Northport VA Medical Center
Northport VAMC’s Mind-Body Program utilizes holistic healing to treat the mind, body, and spirit of its veterans. And it does so with impressive results.
Established in 2011, this program within Psychiatry Service uses yoga, Tai-chi, Reiki, guided imagery, reflexology, meditation, and more to help ease pain, stress and anxiety, insomnia, and depression by teaching veterans how their mind and bodies are connected.
One modality—yoga—saw a 10 percent reduction in pain and a 24 percent reduction in stress for participating veterans on the PTSD unit during 2014, according to recent data.
“I find it acts like a psychological reinforcement for me,” said John, a participant of Yoga for Veterans. “I don’t want to ruin my body through food or alcohol. It’s like hypnosis. It brings my body and mind to the point of relaxation.”
William, a Vietnam veteran, found yoga to be a possible way to avoid knee surgery through increased flexibility.
“I didn’t know there were muscles that could be loosened up like this,” William said. “Muscles I never knew I had are loosening up. After doing yoga three times, my knee feels better. I’m actually considering not having the surgery.”
Results, of course, vary from patient to patient, said Richelle Rapaport, RN, holistic nurse, and Tai chi-Qigong instructor. But the program has led to some significant patient improvements.
“It has been documented that much of our illness is related to stress,” said Rapaport. “When a person can learn to lower stress, the symptoms are reduced. The goal of the Mind-Body modalities is to help veterans achieve deeper levels of relaxation and develop new skills for stress management.”
Reiki, a holistic treatment that harnesses universal energy, is a technique that also has helped patients find relief from various ailments.
“In a Reiki session, the provider encourages relaxation by balancing the body’s energy” said Mary Chereskin, RN and Reiki instructor. “It helps people with emotional pain release some of their trauma, which in turn helps with sleep, anxiety, and depression.”
At first it was met with skepticism, but after explaining it on the units, more and more people became interested in it. The Mind Body program has trained more than 100 VAMC staff in Reiki, from nurses to social workers to recreation therapists. Additional staff has been trained in clinical meditation, tai chi, reflexology, comfort touch, guided imagery and aromatherapy.
“One veteran with insomnia fell asleep on the table after one Reiki session,” Chereskin said. “He said, ‘I like this. When can I come back for another session?’”
An interesting Reiki effect is that it tends to bring emotions to the forefront, thus getting patients to open up and talk more. She said that some therapists have requested she perform Reiki on patients prior to an appointment precisely for this reason.
Chereskin said she performed Reiki on a combat veteran who wept afterward. She said he would feel bad if he didn’t cry at the end of each session because it felt so good to release his emotions.
“He told me that he’d been coming to the VA for years and that nobody had been able to penetrate into his emotions,” she said. “But I broke through in one session.”
Obviously not everyone will experience such dramatic emotions, but Chereskin said many of her patients have praised Reiki and the other modalities for helping them relax, reduce stress, and help manage pain.
Although the Mind-Body Program works to treat veterans in the Psychosocial Rehabilitation Recovery Center, Substance Abuse Clinic, CLC units, DDRC, ER, PC and PTSD units, many aspects—to include Reiki, yoga, Guided Imagery and Tai-chi—are available to all veterans. Anyone interested should consult a primary clinical provider, then contact Lisa Fischer, program assistant, at (631) 261-4400 ext. 2973 to set up an appointment.
For more information on the Mind-Body Program, contact Mary Chereskin at (631) 261-4400 ext.2743 or Richelle Rapaport, at ext. 5101.