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Yoga Therapy – A Path to Healing and Connection

Written By: Courtney Strong, LMHC, CDP- Director, Clinical Manager

Yoga is a practice of many elements focused on the physical, mental and spiritual. In EHN Seattle’s Yoga Therapy group, clients cultivate both a sense of integration between physical, mental and emotional experience.  In addition, clients learn how to differentiate between one’s self and an experience.

The Connection Between Yoga & Recovery

Yoga offers several benefits towards recovery. Practicing yoga allows you to be present and attentive to an experience while simultaneously providing you the ability to observe, not react to or feel controlled by the experience. Often with addiction people become adversaries to themselves. Individuals can physically and emotionally become disconnected. Yoga can give you the opportunity to create a connection using mindfulness, breathe awareness and body awareness.


Mindfulness is a foundation to yoga and essential to the yoga groups at EHN Seattle. By using mindfulness, a person can observe experiences, thoughts, emotions and sensations in real time, as they happen without judgment or reaction to them.

Author and spiritual teacher Pema Chodron describes this experience as, “You are the sky, everything else is just the weather.” Individuals often forget that they’re not their thoughts. Thoughts are just a part of them.  People tend to get caught up in a thought or a feeling and lose perspective beyond it. When it comes to addiction, cravings are an example of that. It’s a sensation and a series of thoughts. Part of the work in recovery is to observe cravings as they arise with the perspective that they are an experience that will pass. When individuals get caught up in the experience itself they react impulsively. People will use behaviors that are automatic instead of responding with a sense of perspective and understanding for what’s really need.

In EHN’s yoga therapy groups, the practice of mindfulness is developed through breath and body awareness. We observe the quality of how we breathe and realize how we feel in our own skin, taking note of where there is physical tension or pain. Our bodies carry memories of experiences from our history and impact our choices about how we treat ourselves.

David Emerson and Elizabeth Hopper, PhD, authors of Overcoming Trauma through Yoga: Reclaiming Your Body, wrote about the effects of movement and breathing practiced in yoga and how they facilitate the healing of physical trauma that has been stored in our bodies as physical tension, restriction or pain. According to this book, individuals become physically and mentally hard, increasingly restricted and judgmental over time, because instead of compassionately paying attention to their experiences they run from themselves through addictions.

Practices of breath and body awareness create the possibility for softening, releasing and healing because they cultivate space in our experience to observe and pay attention to experiences without collapsing into judgment or reaction. Out of that space of attention and observation we come to a sense of connection, of care for ourselves, and find ways to address what we really need in order to heal.

The Unexpected Benefits of Yoga

Often what initially draws individuals to explore yoga is the physical side of it, increasing strength and flexibility. Yoga has a profound physical impact. It can increase flexibility after a single class, decrease chronic pain and improve strength within a few months. Yoga philosophy conceptualizes the self as composed of layers (physical, psychological, breath, spiritual) and therefore has a profound impact on all aspects of our experience.

Harvard Medical School has been studying the impact of yoga on physiological and mental functioning since the 1970s. They have produced studies on Yoga’s ability to improve cardiovascular health and significantly decrease symptoms of anxiety and depression resulting from a consistent yoga practice.

Yoga groups at the Edgewood Health Network involve two parts. First, a gentle yoga practice that includes stretching, mild strength-building, breathing practices, mindfulness and meditation. The second part is to provide a time to process. Following the yoga practice group members are invited to reflect on their experience and discuss insights into their recovery process.

Paramanhansa Yogananda, one of several teachers to introduce yoga to North America in the early 1900s, describes the purpose of yoga to condition the body to be able to sit and be still. Yoga therapy groups at EHN Seattle features a combination of movement and stillness, self-reflection and group processing with four goals in mind:


If this sounds like something you’d like to try, give us a call at 206-402-4115. Our Yoga Therapy Groups currently run on Tuesdays throughout the day and evening.

Courtney-seattle_300pxA part of Edgewood Seattle since the summer of 2012, Courtney Strong specializes in the treatment of trauma and addiction, as well as other related mental health disorders. Courtney is passionate about the opportunity Edgewood offers individuals in the Seattle area, regularly revamping services to provide the highest sophistication in treatment of substance use disorders.


After Continuing Care: A New Option to Help You Evolve in Your Long Term Recovery

By: Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager- EHN Vancouver

Over the years, we have watched our clients successfully complete Continuing Care (formerly aftercare) and set off on the next stage of their journey in recovery. For some, this means stronger commitments in 12 step recovery, while for others it means therapy or a support group. Some folks leave the Continuing Care program and are fine with maintaining their recovery lifestyle using a variety of sources. Others ask us, “What comes next?”

This question was posed to me about a year ago by some of our most committed and motivated clients who were coming to the end of their year in the Continuing Care program at EHN Vancouver. Coincidentally, we were already looking at expanding our services and starting a ‘post-Continuing Care’ group seemed like the right step, at the right time.

This group, which really has no name but is sometimes referred to as ‘second stage’ around the office, is quite different from our regular groups:

1. Membership is open to anyone who completed an aftercare program, no matter which treatment program they came from. This includes inpatient, IOP or our family programs.

2. We accept folks who are not affiliated with Edgewood but are in recovery.

3. Our members are steadfast in their commitment to recovery. All clients have abstinence under their belts and are active in working a meaningful recovery.

4. This group is united by its commitment to ‘going deeper’, their curiousity to learn, and willingness to take risks towards greater intimacy with each other and with the people in their lives.

5. In early recovery, a fear of relapse and being ‘sick and tired of feeling sick and tired” is often what motivates compliance and successful abstinence. “What comes next?” is about understanding and growth: How am I perceived by others? What do I need to change to be more real, more authentic? Where does my stuff originate? What am I willing to do to really change, to grow, and to be more fully who I am?

‘Second-stage is a process group, which means that it can be as much about the members of the group as it is about what goes on outside the meeting, in the members’ lives. We have a structure that includes checking in with each other, being available for issues that arise within the meeting, and applying what is learned to other parts of life. Emphasis is placed on applying the knowledge gained from experiencing intimacy in the group to other meaningful relationships.

EHN Vancouver uses processes and activities which reflect the interests of the group. Some of the topics covered include the similarities between the “The Hero’s Journey” and Recovery and Triangulation in Relationships. The philosophy of the group focuses on manifestation. Often what happens in group therapy is a reflection of what a person experiences in their real life. Therefore, what is learned in group can be applied to resolve issues on the outside.

What happens during group therapy is a “microcosm”-  a snapshot of other issues. An analogy using the idea of ‘holograms’ can help explain the process. Holograms, from the Greek “whole message” are images of an object burned onto photographic plates. A hologram uses lasers set in an array that can capture the 3 dimensions of the object. When you look at  a hologram, you can see how similar the view the dimensionality of the original object is in 3 dimensions. When a hologram breaks, each piece reflects the whole image of the hologram! Similarly, the group interaction is a piece, a ‘reflection’ of what the member brings to the group from the outside.

Along with recovery and curiosity, members of the group share a willingness to introspect, to be willing to sit with feedback and the desire to be accountable, knowing that accountability is the check on behavior and a mirror to how we make choices in life.

Are you looking for a new way to support your long-term recovery? This post continuing care group may be right for you. It takes place on Thursday mornings from 10AM to noon at our Vancouver office. Contact me – Nelson Sacristan, Clinical Manager – at 604-734-1100 for more details about registration.

Nelson Sacristan, MA, CSAT, Clinical Manager of EHN Vancouver holds a Master’s Degree in Counselling Psychology as well as certification in substance abuse counseling. He has been working in the addictions field for 20 years. Nelson sees his role as helping our clients and their families to understand the nature of addictions, and to facilitate discovery of their inner strengths and integrity. As a Certified Sex Addiction Therapist, he is also available to help men and women struggling with compulsive sexual behaviours

The Reality About Group Therapy

Written By Sophia Scholtes, BSc

Sharing thoughts and feelings with a group of strangers. It sounds a little intimidating doesn’t it? As a professional who has been in group therapy sessions, I can tell you that group therapy has many benefits. Having people listen to your problems or feelings can seem intrusive and perhaps, overwhelming at first, but you really don’t know the power of a group therapy until you’ve partaken in it.

Participating in group therapy will offer you a sense of hope as group members can support you by sharing their personal experiences and struggles with you.  You learn how to rely on others for help, a habit which is crucial beyond treatment. Self-reliance leaves room for dysfunctional thinking. In group therapy, people identify unhealthy behaviours in others often what is not obvious in themselves. As people are in different stages of treatment their participation offers a richer therapeutic experience and more therapeutic traction than one to one therapy.

Group therapy offers a safe space for you to work on your problems and emotional struggles. By listening and sharing between people with different backgrounds and personalities, you’ll gain insight into how addiction affects everyone’s lives. In making these interpersonal connections, a perspective is also offered on how your disease is affecting your present behaviours and thinking. The group helps explore these thoughts and behaviours, which have festered in addiction, relating them to their own experiences. People then give feedback on what they are hearing and seeing from each person.

Some behaviours fall outside your own awareness, which is why feedback from a group is essential. Not only can they provide you with a source of second-hand information, but the group allows you to learn about how they react to them and how they can relate to you.

The concept of using group therapy as a tool to help you makes a lot of sense. Notoriously prone to excruciating bouts of insecurity and over-reactions to day to day life situations, addicts are often deemed anti-social. So group therapy work can help you get more comfortable being around people. That offers an alternative to isolation – that all-too- often deadly cousin of relapse.

Lauren Melzack, MSc, CAC, a long time addictions counsellor at Edgewood Treatment Centre in Nanaimo, British Columbia, says group therapy is an invaluable tool for her staff. Patients at Edgewood’s residential centre attend group therapy almost every day for at least an hour.

“Group therapy is particularly helpful for those who deluded themselves into thinking they can do it on their own. One addict does not have the power to fight this disease, neither does one counselor,” says Melzack.

Given that it is a basic human need to belong and function within a network of people, working on relationships and communication in a group is essential in your recovery process. People affected by addiction often grow isolated and disconnected from friends and family. The reality is that you need to learn how to become honest and open in communication. By doing so, you’ll begin to take ownership for how unmanageable your life has become.

Of course that level of honesty is not always easy. It might be difficult for you to discuss your thoughts and feelings openly and trust your group, but group therapy obviously offers a valuable opportunity to overcome your inhibitions. It allows you to practice healthy relationship dynamics. Group, therefore is beneficial to everyone, as attitudes and behaviours are confronted and challenged.

Working through your emotions such as guilt and shame, the group works as an emotional support network for you and everyone else there, while also holding each member accountable across sessions. The group provides a space of understanding and acceptance, rebuilding a lost sense of self-worth. The group therapy environment is a place of emotional healing from trauma or adverse life circumstances. Moreover, as uncomfortable feelings arise in the moment an alternative experience of coping with them is made. The discomfort in those feelings you’re experiencing has often been regulated by drugs, alcohol or unhealthy behaviours and driven addiction in the past. In support of the group, you can learn to express, recognize, and work through the underlying issues at hand.

Melzack says having a qualified facilitator is crucial when it comes to leading group therapy.

“The role of the group facilitator is to avoid traumatizing group members with the information shared. The group is about confronting feelings rather than exploring details of trauma,” she says.

And group is helpful not just for those doing the talking. As you begin to hear about the experiences of others it will become clear that you are not alone. This produces a sense of compassion and empathy, while creating a sense of community and belonging.

Is group therapy suitable for everyone? Arguments could be made either way. The only way for you to find out is if you show up with a willingness to get well and participate in the process. While everyone have their own needs and backgrounds, each is equally valuable in their contribution to the learning process.

Group Therapy is an important part of Edgewood Health Network’s inpatient and outpatient treatment programs. We offer guided group therapy for open honesty in a safe, supportive environment. To learn more about our programs click here or give us a call.

Sophia is a student from Leiden University currently doing her Clinical Psychology practicum at Edgewood Treatment Centre. She is set to earn her Master’s degree in February 2016.

5 Reasons Why You Need Continuing Care After You’ve Completed a Drug Rehab Program

Congratulations on completing your addiction treatment program! You have an opportunity to start fresh at a new life. Your therapist recommends you enroll in a continuing care program, but you thought you were finished with therapy. Perhaps, you’re wondering what is continuing care and why is it important after treatment? You are not alone.

Many of our clients experience the same sense of gratitude and peace after they’ve completed a residential addiction treatment program, which is a great start, but it’s a different world out there now. You may have started to change your behaviour, but the rest of the world has remained the same since you’ve been gone. For some people, it can be daunting and overwhelming to realize that perhaps you’ve hurt people and caused some strain in your work relationships as a result of your addiction. It’s important that you continue to work on your newly acquired life skills and use the coping tools you learned in treatment to help you work through these challenges. Having the proper support network can also be a positive influence and reminder of why you are in recovery and how to use those new life skills to stay sober.

As part of the Continuing Care Plan at Edgewood Health Network, group therapy, online aftercare, sober living houses and outpatient services are the many ways people can experience continuing care. The strength of continuing care comes strongly from participating in group therapy. This can help you work through and develop a plan on how to handle real, high-risk situations so that you stay on your recovery path. We sat down with one of our addiction counsellor’s from EHN’s Bellwood Health Services, Susan Barnes, who is a part of the Continuing Care Program, to get a better understanding on what it looks like and the benefits it can offer to people who have completed a residential treatment program.

According to Susan, “continuing care is crucial in maintaining sobriety.  In treatment, people gain awareness, perspective, knowledge, raise their self-esteem, sense of self-worth and efficacy.  However, once back in their familiar surroundings with the same stressors as before – lacking the constant support of the treatment team and co-clients as well as the structure to their daily life that inpatient treatment provides, the gains could easily slip and people often find themselves back in the same old way of thinking.”

With the help of Susan Barnes, we developed a list of five reasons why you need continuing care after completing an addiction residential treatment program:

  1. 1. Support: A continuing care program can provide you with a safe and supportive environment to discuss the challenges and benefits of being in recovery in a non-judgmental setting because the people listening to you are in recovery themselves.
  2. 2. Hope: Continuing care is an encouraging maintenance strategy that can give you the hope and motivation to keep going and stay positive when times get tough. Listening to other people’s stories can be a positive experience for you and a reminder of why you chose recovery in the first place.
  3. 3. Accountability: For many people, continuing care can be seen as a step down program from their previous structured schedule they followed while in treatment. It’s a transition from treatment to everyday living that will help you stay successful in your recovery. It provides you with a support network that keeps you accountable and honest with yourself. At the Edgewood Health Network, the Continuing Care Program has an addiction counselor and other people who are in recovery meet weekly for group therapy and random drug testing. The dynamics of the group setting is what keeps people inspired, honest and self-aware of how you feel and how you’re coping with life’s daily challenges. These are people that will also call you on your bluff and tell you like it is when they think you are being dishonest. Your sober friends can provide insight and help you understand the behavioural patterns that are red-flags for slip- ups.
  4. 4. Increase in Self-Efficacy: Participating in a regular continuing care program will give you the confidence and a stronger sense of commitment to remain sober and practice a healthier lifestyle. When you witness other people in recovery cope successfully in difficult situations, it gives you the courage and self-assurance to believe that you too can stay strong. Every week when you go back to meet with your group, you’re acknowledging how much you’ve accomplished, how much stronger you are becoming in your recovery and how much more determination you have to quickly recover from any setbacks you encounter.
  5. 5. Tools & Strategies for High-Risk Situations: Understanding your behavioural patterns to help you make better choices was something you learned while in treatment, but will be practiced more so in continuing care. Continuing care teaches you how to identify and handle situations to prevent you from relapsing. Divorce, health problems, and work-related issues can all be triggers for stress, mood swings, and fatigue.  Having a healthy and thorough plan on how to manage those triggers will help you to be mindful of your emotions and feel prepared for the future.