by Jenn Krebs, N.D.
This year I am celebrating twelve years in private practice. My practice has taken many shapes and forms in the past decade. When I moved my practice from New Haven to Guilford two years ago, I made the decision to focus my practice in the two areas where I felt most passionate – mind-body medicine and stress management. In the past two years, I have embarked on a mind-body journey that has found me teaching the concepts of mind-body medicine to both students and patients, writing about mind-body topics, learning how to integrate mind-body techniques such as meditation, breath awareness, and biofeedback into a naturopathic practice, and continuing my own personal mind-body journey.
It has been because of this journey that my practice continues to evolve and take shape. As a physician practicing in the current healthcare environment, I am constantly asking myself the questions where can I be most effective, what do I feel most passionate about, and how best can I contribute to the community in which I practice and live.
In response to these questions, I am shaping and evolving my practice once again to better reflect the work that I am most interested in and passionate about. A Mind-Body Practice is poised to become the first naturopathic medical practice in Connecticut to specialize in Holistic and Integrative Mental Health. My practice is in a unique position, one where I can combine my training and experience in both naturopathic and mind-body medicine. I can offer my patients personalized nutritional and lifestyle counseling, evidence-based and individualized nutrient and herbal protocols, and patient visits and treatment plans that incorporate mind-body techniques, like meditation, breath awareness, guided imagery, and biofeedback.
Specializing in mental health allows my focus to be laser sharp, and at the same time, I can offer much needed options, alternatives, and integrative approaches in the field of mental health. My areas of particular interest will be anxiety disorders (including generalized anxiety, panic, obsessive compulsive disorder, phobias, and PTSD), depression, addictions, and eating disorders. I will continue to treat other conditions where stress and/or emotional upset are aggravating and contributing factors in a patient’s life.
I have recently undergone training in neurotransmitter and inflammatory marker testing. This form of testing combined with the testing I will continue to offer, including adrenal, allergy, and gastrointestinal assessment, allows my practice to offer a unique perspective in understanding how what we eat and how we live our lives affect our gut health, our immune and endocrine systems, and our brain chemistry.
Naming and Branding My Bodywork
I will continue to integrate bodywork into my office visits as it continues to be my passion. I have always believed that body therapies are paramount to understanding how the wellness or sickness of our bodies is reflected in our states of emotional and mental health. After twenty plus years of studying, experiencing, and practicing many forms of bodywork, I am embarking on a new journey and branding my own unique form of body therapy.
Over the years, both my patients and I have struggled to name the work that I do. Because I have called upon and trained in many different forms of bodywork as well as many different mind-body techniques, my bodywork has always been eclectic. Even though I studied Rosen Method Bodywork, I was never truly offering a pure Rosen session to my patients. Even though my studies in craniosacral therapy and the Alexander Technique instruct me every time I put my hands on a patient, I was never true to any one technique. I have studied and integrated chakra theory and assessment into my bodywork, but again it was simply one lens out of many that I looked through when seeing the body. Integrating meditation, imagery, and breath awareness into my bodywork just felt right and natural, but I never had a road map telling me where I was going. What I once saw as a being unfocused or unfaithful to any one particular technique, I now see as simply my process and my journey in creating, naming, and owning the work that I do.
The catalyst for me, to rightfully name the bodywork I do, came over the past two years as I have been teaching students at the University of Bridgeport’s College of Naturopathic Medicine. I would overhear my students using different names for the bodywork that they observe me doing on patients, like Rosen or Alexander; those moments were awkward for me as I knew the work was being misrepresented. While I honor all that I have studied, I am not being honest to call the work I do any one of those techniques. What I do is something different, something my own. A form of bodywork that I now call Narrative Body Therapy, a technique that borrows from and honors all that I have learned and met as a modern dancer, a student, a teacher, and a doctor.
Narrative Body Therapy operates under the assumption that every body has a story to tell, and that given a voice, every body can find increased wellness, vitality, and health. The bodywork focuses on the intersection of our physical experience in our bodies and our life experiences, memories, and stories. Narrative Body Therapy uses concepts of mindfulness to focuses the attention of the patient on his/her body and fosters the patient’s ability to feel, listen, and hear the body. Interestingly, when we feel our body in any given moment, it speaks. Pain, muscle tension, panic, visceral discomfort, anxiety, and numbness are all examples of ways our bodies speak to us. Our bodies speak to us when we feel good too; we have physical sensations of pleasure, excitement, joy, and love, to name just a few. We are conditioned to go to doctors when we feel pain, but rarely are we encouraged to feel, listen and engage in a dialogue with our bodies.
The idea of our bodies speaking is not as unusual as we might think. Our bodies are intuitive and intelligent. It may be difficult to get our heads around, but our body and mind are not separate entities. I have always felt that the act of mindfulness is simply finding the mind within the body. The science behind mind-body medicine has shown again and again that the neurotransmitters and hormones that circulate in our bodies don’t distinguish between a physical body and an emotional or intellectual mind; these chemicals see the mind and body as the same. Mind-body researchers find that the body is “mind;” each cell, each tissue, and each organ has a mind – an ability to listen, learn, understand, feel, and know. My strong interest in the chakra system and my studies of the chakras have led me to understand and see where the architecture of the body and mind intersect, how certain parts of our body are associated with certain aspects of our mental and emotional health and development.
Narrative Body Therapy makes the assumption that our posture, our gait, our breath, and our health have all been influenced by our life story. Our experiences (good, bad, and indifferent) leave an imprint upon our bodies and our consciousness – this imprint over time becomes us. It is an accepted and researched concept that our life experiences imprint upon our psyche and consciousness, why then is it so hard to imagine that they leave an imprint on our bodies as well? Many doctors and researchers in the mental health field study and speak about this imprint on the body in different ways, however their work struggles to get the respect and attention it deserves.
Narrative Body Therapy is the result of my studies and work, both clinically and personally, over the past twenty plus years. A Narrative Body Therapy session is process-oriented and interactive. Patients coming to my office for bodywork are individuals interested in initiating a deeper connection with themselves and their bodies. A dialogue with the body begins by feeling and listening to the body; the dialogue is fostered and supported with the help of touch. The touch in Narrative Body Therapy serves two purposes: to encourage and help a patient be mindful and feel themselves more deeply, and to encourage and facilitate a release of both muscular and structural patterns of tension.
The dialogue between the patient and his/her body is not always verbal. When a patient is encouraged to feel his/her body, images, sounds, feelings, and emotions can surface along with or instead of words. Our life stories can be told through our bodies, however the story may not always be linear or verbal. It can be spoken through feelings, experiences, sensations, images, emotions, pictures, colors, sounds, thoughts, and words; the important thing is that we listen and hear what is coming to the surface.
In my years as a dancer and then a doctor, I have encountered other mind-body or bodywork techniques that explore life’s imprint on the body. Where my work is unique, I believe, is that it combines touch therapy with the active participation of a patient, integrating imagery, mindfulness, dialogue, and narrative. By starting with the assumption that every body has a story to tell and then offering a safe space and path by which that story can be told, the body begins to awaken to the possibility of expression — an opportunity to express itself, release itself, free itself. When I work with patients in my office, I see shifts, transformations, releases, and lasting changes that occur in people’s lives when they listen to and hear what their bodies are saying.
It is my challenge, my passion, and my purpose, that through Narrative Body Therapy, I continue to study and explore ways to give voice and expression to the body. A dialogue that we can call on every day, to not just understand and relieve our pain, but to feel comfort, find pleasure, and enjoy wellness in our physical and mental lives.
In attempting to name the bodywork that I do, I researched many words that felt like they accurately represented my work. In my research, I came across a type of medical training called Narrative Medicine; it is taught and a master’s degree is offered at Columbia University in New York City. The premise of the training is how to incorporate a patient’s life story and underlying value system into that patient’s treatment. Narrative Medicine makes a patient’s story, his/her words, thoughts, feelings and beliefs important and worthy of being told and being heard. Patients are asked to describe how their illness has affected their life, how they relate to their own bodies, how their relationships with their doctors have impacted their wellness or disease, and what values, ethics and life circumstances have meaning for them. The patient him/herself becomes a therapeutic tool. This concept of “narrative” felt right.
And so Narrative Body Therapy is born, a birth marked by years of curiosity and respect for the intersection of mind and body. Narrative Medicine, just like Naturopathic Medicine and Mind-Body Medicine, speaks to and instructs my experience with patients. Our body, our voice, our self matters; we must be heard in order to be well. I’m excited to see where my practice goes from here.
This fall watch for my website and new promotional materials to reflect these changes in my practice. I am in the process of branding my bodywork and will keep you posted on my progress. Any help in spreading the word about my new direction and focus is greatly appreciated. Please do not hesitate to contact me with any questions.