The wounded healer interview series features people who’ve dealt with significant mental health challenges, and who also work in a helping role to support the mental health of others.
This interview is with Maria Teresa Pratico Swanson of Emotional Musings.
1) Tell us a bit about you, the helping field you’re in, and the mental health challenges you’ve faced.
I like to say I’ve lived a few lifetimes in this one journey here in my life. I’m an intuitive empath, highly sensitive person with extra sensory perception. I’m living with Complex PTSD from years of emotional, physical and sexual abuse. I’m a writer, host my own blog here on WordPress called “Emotional Musings” and I’ve authored three books of poetry which are currently available on Amazon. I’ve trained extensively in all forms of dance and at one point in my life I was Broadway bound. I love to sing and paint too. My artistic expressions are how I have found inner peace and survived the darkness in life. I have worked as a direct support staff professional for a non-profit organization that supports children and adults with wide ranging mental and physical disabilities by on the job coaching, community outreach and day trips, playing sports and teaching dance and exercise. I also facilitated a talent showcase by choreographing and staging the performance of 30 individuals on stage.
I’m thankfully in remission now for five years from debilitating dissociative episodes that have forced me to spend time as an inpatient in a few psychiatric hospitals. I have also experienced catatonic depression. I was a stay at home mother for twelve wonderful years and am now divorced. The past ten years I have spent healing from the last two major traumas I survived. One was being strangled by a client I was supporting and the other was being strangled and raped numerous times in an abusive relationship. Both of these incidents occurred within four months of each other in 2011.
In the past year I have experienced a tremendous amount of healing, going through two spiritual awakenings. One of those awakenings was of Kundalini energy and was both excruciatingly painful and gloriously freeing at the same time, very jarring and disorienting to my life. Since this pandemic hit I (not unlike the rest of our world) have experienced major disruption and change to my daily life. Since March, I have changed jobs and moved across the country to a new state. I also was reunited with my oldest son who will be 19 in August. We were apart and estranged for the past ten years. Now we are both living with my parents while I learn a completely new career in the art of shamanic healing and energy cleansing. My world has completely opened up and it’s a direct result of the many spiritual practices I have remained committed to for over twenty years like yoga, meditation and free flow writing. I’m also a long distance runner and triathlete. I’m no longer competitive in those activities and just do them for fun nowadays!
2) What made you decide to go into your helping field? Did your mental health challenges play a role?
I was looking to go back into the workforce once my youngest was in school full time. I had a dear friend who worked in the human resources department of a local non-profit and recommended I apply. Once I was interviewed and spent some time with their community there I was immediately hooked. My supervisor learned of my dance background and asked me if I wanted to teach the clients one day a week, I jumped at the opportunity! My class was a huge hit with our clients and was always filled to capacity, so much so that we had to alternate people so everyone had an opportunity to take class. Those who work in the mental health field on a non-profit basis understand our staffing issues and at times there were not enough staff to properly oversee the group which made me have to turn people away.
I leaned mostly on my motherhood skills of running a household with two boys and a few pets to supplement my resume and explain why I hadn’t held a full time job in twelve years.
I held the position for over a year until my attack and once I went out on temporary disability they changed my per diem position making it impossible for me to return. Honestly, due to the severity of the attack and the lasting effects on my mental health I chose not to return. Now I’m about to re enter the field of healing in a holistic approach that feels much more genuine to who I am today.
However, I did thoroughly enjoy my time as a DSP and was able to witness miracles everyday. It was a very special experience that I will never forget!
3) How have your own mental health challenges influenced the helping work you do?
I’ve always been a caregiver in some way shape or form my entire life growing up in a large family with a family business that I first worked in. I believe the kind of abuse and trauma I have endured and survived has helped me tremendously understand the people I have supported and helped. Most people who meet me have remarked how immediately safe they feel in my presence which is quite an honor to be able to hold space for others if even just to be able to listen. I’m a middle child so I have always been conditioned to have patience for others I believe which really benefited my position. I can immediately relate to others struggles which I use as a strength in understanding other people I have supported. I believe that is a gift in life, to be able to find what connects us, what we share in common instead of our differences and what keeps us separate.
4) Do you think you’re a more effective helper because of your own mental health challenges? How so?
I can definitely and absolutely say with 100% certainty that it has been an asset and not a hindrance. I operate from my heart. I do what I feel is best for others by using my biggest gift and skill which is to intuitively feel what other people are feeling, even thinking. I then can help them accomplish what is in their best interest. Bringing out the best in others is a skill I have worked diligently at my entire life as a mother, a healer and a teacher. Knowing the right questions to ask, when to push someone or when to not. All of that I intuitively feel. Using words of encouragement along the way to inspire hope. Basically, what I do for myself to overcome my own obstacles.
5) Have you chosen to share your own mental health challenges with any of your patients/clients? What influenced that choice?
I am an extremely private person by nature and it’s only in the past two years, since starting my blog that I have opened up and shared my life and experiences. I don’t disclose my own challenges to my clients out right. If they discover my blog then so be it. I make that a boundary as a matter of keeping my own life safe and private. I reached that decision based upon the kind of trauma I have survived. I have too often trusted the wrong people in my past and am now more careful.
6) Has your training or experience in your helping field changed how you approach your own illness or mental health challenges?
While learning how to restrain people I can admit to learning certain techniques and what to look out for when people are triggered and how situations can escalate out of control has definitely made me more aware about my own challenges. That type of training I wouldn’t have had if I didn’t go into the field and for that I ‘m grateful. Overall, I’m more patient with myself when I’m struggling because that’s how I treat my clients. It’s helped me develop a deeper self love and acceptance for sure.
7) What advice would you give to someone who has faced mental illness or other mental health challenges and is thinking about entering your helping field?
Make sure you are mindful of your own boundaries and really have a good self care routine in place. It can be easy to become emotionally swept up or attached which can cause a danger to our own mental health and functioning. Take care in every interaction and if necessary take a break. I always think about how I would appreciate a situation being handled and then I do the same for my clients. It’s about compassion and empathy. Ask yourself what are your intentions going in and make sure they make sense in your behaviors and interactions. As long as you’re being true to those, you should be nothing but successful!
You can visit Maria at Emotional Musings.
Thanks so much Maria for doing this interview!
I decided to start the wounded healers interview series to showcase the contributions that people from within the mental illness community have made to help others living with mental illness. I’m looking to interview people who:
- have lived experience of mental illness or other significant mental health challenges;
- are willing to share the impact of those experiences on their helping work; AND
- are working (or have worked) in a helping role supporting people with mental health challenges, either as mental health professionals or wellness-promoting roles (e.g. coaches) – students and retired helpers are welcome too
If you’re interested in doing an interview, email me at mentalhealthathome (at) gmail (dot) com. Let me know how you are a wounded healer, and I’ll send you the interview questions.