ize how dying with unre­solved trau­ma it’s not like the death just resolves it.

John Moir: 41:24
No.

Alex Solomon: 41:25
And the more trau­ma you have, the more soul loss you have, the more like­ly you are not to have the pow­er to be able to real­ly move on. And so I think about what I would call an epi­dem­ic of soul loss in our soci­ety.

John Moir: 41:39
and it cre­ates all these oth­er issues because we have all these names for lit­tle kinds of cul­tures, the hun­gry ghosts or what have you, that just can’t move on, can’t get where they need to go, just to bring it back to those who are still walk­ing on this earth I was just think­ing so for exam­ple, any­body who feels that they’ve had a trau­mat­ic expe­ri­ence been threat­ened with a gun, what­ev­er if it’s first time, how would you, what steps would you rec­om­mend in the short term for them to engage in to help to ensure that they won’t be a vic­tim of trau­ma?

Alex Solomon: 42:25
Yeah. So that’s a real­ly good ques­tion and there’s some inter­est­ing new research. You’re going to. You’re going to love this play­ing Tetris. Well, true sto­ry, there’s a new study out that play­ing Tetris reduces the like­li­hood that an acute trau­ma is going to turn into PTSD. And from an EMDR per­spec­tive, it’s that you’re work­ing your brain while you’re think­ing about the trau­ma and so it gets the mem­o­ry to move through your brain through the process. So all the EMDR ther­a­pists I know said, oh, of course that works. But that’s the new research and that’s a pret­ty easy one to go ahead and down­load Tetris on your phone. So I like that. But I think where peo­ple get stuck is the try­ing not to think about it, and some­times it’s so intense that you real­ly can’t think about it and you need to dis­tract your­self. But in Fran­cis Weller talks about this in his book. I’m sure you’ve talked about on the show before, because you’re the one who rec­om­mend­ed it to me the impor­tance of actu­al­ly feel­ing our feel­ings. And there’s so many peo­ple who are so deeply fear­ful of feel­ing feel­ings that you know and we’re pret­ty good, our brains are pret­ty clever. We can box things away, but they don’t ever real­ly stay boxed. They’re still there and that’s when some­times the box gets bumped and open and we get that flood­ing, being able to feel feel­ings and work through it, and I real­ly encour­age peo­ple not to wait until 20 years lat­er, when they’ve been suf­fer­ing, to get some help with it. Whether it’s ther­a­py or shaman­ism or sacro or acupunc­ture or tai chi, what­ev­er kind of modal­i­ty was good to you, it’s not too ear­ly to talk about it. You, when you first expe­ri­ence trau­ma, we expect you to feel all those symp­toms of what we would call acute stress dis­or­der. We don’t diag­nose PTSD until six months after the trau­ma because those symp­toms in the begin­ning are appro­pri­ate. That’s our brain and our body releas­ing the expe­ri­ence. But if it feels debil­i­tat­ing, if you feel like you can’t leave the house, you can’t go to work, you’re con­stant­ly over­whelmed, it’s not ever too ear­ly to get some help with it. And as a ther­a­pist and as a shaman­ic prac­ti­tion­er, I’m very rela­tion­al. I work in a rela­tion­al way and a lot of the time just hav­ing some­body else to wit­ness your expe­ri­ence can be so deeply heal­ing. It brings me back to com­mu­ni­ty and the idea that we’re in this place, in our soci­ety, where we’re just expect­ed to go through these things alone, and I think find­ing a way not to be alone, find­ing a way to be wit­ness often is real­ly the best thing.

John Moir: 45:41
That’s an impor­tant pil­lar for attend­ing a grief cir­cle. It’s not from you, don’t have to think of it as that. I lost my wife or my child or what­ev­er might be big for you. And but to come in and talk about your call at work or to talk about a threat­en­ing event that took place on the street with you or a car acci­dent that you’re in, these are just as big as per­son­al grief. And the grief cir­cles don’t. Many are free, oth­ers charge a small amount just to help cov­er costs. But yeah, and it’s that wit­ness­ing, as you say, that is so impor­tant is the shar­ing of what­ev­er your grief sto­ry is, and I might have men­tioned it on anoth­er show that peo­ple that come to a grief cir­cle to talk about just even the loss of a species or a loss of a beau­ti­ful grove of trees that was tak­en down to be replaced by homes. A lot of peo­ple care very deeply for these things and they grieve deeply. Shar­ing and hav­ing your pain wit­nessed and your sto­ry heard in a safe, non-threat­en­ing envi­ron­ment is big. Just to plug our own lit­tle thing on the soul­ful sor­rows, we have month­ly grief cir­cles and we invite any­body and every­body who feels that they would ben­e­fit by being wit­nessed to come. It’s the third Tues­day of each month. Any­ways, alex, I think we should leave it there, and, like always, I get such joy speak­ing with you and cer­tain­ly appre­ci­ate deeply your thoughts today. And just so for the show notes, we will def­i­nite­ly be fol­low­ing up on Tetris and some oth­er resources. I found that Paul Levine’s book Awak­ing the Tiger was a good place to start with, and what I got out of that was that our bod­ies just want to heal. They know how to heal if we get out of their way and just let our bod­ies not do what they know best.

Alex Solomon: 48:00
Any­ways, I total­ly agree.

John Moir: 48:01
Okay, Any­ways, thank you Alex, and that will speak again.

Alex Solomon: 48:05
Thanks so much, John.

John Moir: 48:06
It’s been won­der­ful to chat with you as we wrap up today’s episode. We’ve explored approach­es to blood and shaman­ic tra­di­tions on clin­i­cal ther­a­py for holis­tic heal­ing approach to trau­ma and grief. Thank you to our guests, Alex Solomon for shar­ing their insights on emer­gency men and ease­ment to psy­chother­a­py’s struc­ture of high­light­ing the sense of com­bin­ing spir­i­tu­al and psy­cho­log­i­cal heal­ing. Please con­tin­ue this con­ver­sa­tion by leav­ing your thoughts on this episode in the com­ments sec­tion below or email me at john at urbangriefshamas.com. So we meet again.