by Nat Frothingham
“What about stress?” was the question I put to Wendy Halley who has recently opened Lucid Path Wellness at 97 State Street in downtown Montpelier.
Halley — who is both a traditional, academically trained mental health counselor and in a separate practice a shamanic teacher and healer — knows a lot about stress.
Part of her understanding of stress is personal.
After qualifying for a master’s degree in clinical psychology from Pepperdine University in Malibu, California — Halley’s first job was in Phoenix, Arizona as a counselor in a substance abuse treatment program for teenage parolees. This was in 1996 when there were 350 known gangs in Phoenix and the parolees didn’t have any choice about participating in the substance abuse treatment program. “It was court-ordered treatment,” Halley said. “Any intervention is more effective when the client wants it. I had doors slammed in my face. Or they just wouldn’t answer the door when I came to their house. It was pretty stressful.” Halley had just graduated with a master’s degree. But still, she said, “I was really just winging it. I was in that job for only six months. It was rough. It was really rough.”
Today, Halley keeps a careful dividing line between her traditional mental health counseling practice and her shamanic work. But both practices are causing her to ponder the incidence of stress in people’s lives.
Halley said, “In my psychotherapy practice, I am hearing about stress in peoples’ lives and the subsequent impact of that stress on their health and well-being.”
She’s also hearing about stress in her shamanic practice. “In the shamanic sessions,” she said, “I see stress in the patterns in their unconscious mind.”
Halley is less interested in the history of stress or whether or not there’s more stress today than in the past. What interests her is what is happening today with the various presentations of stress in people’s lives: health stress, family stress, job stress, financial stress.” She went on to mention the stress that many people feel at the “state of the world.”
And she said, “We become aware of stress in our lives through such symptoms as insomnia, migraine headaches, panic attacks, irritability, or lashing out verbally at family members.”
While Halley can’t speak to the history of stress, she can and does report on what she’s seeing today. “People are getting sicker. There’s more auto-immune disorders (when the body’s tissues are attacked by its own immune system). There’s more cancers, more heart disease,” she added.
Halley came to her shamanic practice over time. From when she was a girl of 12 years old until her time in graduate school, Halley was an atheist. Then when she was 24, her mom died. This rocked her world. “I started to question my atheistic views,” she said. “I started looking into my ancestry which is partly native. Her mother was pretty proud of her American and Cherokee roots.
“My whole world cracked open in 1998 when I started having these visionary experiences. I was awake and I was dreaming. I was dreaming about a death experience, a woman being electrocuted in an electric chair. I wasn’t her. I was looking out of her eyes. I had access to her thoughts and some of the physical sensations she was going through.”
Halley had a couple of other visionary experiences after that. “I was going through the experiences of people who were dying or I was the person it was happening to,” she said. She was careful not to report on these experiences to anyone. After all, she was clinically trained. “I would be thought of as delusional,” she said.
Halley ended up studying with someone who called herself a shaman. She began to understand her visionary experiences. She saw that these experiences were part of a shamanic practice. She had been part of this practice but she hadn’t known it. Her shamanic work took her to a new realization of healing. “If you want to heal, you have to look at the broad scope of consciousness. I discovered how incredibly unconscious we are as human beings. We are creatures of habit. Anything that can jar us out of ordinary consciousness — it pulls us out of what we are ordinarily aware of — and expands our perception.” That’s what shamanic healing is all about.
“What we’re really aware of is only a small fraction of what we’re capable of being aware of. That’s what my shamanic practice taught me. It informed my clinical practice and that’s what got me involved in the Life Vessel.”
Last year, Halley purchased the Life Vessel which she describes as “a cutting edge relaxation/energy medicine technology.” There are about 10 Life Vessels out west. But the Life Vessel in Montpelier is the only Life Vessel on the east coast. Halley isn’t making any claims that the Life Vessel can result in cures. What she is saying is that the Life Vessel, which is essentially a bed and an enclosed environment that uses vibrations and music and light, can produce an environment that allows the body to heal itself.
The common thread in all the options that Halley offers — traditional mental health counseling, shamanic dream therapy and healing, and the Life Vessel — the common thread is encouraging people to take care of themselves.
People take care of themselves by exercise, through friendship, through diet, yoga, meditation and by choosing to leave unhealthy relationships. In Halley’s workplace counseling she finds that many people who come to her for help are afraid. “Most people are afraid to leave their jobs because of their security.” If they stay in theisr jobs they will have to fight. They don’t want to fight. Or if they leave their job, they will be afraid. “Fight or flight,” is fear, Halley declares.
“Fight or flight” produces day-to-day stress that eats at you day-by-day. Your body doesn’t get a break. It wears down your immune system. But almost everyone is living that way,” she said.
“My approach,” said Halley, “is that the person, the client, has all the answers. My approach is to help the person find the answers for themselves. My approach in shamanic practice is to connect people with their own personal power. And the Life Vessel is an environment for the body to heal itself.”