We’re pleased to introduce our blog readers to Debbie Augenthaler, a New York City psychotherapist who specializes in trauma, grief, and loss. She is an author and speaker who has the creativity, passion, credentials, and capacity to truly aid others in finding relief from suffering.
Debbie earned her MA in Counseling for Mental Health and Wellness from New York University and completed a post-graduate Advanced Trauma Studies program from the Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy. In 2012 she received the NYU Steinhardt Award for Outstanding Clinical Service.
Her upcoming book, You Are Not Alone: A Heartfelt Guide to Grief, Healing, and Hope will be published in Spring of 2018.
JH: Debbie, what attracted you to work in a helping profession?
DA: I’ve always been interested in psychology—the whys and hows of becoming “who” we are.
When I was in my early twenties, my father died suddenly of a heart attack at age forty-four. He was a Vietnam veteran who suffered from PTSD. I started seeing a psychologist who helped me to understand how my father’s mental illness impacted me, and began to heal from the unresolved traumas I had experienced throughout my life. Those several years of therapy were life-changing and tremendously healing. I returned to the same therapist twelve years later, after my husband Jim died. The work we did together was instrumental in helping me during my grieving, healing, and finding my way in a new life.
After many years in the financial industry, and much healing, I followed my heart and made the decision to change careers to help others in the way my therapist had helped me.
JH: It is rare for anyone to go through life without encountering the experience of loss and grief. What makes it possible for some people to experience a trauma or major loss, heal and move forward, while some have a more difficult time or develop PTSD?
DA: There are many factors that make some people more resilient than others. Too many for this blog—but in short: previous traumas, feeling of safety and security throughout childhood, social and environmental factors, genetic predisposition, a healthy nervous system, and having a good support system. In addition to the factors that contribute to resilience, the single most important factor in preventing PTSD is receiving immediate care and support.
DA: Transcendental Meditation centers and calms the nervous system, which is a key player in the trauma response. Regular TM practice develops a capacity for increased resilience, faster recovery from stress, and helps to manage and reduce anxiety. TM also reduces insomnia and can help practitioners get more restful and rejuvenating sleep. A good night’s sleep is essential for overall health and well-being, as being tired diminishes our ability to manage daily life stressors.
JH: In dealing with their pain, women may turn to drug or alcohol abuse or other unhealthy behaviors. What do you suggest to women who are going in those directions and how do you see TM helping in avoiding those counter-productive choices.
DA: One of the benefits of regular TM practice is developing the capacity to manage and reduce anxiety, a leading cause of drug and alcohol abuse. When we turn to drugs, alcohol, or other unhealthy behaviors it’s often because we’re trying to numb emotional pain and avoid overwhelming emotions. It’s a way of self-medicating. While these behaviors may help us to forget in the moment, the issues we are trying to avoid do not go away, but become complicated by addiction. People who are using drugs to manage the pain of grief, loss, or trauma would benefit by learning Transcendental Meditation and should connect with a therapist who is trained in both areas, as this requires specialized treatment and care.
JH: With regular twice daily meditation, the inner silence and wholeness found when one transcends the active mind in TM becomes increasingly a feature of daily life. This peace is a spontaneous basis for emotional balance and flexibility, even in the midst of difficult times. How would you describe the relationship between these benefits from TM and the benefits of psychotherapy?
DA: The benefits of TM that you’ve mentioned—peace, emotional balance, and flexibility—are essential for a calm nervous system. For psychotherapy to be effective, especially when working with trauma, stabilization is key. It’s the foundation of any trauma treatment. Having the ability to self-stabilize enables clients to enter into deeper work in therapy. TM practitioners have increased ability and tools to stabilize in the face of the stress that treatment can present when working through difficult experiences.
JH: Anything else you’d like to share with us?
DA: Women spend so much of their time taking care of the needs of others they often forget to take care of themselves. Combine this with the stressors of daily life and you have a good recipe for burn-out if you don’t practice self-care. Taking time to recharge and nurture yourself helps develop inner resources vital for a sense of well-being. I consider my TM practice to be the foundation of my self-care, along with exercise, writing, reading, and listening to music, to name just a few. Taking time for yourself and doing activities that bring you pleasure are key to enjoying a balanced and healthy lifestyle. And finding a little humor whenever you can, helps!
Janet Hoffman is the executive director of TM for Women Professionals in the U.S.