When Doree Lipson opened “Wellness Embodied: A Center for Psychotherapy and Healing” in New Paltz last February, her intention was not only to help clients transform their lives but to offer the psychotherapists on her staff — and local healing practitioners — an environment in which they can thrive, free of the constraints of corporate healthcare.
Including Lipson, there are five psychotherapists currently in practice at the Main Street location. The center also features an Education Annex, where workshops on a number of topics within the therapeutic realm are offered, and weekly community acupuncture and silent meditation sessions are hosted in the space.
“I’ve had this vision for some time about creating a multi-dimensional healing center,” says Lipson. “The heart of ‘Wellness Embodied’ is our psychotherapy practice, but I also recognize that sitting in a room with one person for an hour a week isn’t necessarily enough for a person to ‘shift’ some important things in their lives.”
Workshops are conducted by the psychotherapists in the Wellness Embodied practice and colleagues in the region. “There are so many amazing practitioners in our area,” Lipson says. “I really wanted to find a way to allow them to highlight their strengths as facilitators and for people in the community to get support in a range of ways. We have movement workshops, and things for kids that introduce mindfulness, and we teach DBT skills, a therapeutic modality where you learn actual tools to get through your day or manage your relationships.”
The center has been the recipient of two “Thrive” grants from the Maya Gold Foundation, which funded scholarships for two participants to attend the six-session “Mindfulness Toolbox for Teens” and will sponsor two participants in the upcoming “Girl to Goddess” series beginning February 15 for girls ages 9-12.
Adult offerings have included “The Tao of Money,” exploring how to move one’s life forward in a better direction through uncovering underlying conflicts about money, and the upcoming “Vision and Voice” workshop on Friday, February 10 that will utilize eye exercises and voice toning to explore the links between mind, body and spirit and our vision and speaking voices.
The psychotherapists on Lipson’s staff are Rafael Perez, Noreen Lempert, Meredith Johnson and Carrie Schapker. Each has their own particular approach and expertise, but there is a common thread. “We all are body-based psychotherapists,” says Lipson. “All except one have trained or are training in somatic experiencing.”
That mode of therapy is aimed at relieving the symptoms of mental and physical trauma-related health problems by focusing on the client’s perceived body sensations (or somatic experiences). “You can come at SE from all different vantage points,” says Lipson. “The idea is that in this work it’s really a ‘bottom-up’ reading of any experience. Trauma can be something devastating, like the loss of a limb, or it can be unfortunate, uncomfortable things that happen to most people.”
We all have a “range of resilience” in our nervous system, she explains, with our bodies operating within a specific range of activation and rest. But anxiety, for example, can cause a person to get “stuck.” Doing body-based work — bringing one’s full attention to physical sensations in the body — can retrain our minds and help a person to reach a place where the trauma or challenging things that come up in life can be processed.
People come to see body-based psychotherapists for “any of the reasons that they would go to any other therapist,” says Lipson, “but the treatment they get would be a little bit different.”
The psychotherapists at Wellness Embodied each combine body-based therapies with traditional methods of treatment. Lipson says that she finds body-based therapeutic work to be “practical and really useful” for people, but she’s also “a story lover,” adding, “I still make lots of room for people to interpret and understand their experiences. In SE the story isn’t so important, so I’m finding a balance between it not really mattering, but also, it really does matter!”
Prior to opening Wellness Embodied, Lipson worked at the Institute for Family Health in New Paltz for five years and maintained a practice at Water Street Market. Originally from Syracuse, she traveled in Asia for a year after college and lived in two monastic communities in the Bay Area of Northern California for six years before going to Michigan for grad school. She met her husband, Daniel Lipson, a professor of political science at SUNY New Paltz, in Michigan, where he was in Kalamazoo via Wisconsin. As it turned out, he’s from Syracuse, too, and the couple moved back to New York when Daniel took the position at SUNY New Paltz. They have two children, Ben, 8, and Naomi, 4.
Doree has been a student of Soto Zen Buddhist teachings and practice since 1996. She is lay-ordained in the lineage of Shunryu Suzuki Roshi. “Meditation is the perfect companion for somatic experiencing work,” she says, “because in meditation you grow your awareness and concentration. When you’re able to apply that therapeutically to sensation in your body, and understand psychologically what’s happening, it really allows you to move through things in a particular way.”
In her focus on mindfulness, Lipson says she “tries to help people know that the ‘noise in their head’ is not the only thing that’s going on in any given moment. Certainly there are times when we want to bring attention to that, and it could be relevant to the therapeutic work, but sometimes it’s okay to set it aside. Sometimes our ‘head noise’ can distract us from the therapeutic work that really needs to happen.”
Silent meditation sessions are held at Wellness Embodied on Tuesdays from 7:30-8:30 a.m. and Thursdays from 12:15 to 12:45 p.m. (The Education Annex has a separate entrance on the front of the street; the psychotherapy offices are in the back, off the parking lot). Drop-in attendance is welcome, and there is no charge to sit and meditate, although voluntary donations are appreciated to help pay for space use. The meditation is truly silent, without music or guidance, although participants can arrive ten minutes early for optional beginner instruction.
Community acupuncture in the Annex with Kristin Misik is on Tuesdays from 3-6 p.m. The group session has staggered appointments within that time period and treatment is more limited than it would be in a private session. The lower cost, however, allows those who wish to try out the treatment to do so, or allows for regular visits for those without serious health problems who are seeking general well-being through the practice.
“I feel fortunate to have found these wonderful practitioners,” Lipson says. “And it’s very important for me to support the people who work for me. We all have clear intentions when we come into a challenging field like therapy, and often the support isn’t there. We find ourselves in jobs that aren’t actually rooted in healing. Any time a place grows very big and systematic, it’s not as focused on the patient or the practitioner. So I meet with everyone who works for me one-on-one for an hour a week, to talk about cases or whatever is going on in their lives, and I let them create their own schedules, and see as many patients a day as they want. Maybe that’s not the best financial business model, but if a therapist is not coming from a place of ‘grounded-ness’ and feeling like they’re respected, they’re not going to be able to do the work that actually helps change the world.”
Serving as director of Wellness Embodied “really does feel like my version of activism,” Lipson says. “We all have our things that we’re good at. And I think when you approach your activism from that place of what your gift, or your skill is, then you can have a really nice impact.”
Wellness Embodied: A Center for Psychotherapy and Healing, 126 Main Street, New Paltz; (845) 532-6064, wellnessembodiedcenter.com.