Currents is published monthly by Windhorse Integrative Mental Health of Northampton, 211 North St., Suite 1, Northampton, MA 01060. Chief Executive Officer is Victoria Yoshen. For questions, concerns and suggestions about Currents, contact Editor Cherryl Jensen, 603-313-0181 or CJensen@windhorseimh.org.
New Look for Currents
This issue of Currents features a new, cleaner and simpler format. After positive feedback from respondents to the survey sent in December (see related story), Currents will continue to feature many of the same sections but the design and process have been streamlined so that Currents can be produced in-house, which saves time and money. Feedback on the “new” Currents is welcome.
Varied Experiences Help Gary Blaser Understand Himself on a Deeper Level
Serving as a cook on a submarine, navigating a sailboat across the Atlantic Ocean or working as a massage therapist may not look like a career path for a psychotherapist and team leader at Windhorse. But all these life experiences, says Gary Blaser, have contributed in important ways to his work at Windhorse and helped him to understand himself in a deeper way.
In the presence of authentic leadership
A native of Connecticut, Gary joined the Navy when he was 18 years old. For two-and-a-half years, he was the cook on a submarine stationed in San Diego, California. For as long as 60 days at a time, the sub traveled to ports around the world.
Gary didn’t seem much of those port cities, however. “I was drinking at the time. I saw the inside of a lot of bars.”
The work on the submarine was a mix, he says. “I felt I was in a place of real service but I also felt small and not fully engaged.”
The captain picked up on Gary’s feelings, he says and told him there was no shame in his work. “You are doing exactly what you were trained to do.”
“I felt invited to be who I was in that moment,” Gary says. “I knew then that I was in the presence of authentic leadership.”
Challenged by forces greater than ourselves
After the Navy, Gary’s stepfather wanted to sell his sailboat in England, so Gary and two other guys joined him on a sailing trip across the Atlantic. They ran into tropical storms and waves as high as 25 or 30 feet.
“We were knocked down twice,” Gary says, which means the mast of the sailboat was at a 90 degree angle. At one point, Gary was simply holding onto a sheet winch when the boat threatened to go over. “It was one of my best lessons in fear. I was terrified I was going to die. ‘OK, today’s the day,’ I said to myself. And as soon as I accepted that, the terror dropped maybe 80 percent and I was able to do the next thing – which was to just hold on.
“We don’t know who we are,” Gary adds, “until we are challenged by forces greater than ourselves. That’s when you see parts of yourself most intimately.”
After that, Gary went to community college, thinking he might go into restaurant management. “I aimed low because I didn’t think I was smart enough to succeed in college,” he says.
Finding men to father and mentor him
An important part of Gary’s growth has been getting sober and finding men to support him. Though he stopped drinking after the Navy, he started smoking pot again in the early ‘90s and became addicted. At the time, a close friend had died of cancer and, four months later, his brother was killed in a motorcycle accident.
Gary had lost his father when he was nine years old, his stepbrother at 13 and a friend at 16, all killed in motor vehicle accidents, either a car or motorcycle.
“All the people in my life who died were men,” Gary says. “I had a need for fathering and mentoring.”
After getting sober in 1994, Gary joined men’s groups, which he found especially nourishing. He now facilitates the “Happy Hour” group at Windhorse and has led scores of men’s groups through his private psychotherapy practice.
A way of being really human
Gary held a series of odd jobs before enrolling in massage school in 1997. He ended up working as a massage therapist in Connecticut for 15 years. One particular group of clients both challenged and affected him deeply, he says. He gave massages to developmentally disabled people who lived in a group home. Most were non-verbal and many were in wheelchairs.
“It was not about a specific massage technique,” he says. “There was no feedback so it was more about presence and energy. It was a way of being really human and accepting the humanity in front of you.”
How to be a therapist “in the chair”
One of Gary’s massage clients was a woman who he describes as a pain in the a__. “She was whiny and needy, “he says, “and nothing was ever right. Yet, after she was diagnosed with cancer, she turned into a lovely sage.”
After she died, her daughter asked Gary to have tea with her. She gave him a card with $1500 in it to thank him for his work with her mother. Gary used that money to begin studying at Hartford Family Institute (HFI) in Connecticut. HFI focuses on body-centered psychotherapy and energy work.
“I had been wanting to go there and be trained as a therapist,” he says. “This was an example of me saying what I wanted and the world saying this is where I want you. If these things are congruent, magic happens.”
For nine years, from 2002-2011, Gary traveled to HFI every Wednesday. “It afforded me a deep sense of integration,” he says. “I learned how to be a therapist in the chair – to listen energetically and connect to the experience of the person in the moment.”
It was also a way, Gary says, “to work out the transference of wounds and to put my wounds to the side so that I could have a real engagement and experience with the client.”
While training at HFI, Gary enrolled at Vermont College, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology in 2006 and a master’s in clinical mental health counseling in 2009. He took a job at the Behavioral Health Network in Springfield, where he worked before joining Windhorse in 2011.
Polishing the rough edges
“I feel like, at Windhorse, I’m polishing the rough work I did at HFI,” Gary says. “I appreciate this environment because it takes the mental health of the practitioner seriously and treats clients with dignity and with a deep sense that we’re all worthy.
“It’s not easy work, but I like having the time to connect with clients and really sink into a relationship. And the collegial relationships are very satisfying. It’s a place where, when conflicts and difficulties happen, there is the space to deal with them rather than pretend they are not happening.”
Married with children
In his 30s, Gary say, he couldn’t imagine begin a father. Now, at 43, he is married and has two children, Josephine, almost three years old, and Giovanni, nine months. He finds that he has “settled into the quality of being a father.” Where once he was an avid skier, runner and dancer, now he “doesn’t feel called into the world so loudly. I want to be with my family.”
And, lucky for him, he says, his cooking skills are no longer in demand. He has married into a “foody” family and finds the holiday meals to be “lovely.”
Survey Shows that Profiles, News and Photos are Favorite Parts of Currents
The feature stories on Windhorse community members, currents news and photos are the favorite sections of Currents based on the survey that went out to recipients in December. Twenty-seven people responded, about 25 percent of the 106 people who received the survey. Overall, Currents received mostly positive responses.
“Having such a newsletter is a great means to connect and communicate,” said one person.
“It’s a good format and a positive statement on our community that may serve us well over time and even influence us in fruitful ways,” said another.
Most respondents read Currents
Sixty percent of the respondents said they read Currents. Not surprisingly, the biggest reason people don’t read it or read only bits and pieces is lack of time.
One person commented: “Although I haven’t had time to read it fully each time, I find it interesting, well written and think the choice of articles has been a resource for the community. I also think the biographies of community members are interesting and create a broader picture of the community.”
Profiles, current news and photos were rated numbers first, second and third respectively by respondents. However, other sections were not far behind. Transitions and “Did You Know?” came in a close fourth and fifth while “Health and Wellness” was less popular.
One person said: “I’m not anti-wellness. I just think there may be other sources for that information…”
Achieving goals also ranked high
Respondents ranked Currents three (out of five) or higher on achieving its ngoals. The highest rankings went to: “providing information on Windhorse community members,”“enhancing a sense of community” and “providing information on current events.”
Other goals that also ranked high were: “serving as a central source of information,” “providing information on the Board of Directors,” “providing information on administrative steering decisions,” and “providing information on Windhorse history and practices.”
“It is important to keep the information behind decisions and process alive somewhere,” said one respondent.
What should we cut?
When asked which sections might be cut from Currents, several people suggested cutting down on the length of sections rather than eliminating any. Others commented that not every section needs to be included in each issue. “Health and Wellness” and “Did You Know?” could be omitted, some said, if sections had to be cut. “Really, though, I’d keep all of it…since people can just skip sections anyway,” one person said.
At least two parents of clients responded to the survey. One said, “Please keep sending me Currents even though I am no longer officially a parent at Windhorse.” Another commented, “Profiles is informative to get a better picture of who is working with my son.”
Finally, people were asked what changes they’d like to see in Currents, if any. Thirty-one percent thought Currents should be shorter. More than fifty percent had various suggestions. Some of those suggestions include:
* More features that would be helpful to clients.
* Make hard copies of Currents available for each team leader to share with clients.
* Put copies of Currents in a binder and make available in a central place.
We will try to do all three. Hard copies will be given to team leaders beginning with this issue. And a binder of all copies of Currents will be available in a central place.
Thanks to everyone who offered their opinions and suggestions. As always, comments and suggestions are welcome.
Gender Diversity Training Raises Issues of Identity and Language
Four elements of gender identity — sex, gender, gender expression and sexuality – were outlined in gender diversity training at Windhorse in February. It was presented to Windhorse staff by Liz C., Windhorse team leader, and Shannon S., a Northampton therapist and former Windhorse board member.
The training was part of an ongoing series of conversations at Windhorse about identity in its many forms such as ethnicity, sexuality, class, power, etc. This session focused on gender as a construct, that is, not something that is set in stone but is influenced by myriads of factors. Yet, our society continues to identify gender in a binary way, male versus female, rather than as a continuum between male and female which may include such identities as intersex, gender queer, androgynous, bisexual, non-conforming and more.
The trainers noted that those who have “gender privilege” — identifying as male or female — have the option of not thinking about gender. Yet, for those who are gender-nonconforming, they have to think about it. Identifying themselves differently can be a matter of survival.
The four elements of gender identity
Sex: Sex is classification as male or female and is usually assigned at birth based on genitalia. It is assumed that sex is a given but there are actually many other characteristics that help define one’s sex including chromosomes, hormones and reproductive organs. Yet, female or male is the primary way we are categorized from birth and leads to many other assumptions about individuals.
Gender identity: Gender is “what you feel like,” your internal sense of your own gender.
Gender expression: How you present yourself to the world is gender expression and may include things like clothing and hair style.
Sexual orientation: Sexual orientation is based on to whom you are attracted and has nothing to do with gender.
In addition to self-identities that have to do with gender, there are many other components of one’s identity: religion, ethnicity, education, class, age, physique and many more. All compose one’s overall self-identity and change through different ages and experiences.
In addition to understanding the different components of gender identity, the training covered the importance of allowing people to choose how to identify themselves. This may include a different name from the one given at birth as well as different pronouns. The language around gender is evolving as organizations and individuals start to look at gender as fluid rather than assume it is fixed. Some organizations, particularly universities, have adopted plural pronouns in place of gender specific pronouns (see chart).
Windhorse has already designated its restrooms as gender neutral. Eric F., admissions director, said changes in the client admissions form are being discussed such as allowing self-identification beyond male/female and allowing clients to indicate which pronouns they prefer.
The trainers emphasized the importance of not “adjusting” for new clients and staff but already having a welcoming landscape, a shift from a quality of tolerance to one of inclusion.
The discussion also included the intersections of gender oppression with other systems of oppression such as racism, classism, sexism, ageism, ableism and more, as well as how people, no matter what their gender identity, can be activists and allies in resisting gender oppression.
A quality of curiosity, confusion and self-exploration
Victoria Y., Windhorse executive director, described the training as focusing on self-exploration rather than a sense of trying to understand “them.”
“It was confusing in many ways,” she said, “and raised lots of questions. I never even knew I had a choice in how to define my gender. I think we all recognized how much we have to learn and that learning about ourselves will lead to being more inclusive.”
Board Allocates Funds for Portland Site While Seeking Clarification on Several Governance Issues
The Windhorse Board of Directors allocated $500,000 in start-up funds for the creation of a site in Portland, Oregon. The project, which has been under discussion for several years, will be led by Lisa T., executive director of Windhorse in San Luis Obispo, California.
Though it is hoped that the Portland site can open within the year, the Board identified several issues related to governance and autonomy that must be accomplished in lock-step with the development of the site. It created board committees to work on the issues along with Windhorse staff. The issues include:
• Criteria for performance reviews of executive director.
• Updated job descriptions for key clinical staff.
• Updated policies for hiring, firing and promotions.
• Updated grievance policy.
The Board also set its meeting schedule for the year. It will meet every other month in regular session and every other month in executive session, open only to Board members. It also decided to invite a non-management staff person from Windhorse to attend the regular board meetings.
Collaging a Unique Art Form
Several Windhorse community members get together weekly at Still Point to do collaging as a group. Led by Marietta S., longtime collager and co-manager of Still Point, the group meets 4-6 p.m. on Thursdays.
“Collage is a unique art form,” Marietta says. “It involves pulling out images that move us and putting them together into a whole. It does not require acute artistic skill but does involve operating from a place other than the thinking mind. It’s about noticing color, texture and shape in a new way. It makes us pay attention to how things can combine to create something new.”
For more about collaging or the group, contact Marietta at firstname.lastname@example.org.