LAUREN MONROE | A LIFE DEDICATED TO HEALING
Lauren Monroe is a mother, an accomplished musician and author, a fierce advocate for animal rights and social justice, and for more than 25 years, a practitioner and teacher of energy healing.
She is also a wife – married to rock musician Rick Allen of Def Leppard – and together they founded the Raven Drum Foundation and Project Resiliency, two highly acclaimed undertakings that promote healing and growth for veterans, individuals and families who are facing difficult life circumstances, trauma in particular.
We recently had a conversation with Monroe to discuss the delicate task of working with trauma in others, and the interesting methods she employs to heal it.
The Giving Arts: Lauren, you utilize many different modes of healing to help Wounded Warriors, some of them less widely known than more traditional methods. How did you become so equipped in these areas?
Lauren Monroe: I studied a lot of anatomy and physiology in my undergraduate work when I was a dance education major, and while studying all of the aspects of the body, became fascinated by it. In my graduate work I brought my dance background into exploring psychological archetype and would later receive various certifications in massage therapy. My foundation is from having learned what the body itself does with trauma and how entwined our emotions are with our physical nature. But honestly, I think the thing that gives me greater insight into this area is all of the work I have done with people. In my own private practice, I’ve worked in clinics, hospitals, and chiropractic offices, as well as spas, and sports environments. I later went on to work specifically with people who had serious illness and injuries such as HIV, cancer, heart conditions, and car accidents. Trauma runs through everyone, so in many different ways I was able to hone in practices to help people, but it was really my intuitive work from knowing trauma myself and working on myself for so many years that gave me the deeper insight to do the kind of healing work that I thought people needed.
The Giving Arts: You’ve had a wide breadth of experience with people who have experienced trauma…do the Wounded Warriors present your toughest challenge when it comes to helping people who suffer from PTSD, or do you find that they share similarities with other types of people who endure traumatic experiences?
LM: I think there are similarities. One of the things we often say is that ‘trauma is trauma’. It’s the story of the trauma that is different, but the way it is inside the body is the same. Your nervous system is responding to outside forces. What happens is that it gets stuck in the way a record gets stuck on a record player, and keeps skipping over and over. That’s what happens to us when we have a situation where we experience a traumatic event. It’s a dysregulation in the body, and it doesn’t matter how your body received the trauma. That being said, combat related vets who do experience this are trained to be extremely guarded and not show their vulnerability. So working with military in general, and teaching them how to access that vulnerable part of themselves…to be able to see their trauma and start healing it…is more challenging, especially for women.
The Giving Arts: Why is that?
LM: In my experience, female Wounded Warriors internalize trauma a little bit differently. Many of these women have acquired a double layer of protection in regard to guarding themselves. Like all soldiers, women in the service have the external trauma that goes on around them, but many of them also have had experiences of sexual abuse from their superiors in the military, which is something we don’t really hear about. So, when they eventually look at their trauma, it’s not just about their combat trauma. It’s about being violated in ways that many men don’t experience.
The Giving Arts: When you engage a group of people who are experiencing PTSD, is one of your responsibilities to decide which of these healing approaches would be a good start for each individual who is suffering? I’d imagine it’s not one size fits all.
LM: I think it’s up to the person as to what modalities really speak to them. I think it’s my job to educate people on what these complimentary approaches can offer them, and then give them an introductory experience. The gift I bring to this process, I think, is obviously not teaching them how to work with a horse during equine therapy, or being the practitioner who gives them neurofeedback. My expertise is showing them how to be mindful and how to connect with your body, and I feel like that’s the baseline. Once they learn a few of these tools and are able to be mindful, they can begin the process of opening up to other complementary medicines that can help them address their wounds and feel powerful and empowered.
The Giving Arts: Achieving mindfulness is a challenging aspiration for many people who haven’t experienced trauma. I’d imagine it is significantly harder for someone who has experienced it and is often feeling anxious or unsettled. What is usually the biggest obstacle in the way for someone suffering from PTSD who wants to obtain mindfulness?
LM: Generally speaking, I believe the biggest obstacle is the same for anyone trying to obtain mindfulness – our own mind. But, I do think that someone who is living with combat trauma has a greater challenge to come out and ask for help and do the necessary work to heal. Once you understand that PTSD is not a lifelong disorder and can be a temporary dysregulation in how your brain and nervous symptom communicate, it helps take away the dark cloud and allows you to see your life as being normal again one day. When you’re in a state of trauma, you’re wired differently. Your whole system is a little bit amped up, where someone who is in a normal state has a baseline that is more calm. Giving them the experience of having them identify what’s going on in their bodies is an important start. We all feel separated. We have our mind, our emotions, and our bodies, and we treat them all separately. So in helping Wounded Warriors or anyone else overcome the challenges of being mindful, the first thing that I do is bring them back to their body. I have them look at the physical cues that are happening, and look and make note of what’s occurring when they can’t be mindful. Is it because they have their listening turned on too much, or are they too fidgety, or is their body feeling anxious? Having those awareness’s is a big part of being mindful and can be the first step towards healing.
The Giving Arts: I’ll ask you about some of these methods now, as all of them are interesting, but some are not so commonly known. What are the benefits of playing a drum or drums for someone who has trauma?
LM: From a physical standpoint – and this has been studied so it’s nice to have some research around this – being in an environment where you are playing a drum affects your body significantly. Your respiration changes, your blood pressure can change, and your overall being starts to resonate with the dominant frequency, which is the rhythm of the drums. It is called bio-entrainment. People can actually experience it just by standing near the ocean, or being in the middle of the woods where those dominant frequencies are greater than your own thoughts or whatever is going on in your body. That’s why we often feel relaxed in nature, because nature is the dominant frequency. After a day at the beach it’s common for you to feel relaxed and calm. It’s the same thing with the drums. If you’re in a group of people who are drumming and you’re guided with your breathing…able to be in the moment, even if your just in the moment for a minute or two…that drumming will become the dominant frequency, and that alone can take you to a different level of being calm and grounded. There’s also the element of listening and coming out of yourself. When you’re playing a drum in a group the tendency is to listen to what you’re doing, and becoming critical of yourself when you make mistakes. What we ask people to do is to not listen to themselves, but listen to everyone else as a whole. Once you have awareness of that sound, it takes you out of any awareness of your internal chatter and relaxes your mind.
The Giving Arts: In regard to the goal of getting people to engage themselves and others, I would imagine that equine therapy is somewhat parallel to the drums?
LM: Absolutely. In equine therapy they’re not riding the horses, they’re interacting with the horses. Many of the horses we work with are actually traumatized animals, so they’re experiencing their own trauma. It’s very interesting how they operate. I find that whether they are traumatized horses, wild horses, or riding horses, they all operate through energy awareness. They have an extreme sixth sense. So, when you pair a Warrior with a horse they are operating on a completely different communication system. For the Warrior to be successful in interacting with a horse they have to calm their insides, stay grounded, and tap into their intuition…which they are masters at in combat but haven’t had the experience of using it for healing or in the ordinary world. In the military there is a certain persona and many of them are leaders and strong willed people, but you can’t strong arm a horse. You can’t make a horse come to you. You have to figure out how to get into that side of yourself that is more nurturing, and honest, and vulnerable. And when the horse experiences that, you’ll see a complete change in how he relates to you. We often call horses live biofeedback machines because whatever is inside of you, the horse will reflect.
The Giving Arts: Neurofeedback seems like something that might be a little more internal than drumming or interacting with horses. How would you describe it?
LM: Neurofeedback is pretty much a passive experience that I would describe as a higher grade therapy for your brain. It’s where a computer is actually talking to your brain and nervous system, and your body creates a new pathway. Say you have a trigger where you usually respond with anxiety or a heightened sense of awareness, or nervousness. The neurofeedback experience begins to retrain your brain so that you have a moment to find a place of calm, and you have a moment to make a decision about how you want to act or behave. If you hear a car backfire, your body might have immediately responded by thinking it was back in a combat zone, but now you’ll have more time to think and say, “ Oh, that was just a car.” Your body won’t immediately go towards a place of trauma, and tell your nervous system it’s ‘fight or flight’. Neurofeedback interrupts that ‘fight or flight’ process. Siegfried and Susan Othmer are a couple who founded and direct the EEG Institute in Southern California. They do amazing work, training psychologists and practitioners of neurofeedback that disperse all over the country and offer free neurofeedback therapy to veterans. They agree to do that as part of their training. As a result, their non profit ‘Homecoming for Veterans’ is able to facilitate neurofeedback for vets all around the country, free of charge. I think veterans receive 20 sessions at no cost to them, which can be enough to really reset someone to a place where they can begin to get their life back together again. Neurofeedback addresses many things; addiction, suicidal tendencies, heightened arousal states, and anxiety among them. Both Rick and myself tried it out first before we would recommend it, and we saw the amazing work that it did. We believe in it so much, and we want the Warriors to experience it.
The Giving Arts: What can you tell us about energy healing?
LM: Energy healing is a very broad term and it encompasses many different modalities. Most commonly known are acupuncture, Reiki, or therapeutic touch. It’s a holistic practice that works with the bodies subtle energy systems to strengthen weak areas or to remove blockages that can affect people in their physical, emotional, and spiritual health. The type of energy healing that I do is integrated, so I look at the person and what they need, and go inside my toolbox so I can give them the best treatment I believe they require. Energy healing has been in use since ancient times and science is slowly catching up, and being able to define it through new innovative technology. Humans beings use subtle energy to communicate with one another 24 hours a day, but most of us are unaware. Like right now, you and I are are connecting with our energy. When you become aware of your personal energy, your thoughts, your emotions, your intuition, you can begin to recreate your entire life experience. Energy healing can be done anywhere, with a practitioner in a massage therapy setting, in a group setting or even from a long distance, halfway across the world. Energy healing can also be experienced through music and art, and that’s where I am currently focusing my practice. It’s amazing work in all of its forms, and I’ve seen it transform people’s lives over and over again.
The Giving Arts: Considering the general makeup of a serviceman or woman, and taking into account what they’ve gone through, I’d imagine that Warriors make their way slowly to a place of trust and openness. Do you find much resistance from the Warriors for some of your more challenging techniques?
LM: On the retreats that we’ve done they actually come in knowing it’s more of a complementary medicine approach to working with their trauma. They have already tried a more allopathic, medical, or traditional psychological approach without success. So they come to us willingly and a little bit more open. It’s interesting…the resistance is probably there for the first 20 minutes or so, and then they start to experience the genuine knowledge and care in the room and begin to understand the approach. I find that the next day they are more comfortable and feel optimistic about their journey. I think any resistance to any type of modality is usually because they don’t understand the work…it seems too alternative or ‘out there’. “What? Drumming is going to help heal my trauma?” But once they actually experience the work and how different they feel afterwards, they really get into it. I think that most people who come to these retreats are ready to heal and that’s a big part of it.
The Giving Arts: What is guided imagery?
LM: Guided imagery is where a practitioner will use their voice to guide a person who is in a mindful state to access and look at various parts of themselves, or lead them to look at places outside of themselves where they may feel safe, or a sense of healing, or a sense of being loved. There are so many different ways where you can use this. I’ve used guided imagery to help people look at their own cancer or their own depression and help them see themselves healthy and happy again. It supports the theory of ‘energy follows thought’. Through guided imagery a person can reconstruct their health, their state of mind, and how they impact their future. It’s an effective path to healing.
The Giving Arts: I’ve read that you champion many of these methods not because you believe they’ll simply provide a little bit of relief for someone now, but rather because you see them as sustainable ways for the sufferer to experience post traumatic growth. Is that a distinction between the methods that you embrace, and most of the approaches that the medical community employ?
LM: I think this type of work can go hand in hand with allopathic medicine and typical talk therapy. It will be different with everyone, but I do believe wholeheartedly that complementary medicine is for everyone. I think you can delve further into it when you have certain traumas because you can be very specific with these techniques, and go in and treat wounds and recover from them, and have a more powerful recovery. But there is a very specific formula for everyone, and they all have their own path. You just need to find the specific things that resonate.
The Giving Arts: Unfortunately, history teaches us that there will always be more Wounded Warriors to come. Is it a present concern of yours to make access to these techniques more widespread and readily available for those who will need them?
LM: Yes. I would like to be a spokesperson for all of these things, and of course I love to teach and I love to mentor. Some of these modalities, like neurofeedback, are actually being used in the military now for active duty and should be available as standard practice for returning soldiers. I have a lot of personal opinions about serving our returning soldiers and how we’re helping them. I want to scream from the rooftops because they’re not being served in a way that is beneficial to them or their families and we are losing so many of them to suicide. I feel like the focus is on the active military and not the Warriors that have served and come back and may be wounded. I feel that Wounded Warriors could be the next generation of healers and leaders in our country, because they have so much to offer. They’ve seen the dark and the light, they have discipline, they have an innate desire to serve others, and they are loyal. They are just amazing human beings. The ones that I’ve met, and I’ve met many, are just some of the greatest people that I know. I really get behind their healing because they have a lot to teach us, and if we leave them behind, our country will be less great for it.